Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Storm Mania: More on Good and Bad

Holy moly the snow in the Northeast is crazy!! It's so snow stormy that it's not even fun to romp around in. You could only walk away from the wind and then never get home anyway because it's impossible to see. Pretty awesome.

So I'm all cozy, house-sitting some cats and enjoying decadent thermostat settings of anywhere from 62 to 68. Treats for me. Too bad the sit-ees didn't leave a huge cache of marvelous treats in the fridge for the snow storm (although they did leave about a hundred batteries in case I wanted to play Wii . . . which I don't). I don't tend to check the weather, my stock reason being that it's pretty much the only thing I can ever be sure of actually happening, right now, in this moment, ever. Plus my friend rightly calls weather news "The Worry Channel" and I'm all set with that generally speaking. But knowing a storm is coming is handy. Oh, one of my only jokes also: do Xtian radio stations provide weather reports, or is that blasphemy?

So back to the good/bad issue I've been thinking about. Here is the problem: learning that anything is good means creating a seed of judgment in yourself that the opposite behavior is bad, and this is why we're all doomed to live in eternal strife/conflict. Take something like punctuality or sharing. We learn that it's polite to be on time and to share our toys. Well then, now we have some basis for thinking that anyone who is late or doesn't share toys is impolite - and we feel we have a basis for thinking of someone (or at least their behavior) as "bad." Then we get to feel offended or angry, because we know that being on time and sharing are "good," and being late and not sharing are "bad" (the issue of why we feel personal offense needs more examination I think, but another time). I mean, beyond good/bad, there are lots of substantive reasons for being on time - it's respectful of other people's time and expectations etc. And sharing is important because it fosters good will and what goes around comes around etc. But these more (barely) substantive explanations are still mired in good and bad and being judgmental. The ideal would be that I become someone who shares, but doesn't get mad or filled with hate at anyone who fails to share in the way I would. And that I am on time as much as possible, but I don't label as rude or disrespectful (aka "bad") someone who is perpetually late. Wouldn't this be nice? If we all had high standards for ourselves and infinite patience and forgiveness for others? Wouldn't the world be awesome? Wait a minute - let's change "patience and forgiveness" to something closer to total good natured indifference, and not even reach the mental state where we have to use our patience and forgiveness muscles, because this usually means something like "you're bad but I am overlooking it out of ego-driven magnanimity." I don't even want to get to that point. I just want to not even notice or be bothered if things are delayed or someone doesn't share.

How can someone be taught to behave very well without teaching them to judge the opposite behavior as being bad? It seems too abstract. When someone is late, so many things inform our anger: we're going to miss part of the show, or maybe not get tickets, or I'm hungry and we are holding dinner for the late person, or I settled into a state of mind in which I am Ready To Go and I had to put down my special projects in order to be on time and now because of this lateness I am sitting here in my nice clothes when I could have spent another half an hour in the garden and finished up the whatever I was doing. Okay so if all these things are attached to someone's timeliness, what is the state of mind that would permit someone to just not be bothered? You have to let go of EVERYTHING. It's fine if we miss the beginning of the show! It's fine if we can't get tickets, we'll do something else! It's fine if the gardening isn't done! It's even fine for me to sit here in my nice clothes with nothing to do but try not to get dirty! Yes I'm hungry and maybe there is emotions connected with the feeling of being hungry (crankiness!) but that's fine too! I don't even internalize a feeling of personal offense if the late person is so oblivious or self-absorbed to others' time that this inconvenience doesn't register for them! Phew. I mean, that is a LOT of stuff to be okay with. I think someone would have to be pretty evolved to abandon all those negative feelings in order to truly not care if someone else is late. This isn't easy. Imagine a kid believing that it doesn't matter if Susie is hogging the green crayon even though the kid really needs it for the shrubbery (and Susie totally knows this), or that it's fine if you miss the beginning of the movie. Seems unlikely.

