There’s an old saying I’ve been thinking about recently. It is often incorrectly attributed to Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain, but the actual author is unknown. It goes like…
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”
In my readings on Stoicism lately, a quote with a similar meaning from Cato the Younger was the focal topic (though not quite as humorous). I have been trying to meditate or use these words as a mantra as much as possible. It has a slightly different angle, but similar purpose. Here are those words:
“I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.”
~ Cato the Younger
Anyone who knows me well has undoubtedly seen me dig my heels in on something at some point, and if i’m being honest, such moments will not be included in my lifetime highlight reel. My opinionated nature is something that can embarrass me or get me into trouble from time to time. But those passions have also led me to some of the most satisfying moments in my life as well, as the commitment and effort driven by my passion makes the victory that much sweeter in the end when the path isn’t easy.
As I’ve begun lately to commit to the effort of self improvement, finding a more graceful middle ground of these two extremes without dimming the fire has been at the forefront of my mind. Over the last month, I have focused simply on shutting my mouth and listening more, but that is only part of the equation.
In another recent reading from “The Daily Stoic,” the topic was “You don’t always have to have an opinion,” and the central idea was learning the discipline not to give control to your opinions, particularly negative ones. This is accomplished simply by observing an idea, acknowledging its existence without assigning it any personal meaning. It is a strange exercise, and one that goes against every modern human instinct, but it is surprisingly beneficial, as it allows one to collect more information and learn more than is possible when one quickly wades into battle with an opinion.
But when combined with Cato’s words above, it has proved to be a powerful combination of self-analysis and evaluation of my words and how I use them. When I combine the importance of delaying the selection of my opinion with the evaluation of whether or not I am *actually* changing anything by speaking the words in my head, a sobering humility is the first result. This discipline forces you to place an actual value on your thoughts, and to censor yourself if that value is not greater than the value of silence.
But there are also other unexpected outcomes. You begin to really listen a lot more. And you begin to collect much more information. You suddenly have more space to analyze the words of others, and you are often able to pull out truer motivations than what others’ words are even directly conveying on their own.
Another outcome is the leveling up of one’s contributions. The self-regulation of one’s contribution sharpens ideas to a point where only the best efforts are offered, enhancing the efficiency and output of the quality of work at hand. Everyone benefits from this practice, in multiple ways.
In today’s world of always-on, extremely loud, and overly aggressive in-your-face opining on display at every social media platform or publication available, this discipline may be more valuable now than ever before in our history. And while I may only be at the beginning of this practice, I know this work is worth the effort, even if I fail often.
Or, as Ernest Hemingway once wrote as advice to his friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
May we all be so eloquent, so as not to remove all doubt.
on monday of this week, my clock turned the grand ol’ age of 32, so i am taking a break from the storytelling for one week to fast-forward to the future (present) and take a visual and mental look back at the last year. it’s hard for someone introspective like me not to think too much about calendar items like birthdays, but each year i try to think differently about them, and this year, i obviously had a lot to think about. 31 was a big year for me. those who know me well know that i’d had a pretty rough start to the year, after a couple of failed relationships (one for most of 2013, and then one for the first part of 2014) that hit me really hard back to back, paired with the realization that i had been miserable with my career for years and hadn’t even realized it til it was staring me in the face during a vacation to peru. i was suddenly in a midlife crisis and a minor depression, and i’m not someone who struggles like that with anything. and there i was, struggling with everything.
i’m sitting here in the london airport, 4 hours early for my connecting flight to new york, coming from scotland this morning. my trip as it stands in this segment, is effectively done. i am leaving the continent that i began this soul search on, where i began to learn so much about myself, and the way the real world actually is when it’s not being experienced from behind a desk and a salary. i’m leaving, and i’m not entirely sure why, or if i’ve even accomplished anything at all. i know that i achieved the simple, surface level goals that i had set for myself before i set out. ultimately meaningless goals like time (i wanted to make it 2 months of wandering before coming back – i assumed i wouldn’t even make it that long. when all is said and done, i’ll have been just a week shy of 5 months) abroad and an idea that i could land somewhere without a plan and survive, these things seemed like big challenges to conquer at the time, but now in retrospect they seem so… sophomoric. and this is only because they stand in the shadow of the greater, looming challenge of “what next?”
