Extrapolating Data

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I’m moving to a place between all other synapse
Where past and future become untouchable
And present is a dull kind of serenity.
I’ll have a little wooden bench there,
By the water, where flies ripple the surface.
I’ll stick my legs out and I’ll sit there,
And I’ll sit there, with my cane,
Until a voice says, “Mr. Moore,
It’s time for your evening meds.”
And I’ll look up at the kind-faced nurse
To say, “Has the day gotten old, already?
Oh my, where has life gone?”

Not tomorrow,
But not too much later, it seems.
The nurse will hold my arm to help me inside.

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The Home Library

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The home library necessitated the home, necessitated the hard work, necessitated the degree, necessitated the studying, necessitated the goals –

And at last, the learned man thought as he sat down by his books, I will begin my own masterpiece. The story will be an epic, and it will strike at the core of the human spirit: He grabbed his handkerchief and coughed up blood.

It really was a nice library.

Photo by SusanAstray @ Flickr.com: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Age of Ages

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One of the Oldest People on Earth Interviews Others
for
The Age of Ages

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses good-bye
And watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
And even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the Capital of Paraguay.

~Billy Collins, from ‘Forgetfulness’

There’s a story we carry for ourselves, and it maneuvers in and out of the biological underpinnings and societal constraints to swing the mighty pendulum of time. We wrap this story into our days and present it as truth; it’s our own truth; it’s our emotional truth. It’s what guides us. To each involved, a lifetime of memories, and to each involved, mortal awareness, and among that, the question – is this the age I feel?

On The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, the podcast host, comedian and all-around entertaining Duncan Trussell, mentions how he’ll never forget what his grandmother told him. She was in her eighties and she said, “When I look in the mirror, I see this old woman, but inside I still feel fourteen.” Similarly, former punk singer, author, and all-around accomplished human being, Henry Rollins says on The Joe Rogan Experience, inside he still feels fifteen and he’s still acting out that fifteen-year-old’s aggression onto the world. He’s fifty-six. And that’s anthropologically interesting, I think, because I’m one of the oldest people on Earth at thirty-three, but these people are perpetual teenagers inside.

In a way, I can see how this can be. When I was fifteen I sent myself into a coma and came back a different person – a spirit swap of sorts. That pivot I can single out as the black cloud that follows, and thus is always a part of me. Duncan Trussell’s grandmother and Henry Rollins don’t come across as people who consider metaphoric black clouds on a day-to-day basis, but age, it turns out, is a symbiotic concept and daily march of the biological and the abstract, and a concept that rarely ever gets questioned in-depth on an individual basis. Conversation may allude to this phenomenon, but hardly in our uses of “I feel like an old man,” or “Her youthful exuberance,” or any number of clichés do we stop to unravel what is really going on.

The lines around our eyes appear in the mirror, and so “age-defying cream” sits on shelves across the world. “For external use only,” the labels read. The bald spot oasis forms like a capstone of the mortality within, and so there’s a mortality-defying shampoo for that. We also have the mid-life crisis, widely accepted, though mythical and tied almost suspiciously to more ways one can surge into hefty materialist purchases. People are also told to “act your age,” and so immaturity and precociousness are always readied to squeeze the ever-precarious average of youth, indoctrinating the young into an abstract subjective take on age with no firm basis except to be in a different position than one already is.

I push the bottom button on my IPhone. “Call Mom,” I say, but then I hang up before it rings. I push the button again. “How old are you, Siri?” Siri says in her usual patronizing tone, “A virtual assistant never reveals its age.” I push the button again and tell Siri to call Mom.

At eighteen, my mother gave birth to my sister, then to my brother six years after, and then to me two years after that when she became acquainted with accidents. “Matthew,” she called the accident. “It’s Biblical for a returned gift from God.” “It is not,” she says. My mother is sixty and she says she’s feeling tired and useless. “What good am I?” she says. “I feel old. I can’t even do steps. I had to quit my job at the bank because there were too many steps.” The frustration and underlying stress fluctuates the tone of her voice as tells me, “God made me with leftovers.” We both have a slant on the divinities affecting our lives.

My mother tells me she always acted older, even as a kid with six siblings, but also for a long time now the doctors have been telling her “That normally only happens to people older than you.” When I go to her house, her grabbing a shooting pain or coming out from the bedroom after sleeping off a headache is a regular occurrence. Now, after working hard her whole life, she and my step-father are struggling to pay the bills. A move to Florida remains out of reach – a moving goalpost to a community that excludes youth except for in letters, phone calls, short stays, and pictures on the refrigerator. “Every once in a while I’ll feel younger, though,” she says. When my nieces visit her, their unquestioned youthfulness pulls her along. A trip to Florida to keep the youth at bay and the weekly visits to keep the youth at her side sit at opposite ends of reason. My mother tells me to hold on.

