I used to post here every year on my birthday. Then I missed a year or maybe more. This year, I missed again. Or I decided not to post. I decided it would be better if I waited until the day after to write about the day before.
I enjoyed my birthday yesterday. Maybe more than usual. It's not that I did anything special. There was no party and cake or romantic dinner with my wife in some fancy restaurant.
Instead, I drove to my wife's Thai Buddhist temple and presented gifts to the temple in return for receiving good karma that will help me enjoy a better life in my next incarnation, or something like that. I don't believe that stuff, but I like to give and to help out the temple even if I receive nothing more from it than the pleasure of giving. And I like to please my wife who wants me to give to help out the temple and earn good karma for myself and for her.
After the presentation and the usual morning round of chanting, which I always sit back with eyes closed and listen to respectfully while the others carry on, I piled delicious potluck Asian food on my plate and savored every bite until I was uncommonly full by recent standards. And many people, including some of the monks, wished me a Happy Birthday.
After all that, I drove home while my wife remained behind, and I took a nap and then rose and started thanking people on Facebook for their birthday wishes. I really enjoyed reading their wishes and replying to them. Yes, I harbor no illusions that my birthday means anything special to them, unless they happen to share it, which some of my Facebook friends and acquaintances do. I know they're just being nice in what is probably an obligatory sort of way. After all, there's always someone we know on Facebook who's having a birthday no matter what date it is, especially if we know a lot of people on Facebook. Yet, I still appreciate, more than I ever have before, that they took a few seconds to write to me.
As I wrote on Facebook today, the older I get, and I'm well into my 60's now, the more I appreciate the simpler things in life. Yesterday I was and today I am still filled with gratitude that I was able to experience yet another birthday and that I am still alive and still in abundant possession of my modest faculties.
Is this because I know my time is running out? That's surely part of it. My time IS running out. And given what may loom in my near future, it might be better if it runs out sooner than later. But I think it's also the case that when we've been around long enough, we come to realize, if we're lucky, that many of the so-called "big" things in life--i.e., buying costly or prestigious items, accomplishing ballyhooed goals and reaping extravagant rewards for it--is often not as fulfilling as stroking my dying cat on my lap, seeing my wife off to work in the morning, reading a wonderful essay on philosophy or science, listening to a beautiful Hiromi solo, or thanking someone for their birthday message.
I don't know if I'll be around next year to write on or soon after my birthday. I never know from year to year, and I know even less this year than ever before. Yet, from this point on, I'm going to write more and do more and be better for as long as I can. Not because I expect external rewards for it. But because it's my inner calling. To do my best and be my best.
I will focus much of my effort, wherever I am and whatever my circumstances, on producing a podcast and writing a book on free will and on becoming a professional writer and podcaster. Nobody would hire me for anything else because I'm old and have nothing to offer them. But I can speak and I can write and I can deliver something to this world that nobody else can exactly like me, especially if I stop trying to be different or better than anyone else. And I've hidden my light under a bushel for far, far too long.
I haven't seen or heard much of Mamet himself over the years. But based on what I've seen of his films and plays and a smattering of him in the media, I expected him to be less cordial and talkative than he was with Maron. On that podcast, he wasn't the intensely terse man of his fictional creations but an outspoken, almost garrulous man of strong opinions.
And one of his opinions is that a play or film is worth nothing if it doesn't "entertain" the audience. It can be filled with lofty ideas, but if it doesn't entertain the audience, it's just a bunch of pretentious crap.
He cited the example of poetry in the New Yorker that wannabe intellectuals praise. He says when he asks them to recite a line or two from some poem they say they liked, they can't. He takes this to mean they want to like it because they think they're supposed to, and they pretend to like it because they believe it will make them appear or actually become smarter and more cultured than they are. But they don't really like it because it isn't any good and doesn't entertain the reader enough to like and remember it well enough to recite it the way, say, a great Shakespeare sonnet does.
As I listened to this, I thought of the kinds of books, articles, and blogposts I want to write and podcasts I want to produce about subjects such as free will, Christian counter-apologetics, integral Buddhist stoicism, integral health, and so forth, and I wonder how entertaining I can make any of it. And if I can't make it entertaining, who's going to read or listen to it? And why would they? To foolishly put on airs of effete intellectualism and learnedness? I lack the academic bonafides to lure paying customers to my work even for that empty purpose.
Yet, I feel compelled to produce written works and podcasts that offer the best I can concerning the subjects and issues that fascinate me come what may. And so I shall.
I feel desperate. Everything is coming to a head. I can't continue the way I have, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid for my marriage. I'm afraid of losing everything. I'm afraid of being left in the figurative if not literal cold.
I've had such a long time and so many opportunities to at least try to do better, and I've squandered them. I don't blame myself for this. I understand that when a man is convinced he's so intellectually weak and psychologically flawed that he has no chance of succeeding at anything he might try that's worth trying for, he's not going to make much of an effort. And that's how I've thought, felt, and lived most of my adolescent and adult life. Maybe I've had good reason to do this, and maybe I haven't. But here I am, and I don't think I'm being too dramatic when I say that I find myself peering into the darkness.
But here's the thing. Even if my best efforts from now on are doomed to fail, at least I can try while I still can draw breath, think coherent thoughts, and put my fingers to the keyboard. I can still read. I can still study. I can still write for my blogs. I can still compose and publish my book. I can still produce my podcast. I can still keep up my household duties. I can still be the best husband to my wife, caretaker to my cats, son to my mom, friend to my friends, and person to everybody that I can possibly be every remaining moment of my waking life.
That's worth something! Going out trying my best has to be better than the alternative, no matter what the result. I can't let myself give up. I have to try like I've never tried before until there's nothing left of me.
Rex Tillerson is out as Secretary of State. Mike Pompeo is in. Or soon will be.
Tillerson was a bust. I don't know what Pompeo will be. Can anyone do that job well under a president who doesn't seem to believe in it and doesn't appear to understand it?
With a rising China feeling its oats, a resurgent Russia boasting of unstoppable nuclear-tipped cruise missiles of unlimited range, a ruthless North Korean tyrant with the hydrogen bomb and a fleet of rockets growing in size and sophistication, European disunion beset with racist nativism, and a New World Order splintering into chaotic disorder, we need effective diplomacy as much as ever. Arguably more than ever.
But can we have it? Will we have it in time? Stay tuned.
I know what my first book will be about, if I ever write it. I even know what its title will be.
I know what my first podcast will be about, if I ever produce it. I'll do the podcast to build an audience for my book. I think I know what its title will be.
Unfortunately, I don't know how to write, publish, and market a book. Nor do I know how to produce and disseminate a podcast. But can't I learn? I have all day after day.
I know I have almost zero confidence in myself. And I know publishing a book and producing a podcast aren't easy, especially the first time around. But can't I do both if I try hard enough and smart enough?
How motivated do I need to be to try hard enough? How smart do I need to be to try smart enough?
I'll soon be having another milestone birthday, and I'm worried. Scared actually. I didn't think I'd live this long, but now that I have, I'm concerned about the future. I have good reason to be. I'm concerned about my health. I'm concerned about my finances. I'm concerned about my marriage. You name it, I'm concerned about it.
I've lived a very unconventional life. A wasted life. A life the world won't miss when it's over and would have been better off without. No wonder I never attend my high school reunions.
I don't feel depressed as I say these things. Sad, but not depressed. I know the difference.
Yet, I'm also hopeful there's a way for me to do more with the time I have left, no matter the circumstances, than I have yet. A way to accomplish something, with my few and modest gifts, that I haven't yet. I want to, I need to.