Five Ways to Stay Zen When Life Seems to be a Total Dick

Lately, as a result of reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, I’ve been really chill about everything in life.

My unprecedentedly Zen demeanor has the people around me kind of shocked.

“Wait,” they say after my bagel order is fucked up and I don’t shriek and/or fall out of my chair in a fit of hysterics, “you’re really not going to have a melodramatic breakdown over this?”

No, I will no longer unravel over bagels, because what are bagels anyways? They’re merely collections of molecules and energy – they’re form, and form never stays the same, and so trying to control or identify with form on any level (especially on the bagel level) is just silly.

But of course most of us are ruled by our egos (in other words, our thoughts), and it’s our egos that wholly identify with form – not just bagels, but our bodies, possessions, and even the thoughts themselves are a form (of energy) – and so THIS is why many of us are assholes. Because we’re trying to control circumstances and build our entire identities on shit that isn’t actually real or permanent.

So when we step back and become aware that the part of us that’s upset is often just a thought and isn’t truly who we are, we can watch as our egos go all “OMG this bagel was supposed to make all my problems go away and now it’s not even the right bagel!” and just laugh at the fact that our egos are big fucking babies.

This is the general approach I’ve been applying to all aspects of life lately, and it’s resulted in quite the shift.

And so here are five responses (all inspired by A New Earth) to common issues to help you remember that nothing in the material world is worth stressing out over. Ever.

(Note: If I sound like an asshole in any of these, it’s because I’m mostly talking to myself.)

1. Oh, that e-mail pissed you off? Well, how about the fact that if there was no electricity in the first place then your computer and/or smartphone would merely be a shitty piece of plastic and metal that takes up space, and so are you really going to allow a shitty piece of plastic and metal that takes up space to fuck with your energy like that? Plus, whoever it was who sent the annoying e-mail probably sent it from the same ego-based place in them that is now flaring up in you and getting all pissed off over a SHITTY PIECE OF PLASTIC AND METAL, so CHILL. (Love you.)

2. That guy doesn’t like you back. Hmmm… and what, exactly, is it about this guy’s perception of you that matters, like, at all? Are you going to be upset over the fact that someone else’s mental image of you isn’t one of total adoration and worship? I mean, even if this guy believed in his heart that you were gross and unlovable and Shrek-esque, what would that really mean? And if he believed that you were hot and brilliant and perfect, what would that really mean? Either way, you are who you are. The reality of the present moment is never going to be any different because of one fucking dude’s thought of who you are.

2a. Wow. Isn’t that shit freeing?

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3. Your train is late. Unless you plan on becoming a sorcerer of trains and personally controlling all the trains in all the land and putting an end to train delays for the rest of forever, getting angry over this could be a waste of energy. Maybe.

4. You’re 26 and haven’t yet reached any of your major life goals. Okay, so our society is all about ambition! And hard work! And life milestones! And accomplishments! And other shit. Great shit, sure. But there’s plenty of misery in identifying entirely with shit – even if it is great. And yet defining ourselves by our accomplishments is exactly what many of us are programmed to do – we compare ourselves to each other (#Facebook) relentlessly. We calculate our importance, worth, and lovability based on superficial things like job titles, homes, cars, clothes, lifestyles, whatever. But at the end of the day (when we’re all dead, for instance), what REALLY matters? Our external qualities (AKA form)? Or those parts of us that were never identified with form to begin with (AKA our simply Being and connecting and loving)?

5. They fucked up your bagel order. See: the beginning of this post.

 

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It’s Those Damn GED Commercials That Are Making America Fat

Lately I’ve been trying cut back on my bagel intake because summer is approaching, and because carbs.

Also, lately I’ve been having existential crises where I feel like I’m not trying hard enough to succeed in life.

And so now I do this thing where I’ll get all depressed and start watching TV, and then I’ll see one of those commercials for “GED pep talks,” where C-list celebrities like the mom from That ’70s Show are literally paid to motivate people (via telephone hotline) to get off their asses and work towards a GED.

