Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Day in the Life (part 4)

Jack picks up work clothes from his office and heads straight for the showers in the basement. He is back in his office by 9:00 am.

After a quick look at the Times online and checking personal email, Jack plunges into another recent passion of his: perusing his favorite blogs.

He doesn't have much time before the calls and the hundreds of work emails begin their slow, deliberate suffocation. He starts clicking furiously and only gets to a few of his favorites:

Cage Free Family. Jack has a special place in his heart for these guys. He read about them in the Times a while back. Their decision to leave a life of excess and embrace simplicity was admirable and only reinforced the necessity of the Plan. Pressing questions for Jack this morning: "Where are those guys today?" "Did they leave Madison yet?" "Is it just me or is Aimee the hottest blogger ever?" "When will they get to Vermont?"

Miles to Go. Dana is probably the strongest person Jack has never met. She and her family have gone through a ton, and yet they have persevered. It's not that things have stopped being difficult. It's just that Dana, with the help of wonderful guy, is now focused on the wonder and beauty of living in the present. Pressing questions for Jack this morning: "Did Dana finish de-cluttering the basement?" "Could she cut Jack's hair into a Mohawk sometime soon?"

Hobo Stripper. Tara is, in one word, awesome. And yet, there are so many other ways to describe her: wonderful writer, painfully honest, sexuality personified, etc...Most important of all, she is free. Pressing questions for Jack this morning: "Did Tara pen any vibrator reviews lately?” "Are there other herbs and spices good for dealing with spider bites, besides poultice and tea of course?" "Should I be reading this at work?"

Suddenly the phone rings and the craziness of law firm life begins anew.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On Moderating Comments

For those of you who have been following my journey since the inception of this very young, still naïve, rather simple blog, you may have noticed that a slight chill of negativity has been steadily creeping into the comments I’ve been receiving. No doubt, some of these comments are being made by people who are genuinely uncomfortable with the content of some of my posts. Others are clearly misinterpreting the writing of this rather amateurish, yet well-meaning devotee of voluntary simplicity. Still others may actually have an agenda and would criticize pretty much anything posted by yours truly.

So, here I am, my dear reader, pondering the need to moderate comments. I’ve always though that if I was egotistical enough to expect that people would read about my journey, then I should be happy to read any comments, positive or negative, that this humble little blog receives. I’m definitely a JS Mill “On Liberty” type, which basically means that my instinct is to let people post what they want, in whatever form they want; freedom of speech is paramount; yada, yada…

And yet…

I’ve noticed that most of the other blogs I love to read are, in fact, moderated, and with good reason. The content (and subsequent comments) on awesome blogs like Conversion Diary (formerly “Et, tu?”) and Hobo Stripper are ripe for misinterpretation and negative comments. My guess is that a reader of those blogs should be thankful that their authors can sift through comments and post those that are most pertinent while chucking anything that appears naughty. Comment moderation can focus commentary and provide readers with a more in-depth, uncluttered perspective of topics at hand.

And yet…

This all just sounds like a BS way to justify censoring people who, for whatever reason, aren’t big fans of Jack or his hopelessly honest, warts and all, brand of voluntary simplicity. Even if I were to start moderating comments, what criteria should I use to sift through comments? Should I reject only the patently offensive ones? What about comments that are critical but insightful? More importantly, how do I distinguish between the two. This conundrum is precisely the reason why I am against censorship.

So, what do you think, my dear reader? Would really appreciate your input, both pro and con, positive and negative.

A Day in the Life (part 3)

Jack finishes up his workout with some stretching, gets back on his bike and heads off to work. He heads straight for the bike racks in the garage. When he gets there, he laments how little room they have for bike commuters. When is the building going to realize that bike commuters need more space?

He is used to being dissed on this issue. 5-10 years ago, you never heard of people commuting to work on bikes. Even now, when the price of gas is through the roof and there are more bike commuters than ever, there is still an awful lot of people who can’t seem to understand the phenomenon. When the issue comes up, car people (aka, most people) often smirk, with a look of pity on their face. The questions are always the same:
Car Person: How long does it take you to bike to work?
Jack: Umm...about 15 minutes each way. When I used to live in Virginia my commute was about 45 minutes each way. Now THAT was awesome because I would bike straight through the trails along the Potomac and watch the sun rise every morning. On the days that I could leave work early enough the sun would set as I crossed the 14th Street Bridge. It was magical. :)

BTW, what do you do in your car every morning during YOUR commute?
Car Person: well, umm…I…I listen to the radio.

Jack: that’s…well…very stimulating.

Car Person: What do you do when it rains?
Jack: I bike year round, except when there is snow on the ground. Believe it or not, it’s actually more pleasant to bike during the winter; you generate a lot of body heat when you ride so there is more of an equilibrium when it’s a little chilly.
Car Person: No, seriously, what do you do when its pouring out?
Jack: What part of "I bike to work year round, except when there is snow on the ground," did you not understand?