What to do? I can't think of anything right now except to aspire to be cool with everything a la Buddha says so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Went to Buddha Class Last Week! Also Another Teacher Training Weekend

One of the real logical rabbit holes I find myself in with Buddha stuff is the idea of acting purely and freeing myself from the constant weighing of what is good and bad. I just don’t understand how anything would ever happen if we could abandon our classifications of good and bad on everything. I can identify the seeds of vanity, self-righteousness, pride, or anything else evaluative or judgmental in practically everything I do. Going to the grocery store, for example, is a complex equation factoring in such variables as: my concepts of proper nutrition as well as my sense of entitlement to enjoy bad nutrition sometimes; my socio-political feelings about the source of food and its superior/inferior quality and ethical implications; my sense of thrift and again a sense of entitlement to nice or fancy things tempering that thrift; my personal preferences for things that I like the taste of or make me feel good or sate; my enjoyment of cooking things for myself and others. These are all decision-making factors that have evolved out of my sense of what is “good” and what is “bad.” I can’t decide to purchase a banana without the entire history of myself somehow influencing the choice. How would I ever get anything done if I were to free myself from the duality of good and bad? Should I close the packaging on these crackers so they don’t get stale? Isn’t that just my sense of what is good and bad? Stale = bad. Crispy = good.

I asked my question about piano playing at Buddha class – which was a really nice class, by the way. It’s a cozy little group of people and the next series is taking place in someone’s deli in town. I’m looking forward to the class, and to making friends, too. Anyway my question about piano playing goes like this: we can generally agree that piano playing is a good thing. Would anyone play piano if we could all transcend good and bad? There are so many things tied up in it – we feel proud of our abilities, a little vain to share them with people who might be impressed, attached to the physical fact of a big old piano that facilitates the piano practice and playing. How would one practice, play, or perform piano purely? The answer was a little abstract for me. We'll see.

Anyway. We’re doing back-bending in yoga training this weekend. Back-bending is sort of my enemy since I messed up my lower back (as is forward-bending, but whatever), but I like that we get to spend some time with it. Aversion, inability, and resistance should usually be investigated.

Also here’s another over-share if anyone’s interested: I think I’m getting happier. When I was really stressed out and miserable not too long ago – about 6 or 7 months ago – I used to check in with myself by asking myself how I was doing: “How you doin’, friend?” And for a while the answer was usually “vaguely suicidal as usual, old pal, just keep walking and don’t think too hard about it!” Well yesterday I was in the shower and I asked myself, “So how are you?” And I said back, “I’m happy.” Something right is happening; I’m really excited about it. I just have to keep working at it, and eventually maybe the “happy” response will stay put!

Timely Information

There are so many things I was not ready to take in when they were presented to me. Parents must have this experience all the time – no child can “hear” whatever wisdom you want to offer to them as you watch them re-learn everything you have struggled to know. People realize what they are ready to realize, and information comes to us when we are ready. Sometimes information comes and it’s such a revelation that it almost hurts to look back on the time that we were without it, but it is all how it is meant to be. I really like the idea that in every moment of our lives we are exactly where we are supposed to be. It takes the pressure off, for one thing. No pressure to already have accomplished more than you have, or learned more, or seen more. Today is exactly where you should be. With the pressure taken off it’s just so much easier to enjoy the day and take what comes and go where you are lead.

I keep thinking about how timely reading Walden feels (see previous post). It’s like reading someone else’s beautifully articulated narration of everything I feel I’ve finally come to know up to this point. What capacity did I have to relate to Thoreau when I was 18? ZERO. And just like all of life, our education attempts to force certain knowledge or revelation upon us when we might not be ready for it. It keeps bringing me back to Desikachar’s observation that our goals can become our obstacles – setting our sights on specific things in one specific direction can actually lead us away from where we would, and perhaps should, otherwise take ourselves. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all in favor of seeking out teachers and teachings because exposure plants a seed of awareness that we can return to when we’re ready, and connect the dots when actually see the connections, and learning can initiate important changes of mind and heart. And especially when we don’t know where to go, it’s incredibly useful to follow the leader. But I do wonder where else I would have taken myself if the goals of education hadn’t been so prescribed in a certain direction (not in a regretful way! That is because I am exactly where I need to be right now, see supra). I feel that in many ways the things I have accomplished were just huge obstacles.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whoa Thoreau