And so then I ask myself, “How the fuck do I feel inadequate when there are these lazy-ass fucks out there who need to be pep-talked into getting a GED?” but then I realize what an elitist snob dickhead I must be for even having a thought like that in the first place, because “Those people couldn’t just casually graduate from high school and go to college and grad school like you did, Nic. Their circumstances were likely adverse growing up, and sometimes they probably couldn’t even eat proper meals,” and so then I just say, “Fine, fuck it,” and figure that I might as well practice gratitude and take advantage of my privilege and just eat a fucking bagel already.

And so basically I’m failing at that whole “cutting back on carbs” thing and my chances of having a six-pack (or really, an any-pack) in time for beach season are nonexistent, and IT’S ALL THE MOM FROM THAT ’70S SHOW’S FAULT.

What a bitch.*

Bagel

*Kidding! She’s delightful.

I’m a Fast Pedestrian with Angry Thoughts, but at the End of the Day I’m Spiritual So It’s All Good

One of the things I advertise on my OkCupid profile is the fact that I can walk really fast through crowded urban streets.

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 8.24.16 PMIt’s not that I’ve ever been particularly proud of this ability – frankly, there are many other, more important things that I can do well – but “walking briskly in New York City” was really the only answer I could think of for that question that didn’t make me sound like a pretentious douche bag who looks in the mirror on an hourly basis and probably has a pet name for his penis. Because that’s nobody’s type.

(Although now that I think about it, I have been involved with or know more than a few of those kinds of dudes. And they never seem to run into any problems getting laid. So maybe I’m wrong and that’s actually everybody’s type?)

(Holy shit. I think I just figured out why I’m single.)

(Hold on…)

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 9.04.04 PMOkay, I’m ready for all the men to want me now.

(Side note: While the above answer is of course a joke, I did have to change my real-life profile to that for about twenty seconds in order to secure the screen shot. And it was the most anxious, frightening, and uncomfortable – and yet oddly invigorating? – twenty seconds of my life.)

Moving on.

Wait, where was I going with all of this anyways?

Oh, slow people. So I started writing this post from my seat on the commuter train, because basically I had to zigzag my way through an army of molasses-paced pod people at Grand Central Station to get there, and it was so fucking annoying because everyone loves to walk in every which direction while being all “I’m slow and I wear mittens” while I’m just internally like, “ARGH! GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY AND LET THE TALL GUY THROUGH SO HE CAN GO HOME AND DRINK WINE AND GOOGLE LYRICS TO NINETIES POP BALLADS AND FANTASIZE ABOUT BEING FRIENDS WITH OPRAH AND VENT ABOUT HOW SLOW YOU ARE ON HIS BLOG.”

But then I started writing, and then that whole OkCupid introduction turned into a way more involved tangent than I had originally intended it to be, and so by the time I was ready to get into how enraging slow people are, the frustration had worn off and my desire to angrily rant was (mostly) diminished. And then I reminded myself that having to deal with dawdling pedestrians is small. fucking. potatoes compared to the real issues in the world (potato famines, for instance), and we are all cut from the same divine thread of oneness and so really I need to be spreading love and light to everyone — even people with shorter legs than me.

Wow. I’m pretty sure this entire post just turned into like, a deep lesson in perspective, love, forgiveness, and the Golden Rule, all at the same time. You’re welcome for the wisdom.

Now move.

 

Possibly the Best Unintentional Metaphor for Life as a Disillusioned Young Professional Ever

Every so often I get the brilliant idea to wake up super early in an effort to gain control of my life and make the most of my pre-work morning time.

Here’s what my living room looks like in my head on those mornings:

Room1

ESPN? Porn? What the hell am I, a straight man?

Here’s what my living room looks like in my head on every other morning:

Room2

Admittedly more common.

In both scenarios, I get to work at the same exact time.

But I mean, in Scenario A, there’s this whole illusion of freedom and choice happening. ”I’m an adult who is in control of how he spends his time,” Scenario A proclaims.

“Hey asshole, no you’re not. Shut up and go to work before you get fired and therefore have no living room to procrastinate in in the first place,” says B.

“You know what? You’re mean. Maybe I don’t need a living room,” Scenario A might reply. “Material shit doesn’t matter! What is money, anyway, but paper and energy and an illusion?”

