Guiding Principles

My dad keeps asking if I’m done with my book yet. I tell him I’m just trying to make sure I write every day. 1,000 words a day for a year is 365,000 words to choose from. He tells me that if I write them in chronological order with a plot, I’d have a novel.


I’ve been thinking about rules. Do I have rules that I follow in my life? Besides eat when hungry, work when scheduled, brush these ugly teeth, try to quit smoking, feed the dog, put gas in the car, sleep for around 7 hours a day, talk to strangers when I enter a room – oh wait, is that last one a rule?

Taking to strangers… I do that. Sometimes. When I have to. When I’m forcing myself to stifle the anxiety welling up in the pit if my stomach and there isn’t a drink or snack handy. When I’m not in the smoking section. Look cool… That’s a rule. Look like I don’t have a care in the world while also looking like I have very important decisions to make. Oscillate between scowling and laughing at the absurdity of existence, finding serenity in the fact that meaning only exists because people exist, and damn aren’t I deep?

No. These aren’t rules. They’re compulsions, just as is my compulsion to define the rules of this game. You wouldn’t know it to look at me – well, maybe you would now that I stopped cutting my hair and don’t dress like I’m trying to sell you something – but I studied philosophy. I searched far and wide for answers to the big questions, and I came away disillusioned. There are no answers. Rather, the answer depends upon the seeker. We piece things together. We convince ourselves. We become righteous. We take our stances against those we know in our hearts to be just plain wrong. We filter the world, believing that our filters are the best filters. If they weren’t, we obviously would have chosen different filters because we’re all so goddamn smart.

This isn’t what I meant to write. What was I saying?


Okay. Rules. And tattoos.

Well, no. Tattoos, yes. Rules, though… I can’t get to making rules until I have some guiding principles.

You’ll know that I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I don’t have to wander down any more blind alleys to get the rest of this on paper (on screen?). The ink I want, these first two that I’ll leave here, they’re attempts at lassoing in and keeping a tighter rein on my capricious nature.

1. Neither Above Nor Below

This is a reminder to be humble, yet confident. I have trouble with both. I have a tendency to simultaneously believe that I’m too good for things and not good enough. I want to believe that I’m too good to do menial labor. I latch onto the myth that I can do or be anyone and anything that I want to be, but I’m too good for all that hard work it takes to get there. I also secretly believe that I’m not good enough. That I deserve to work shit jobs as punishment for my laziness. I’m overweight, so I don’t deserve love. I’m in my 30s and haven’t yet published anything of note, so I don’t deserve the opportunity to have anything I say taken seriously.

All of that is bullshit. Absolute and utter bullshit, and it’s easy to see how ridiculous it is when it’s all written out – and it isn’t a complete list, by the way. These are just the things that come to mind as I sit here puffing on nicotine because I’m both too good to need to quit smoking and too undeserving of a life free of it. It’s easy to see it. Even as I live it, I see it, but in the moment, I don’t feel the craziness in it. I feel like I always feel. Hungry or horny or bored or content or excited or restless or or or… I need a reminder. I need something staring me in the face day in and day out. Something telling me, “Be cool, dummy.”

2. Breathe

My favorite thing about naming this principle is that the people just skimming through this rant are going to miss the meaning completely, and that is the whole point. Sort of.

Sure, it’s a reminder to breathe. It’s a reminder to think slowly, as per Daniel Kahneman‘s research. Take a breath before I make my decisions. Think things through.

But it’s also an exercise in picturing the universe as a single entity.

Do it with me now. Inhale. Hold it. And exhale. You just changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, changed the way our planet interacts with space, how much radiation the planet absorbs, how much heat we take out of the vacuum, affecting every other particle in the universe in one big ripple into infinity. This is a like chaos theory, if you’re familiar. The butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in Florida, and Siberia explodes. Something like that.

Every action has a consequence. Every. Single. One. As involuntary as they may be, you’re changing the world just by existing. Now, imagine what you can change consciously. Every moment is a decision to continue existing. Every second I sit here smoking this cigarette is a decision to give up precious minutes of my life, to risk cancer, heart disease, ostracization from the pack. To smell like smoke when I speak to the next person I see. To make me curse every flight of stairs because I can’t fucking breathe.

It’s a lot to think about. It’s every interaction with another human being. How you’re changed and how you change them. Just by witnessing one another’s existence. Are you smiling when you face them? Do you grimace? Are you angry or sad or happy or excited? Every one of those creates a reaction in the other, affecting how you both greet the next person, and then the next and the next and the next. You want to pretend that you know who you are, but who you are is changing constantly, and you don’t even know how. You can’t fathom it. You’re at the mercy of the whims of fate, as they say, and you’ll never get away from it. But you can maybe choose how to deal with it. If you remember to Breathe.

And so on

These principles are nothing new. Nothing unfamiliar. Nothing that should take any time at all to consider, accept, and say, “Duh, dude. Where the hell you been?” But… When I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, my dad told me that I’m slow on the uptake. Once I get it, though, I got it. I just gotta get it.

I think I’m getting it.

I’ll let you know when I got it.


Engage The Hofflebrock

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