Like my nieces, my friend Karla’s daughter says she feels thirteen because she doesn’t know how else she should feel. I suspect most kids and young teenagers are like this, but to try and find alternative viewpoints, I seek out a three-year-old with a walking cane and a thousand-yard stare. I can’t find one.

My mother comes back to the phone a few moments later. She’s taking care of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Gladys, the elderly woman, was born in 1925. Gladys can’t remember her lunch, but she tells my mother what life was like when she was a little girl, when she met her husband, and when he built their house. Sometimes she mistakes her son for her husband in photos. The current neighbor boy becomes her son. Time slips away but resurfaces as if to say that it really hasn’t gone anywhere – but we have.

“What about Grandma?” I say to mother. “Did she ever speak of how old she felt before she passed away?”

A silence hangs between us.
Hardly ever do we remember the silences,
But it would be a mistake
To perceive the silences as powerless.

“My mom lived for seventeen years without my dad, and she talked like it was the worst time of her life. And when Earl,” he brother and youngest sibling, the only boy, “was killed in 93’, that crushed both of them.” My grandma was a strong woman, feisty to her last day, but both my mom and Aunt Sharon told me how my grandma wanted to go be with her husband and son. Age became her.

In the years prior to my grandmother’s death, she took on familiar elements of my depression as she stayed tethered to this world with an oxygen tube. “I just sit here and watch TV,” she’d tell me. “No one cares about me,” she’d say as I sat next to her. We’d talk about medications. She’d tell me how the doctors kept trying to put her on antidepressants. “I have every goddamn right to be depressed,” she’d say. And we’d often talk about Judge Judy, one of her favorite shows. On the day my grandma died, in the closing moments of the soulful illumination respite afforded the dying, I told her how she missed it today; Judge Judy got so mad she climbed over the stand and started swinging her gavel until the court officer had to hold her back. My grandma’s eyes were shut by that point, but her eyebrows went up and she appeared to become two months younger. It took her back to her recliner. She saw it. I saw her see it.

In 1993, when my Uncle Earl was killed at the age of twenty-eight in Somalia, I was ten-years-old. An outpouring of support came from across the country as the national news covered what became known as the Battle of Mogadishu or Black Hawk Down. How unlike childhood it all was, as my family got out their aged, solemn faces and gathered in Fort Bragg for the funeral. My uncle then became an unstoppable memory at twenty-eight. His photos are stuck in time and line the walls of his sister’s houses and many of my cousins’. As I grew older, he kept looking younger until that year I turned twenty-eight as well and I stood in my parents’ house and looked him in the eyes.

We were silent as we crossed a great void:
Here is love,
And here is death,
And between the two,
But a breath.

My sister, Angela, says it’s funny I should ask her, because she had recently completed her yearly assessment for the military and last year it said she graded at an age of thirty. She’s forty-one now. “So what did it tell you this year?” She laughs and says, “Forty-six.” “Forty-Six! You could have thrown away the results and rode that thirty for years,” I tell her, but then she says how she feels forty-six now. She just moved to a new house, her joints are starting to hurt for the first time, she’s not exercising as much, and as also noted by my friend Al, the turning wheel of age in the military becomes more apparent with each new soldier who walks through the doors. My sister is a recruiter for the Army National Guard, and while she can relate to the commonalities the job provides, she says the age difference makes her feel older. Forty-six, and born forty-one years ago, like the brackets of the soul are loose.

My sister stops to tell me about one of the soldiers she works with. When he was in his early twenties, he met a woman in her mid-thirties and they got involved. The relationship was great for both of them, because he got the older and experienced woman and she got the hot young thing to make her feel young again. They got married, but now that soldier is in his mid-thirties and the woman is almost fifty. They’re getting a divorce, from each other but also from the reality that settled in.

I tell my friend Al the story about the soldier and the older woman, because Al once told me in passing about an interest in that kind of relationship. Now at thirty-three, and having been spared that outcome, he has a good laugh.

“For the majority of my twenties,” Al says, “I felt like a grown-ass child.” But he says it’s a different story now, and he doesn’t really know how to gauge that beyond the obvious of thirty-three. He admits to being a cocky enlistee when he first joined the Air Force Reserves. He would hear old guys talking, and he’d say, “In 1996, I was in sixth grade. Where were you?” They would hand over a stereotypical response between irritated and angered and tell him, “In 1996 we were getting fucking shot at in Iraq.” But now he’s the old guy, he says.

Al and I move in another direction and talk about how different the internet was when we were teenagers, and seeing the change that has taken place has given us a gauge of passing time. Back then we felt the internet was a communication revolution, especially for those outside of the mainstream. We both met people through AOL instant messenger, and met with little more than a profile and some agreeable conversation. But then the walls were brought up with the years. From beneath our feet, the perceived revolution was replaced with the digitalization of shopping malls and the depth of our parents’ chain emails spread as commonplace internet news and philosophy. The physical moves in our daily lives away from the screen to more refined areas of life and socialization became the bundled profiles we’re targeted as on the screen. It’s possible the internet didn’t change its communicative opportunities, and maybe the perceived revolution had more to do with the openness, or maybe even carelessness, of our stages of life than we once gave it credit for. It’s possible we built up our stories in response as we rationalized our behavior differences, both then and now.