i’ve been self-indulgently telling my own story for 5 months now, basically when i first set foot on this path, initially not knowing exactly why i wanted to tell my own story for any reason other than self-documentation. so that i could have a time capsule that i could look back to someday later in my life and remember this one incredible, beautiful, outrageous, dangerous, chaotic, colorful thing that i did with my life that prevented it from being a total waste. so that i could see and know exactly the lessons i learned and grew from and not forget them. the writing gave me purpose, and it became the only stable thing in my life. while everything about my life was scrambled into a mess of vagabonding and wandering, itinerary-less adventuring and an existence devoid of accountability and responsibility, i formed a routine with the writing, giving myself deadlines and outlining topics and ideas and coining my own terms and saving them for later use in future posts. i generated motivation by telling myself that “my readers need something new,” and that if i didn’t get something out there regularly, people would stop reading. the obvious irony here is that i didn’t have any readers, other than my mom (hi mom. thanks for reading). i wanted to feel like what i was doing was important, even if it wasn’t really helping anybody other than myself, so i constructed an imaginary world around my travels and worked as hard as i could to play into the fantasy. things that brought me down or discouraged me, i ignored. i remember eagerly checking my site statistics to see how many hits i had gotten on my first few posts, and being disappointed at how minuscule the traffic i was getting. so i stopped checking (now my traffic has grown to a modest 1,000 hits per month, and i’ve done nothing to advertise or monetize it other than just post weekly updates on my personal facebook wall. thanks to you all for sharing the posts with your facebook friends. it really is flattering and greatly appreciated. please keep doing it!). i only focused on things i could actually do something about, which was traveling and writing. so i traveled more and i wrote more. i got criticized by “friends” on my own facebook and nstagram posts, so i removed those people from my contacts and my life, trying to prevent their negativity from poisoning my desire to create. the writing became the gasoline in the engine, and i did almost anything i could to protect that.
and explore, i did. while the blog content is about 2 months slower than reality, if you follow my instagram handle, (wePhilistines) you’ve seen what i’ve been doing.
i’ve been wandering. truly. just enjoying the peace of mind of having no ultimate destination and no definite purpose or itinerary. a friend i made on this journey asked me a few weeks ago “so what are you going to do once you’re done? you’ve had like 5 months to think about it.” to which i replied, “i’ve had 5 months to notthink about it.”
and now, here i sit. in an airport waiting to return home, writing a very tarantino-esque-out-of-order ending to a story that i hope hasn’t ended. i still have over 2 months and 10 countries more to cover on this blog (so don’t worry, i still have lots of stories to share), but i am now stuck in a weird, parallel purgatory where i’m retelling the past, looking blankly into the future, and standing paralyzed in the present. one foot forward and one foot back, i don’t know where I’m supposed to be at the moment, or where i’m going, and i know i can’t live in the past. i’m not sure exactly how i’ve changed, other than the obvious things like having a beard longer than it’s ever been and a newfound ability to sleep anywhere. but somehow i know that i’ve changed.
i’m not the same. in ways i can’t clearly define yet, i have noticed that i don’t talk to people the same way anymore. i don’t look at the world with the same cynicism i used to (i’m still cynical, just a less negatively dismissive version of it). i’m more curious about the world. i don’t endeavor to prove something to it like i used to, and now i’m more content to just be in it. i don’t have an intention to impress people any longer, a desire to control others’ opinions or regard of me by showing them how interesting or accomplished or knowledgeable i am, and instead i am now confident to just sit back and take things as they come, (relatively) free from worry about being viewed as attractive or talented or desirable.