I am really enjoying Thoreau right now. Reading the essay Economy is really great. I can’t believe sometimes the texts we are asked to digest as teenagers that we just don’t have the context for. Reading about Thoreau’s economy is so much more poignant as an adult who needs to earn money and maintain a shelter and afford food and cover my nakedness. But it is ringing so true to me now – he cuts apart the function of education where youths go to “play” at life, education serving to encourage people to analyze life when it was once meaningful to actually live life. He criticizes the excesses people make themselves poor to afford, noting that you probably wouldn’t freeze to death in your lean-to, but you might stress yourself into an early grave fending off the relentless hounding of creditors. What I’m waiting for in Walden is a lay-out of the proper priorities of life. Would Thoreau condone owning a piano? Would he view piano-playing as a worthy undertaking? You generally have to own a piano to practice playing piano. I frequently try to articulate for myself the correct nature of a human’s relationship to material possessions and it is just so slippery. I am confident that personal progress should evolve away from material possessions, in the sense that we should be getting over the idea that nice cars and pretty clothes have anything to do with making us happy. What about experiences? What type of “experience” should we seek to afford? Travel or trips to beaches and skiing vacations? Are these more worthy as material expenditures than acquiring more stuff?

I wrote a paper on this topic in law school. Maybe I can work on it a little more, and add Thoreau’s point of view in there, and try to figure out what I really think about this question.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dude, Meditating is Hard, But Still Awesome

Meditation practice is so hard. What I mean by meditating (or what I should say) is meditation preparation, since really what I’m still trying to do is develop my concentration. Hopefully after a lot of practice concentrating I will approach actual meditation. I did some meditating the other morning and my mind was like frantic horses, all stomping and galloping and running all the hell around the place. And trying to bring my focus back singularly to my breath really is like pushing against the gate while the horses are trying to get out. Horses! Me vs. Horses! And being released from meditation, letting the gate burst open, is their flight – and as I stop pushing the gate against their tramping and stomping, it is both an immense relief and a return to chaos. I thought about this while I was trying to concentrate. I should have only been thinking about my breath. So that’s how that’s going.

Sometimes people say they “can’t” meditate or they tried it and they aren’t “good” at it because they just can’t stand to sit still or they have to keep moving and thinking etc. And just to get a little mean here for a minute, saying you are too scatter-brained to meditate is like saying you are too out-of-shape to exercise, or too thirsty to drink a glass of water. One is the very reason to pursue the other, and the other, its cure. We will find water and drink it even if it’s a pain because it’s so vital to our comfort and existence. Calming my mind sometimes feels this important or urgent. It can feel like my very life is in the balance . . . and yet, it’s so much easier to just watch a movie with my free time instead of training my mind. It’s like dying of dehydration because that’s easier than finding water. Ridiculous. One way that meditating is hard for me is that it feels like I am confronting everything ever that has been or will be, and trying to shoo it out of the room so I can just play and be happy, but that takes so much work I’d rather just go find another space and do something else. But there isn’t “another space,” only the outskirts of existence. But still I will get too tired or weak to herd the noise, and I let all the chaos hog up the nice space, exiling me to sit in the sewers of distraction with my cowardice and sloth. Yoinks. Holy metaphors!

And the temptation to use meditation time as grocery-list time is hard, too. I’m just sitting there with nothing to do but nothing, and the rest of the day or the next day starts to come into my head asking for shape: “when should you go to the post office? Also don’t forget to go to the post office in the first place. How about calling your cousin back finally, huh? Maybe you can do that today.” On and on. Always the future coming in and wanting to beckon me out of the present, or the past wanting to settle accounts or put me on trial yet again for my errors. It’s so hard but I feel pretty dedicated, at least today I do. I haven’t been the most consistent student but that’s coming along, too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What WOULD Happen to Heaven?

It is striking me as an important question at the moment, to follow up on my Heaven/Life post (a few posts ago) - what DOES happen to notions of Heaven if we can achieve perfect bliss on Earth?! I have nothing further to say about it at the moment except that this question is blowing my mind. To bits.

Obligations Give us a Sense of Purpose/Meaning

In college I had a pretty snarky (and kind of dreamy!) teacher in the Classics department who taught Religion in the Pagan World. Once, we were discussing ritual and its significance etc. He said that ritual is powerful because having obligations provides the necessary illusion that our lives matter. I think the gist was that religious ritual makes us matter by connecting our behavior to the harvest or the rain or something. Consequence for my actions, any consequence at all, means that I am significant, that I have impact. It’s nice. Maybe our modern expression of ritual is our habits or obligations. As a very minor example, I shower once in a while because the consequence of my stinkiness is to offend others’ sensibilities. My smelly armpits have impact on the world. Creating the obligation of showering reflects my belief that my participation in society, and the manner of my participation, matters.