“I don’t think of age as a bad thing, though,” Al says. “I’m more inclined to think being young is bad.”

People feel older when the doorman at the bar doesn’t card them anymore. “When did that happen?” they say.

People feel older when those small social cues taken for granted in youth then become the disinterested silence of just another encounter.

People say “old friend” but not “young friend.”

People tie the dual nature of age to their pets to rationalize the pets’ mortality, too. Well, this is how old he is in people years.

In the Robin Williams’ movie What Dreams May Come, those who died and went to Heaven would pick the identity of a person who they felt to be. Commonly, that person was a different age: a set of physical manifestations that can better tie into the individual story.

My friend, Karla, is thirty-two, but she feels around her mom’s age of fifty-four. Karla is the mother of three children, and she’s been having hip problems for several years now. “It popped out again,” she tells me on a regular basis.

“And how old does your mom feel?” I say to Karla. She says, “My mom feels around eighty, but my gram, who is eighty, feels like she’s fifty.” One major difference between her grandma and everyone else I interviewed is the devout nature of her everyday experience – leave it up to God to knock a few decades off despite mounting medical bills. “Do you ever have younger days?” I say to Karla. “Not as many as I feel old.”

But Karla tells me when we’re two days older, “You know, I do have times when I feel younger. I noticed when I drink I feel fifteen, and I start listening to the same music as I did back then.” I think about this and ask how old BJ, her fiancé, feel when he drinks. She goes off to ask him. “He says he feels like he’s twenty even though he’s thirty-nine, but then the next day he feels sixty because of how his body crashes. He also says he felt younger his entire life because people always told him he looks younger.”

“So, wait,” I say to Karla. “When you drink, you’re fifteen, and when he drinks, he’s twenty?” “Yeah?” she says. “Should anything happen, I hope you two sober up a little bit to make it legal first.” Don’t want anyone to get arrested abstractly.

After calling my Aunt Sharon, the oldest at fifty-eight right behind my mother, I show up to my Uncle Al’s eighteen’s birthday party. If I found one sure thing from these interviews, it’s that I can confuse people on the spot if I start referring to others with their abstract age.

I take my uncle a bottle of rum and we share birthday dinner and conversation, and then I become best friends with their beagle, I think because the beagle can feel how old I am. All dogs are like that for me. My aunt says she feels younger, because like Karla’s fiancé, people tell her she looks younger, and like Karla’s grandma, she leaves things in God’s hands. My aunt also abides by simple philosophies: She says to let things go and move on. She says everything happens for a reason. “Life is just about being happy…. Everyone deserves happiness.”

“Life is an adventure,” my Uncle Al says. He’s really fifty-six, or fifty-eight – I can remember which one, but if I’m wrong with the former then wait for it. My aunt and uncle sit beside each other on the couch after dinner. My uncle has a good sense of humor, he likes to drink rum, and despite being forced out of work due to physical ailments, he and my aunt share the dream of getting their house ready to sell and then living out their days on a sail boat and traveling the sea. They show me their YouTube subscriptions of other people already living the dream. Unlike my parents’ plan to move to Florida, my aunt and uncle seem to already have their feet part ways in the boat, or at least they present it that way. They’ve already begun floating with the easygoing current of the ocean belonging to that of an ideal summer day.

My step-father, Jim, scoffs when I tell him other people feel like a teenager inside, or even that some people feel a couple years younger. He’s sixty-nine, and he says he feels sixty-nine. After almost dying in unnamed accidents when he was a teenager, after two tours of Vietnam, and after marrying a woman who already had three children, he feels his age. He adds, though, that when he was in the military, he was twenty-one, and most of those around him were eighteen or nineteen. He felt old because of that. It made me remember the huge gap of small age differences pertaining to all the years school.

Like I do at my place, my friend Nick surrounds himself with books and all the work he put in since completing his degree. He’s thirty-two and he says feels younger behaviorally, but intellectually he feels older. I talk to him as he’s getting ready to leave for the night and share the loss of another one of his friends, and so we don’t talk long. But I note how Nick, Karla, and I have known each other for more than half our lives. For each of us, though, that’s a different number in the abstractions we carry and how we’re framing it at any given moment.

With one last phone call, I find that my friend Ian, thirty-three, says he feels immature to what he calls the norms of society. He tells me he’s trying to figure out when he used to do drugs, because he thinks he stopped emotional development and coping skills around that age. “Twenty-one,” he says, but then as we continue our conversation, he keeps mentioning “these kids” where he’s working as a security officer. “Where exactly are you working?” I say. “The technology center at the community college.” The kids, who are the same age he feels, call him “Sir.”