and therein lies the crux of my fears. in the midst of the metamorphosis, amidst all these positive things i’ve begun to learn and develop in, i am now stepping onto a plane to take me back to everything i left behind, everything i ran away from. some people are happy when they return from a long journey, happy to see the people they’ve missed, happy to eat the food they’re used to, happy to sleep in their own beds, and happy to return to the life they put on pause when they stepped away. i can’t say that i’m exactly “happy” to return to the life i left behind. to be sure, i’m looking forward to seeing all my friends and family whom i’ve missed dearly, and i’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed, and i’m REALLY looking forward to having some new york pepperoni pizza when i step off that plane for a short visit to the city (sorry, but nobody makes it as good as new york. and it’s not even close), but i’m scared of falling back into the rhythm of complacency and materialism and safety that had taken control of my life. i’m scared of falling into the same bad habits that got me into that rut, i’m scared of living an unremarkable and risk-free monotonous life, and i’m okay with admitting to myself that i don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when i get back.
but i do have ideas and hopes. they are longer term ideas and shorter term solutions, with a few world-weary wisdoms to keep me at least semi-confident that i can survive just about anything that life can throw at me now. much of that involves creating. creating music and creating videos and getting better at photography and writing. always writing, never stopping. i refuse to ever allow my creative muscles atrophy again the way i did before i took this trip. so don’t worry friends, the story lines continue, though the timeliness may be off. i will continue writing and capturing, creating and sharing, and i will keep you informed of all of it. i’ll be back home in denver next week, if you’d like to get a coffee or go snowboarding or just walk around the park and hang out, just reach out. I know the key to preserving these new perspectives i’ve gained is to remain open, waiting for the world to extend itself, and for me to respond in kind.
i’ll pick up the story next week where we left off in austria, headed for breathtaking switzerland, where i met some people with amazing life stories, and even found myself guiding a little expedition of other tourists into the wilderness surrounding the matterhorn. i think you’ll enjoy it. i also promised another playlist to you guys which i did not post last weekend because i was wandering the scottish highlands and did not have a reliable wifi signal. so i will post that this weekend with a brief write-up of the songs. i think you’ll enjoy it as well.
for today’s musical magic i have a song i’ve been saving for… well basically since the trip started. i don’t know what it is specifically, but this song by australian duo “luluc” gives me a peace that i can’t quite describe, and given the subject matter of today’s post, it’s a peace that is desperately needed. the title “winter is passing” has a special significance for me, considering the season of life i am in at the moment, so i find it very a-propos. the entire album, “passerby” is fantastic, and full of subdued delicate beauty that you can leave on for hours on repeat without getting tired. i suggest a spin or two. enjoy…
hello friends, i apologize for not having a suitable story out to you yesterday. i am currently roaming the irish countryside and have not had a wifi connection for awhile. in fact, my current signal is very weak and i can’t upload any photos, so instead of a story today, i will leave you with another new song i recorded just before i left on my journey. again, it is modest, without any professional equipment, just a microphone and some instruments in my bedroom. all instruments performed by me, and the song is an original as well. i wrote this for someone i cared deeply for, but i never got a chance to share it with them. so instead, i share it with you. i hope you enjoy it, feel free to share it with others if you so choose. i’ll get you a story online as soon as i can manage it!
the new year tends to be a very polarizing event for most people, and it’s no different for me. when i was a high school kid, my new year’s eves were typically spent trying to find ways to raise mischief at little house parties that i may or may not have been invited to, often by crashing parties dressed in stupid outfits or running through parties screaming stupid phrases wearing only my underwear with women’s leggings over my face to conceal my identity, quickly escaping into the night moments later. i wish i could say i was lying about that, but i’m not. what a jackass.
anyway, as i got older, i had my fair share of standard new years parties for college-aged kids, usually semi-responsible affairs with mostly-irresponsible amounts of alcohols or substances, and those behaviors continued on for most of my twenties, some a little rougher than others, but mostly forgettable. i remember always having this sense of hope that the new year would bring some sort of genuine experience or meaningful memory that would somehow help me find purpose or direction in my next go-round the sun. unfortunately, that never seemed to materialize and i’d usually spent the night drinking and dancing my way into idiotic oblivion, and by the time the central moment of the night came and passed, my attention span was paper thin and the brain cells holding any memories were long dead. i always awoke with a headache and a taste of disappointment.