Everything we do is like this. Tidying up. Calling our parents. Feeding the cat. We need obligations to feel as though we matter. Which, as you may have guessed, I am pretty sure we don’t. We don’t “matter” to anything. But this is also nice. It means that I can go ahead and behave in ways that make me feel as though I matter, knowing that it is merely a balm against the chafing of my own insignificance, because my insignificance is comforting, too – it means that “consequence” for my actions can remain somewhat abstract. It doesn’t really matter if I am the stinky person in the world on any particular day. I don’t matter. Anyone taking offense at my stinkiness would be trying to create their own sense of significance in the world in opposition to me through our handy tool of disapproval – which is just another expression of obligation (this would go something like this: “I oblige myself to be un-stinky, and to give meaning to this obligation, I must therefore disapprove of the opposite expression – stinkiness – and therefore reaffirm the credibility of my showering ritual”). So anyway I can do my stuff to make me feel significant and let the rest roll off my back.

I’ve just been rolling this idea around my head a little bit and wanted to see where it went. We’ll see.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Exposure, Repetition, Acclimation, Acceptance, Enjoyment

Habit habit habit. One thing about having my days pretty free is that the exact arc of the day is still sort of difficult to nail down, and my exact habits of life are still being written every day. Meditation practice in the morning? Well, I usually want some tea and water to replenish me from the night, so sitting still right away isn’t very comfortable. Thirsty, hungry. Plus when I practice meditation in the morning it sort makes me sleepy for the day, and a touch of lethargy comes over me. And I can’t have tea first because that’s a lingering, leisurely experience for me, so I’d start meditating like an hour later and it feels too wasteful. And plus I have trouble with caffeinated meditating, too agitated. Man, even as I type this though I’m thinking of all the pro-reasons and pro-practicalities of doing meditation in the morning and how simple the logistics are. So maybe it’s fine. But when to do yoga? Right after meditation practice? Then I’m sort of getting hungry, and trying to focus on yoga in a hungry state isn’t the most productive thing. A little yoghurt and warm water before meditation, and then right into yoga? But I like to read in the mornings, too – my attention is crisp and reading is very productive for me in the morning, and reading for an hour with a pot of tea with honey and milk is soooo pleasant. But reading is a really practical companion in the evening when my energy for other things is almost completely gone, or in the afternoon when a little tea is a good pick me up. Bleh. So that’s the idea. Long story short I would like to have a ritual of existence nailed down so I could liberate that portion of my mind dedicated to the anxiety of shaping my daily sense of productivity, and just get the hell on with it. Habit would be nice.

And good habit-making is difficult - but I think that there is a sort of systemization available for integrating things into your life, which I have handily identified in 5 steps, taking you from initial Exposure all the way to your eventual Enjoyment. These are: Enjoyment, Repetition, Acclimation, Acceptance, and Enjoyment.

I’m getting this from pop music, which I looooove. I love terrible pop music. And I was wondering to myself why it is that I love crappy music so much. When I first hear a crappy pop song, usually I think that it is just another crappy pop song, and I don’t really like it. But then eventually I really like it. When does that happen? Well, that is the story of habituation. (I am sort of drawn to crappy pop music with my sociology/anthropology hat on, but let’s get real, I sort of enjoy it because I am an all-around low brow and that’s how it is, so I am willing to put the radio station on crappy pop song stations in general.)