And the stories continue to come my way. It’s the age of ages. People who I ask then ask other people. Most never saw it as a concept to question. So I let the words simmer, and for a few days I don’t feel like one of the oldest people on Earth anymore. Getting to hear others’ stories, I become thirty-three. I still move the same way. I’m still prone to the same bouts of physical and mental struggles, but I’m thirty-three. But then with the stories also come the reactions to the stories.

I find most do not believe in the foundation of abstract reasoning outside of oneself. The tendency is to pull other people’s lives through the filter of one’s own:

“Yeah, right. He feels eighteen? He just got on disability.”
“What do you have to feel old for? You’re young and your whole life is ahead of you.”

Most did not believe in what other people felt at their core, or the reasons for why they felt that way, and yet so many people can live side by side with varying life philosophies and outlooks while still operating as a functional society. That’s worth being grateful for. That’s worth understanding the importance of empathy.

Of course I had a small sample size and the variables were too numerous to keep track of. The variables, in that way, were understood to be a part of the question “How old do you feel?” Everyone comes at it from a different angle, as they would if asked, “Where’s your favorite place to think?” But no matter how I try to shift around the approach, there does seem to be a fundamental difference in outlook between most people and those who can stand in front of the mirror and feel displaced from several decades – or almost a whole lifetime.

The details of one approach read like a high school history text going right for the war. The other is poetry about the flicker of life. Only sometimes does the first group see the poetry, as do the latter group, who sometimes go for war.

An overcast day seeps in through my apartment windows. The only thing stopping the dreariness from further seeping into my bones is the thin layer of plastic I have up to keep out the cold. My back pulls to one side because of a lingering muscle injury, causing me to lean slightly to my left. My knee cracks like an extension of the floorboards I walk on from my bed to my morning coffee. I sit down, and I’m alone with my depression, and I’ll likely always be alone with my depression. This is circumstance, this is choice, and this is rationalization wearing its disguise.

The day plays out like a funeral march of hours in my head – I pop my pill bottle and take my Bupropion. The day plays out like a regular march of hours in my head, and it brings forth a cascade of thought that is no stranger to one of the oldest people on Earth. Here I am again, no longer thirty-three. Heaviness follows as the number is abstract, the life attached is the living pattern attached, combined and set forth with a loosely tied-together narrative we call the self. It really is an ageless tale.

How old do you feel?

~Matthew R Moore
April 24th 2017

Author Spotlight: For Invisible People

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It’s after three in the morning and Matthew R Moore is finally coming out of his bedroom for the interview. The coffee he has left out has long gone cold. I inform him, again, that I don’t drink coffee, and he yawns and rubs his face, appearing to cross the line from apathetic to incredulous if only for a moment, but then he pulls out a chair across the table from me and centers on what he calls “stoicism with bad hair.”

“I’m sorry, but why are you in my apartment?” he says.

I remind him about the interview. The interview that was scheduled for seven in the evening, yesterday, until he said he’d be right back.

“Right,” he says. He pours the French press cold coffee into a mug that says “Keep It Simple, Genius” and downs the coffee like a sports drink. I ask him about the mug. Isn’t the saying, Keep It Simple, Stupid? He says:

“I don’t stand on the shoulders of giants to be called stupid. I will aspire to create genius, and if I fail and create mediocrity, then so be it, but those who set out to create mediocrity will create mediocrity.”

“Some local literary critics are calling early copies of your book Counselors and Comedians ‘a profound dose of cosmic humor,’ and ‘a wrecking ball against the status quo of doorstops’ What do you attribute to these claims?”

“Honestly? Or do you want a tidy package for the succinct paragraphs of your print?”

“Honestly.”

“Failure and being invisible. An impenetrable sense of worthlessness. Besides that, the intense feeling of dread and expired mortality that follows me around. You have to understand the hilarious juxtaposition this creates out of daily living.”

“That’s certainly…” I don’t know if he’s joking. Instead I ask him, “What’s your writing process?”

“First I consider if this is the day I’ll die. Then I consider petty details such as if this is the day I’ll finally understand semicolons. It’s usually a no and a no; or at least a total failure despite trying. Do you want to play Jenga?”

“No, thank you though. You allude to loneliness as the poison of the universe at one point. Would you care to elaborate?”

“That’s why I went bar-hopping looking for the impossible tonight. There’s a reason why dying alone is such a prevalent fear, even if the idea of ‘dying alone’ can be broken down into a trip we all take by ourselves into the…” and he drifts off slowly. He’s left staring at the black kitchen carpet.

My pen hovers over my notepad. “You went bar-hopping… tonight?”

He shrugs and gets up. “I’m really just confused. I didn’t think you existed, or if I did I ended up not thinking so because of all the other times, but here you are. You look different than I remember.”

“We’ve never met,” I tell him.

“I know, that’s how different you seem. I wouldn’t have left through the back door if I knew you were here. You’re from the government right?” He paces back and forth. “Because of the conspiracies? Are the others outside?”