Car Person: But you must need a car to get around?
Jack: No, not really. My grocery store is about 10 blocks away and I can get there and do most of my shopping with one, maybe two trips on my bike (I have 3 panniers that attach to the bike). When I need to get somewhere where a car is really needed I just rent a Zipcar by the hour.

By this point, Jack likes to ask the more pertinent question:
Jack: Well, how much did you spend on your car last year on (i) maintenance; (ii) gas; (iii) insurance; and (iv) repairs?
Car Person: Well, I don’t know…I’ve never done the math.
Jack: I spent exactly $235.79 cents commuting to work on my bike last year. That’s how much Citybikes charged me for annual maintenance on my bike. I probably spent another $75 using the Metro when there was snow or ice on the ground.
Car Person: Oh…that’s...very cheap…[silence…]
Jack: Yeah, I know.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Day in the Life (part 2)

Jack mounts his bike, adjusts his bike helmet and turns on his ipod. No matter how things are going at work or in his personal life, this is always his favorite time of the day. There is nothing like putting on your “40-Year-Old-Virgin” bike helmet while you ride down the streets of the big city and vibe to some Led Zeppelin. And hey, let’s not forget the occasional Johnny Cash or Eminem.

Jack glides down Pennsylvania in a happy trance, avoiding cabs and delivery trucks intent on splattering him all over the payment. He gets to the gym at 7:30 am on the dot.

Jack is big on exercise. He used to be a bit obsessed with weight training back in college, to a point that he started neglecting other aspects of his life. One day he looked in the mirror and realized that he was unhappy with the intensity he saw in himself. There was a compulsion to be “big and muscular” that was clearly unhealthy. Seriously, what was Jack trying to compensate for?

So he simplified his approach. His focus now is on being healthy, on exercising his body as well as his mind. Jack typically does cardio 3 times a week with some weight training sprinkled in between. Gone is the need to be an extra in "300." Jack is just happy to feel healthy. The beauty of simplification wins again. :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Day in the Life (part 1)

Jack wakes up to the sound of screeching. That damn alarm is still stuck between radio stations. He’s told himself for months now that he should tune that damn thing to something more listenable, like NPR. Hell, one of those hokey “sounds of the rainforest” CDs would be less painful. But he knows that the screeching has been doing its job; as soon as he hears it he is up for good. And being up for good is precisely what Jack needs right now. He is a lawyer without a purpose. And he needs a reason to get up in the morning.

Jack rolls over and almost hits the chick’s head. “Shit!” he tells himself. He forgot she was there. She had called him last night asking the usual: “I was just having a drink at Bar X, blah, blah, blah; “sooo…what are you doing tonight, blah, blah, blah?; “well, I was just thinking…if you weren’t doing anything…blah, blah, blah.” So Jack had invited her over. He had been bored and didn’t really have any plans. And getting laid gave him something to do. At least he could feel something. Even if it was just for a little while.

Jack gets out of bed slowly, being careful to avoid her. He steps lightly on the hardwood floors and walks directly to the bathroom. The linoleum is cold under his bare feet as he turns on the lights. The image in the mirror is almost too much to bear. “You can do this,” he tells himself softly. “Just put one foot in front of the other.”

He runs over to the hamper and picks out a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt. As he leaves the bathroom he grabs his backpack and an ipod. Before he can walk down the stairs he hears a groan behind him. “Hey,” she whispers, “don’t you want to come back to bed?” Jack looks over with some compassion. “No. I mean, I can’t. I have to go to work.” He then turns around and walks down to the first floor. “She’s been here before,” he thinks to himself. “She can drop the keys in the mailbox.”

He quickly puts on his bike helmet, grabs his bike and is out the door.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Call Follow-Up

I wanted to provide a brief follow-up to an earlier post about a conversation I had with my mom that did not go so well. During that very tense, unpleasant conversation I basically came clean about wanting to quit my job just so that I could pursue happiness on my own terms.

My mom and one of my sisters were in town this weekend. More than anything I wanted to see my mom so that we could come to some kind of detente. Nixon eventually visited China. The Soviet Union was all about perestroika for a while in the 80s. My hope last Friday was simple: if my mom and I could have an open, direct conversation about my Plan she would see the wisdom of my plans, she would be impressed by my maturity, and, more importantly, she would be inspired towards simplicity herself.

Well, so how did it go, you ask? Not so good. Jack was, as always, a victim of stupid, naïve, idealism. Following the format of my previous post, I wanted to share the following observations about our only face-to-face conversation:

Jack’s Mom Loves Him Dearly

“I love you Jack. You are a wonderful person and an even more wonderful son.”