But anyway, so yeah, first I hear the crappy song and I think that it’s crappy. I associate the crappiness of the music with my very identity, and I am in some way affirming part of myself when I dislike this song. I retain a sense of my fine, fine, discriminating taste, and judgment, and self. Song bad, me good. And then I hear the song again, in the car usually, and if I’m spacing out or drinking coffee or in traffic then I hear most or part of the song again. This Repetition happens several times until I become familiar enough with the tune to have achieved Acclimation. I’m used to it now. It’s crap, but it’s familiar crap, and the offense of its crappiness as an affront to my sense of integrity (I won’t listen to this crap!) diminishes. And then, without even realizing it, Acclimation gives way to Acceptance. This stage of habituation is really important, because it is in this period after repeated exposure that the initial judgment of bad and good truly fades, and is replaced with a kind of familiar semi-neutrality. The song becomes part of the auditory landscape of my very life experience, woven integrally into the fabric of my days. It is the car, it is the billboards, it is the mall, it is the corner coffee shop, it is toast. I can hear it on the radio and still change the channel, but it’s not really to make a point about what I do or don’t like, it’s more like I just don’t feel like hearing that song right then. After acceptance it is a short trip into Enjoyment. Eventually, I will sing along with the song in the car. I will not change the channel. I will be comforted by its familiarity, I will make joke lyrics to its tune, I will see the hidden humanity in its banal, limp, vacuous lyrics. I enjoy it. Just like I order coffee and toast, take my car to the mall, and unconsciously read billboards. It is what is there, and I participate in what is, as though I enjoy it. And I do, I do enjoy it. Song good, me good. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to think anymore.

Well that sounded pretty dark but the point here is that I can follow the pop music formula for enjoyment with respect to specific habits I would like to cultivate for myself. Hmmm there could be a sixth stage, called “Preference,” but I guess that’s for another time. So anyway I have the initial Exposure to most things, and right now I am stuck in the stage of Repetition. I will facilitate my Repetition with deliberate scheduling. Hooray scheduling!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Heaven/Life Conundrum

I had dinner with some friends last night and one friend got to talking about "trans-humanism," which, I'll tell you upfront, I am not currently interested in wiki-ing up for my own edification at this moment. The way my friend explained the short version was that it's a way of viewing the future that is concerned with/interested in the implications of the manipulation of the genetic map of human beings and our relationship with machines and how to make peace happen in the future with all of our knowledge about how to monkey with ourselves, and imagines a "post-human" sort of state of society. Neat-o. At one point he said that we are basically the last generation of "regular humans," and it just sounded so freaking true when he said it that I was alarmed. I think we might be. I am in favor of being a regular human as much as possible.

Anyway, as Friend #1 explained, one of the happy potential implications of post-human or trans-humanist society is a state of being or consciousness that is only peaceful and transcends conflict and angst etc. Friend #2 at dinner said this sounded horrible, and that passion and struggle and pain and love and elation are the human experience and he wouldn't want a perfectly happy experience, bleh, no way. And then the question was this: so what do you imagine heaven to be like, Friend #2? Answer? Well, it's basically a peaceful state of consciousness transcending conflict and angst etc. So why wouldn't he want to experience in his earthly body the feeling of his imagined heaven? Why? Because we are so attached to our identities in this turmoil? Wrongly attached? I think Buddha would say so. Buddha says, as I understand it, that we have access to heaven right now and we choose suffering out of ignorance, confusing our delusions and distractions with our "self" - but do we prefer our ignorance (out of ignorance?)? Is the habit of longing for things and clinging to our pain so ingrained that we don't think we even want happiness? Do we think we have to experience earthly turmoil in order to enjoy heaven in a relative way? What is happening here? I'm not sure. It's pretty interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ego's Incessant Corruption

In my Buddha book and at Buddha class there is a meditation approach to cultivating love for the whole world and developing a real bodhicitta (wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings), wherein you think to yourself how much you want to remove the full range of suffering of everyone you love, and then eventually extend this wish to the whole world. Once this is sincere and you really get it then you are starting to get somewhere.

This is a helpful way of viewing the world for me sometimes. Like if there's a pushy person at the bank or something who might make me roll my eyes and think what a jerk they are - instead, I can think to myself that I wish for their suffering to end, for their feeling of impatience, their feeling that they have to be aggressive on their own behalf, for any feeling making their trip to the bank so negative to go away so they could be happier. I think it's a fair assumption that a host of unpleasant mental functions are contributing to people's behavior, since this is my personal experience too. I can cultivate a little compassion for people by referencing my own craziness, like when I want the line to move faster and someone decides to write a check, I might feel impatience swell up in me (not that much though because I am an exact-change-counter-outer in lines which takes a bit long sometimes so I am happy to hang for check-writers). For some people that impatience just rolls right out of their mouths or makes them push and shove or whatever. I can genuinely wish for their suffering to end the same way I wish all my trips into the world could be free from suffering.

