If I could give you anything, I would give you a kick

i would give you a kick

I had a hard time accepting death. At age 20, I stared in the mirror and saw my wrinkles as evidence of aging, decay, and eventual death. I resolved to become a scientist who would discover a way to reverse aging. I was infuriated that everyone died and thought that with all the biomedical science out there, it should be possible to cure aging. For the next few years, I plunged into the research, but came to the opinion that in my lifetime science would not defeat aging. So back to square one: I would die.

I installed this little timer on my computer to countdown to the day I will be 80, which is about my life expectancy. It’s a daily reminder to do something meaningful with my life.

death clock

Last week I stayed with Bill and Ariel, two friends who are starting up their own farm. Bill’s vision is to use the farm as a vehicle to save and distribute rare seeds. In America, the agricultural system has changed so farmers now buy seeds from big companies and are dependent on them, as opposed to saving their seeds year to year. Many highly nutritious varieties of plants have been lost. Bill wants to do his part to change this. He doesn’t want to be a huge revolutionary, he just wants to do something.

Like Bill, I’m wired for idealism: fighting the good fight, changing the world. It’s sad to me when people have the attitude: “You can’t fight the big powers, so you might as well join them and be on the side that’s winning.” I was reading my college magazine and came across this description of one guy’s career:

Backyard Fracking

How depressing. We need more humanity, we need to realize we’re all in this together.

Though cliche, my coping mechanism for death is to try to make a positive impact on the world. This doesn’t necessarily mean: build a super-awesome world-improving machine that you will be remembered for. It could just mean: hug your loved ones. The Slingshot, a radical day-planner, says the following on its last page: “Ultimately, our relationships with other people are the framework of a new world built on hope, trust and love. This is our strongest revolutionary tool.”

But a lot of the time I get distracted and focused on self-centered mental battles that do exactly zero good for other people. Kim Gordon sings this song for her brother, and she is hella angry:

If I could give you anything / I would give you a kick. 

You’d rather have a dollar / than a hug from your sis.

– Kim Gordon, Cinderella’s Big Score

Here is the full video:

I need Kim Gordon to sit on my shoulder as I go through life, like the good angel in old cartoons. If I act like a dweeb, she’ll give me a kick. I went to a restaurant the other day and got some tea and was all stressed out and in my head. What the hell is wrong with me? I have only 19,000-something days left. I can’t be stressed out. I need to get out of my self-centered mumbo jumbo and give my loved ones a hug.

The song continues:

You really fucked up this time / Your ol’ lady’s really pissed

She’s not just laughing / She’s polishing her fist.

Yeah, I’m going to die, and that means I need to be a good person. Angel on my shoulder, let’s go, let’s go. Death is coming around the corner and life is a game where I decide how to spend these days as the timer runs down. As 19,000 becomes 18,000 becomes 17,000 becomes … 1,000, I want to do good with my days.


P.S. One practical mental health tip I’ve found is taking cold showers. It’s really tough to be all up in your own head during a cold shower. And they take zero effort, you just have to flip the switch from hot to cold. A cold shower is a nice little kick.

P.P.S. If I had to summarize this long, meandering post, it would be: Act like a freakin’ human being. Don’t get kicked by Kim Gordon. Remember the human.

P.P.P.S. The writer David Sedaris picks up trash on the side of the road in his free time. He finds it satisfying. He’s this big fancy writer, but he spends a lot of time doing simple good things.

remember the human

My mantra

just one thing

Medium-sized anxiety attack last night. So many things on my to-do list. Time to bust out my anti-anxiety artillery:

  • Lit a candle. Didn’t work.
  • Deep breathing with hand on belly. Didn’t work.

Woke up way too early, all anxious. The song Take Pills was stuck in my head: “Only one thing at a time / Anything more really hurts your mind.” I wrote these words repetitively in my notebook. And what do you know — the anxiety got better.

When it comes to getting work done, tunnel vision is good. My puny human brain can’t juggle a lot of things all at once. Today, I’m going to cover up my whole to-do list except for just one check box. I will build a temple out of my day devoted to this one thing. Even if I get distracted, I will at least make some progress towards it.

Serially monogamous, baby. Only one thing at a time, anything more really hurts your mind.

Investing in laid-back

investing in laid back

My dad told me a story of a Chinese guy who came to the US as an engineer. His company took forever to get him a visa. He didn’t mind. He bought a house, started a garden, and eventually, in 7 years, got a visa. When he went back to China, all his friends had gone into business and had gotten rich. But they had high blood pressure and were all stressed out. Meanwhile, he was happy and healthy. He had invested in laid-back.

I saw some old guys discussing investments one time. I thought: who really cares about gold or silver when you are very old? I can’t promise any definite health benefits, but I think it’s a good idea to invest in laid-back. You don’t need a lot of money to invest in laid-back, you just need time.

I’m not really all that good at investing in laid back, I’m not really all that good at life. But I’m working on it. Today, I got stressed on the road and ran a yield sign which could have caused an accident. Today, I ate way too much ice cream and felt sick. But today I also laid in the grass in the park and watched the sky. For a second there, I connected with the universe. Then I went back into my rat-race, need-to-do-stuff frame of mind.

A neurologist said that neuroradiologists make tons of money. I had to restrain myself from going on a wild internet chase about neuroradiologist salaries. The Chinese guy wouldn’t have wasted his time on the internet looking up neuroradiologists. He would have just gone out to his garden.

I need some life coaching, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I guess I implicitly thought school would teach me life skills, but it has not. It is helpful to me to have a religion other than competitiveness.

Recently, I’ve found two good life coaches:

-The Jewish religion, with its emphasis on taking a day off every week, for family, friends, reflection, and growing your soul.

-Yoga, with its emphasis on moving the body in a healthy non-competitive kind of way.

Goodbye, atheist capitalist academics. Hello, mystical solitude. I’m putting all my money in laid-back.

Join a health cult!

joe's health cult

So I did yoga a few years back for the first time and it was kind of nice but also time consuming and meh, whatever, I didn’t keep it up.

Then I started doing AcroYoga, which is a social thing and suddenly there was a purpose to yoga: develop flexibility so that you can do these cool new moves with people. In no time I was doing yoga at home.

My advice for health habits is to join a health cult. Raw food potlucks, group runs to train for marathons, overeaters anonymous, whatever. If it’s social it’ll work a lot better. And intimately social is even better. If you are friends with the people you are training for a marathon with, you care about it more.

Flossing support group, anyone?

Don’t read on the john

public service announcement

I’ve started a “Health Tips” section of this blog. I am interested in preventive medicine / healthy lifestyle stuff  and I’ll be posting health tips with drawings.

Here goes health tip #1:

Don’t read on the john. Apparently reading on the toilet causes hemorrhoids. This is a shame, because this is one of my favorite activities but I will give it up, because I spent 4 week working with a colorectal surgeon and would really rather not give that guy any business.