“What others? What conspiracies?”

“They told me to stop creating so many conspiracies, because I’m distracting from their conspiracies. I guess they have a large budget for that kind of thing and when I start propagating idea it leads to Pentagon meetings where everyone looks around and says ‘I didn’t do that. Did you do that?’ But to note, they wouldn’t hire me – I think nepotism is involved. No wonder most of the conspiracies out there these days have the depth of an inbred donkey being ridden by children little further than one’s voting party.”

Once again, I tell Matthew I’m only here for the writing spotlight. I tell him, “My boss likens your style to a controlled chaos of idea, and that no matter where a reader may pick up your book, there’s a new point at play. Care to comment? It sounds dizzying.”

He sits back down and then holds his head in one hand with an elbow on the table and readjusts the candle holder Buddha to his right.

“These author spotlights, to me, seem ironic. We can shine the light all we want, but no one sees. The same pattern reveals itself on repeat all across the web. The spotlight shines and there stands another poor authorial soul who dreamt of connecting, and who dreamt of one day people saying ‘I see you,’ but the present is so inundated with this archetype of human longing we have disappeared. When everyone is visible, we become invisible. The good, the bad, all of it save for a few are the white noise of the world. The mass of men lead lives of white noise desperation.”

“It’s all background to you? Except for the few?”

“No one sees – and that’s the irony of this modern life. More people live and are lost within the static hum of the chaotic world than those who are commercialized as not. I write about that invisibility in many forms, but the focus tends to always gravitate toward the face of the truth at the end – when things are frighteningly real. Everything else is a primer for said truth – alluding to Hemingway, just continuing the story long enough.”

“…But Counselors and Comedians is humorous? Is that correct?”

“Correct,” he says. “Hilarious. Comedic timing like no other.”

“And when should the public expect your book Counselors and Comedians, or this other thing, The Directions of Metaphysics?”

“I don’t know.” He scratches his head and looks around, as though he were the one visiting and not me. “I live dreams upon dreams upon bedrock of rejection letters. All who aspire to get out of the place of dead dreams have to learn how to play this co-dependent game of structuring the human narrative. That’s something I strive to learn more about every day. I’m creating literary children that have to be best situated in the world to thrive – I want them to live meaningful lives. I want people to feel the experience of being alive for having known them. And all I can do is present my offering every day. Maybe someday soon a person will say yes to that, to me or to anyone reading this, but I’m trying to come to terms with the possibility that if it never happens and I stay invisible, that doesn’t mean the person who does the writing is existentially worthless, or all of the work has been in vain.

Matthew R Moore pushes in the chair on the other side of the table, the chair you were in, and turns off the light.

Soul Mates

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I said, “If you’re going to drool
On the couch, at least
Have the decency to flip the pillow over.”
She went out drinking and flipped the car over.

She said, “Sorry. I drooled.”

She said, “If I fall in the toilet
One more time…
Is it really so hard to put things down?”
I put the dog down.

“No,” I said.

[2014]

Writing and Living Tips Compiled Through April 2017

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Notes From My Travels:

• Author Tim Ferriss says to lower your pass / failure threshold to a level you can accomplish every day. If you set your goals unreasonably high, like writing five pages per day, you’re not going to hit it on a consistent basis and you’re going to be discouraged by the outcome, whereas something like two shitty pages per day will encourage you to go on (or I think Kurt Vonnegut wrote five-hundred words per day). Once you hit your goal of two shitty pages, you might even be motivated to continue before you get up and do something else – you might find yourself in the flow.
• This one comes from a variety of sources, but a Jordan Peterson lecture solidified the idea. Be specific about your goal, knowing each day what you want to do. For example, you aren’t “writing a novel” – that’s abstract and built on many days or even years of work. Technically, to write a novel is to fail the completing of said novel every day except for the last. But if you set out each day to write two pages, or even five-hundred words, or write only when someone babysits your kids each week, then you will find success in common hours.
• Know when you’re going to do it – whatever “it” is, or else the conditions of daily living will present themselves as excuses.
• Control your environment. I’m an advocate of this one. In a famous psychology study, writers were invited to spend six months at a resort to work on a new novel. The catch was that the novel had to be built from scratch from the time they arrived. What the writers didn’t know was that each resort room had a different and distinct painting on the wall by where the writers would be spending many long nights. Psychologists found that 80% of the novels started at the resort included an element from the painting. … I made that all up, but you get the idea.
• “Temptation bundling.” How does one find more time in the day? Group things you enjoy doing with things you have to do or don’t enjoy doing. Listen to podcasts or watch TV on the treadmill. Combine pleasure reading with a research direction. Have sex while painting your house.
• Don’t make people aware of your good intentions – this is sort of a warning not to tell people your abstract goal. You get positive feedback from your intentions, then you get a positive feeling, but this can end up working against you – your brain got its emotional cake and bows out early. Instead, if you’re feeling wordy, tell people of your micro-actions and not your abstractions. Say, “I wrote two pages today,” or, “I did two sit-ups today.” Other people’s lack of enthusiasm for you doing the unspectacular might then propel you to truly create the spectacular.
• Tim Ferriss again. I just discovered his podcast and he has some truly good living advice. He says how successful people often ask themselves better questions. For example, “Why can’t you reach your ten-year goal in the next six months?” He explains how if someone had a gun to your head, you’d probably figure it out, right? Probably. Maybe not all incentives have to be a little carrot dangling in front of your head. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hearing the stories of countless creative types, it’s that people can set the foundation for the rest of their life if they have their back against the wall. In this line of thought…