And that’s usually when I get all What-am-I-doing-with-my-life-and-if-money-doesn’t-matter-then-why-don’t-I-just-quit-everything-and-move-to-a-shack-somewhere-in-the-woods-so-I-can-focus-on-my-true-passion-but-then-how-will-I-pay-my-student-loans-and/or-Wu-Tang-Clan-Fan-Club-dues?-FUCK-I’M-TRAPPED and my brain short circuits.

(Side note: I’m totally kidding about the Wu-Tang Fan Club thing. I have no idea where that random gangster rap reference even came from. Actually, wait. I do. I was going to write Mariah Carey Fan Club, but coming from me that just seemed far too predictable at this point. So then my mind was all, “Okay, well Mariah did that ‘Fantasy’ remix with Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 1995… and he was a part of the Wu-Tang Clan… and sure! I’ll say ‘Wu-Tang Fan Club’ and it will be funny.” But now that I think about it, I could have done better. I mean, I wasn’t even a Wu-Tang fan in the nineties, let alone today. Also, I highly doubt they would have had a formal fan club for me to join in the first place. I mean, would that have even been legal? I feel like drugs and guns would have been involved in some capacity, and I’m assuming that the post office would have had something to say about that. And then arrests would have probably been made, and then I wouldn’t even be able to write this right now because I’d be too busy wasting my days away IN JAIL, WONDERING WHY I CAN’T HAVE CONTROL OF MY OWN LIFE.)

Holy shit. Did the Wu-Tang Clan just prove my entire point for me? I think they did.

 

How to Make ANYTHING Healthy (Yes, this Post Contains All the Secrets)

(Alternate Title: True Life: I Use Healthy Substitutions to Rationalize My Binge Eating – Part Two)

Every Friday at my company is “Wing Day!”

It’s kind of like Casual Friday, except instead of wearing non-professional attire, employees come to work dressed up as winged creatures – bees, pterodactyls, slutty angels – anything, really, so long as it can fly.

(Side note: Can we talk about how I just managed to spell “pterodactyl” right on my very first try? I swear. This kind of thing never happens, and frankly, I think it means I’m brilliant.)

Okay, so actually, I’m lying. (About the dressing-up-as-creatures thing; the getting-pterodactyl-right-on-the-first-try thing is completely true, and I’m standing by my brilliance.)

Wing Day is, in reality, just an excuse for everyone in the company to pig out on Buffalo wings for lunch, as they are the Friday special in the cafeteria.

And so here’s a conversation that occurred in the lunch line between my coworker JaJa (this pseudonym was her choice, by the way, and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how much of a delight she is) and myself the last time I indulged in this obesity-fueling ritual:

  • Nic: I can’t believe I’m doing this. I have a date tonight. A date. I’m now forever going to be The Guy Who Ate Wings for Lunch On the Day of a Date.
  • JaJa: Oh, stop. It’s fine.
  • Nic: Hold on! [Dramatically sprints to the salad bar. Returns ten seconds later, panting.]
  • JaJa: What did you just do?
  • Nic: I had to grab some fresh baby spinach.
  • JaJa: OMG.
  • Nic: Yes. I am having my chicken wings on a bed of spinach.

In related news, I sometimes add broccoli to my macaroni and cheese:

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I also like to add about a third of a packet of additional shredded cheddar, but that’s neither here nor there.

Did I mention that the macaroni is made with fifty percent whole grain? I mean, this meal is basically a power smoothie. That is, if power smoothies were all carb-y and cheese-laden, which, aren’t they?

STOP LOOKING AT ME THAT WAY.

Am I doing power smoothies wrong?

P.S. In case you missed Part One of this series, because apparently my reprehensible eating habits are steadfastly becoming an epic trilogy similar to The Godfather and/or Star Wars (and/or the nineties horror gem The Leprechaun… that was a trilogy, right?) you can find it here.

P.P.S. The folks over at Kashi have actually read Part One, and they told me to eat their cookies “in moderation.”

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 10.18.57 PM

FOOLS.

Initially I was super offended by this tweet, but then that wink-face changed the game. So I’m willing to brush it off. Also, does the wink mean that they’re asking me out on a date? Because… yes. Kashi, I’ll date you. I mean, I’m already in a borderline-sexual relationship with your cookies (PUN!) anyway, so everything about this scenario just feels right. And yet so wrong.