Jack’s Mom is Set in Her Ways

“Back when I was young the focus was always to work all your life, take care of your kids and only relax after you retire. To do anything else is pretty much just being lazy. And I know you are not a lazy person.”

Jack Suspects That His Mom May Be a Bit Jealous of His Plan

“I mean, who decides to essentially retire before they are even 32? Look at me…I’ve gotten up at 6:00am every Mon through Friday for decades just to take care of my family. That’s the way life is. To do anything else is just plain weird.”

Jack Suspects That His Mom’s Ego May be Involved

“What am I going to tell your family? What about all my friends? What am I going to tell them? That my only son, the son who graduated from Ivy League Law School X, who makes $X a year wants to give it all up just to be a bum? Because that is precisely what you will be Jack, a bum.”


The bottom line is that nothing was really resolved; my mom still thinks that I'm absolutely nuts ala "who are you and what have you done with my son.” I may never be able to make her understand what this process means to me or how much I value this new life I am slowly crafting for myself. But you know what? I don’t care. I can’t care. She is in her late 50s and has lived her life in her own way. She is who she is, just as I am who I am or, at least, who I hope to be.

What matters to me at this point is that I am, indeed, determined to complete this journey. I am focused. My mind is resolved. My will is unshaken. My mind is strong. I am not giving in. I am not giving up. And to hell with anyone who stands in my way. Including my mom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movie Simplicity

I've always been amazed by the role movies have played in my life. Sure, I generally enjoy watching movies purely for their entertainment value. After all, who doesn’t love being transported to another time and another place where laughter, happiness, sadness and every other emotion under the sun is explored.

But there have been times when watching a movie has been a bona fide transformative experience for me. There have been times when, facing the deepest, darkest depressions of my life, a movie has brought a smile to my face. At other times, movies have completely changed my perception of the world. The bottom line is that if I really think about it, certain movies have actually been catalysts in my current quest for simplicity.

Thinking about this today I figured I would put together a short list of some of the movies that have pushed me into accepting the challenge of simplifying my life. Call them “inspirational simplicity films.”

A couple of things to note about the list below. First, this list is not meant to be comprehensive. I could probably come up with at least 20 movies under this category. Second, while I have found some kernel of knowledge in each and every one of these movies it’s not clear that everyone else will. People are different. Tastes differ. Having said that, feel free to tear me apart for watching a movie you feel truly sucks and/or is somehow unworthy of mention. Finally, including a movie in this list does not mean that I endorse a particular political point of view. A person can find genuine truth even in the most unexpected places:

Motorcycle Diaries

Born Into Brothels

Shawshank Redemption



The Straight Story

Wrestling Earnest Hemingway

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Last Night's Call

One thing you need to understand about me, my dear reader, is that I’ve never been all that close to my family. I had a pretty complicated upbringing: there were several marriages, separations, and divorces, all of which were sprinkled with the inevitable needs of multiple offspring; there were harsh words exchanged in front of children much too young to know the difference between love and desperation; most (worst?) of all, there was a sense of hopelessness that permeated the air of my youth. In the end, I thought the only thing I could do was flee so that I could one day breathe air that was pure and free. And so I did.

I got a call from my mom last night and all hell broke loose. I planned to have a conversation with her about the Plan sometime next year when things were rolling closer to fruition. But she called me last night with some questions that left me no choice but to spill the beans a little early. I didn’t quite mention the sale of the townhouse or getting rid of all my stuff. THAT might have given her a heart attack. But I did happen to mention that I would be leaving my job sometime next year. Here’s a little taste of what I was facing last night.

Jack is Inconsiderate
“Jack, what do you mean you are going to quit your job next year!??” Why didn’t you tell me about this before? How dare you keep things from me!? How dare you!”

Jack is Insane
“Who the fuck does that!? Are you insane!? Have you been to a doctor? Please tell me that you have been diagnosed with some sort of medical condition? Otherwise, who in their right mind would do such a thing. I mean, it’s crazy! How dare you!”

Jack is Selfish
“Why are you being so selfish!? Don’t you know that I will be retiring soon and the economy is going to shit? You need to think about what you will be doing to your family. How dare you!

Jack is Throwing His Life Away
“Have you thought about all the work you have put into your career? Think about all those nights studying for exams, all the money you spent to pay for school…all that sacrifice will be going down the drain if you do this! You are throwing your life away!! How dare you!”

I kept my cool during the call. I always do. I think it has something to do with the need to maintain control in the face of uncontrollable anger and rage. I guess my childhood was good for something.

But the call did prompt some soul-searching. I mean, seriously:

*Do I not have the right to leave a job that I find unfulfilling?

*Do I not have the right to make decisions about my own life, even if, ultimately, I find that I need to take a different path?

*Do I not have the right to try and be happy the best way I know how?