Safety is deceivingly dangerous if you’re trying to start a personal revolution.

• Define your goals. How can you reach goals that are never defined? Again, be specific. Ferriss says to also define your fears. What’s the worst that could happen and how would you get out of it? You’ll likely find that fear of the worst is worse than the defined worst. Dr. Jordan Peterson lays out a similar idea in his Self-Authoring Suite when he has participants write out the worst timeline and the ideal timeline.
• Like Dr. Peterson, wildly successful graphic designer, teacher, and podcast host, Debbie Millman, has her students write out a plan in detail about a single day in their life ten years from now. Where they want to be living, who they want to be living with, what kind of car they want to drive… anything you can think of. She tells those who write it to look at what they wrote every year. What is otherwise known as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” for a person’s mysterious ability to steer oneself to negative outcomes they think will happen, Debbie Millman teaches that this behavior can work for the positives in life as well.
• On a TED podcast titled “Headspace,” one speaker says to interact with the world as the person you want to be, not as the person you think you are. You might have also heard this as “fake it until you make it,” but it also wanders into the idea of how perception defines reality. Become the bullshit artist of confidence. Write convincing fiction until you hit upon the truth. Hey, did you know that I’m one of the best writers of my generation?
• Elizabeth Dunn says on the You Are Not So Smart podcast to buy experiences and not things. From experiences, you have memories, and often with others. Even if the experience is short, or turns out to be bad, she says it’s worthy. From a creative perspective, you know both the good and the bad experiences are equally as valuable to your art. In contrast, how often do people write or talk about that TV they bought ten years ago?
• Adam Robinson says that the magic happens only when you involve other people. No matter what you do, make it about the other person. If you don’t want anything for yourself, you’re playing a game you can’t lose. Be genuinely interested in others in all facets of life.

Lament the Day!

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My side project “Lament by the Black Suit” has been becoming one of my main projects. Consider it a soundtrack without a movie, or A Soundtrack for a Troubled Mind. The aim is to send the listener on a hero’s journey to a dark place and then bring the hero back. So turn the lights off and hug your demons.

It’s a work in-progress, but here are some pieces I think are getting close to the final cut.

The Newest Drafts:

“Byzantium Over Lost Souls” meshes the poem Byzantium by William Butler Yeats with a long uneasy trip into madness as the soul constantly tries to rewind.

“Lure into the Pit” leads into the deepest part of Hell.

The first one who makes a dance remix earns my everlasting respect.

~Matthew R Moore

Much Old and Wiser

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I got to the shore and I said, “Ocean!”
I flung sand and I said, “Ocean!”
“My path will not cease here;
I will not bow to your tides of power –
So either you make me Jesus
And I walk to England,
Or you drown me with all you have.”
The waves crashed.
A dirty seagull stood staring far to my right.

I walked into the surf – into the warm July water,
And when the water got to my knees
A sharp, burning pain coursed up my leg.
I leapt back and fell with a splash.
I scrambled until I found dry sand.
There I sat, clutching my leg, the pain true,
And while rocking back and forth,
I gasped, “Ocean.”
I gasped, “Ocean.”

Defense Filter for Your Wallet and Mind

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Poverty is a wormhole that can be impossible to crawl out from; its walls are tinted with anxiety and its days can bleed you dry, leaving nothing left at the end but a question of worthiness. I’ve been thinking about precisely that these past few weeks, but what got me there, and thinking about my own economic situation, was an unlikely source: the book The Millionaire Next Door. This economics book (not a self-help book) tracks the patterns of millionaires in America and tries to find what makes them so financially successful. My goal was to take those patterns (of a sub-group called PAW, or prodigious accumulators of wealth) and see what could be applicable for those below the poverty line.

And honestly, I had a lengthy article written for this, but the more I read about what some people go through and how the system is almost collectively designed to make poor people spiral further down the economic ladder, I just got the sense that anything I could say would be reductionist and might even be insulting. Way down into that wormhole called poverty, one can see a lack of empathy at almost every turn, prejudices and frustration abound, and the phrase “It’s expensive to be poor” is encoded into the perception of reality itself.