Okay so there's the good side of this way of thinking. But there's a dark side. I am really challenged by my feelings of dislike for someone that I have to maintain a pleasant relationship with, and calling upon my "may your suffering end" technique has taken a dark turn. It feels like pity in my mind. I'd like my thought to be something like "I see a grain of my own suffering in your experience, and through us the suffering of the world, and I wish for your and the world's suffering to end, forever, amen." What it comes out as is more like "I wish for your suffering to end, because you are so freakin' insufferable and so unlikable that I feel bad for you, and I also feel kind of bad for me that I have to be around you, and if your suffering ends then maybe it would be less painful for me to be around you, amen." So that's the bad side of this way of thinking.

I'm just noticing how my own ego can corrupt a gesture of love and compassion into a way to feel superior to people - especially people I don't like, because believing they are lesser than I am by pitying them makes their unlikeability more palatable, and less threatening, or whatever. It's pretty impressive actually, the ego's cleverness. I don't even know if I'm using "ego" in the correct "Ego" way but I think that's what I'm driving at, etc. Anyway I'll have to spend a little mental energy on purifying this technique again for myself and not conflating it with pity and dislike and superiority.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Found my Twenty!

Nice. I had completely accepted losing that $20 and now it's back.

Yup, still here.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Happened Yesterday, Continued: What are you Talking About?

I was planning on going to a Buddha class last night in New Paltz until the phone-upgrade incident (post below) side-tracked me for an hour making me miss the class – but anyway I picked up my one Buddha book again yesterday and the day before, and thinking about going to class had me reminiscing a bit about the Buddha place in Brooklyn.

Once, the teacher asked us to identify some great source of distraction for us that keeps our minds frantic. One woman said “food.” And the teacher thought she meant the “I want treats” version of food, and we talked about that stuff, about craving and searching for something that we hope will make us happy, and how treats provide a goal to work toward that makes us feel happy. I assumed, however, that what the woman meant was the struggle to get and pay for food as part of the overall problem of survival, that the fear of dying cold, broke, starving, alone, and in pain was the main source of distraction for her mind. I think that’s what she meant. That’s what I wanted the teacher to talk about.

Another time the teacher asked what kind of fears we have. I wanted to say “dying cold, broke, starving, alone, and in pain,” but someone else beat me with a different question. This student said “not fulfilling my potential.” And the teacher picked this up and went with it, and it was pretty interesting and everything, but I also wanted to ask this student what she meant – what is “potential” and how would we “fulfill” it? Does she mean creating a great work? Fame, success, adulation, the execution of some nagging vision? I’m assuming the teacher probably talked about fulfilling our potential for compassion, love, and happiness, but I kind of think this lady was talking about being super rad in some vaguely powerful, socially recognizable, basically magazine-cover kind of way, and she was afraid she’d die without feeling like she really got it done in a way that satisfied her sense of self or ego or whatever. I assumed this because she was super tall, super pretty, definitely over 35, and not famous.

Isn’t it silly that I thought people were saying something different from what the teacher interpreted two different times? And silly that I imparted to the first lady my own ideas/fears, and imparted to the the second lady a pretty shallow personality (which maybe also was probably most likely um basically related to my own fears and insecurities and sometimes desire for recognition that I wanted the teacher to address)? Anyway everything really is only our heads. We hear what we want. I think the teacher was doing this too with the first lady, since he sometimes references treats as a weakness, and talks about getting older and chubbier and how it strikes at his vanity, and also has jars of jam and little chocolates on his shrine. We all have our own things.

I am a Money Sieve

I totally just lost twenty bucks at the laundry mat (laundromat? whatever). Easy come, easy go. Hopefully somebody feels super lucky and psyched right now!

But seriously I hemorrhage money. It just slips away. My relationship with money is highly conflicted of course. I want to hold on to it as much as I just want to set it on fire. I don't think I have too much of a spendthrift issue at all - I eat at home most of the time, there is no daily latte in my life, I don't have to satisfy any clothes coveting for the most part, since shopping for clothes is a dark journey into self-esteem-ville that I happily avoid. I like good cheese and farm raised pork chops and am willing to pay for Buddha and yoga classes etc, but I think I really live pretty modestly.