The Definitive Rule for Using Exclamation Points in Work E-mails

We can all tell from the name of this blog that I love a good exclamation point. I mean, they’re fun. They evoke a sense of, like, “Yeah! Life is good!”

Or at the very least, a sense of “I’m perky and approachable and I don’t loathe you.”

Exclamation points say that you’re breezy for you, so you don’t have to say it yourself – because we all know from Friends that explicitly stating you’re breezy totally negates the breezy. So really, exclamation points are an essential communication tool, maintaining the awareness of all our collective breeziness and soothing the egos of probably a million-ish neurotic people per minute.

But what happens when exclamation points become a source of contention, jealousy, and betrayal?

I’m writing, specifically, of exclamation points as employed (no pun intended) in work e-mails.

IMG_20140301_093817

Desktop background courtesy of Tiny Buddha. Exclamation points courtesy of an outlandish young professional with access to wine and a smartphone.

To give you an idea of where I’m headed with this, here’s a conversation that recently took place between my work-wife Jenny and I:

  • Nic (pointing at an e-mail she had open on her computer): What is THIS?
  • Jenny: What?
  • Nic: He wrote “Thanks!” at the end. “THANKS!”
  • Jenny: And…
  • Nic: To me, he always writes “Thanks.” WITH A PERIOD. He hates me, doesn’t he? I knew it. Is it because I never returned his three-hole puncher to him that one time? Tell me everything you know.

Jenny, unwilling to sing like a canary, was just like, “Don’t be silly! He gives me periods all the time. This e-mail was an anomaly.”

Her response was a nice attempt at assuaging my pain, but the damage was done.

Now, I totally get that some people just don’t do exclamation points. Most of these people are men (myself notwithstanding). For whatever reason, women have no problem feigning excitement – in e-mails, texts, the bedroom, etc. – but guys tend to be more direct and stoic in their communication styles. (Do you love how I’m setting progress back fifty years right now by totally generalizing male-female social patterns? You do, don’t you?)

With the above in mind, I can totally get down with a dude who uses periods (or even semicolons)… but the guy in the e-mail to Jenny was different. While I had previously put him in the category of “straightforward man who never uses exclamation points,” seeing his e-mail to Jenny destroyed that identity altogether and indicated that he DOES indeed use exclamation points — but that he’s highly selective about it. He’s the pretentious NYU of exclamation points. (Note: I’m allowed to make this joke because I’m alumni.)

I never thought of myself as someone whose emotions could be dictated by punctuation, but apparently I’m hypersensitive and have too much mental time on my hands.

Or is this just the mark (no pun intended again! Okay, maybe a little this time) of the twenty-first century? Assumptions abound and communication suffers because no one wants to actually talk to anyone out loud anymore?

At the end of the day (because I don’t really feel like trying to explore that last question) I think it all just comes down to consistency. I clearly like to keep people in boxes, so here’s what I have to say to all working professionals: If you’re going to be a period person, then please, for the love of Mariah Carey, stay in your box! And exclamation point people, try to do the same.

Let’s all do our part to prevent emotional meltdowns in the workplace.

P.S. For the record, I will continue to always take the exclamation point route myself. Mostly because my biggest fear is being interpreted as a disgruntled misanthrope by those around me. Plus it leaves open the option to occasionally use them in a passive-aggressive manner when someone says “Do this” and I say “Sure thing!” when what I really mean is, “If you were attacked by a large, aggressive bear with poop on its paws right now, I might be okay with that.”

P.P.S. It just occurred to me that maybe the aggressive-bear-with-poop-claws exclamation point is actually exactly what Jenny received in the e-mail in question, which would mean that that guy is in fact not selective in an NYU kind of way, but more so selective in an angry-evil-bear-poop-whisperer kind of way.

P.P.P.S. In light of that last postscript, I’ve just realized that my entire argument in this piece is ludicrous and baseless and unfounded — pretty much everything but “definitive.”

P.P.P.P.S. WHY CAN’T I EVER MAKE AN IRREFUTABLE POINT? I guess this is why we should never try to keep people in boxes. Run free, everyone. Follow your heart. Use whatever punctuation you desire. Just be breezy about it.

 

Commuter Chaos on the Metro-North Akin to the Titanic (Or Not)

Because I live in the Northeast and therefore operate under the assumption that the world revolves around the tiny little bubble that is the tri-state area, I’d like to go ahead and assume you are aware of the train situation going on between Connecticut and New York City right now.