in my last few years of life, i’ve resorted to less-crazy and/or booze-fueled holidays, and opted for more private affairs; small gatherings with close friends and games. or last year, when i spent the new year watching fireworks on the beach in peru. these smaller groupings take a lot of the focus off the need for “something big” to happen and they opened up room for self-reflection and authenticity. and that’s something i’ve learned about myself, is that these are 2 things that i desperately need to make time for, or i become restless and unhappy.
and so i find myself back here for the 31st time in my life (in this blog’s 31st post, how clever), new year’s eve, in the charming city of amsterdam, the first city that made me feel at home and comfortable in my own skin here in europe. the first city that i wandered in europe without knowing where the hell i was going or what i was supposed to be doing. the first city where i didn’t speak the language and was legitimately scared to interact with people. the first city where i was visibly disturbed by a local food custom (mayo on the fries?!?! NO!!!). the first city to give me an eye-opening appreciation for visual art (the van gogh museum). the first city where i met a community of locals that happily accepted me and invited me places. this place holds a special spot in my heart, and i am happy to be back here among friendly faces, ready to ring in the new year.
but before the fireworks pop and the bubbly flows, before the music bumps and the sky glows, i take a look back on the year that was. what i thought it was going to be and what it became. and everything i learned in between.
i learned how to express my feelings instead of bottling them up. i learned how to deal with loss. i learned how to accept that i wasn’t happy with my life, and i learned what it meant to do something about it. i learned what it meant to actually be in love with someone, and how to let go of them when you knew they weren’t coming back. i learned how to move on. i discovered my own self worth, and what i am & am not. i learned how to let go of the wheel, how to stop trying to control everything (okay this one is a constant struggle). i learned how to search for new horizons. i learned the importance of “do,” and the danger of complacence. i learned how to jump without a parachute. i learned that its okay to not know exactly where you’re going.
i saw so much of the world. i met so many amazing people. i cried. i laughed. i lived. i made dreams come true. i lived life in the present, instead of the past or future. i took deep breaths. i stopped being afraid. i listened instead of competed. i walked. i stopped planning.
and as the day descends into night over the sleepy canals of the vibrant and pulsing city above them, and i count down the minutes until midnight, when i stand with one foot in the past and one in the future, desperately trying to maintain a grasp on the present, i want to impersonally thank every single soul that has graced my presence this year. regardless of the interaction or its significance, i assure you it contributed in some way to a life-changing year that no amount of words could ever capture. but i will keep trying, every week, and i will continue to thank the stars that someone out there is even interested in what i have to say or see. thank you, every single one of you. you’re all beautiful.
i thought long and hard about writing some sort of “year in review” section for the music portion of the blog, but ultimately decided against it. mainly because i feel that the most important aspect of music these days is how it makes the individual feel, not the “message” that it’s trying to send or the movement it’s trying to start. there are legions of blogs out there whose sole purpose is to explore such topics, but the music component of this blog tries to take a more simplistic appreciation of music. songs are the soundtrack of our lives, and all our lives have a different path. what a song means to me is different from what it means to you, so instead of talking about it til we’re blue in the face, let’s just listen to it.
so that being said, i’ve chosen the last we philistines song of 2014 carefully. it’s a newer song from an old sentimental favorite of mine, ben harper, and the lyrics sum me up pretty well at this stage of my life. it talks about learning how to accept who you are, faults and all, and being okay with each new day being it’s own step to climb, no matter the past or the future. while some might find this song a little depressing, i find it to be comforting. enjoy…
and the we philistines 2014 playlist. tomorrow we’ll start a 2015 playlist if you care to follow along. i’ll share that in the next post…
happy christmahannukwanzikaa everyone. people lately have been asking me how i can travel during the holidays? don’t i miss my family? what about all the fun christmas parties? and the christmas feasts? what do they eat where you are? do they even celebrate christmas? what do they call santa claus? don’t you miss the presents?
it’s weird for me sometimes, and difficult to explain. it’s not that i don’t miss all these things, and it’s not that i don’t care about them. and i would be lying if i said i didn’t want a christmas feast tomorrow, especially after traveling abroad for the last 4 months and missing our other american celebration of gorging yourself, thanksgiving. god i miss pumpkin pie. i miss sweet potatoes. and roasted turkey and cranberry sauce. and gravy. oh god, gravy.