So I can’t offer much – I can’t change the world, I can barely change my clothes – but I can offer a list I’ve been creating for the past few years to tackle the economic drains of mindless consumption. I come at it from a variety of angles: behavioral economics, propaganda studies, philosophy, and probably a good bit of the everyday skepticism that drives my family nuts. I call this “a filter for your wallet and mind,” and the point is to create a framework of thinking instead of looking for single instances of where you can save money. The main takeaways are: 1) Seemingly insignificant financial choices are always significant in the long run, and 2) If you don’t keep track of where all of your money goes, you’ll end up wondering where it went.

Defense Filter for Your Wallet and Mind

1) Start a budget. Make a spreadsheet or get out the pen and paper and start tracking where ALL of your money goes, e.g. housing, utilities, gas, food, entertainment, child expenses, car repairs, medical bills, student loans from that ventriloquism degree, etc.. How much would you save if you did things differently? This is one of those activities you can undertake that’ll give you the benefit of doing so, but as you’re doing so you’ll also improve the behavior of why you were doing so in the first place.

a) You might say, “I don’t have time for that!” Recognize that saying this about budgeting is a consistent predecessor to saying “I don’t have money for that!” So what do you do then? You spend more time trying to generate money, of course. Small sacrifices now lead to benefits later.

b) I have to add this point because of the sad state of the world – maybe you know the world I’m talking about. From TV preachers to seminar leaders, there are those out there who prey on the vulnerable who simply want hope, and those people in positions of power will exploit this idea of “sacrifices now lead to benefits later” by saying if you give money to ME, then some OTHER force will reward you. These other forces are often mystical or the deeply abstract and mistaken for concrete. Life is not a karma-fueled vending machine.

2) Find out why you’re broke by a thousand cuts. I tried to research the psychology of why subscription-based models work so well, but all I got was subscription offers. To boil down this concept, this rampant $10 per month subscription model of life, the universe, and everything is extremely successful at getting people to pay for services they’d hardly ever agree to if phrased as a yearly model. Here’s a sample package of what some “cord cutters” use:

a) Basic home internet and TV – $90 per month, or $1,080 per year. (But you know it’ll increase bit by bit as the year goes on. Another tactic exploiting perceived insignificance.)
b) Netflix – $11 per month, or $132 per year.
c) Amazon Prime – $11 per month, or $132 per year. (Plus you get the added benefit of spending more money on impulse buys every month. “I have Prime, and so I might as well. If I don’t buy something I’m basically wasting my Prime membership!”)
d) HBO Now – $15 per month, or $180 per year.
e) Spotify – $10 per month, or $100 per year.

Total yearly cost = $1,624. Five-year cost = $8,120.

3) “Free” is hardly ever free. For $132, I’ll ship this to your door for free in two days.

4) Don’t pay others for services you can do yourself. Make your own damn coffee. Do simple maintenance and car repairs with the power of YouTube. The same goes for your home. The tenants before me at my old apartment left the washer because it didn’t work anymore. I fixed it with YouTube and $2 plastic clips that went into the… turny thing.

5) Center your diet on cheap and healthy foods. There are a ton of websites discussing this very bullet point. You might find that being frugal has an unintended consequence of becoming healthier. Healthier is cheaper over the long run.

a) Fast food, pizza places, most restaurants – these are places of temptation. Why do most of them exist directly on the side of the highway? Because they’ll fail on back roads. People don’t truly care for them like they do for grandma. The restaurants have to constantly be shoving themselves into people’s minds to stay afloat.
b) Now is a good time to emphasize that this isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor. Whether saving money or trying to lose weight, it’s important to realize that eating or sharing your favorite foods every once in a while is one of the joys in life – and that has real value that can’t be measured by your wallet.

6) Find the redundancies of modern living. See my articles about the benefits of getting rid of home internet and cable. This is a huge cost that gets absorbed as a borderline necessity. If you can, get on the internet once a week at the library or wherever else it’s already offered. If your job necessitates home internet, start factoring that cost into prospective salaries. Write it off on taxes if you can.

The library is a place that keeps on giving. A couple books, free library movies, and going home to homemade soup can last for days and cost only a few dollars for ingredients and transportation, but in one night, even someone who considers their self cheap can spend $20 at the cinema, $30 at a restaurant, $5 for gas money, and $20 for a few drinks at the bar – because the night is still young. Once a month doesn’t seem too bad. Everyone deserves to get out once in a while, right? Twelve months later, those $75 nights you totally deserved have turned into $900. Or maybe it’s that once per week trip for less than twenty dollars? (Ever wonder why the TV commercials say something like “For less than (this amount) per day you can adopt a child you’ll never see after we take out our overhead fees”?) Five years later, you need a new used car and you’re wishing you had $4,500. Maybe if you paired it with your five-year cost of internet and saved it before you spent it, you’d have over $12,600! In a savings account, you’d probably have around $13,000. But instead, you just have worry because you don’t know how you’re going to get to work or pick up your kids. Maybe you take out a car loan or start using credit cards. The interest adds up the other way – that is, not in your favor and at a far greater rate, which is how the world feels when you’re poor – not in your favor.