But if my assumption is wrong and you actually are unaware, then:

  1. Can we trade lives? I’d love to not have to be in a tumultuous, codependent, and borderline abusive relationship with care about the Metro-North Railroad for once in my adult life.
  2. All you really need to know is that there was like… an issue. Or something. I actually don’t really know what the situation is myself; all I know is that there are very few trains running.

Though I stayed home for two out of the first three days of “COMMUTER CHAOS,” I did go into the city last Thursday. And needless to say, it was a bit of an odyssey.

After learning via the news that the early rush hour trains were a disaster, I decided to adopt a wait-until-the-rush-is-over-and-just-take-a-later-train strategy. (My need for sleep, coffee, a quick workout, some “me time,” and a bagel also factored into this decision, but that’s neither here nor there.)

IMG_20131002_100626

You can’t really tell here, but even the ticket machine was freaking out.

So. I got to the station at about nine in the morning, and y’all—it was bad. There were news crews and reporters lurking around every corner. People were angry and crazy and yelling at Metro-North employees with things like, “But I pay three hundred dollars a month to ride on this Godforsaken railroad!” and, “Please sir, can you just help me?”

It was all very Titanic.

Frankly, I was surprised when the Metro-North workers didn’t jump up on railings to scream “WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, I SAY!” while a string quartet cried in the corner and Kate Winslet jumped a lifeboat because she was a total idiot in love. It’s a good thing this wasn’t actually the case, though, because if it was then I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have “pulled a Billy Zane” and grabbed the nearest orphan while jumping to the front of the line to the next Grand Central express train and demanding, “Let me in. I’M ALL SHE HAS!” — and I’m pretty sure that’d be really damaging to my karmic inventory.

Anyway. In the midst of all this drama, I heard through the grapevine (because the schedule screens were broken, because of course) that there was a train to the city leaving soon from Track 4, so I promptly made my way to the platform and stood as close to the edge as possible, because I’m that guy.

As I waited, I noticed an NBC reporter bouncing around and unsuccessfully trying to get various commuters to talk to him as they went all Christina-Aguilera-in-“Beautiful”-DON’T-LOOK-AT-ME on him and cowered into themselves. Then my eyes met with his and he declared to the crowd, “This guy looks like he wants to talk!” and I proceeded to totally prove him right.

I’m a little fuzzy on the exact exchange, but here’s how my memory of it goes:

  • Reporter: How angry are you with the MTA? Isn’t this ridiculous? The trains could be down for three weeks! Are you infuriated?
  • Nic: Um… I’m optimistic! Wait. Should I be looking at you? Or directly at the camera? Or, like, down? OR UP? AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?
  • Reporter: Just look here. [He points at a thing.] You’re optimistic, really? How is that possible? Aren’t you late to work? You must be very frustrated.
  • Nic: Well, yeah. I’m going to be late… I’ll be happy if I make it in by noon. But really I think we all just have to deal, you know? It could be worse.
  • Reporter: Thank you. [Unspoken: You and your lack of outrage bore me.]

When I finally got to work – two hours late, mind you – I marched in confidently, convinced of the fact that I was the only Connecticut commuter to brave the wild and actually attempt to come in that day. But then I went to the desk of the first commuting coworker I could think of, and he was just like, calmly typing away on his computer.

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad,” he said to me after I asked him what his deal was. “I left at six this morning and drove to White Plains, parked at an obscure lot, walked ten minutes to the station, and took the Harlem line to Grand Central. In fact, I got here early. How about you?”

I stuck twenty pins into my mental voodoo doll of him and responded, “IT WAS MADNESS. IT WAS BASICALLY THE TITANIC!” and then I went all, Where the hell were these high-strung emotions when the reporter was interviewing me? on myself, and then I had a coffee and quickly became optimistic again. Because I realized that the Titanic was actually a legitimate tragedy, and the Metro-North is just an a-hole.

I think that’s called perspective?

P.S. My interview ended up airing on the five o’clock news, but sadly, I missed it. I did talk to a few people who saw it, though, and they confirmed that I didn’t have a double chin, so I’m going to consider the whole endeavor a win.

 

 

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