but there are certain trade-offs you accept when you decide to leave on an extended trip, especially one during the world’s most sacred of times of the year. the trade-offs vary for each person, and they can be both insignificant and meaningful, depending on the person and their situation in life. for me, it’s a bit of both.
for the insignificant, it’s the simple things. the desire to do something different, the need to use up vacation hours before they expire at the new year, the wish to escape the in-laws. or the unruly children of relatives. these are all easy things to think of that push somebody over the pond to the great wide open.
but then there’s the meaningful the things. the obvious and most glaring trade-off is the search for the new. the hope and the dream that something exciting and different is waiting beyond the next horizon, that new incredible experiences lay like buried treasure, waiting to be discovered, and that a whole new world might unfold before your very eyes, unlocking the truths of the universe. or at least the meaning of your own life. this indeed is the allure of travel in general, but making these decisions is more difficult during the holidays, so the wandering soul is tested with a decision that weighs harder than it normally might, and must prove just how badly the desire to explore truly is.
for others, maybe they run away from things. maybe they don’t have a family, or maybe their family is broken. no judgment here, i’d say there are minor elements of both those things at play within my own trip. or maybe they just want to see how they decorate the eiffel tower at christmas. whatever the reason, it’s not really the business of anyone else. if the reason is meaningful enough to you, you do it and don’t look back.
but then there is inevitably a moment or two that you feel the weight on other end of that decision, and you might wish you were home instead of wherever it is that you are. it’s never the big moments that come back to you, it’s always the little ones. like watching home alone with your siblings like you’ve done almost every year since you were a kid and laughing inexplicably hard at the moment when kevin is walking home from the grocery store and the bags break, dropping all his items onto the sidewalk. you’ve seen it a million times, but for some reason just now its the funniest thing ever. or decorating that damn tree & finding that one hideous ornament that somebody gave you one year when you were 9 that always gave you the creeps, but now after all these years you just look at it and smirk. or having a glass of wine (or three) and sitting back and watching the complete chaos of your large extended family losing its mind between the food, the conversation, the presents, everything. and the sheer exhaustion that eventually descends on you after about 30 minutes of enduring this.
but it’s these things that really don’t mean anything that suddenly mean everything when you put them all together and see that these are the things that make up the whole picture of your life. like standing up close to a van gogh and seeing all the dots, not really sure what you’re looking at. but then you take a few steps back and see the greater beauty. and just when you’re starting to wonder whether or not you made the correct decision to leave what you know during the most valued time of the year for a land far away where you don’t speak the language and you don’t recognize anything they’re eating, you realize that this trip is not a mistake, nor is it even a trade-off. it is merely another dot (or ten) on the canvas. and hopefully, as you walk the foreign streets of whatever far-off land you might be in, you can enjoy the moment you are currently in without any pause or hesitation or confusion that you might not be where you’re supposed to be. instead, you can take some small pleasure that you are indeed experiencing everything you had hoped to on your trip, and next year, just maybe, you’ll have an even deeper and more intense appreciation for all those little things that you never noticed before.
happy holidays to anyone in the cosmos that stumbles upon this blog, and hopefully something resonates with you. if it does, i raise my glass (of woodford reserve) to you as i sit here on the couch in a cheap airbnb apartment in croatia, watching a likely illegal version of home alone on an ipad. trust me, wherever you are right now, you’re where you’re supposed to be.
sorry folks, i don’t do christmas music. i’ve been told for years that makes me a scrooge, and so be it. but nevertheless, i’ve got a harmless easygoing jam for you today on the day before christmas (some of you may need it once you get surrounded by your families and the political convos start flying around). the topic of the blog today was about all those little things you can get nostalgic about, and this song is completely rooted in it. anybody too young will likely not have quite the appreciation for this, but the opening notes of this song kick-started my time machine to back in the day (i’ve always driven old cars. i don’t believe in buying new) and just builds and builds. it takes something that used to cause me to pull my hair out and transforms it into an infectious, head nodding gem that i never saw coming. enjoy…