So this brings me to what it means to "afford" things. I sort of think that if you are willing to spend money on something only if you can "afford" it then you really shouldn't spend money on it at all. Everything else you find important you will find the money for. Like going out to dinner. Would you go out every night of the week if you could "afford" to? I don't think so. Gets boring. All that noise, too many choices to make. And on the other hand, how much are you willing to change your own behavior even when money is pretty tight? For example, there is no way I'm not going to buy good milk. And I will purchase a social beer for $4.50 plus tip and pay the door charge for a show even if I am pretty low on funds, because supporting local music and friends and business and community connectedness is a priority. (This is pretty leisurely of me to say since I have no children, I have a very nice husband, and I have a really supportive safety-network that makes fudging the numbers pretty easy.)

Money has this tricky social aspect to it, as well. Money and friends is pretty tough sometimes. Mixing our social forces with market forces is always tricky. My tendency is always to overpay or offer more money whenever a friend is involved, and I am pretty confident that with my friends, their tendency is to undercharge or vigorously wave me away when our social and market imperatives combine in one big awkward exchange. So overall it comes out pretty fair. Sometimes when nobody has any money it can get really emotional - "he's my friend, he should cut me a break!" and "she's my friend, she should offer me more!" Out of fear of this kind of bad juice in the air I view money as disposable and expendable and really unimportant to me when it comes to keeping everybody's feelings intact. I sort of assume that I am probably more capable of letting go of any cheap-bastard animosity toward anyone than they are toward me, so overcharge me, I won't care! Yeah, just like getting in the door at a friend's concert isn't really money I have to spend to hear music or keep my friends, it's just a little toll on good will that we need to accept as part of the mixed up tumbler of money and relationships.

So last night I got an upgrade for my cell phone. I went to a Radio Shack to try to get a charger for my really old phone, and basically my cute little old phone got laughed out of the shop. Turns out you can do phone upgrades at Radio Shack, what do you know. The clerk was super nice to me, and really knew the ins and outs of the whole thing, and showed me the free phone I could get with my plan, and endured a whole bunch of ridiculous service-associate-phone-calls due to the fact that I was unsure of what name my phone plan was under and what phone plan I had and wasn't really sure about much besides my phone number, and even that was tough since I don't really call myself ever. So at the end of this exchange, in which I had to say goodbye to my little pink phone in exchange for a fancy new touch-screen and type-pad purple phone, she offered me a little side sale for screen protectors for $7.99. I definitely don't give a crap about screen protectors or phone cozies or pad puffers or whatever. Phone = rings = plenty. But she sort of said "so since I tried to help you out here how about a $7.99 screen protector, usually they're $12.99." And I bought them. The impact of what I saw as her social gestures in this market context nudged me into buying something I didn't want. She did say "yes" in a woo-hoo kind of way when I sighed and said I'd get them, so I hope at least this helped her meet some kind of retail donkey quota for Radio [Butt]Crack and maybe she gets a prize. She was nice, I want her to have a prize. So what happened here was either the most despicable form of salesmanship ever - manipulation of a person through a sense of social obligation to gain market advantage - or kind of a no-big-deal favor from one human being to another that acknowledges both of our participation in the big crappy capitalist sh**storm of survival. Like I said, money is pretty disposable to me when feelings are involved (I don't get carried away though, and I sort of despise street canvassers, yuck, let me walk around in peace, I donate online), so it's whatever. And instead of spending $25 bucks on a charger for my old phone, I got a new phone with a charger included for $7.99 (plus a lame-o $18 thing that Sprint will charge me later so it's basically a wash, but still, new phone still weighs in favor of me making out better than I would have thanks to this chick's patience and salesmanship etc).

So am I sucker or a reasonable human being or both? Should I put up more money-holding armor? I still wish I hadn't dropped that twenty. Man that sucks. Right when I'm trying to reel it in. And I helped return a wallet to someone today in that very laundromat! But I also got a free hamburger from the shop across the street from me today. I guess it's all a wash in the end. Losing that twenty doesn't feel unfair, really. Also I have to say that waitressing helps with that easy-come-easy-go feeling. Twenty bucks is no big deal when night to night you make a range of 10 to 200 dollars. Whatever, that's life, it all evens out.