7) Fight Club has this quote: “The things you own end up owning you.” That fancy suit is dry cleaned only. That smart TV needs a constant connection to utilize all the features. The size of your house and your heating bill are intertwined. And on and on…

8) Try to find others who have the same frugal-based values as you. In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors explain how the clash of money values between couples doesn’t bode well, and if you’re saving money, the consumption-based lifestyle will usually find a need for it. But it doesn’t even have to be in your home life; your friends can also have a drastic influence on the type of lifestyle you develop and stick with.

9) Focus on efficiency.

a) Find ways to reduce your energy bill (but don’t spend money to save a lesser amount of money). This includes wasting more money in gas driving across town than what the amount saved is worth.
b) Find ways to better utilize your time.
c) Don’t take shortcuts – do stuff better! That has value in the long run.

10) Be honest about your addictions. If you smoke, drink, gamble, etc., your expenses sheet isn’t going to judge you for it, but it might help show you the true cost of continuing on your current path. If you’re trying to save money so you have more to spend on your addictions, or if you find the money you do save ends us going to an addiction, as an ordinary fellow human, I recommend help.

11) If you have student loans, use your saved money to pay off the highest interest loans first. If you’re on IBR, find out how much interest accumulates per year and try to at least beat that pace. Budgeting primer:

a) (Your loan amount * your interest rate = interest per year). For example, $4,210 * .068 = $286.28.
b) Now do that with all of your loans and add together.
c) Realize that sum will accumulate every year and then come to terms with the fact that it will not vanish. The more you pay in excess of that base interest rate, the less interest you will ultimately have to pay, likely thousands of dollars, and the sooner you can start putting it all behind you… If you’re in college now or thinking about going to college, save this article. Come back to it. I thought I was OK at math, too, but even I was shocked when I poured money into student loans the first year after graduation and ended up in the same place as I started.
d) Realize that if you buy a new computer with student loan money under the header “school supplies,” that computer is going to cost you money probably long after you no longer have it.
e) Realize degrees that pay less in the job market often end up costing a lot more because of the longevity of accumulating interest.
f) Yes, people who have their education paid for beforehand will end up getting the same education for thousands of dollars less, but the consequence of having student loans for a decade of more will then lead into a spiral of missed opportunities.

Putting up a defense for specific consumption-based decisions:

1) Do you have a functional one already? People say, “But I want a red toaster. It looks better than my old toaster.” “That car suits my personality better.” “But the newer one has a 1” bigger screen.” “But the newer one has a smaller screen.” A billion different reasons.

2) Is the purchase imperative to ongoing life? Hey, maybe you will end up deciding to buy that stripper pole for your living room. That’s all right – we live in a glorious society where if you really want a stripper pole, you could probably get one by the end of the afternoon. But think about it for at least a few days and see the effect this has on what you actually end up buying. Let the decision sit for two weeks and you might find you’ve moved on.

3) Is your quality of life and experience significantly affected? I wanted a ladle. Used a spoon instead. I wanted a better example. Got this instead. Good enough.

4) Is it a “what if” item. “I might need this. What if…” Guess what’s still going to be at the store if you actually need it? …However, buying food and supplies before a hurricane might be a worthy exception. Just thought I’d throw that in there so no one dies.

5) Will a more expensive version be cheaper over the long run? Items designed for planned obsolescence are everywhere, but within it all still exists examples where longevity and durability is a designed factor. You’ll have to find out what the peak efficiency of the item is you’re buying. This point particularly is where I notice many people get hung up on the idea of “frugal.” They save on one item, but then end up losing sight of where that saved money goes.

a) This is a tough topic for the poor, I know firsthand, because the main concern always looming is what to do about vehicles. If one loses their vehicle, life has the potential to fall apart in a hurry; it’s the scotch tape holding all the pieces together. We buy what we can afford to hold our life together now, but in a few years the car ends up costing more than that other, nicer vehicle we could have bought, if we could have gotten to the next price point. Consider how much stress this brings, and then consider all the other areas in this article.

b) A specific example: If you don’t care about color print, I highly suggest getting a laser printer. I’ve seen them as low as $60. They’ll print 1,200 to 1,800 pages per ink roll, and you can buy generic ink for about $15, whereas ink jet printers – I’m sure you already know about those demon spawn.

c) Always look at the cost per unit of measurement when at the grocery store. Come to understand that those minor price differences between sizes and brands are working the same way on your psyche as anything else that doesn’t seem so significant right now. It all adds up to be very significant, and you end up living the consequences in a big way down the line. You’re making dozens of these decisions every time you go grocery shopping.

d) Even after eating generic brand food most of my life, I still tend to think, “It’s not as good as the name brand, though.” But what does this usually amount to? We often associate perceived quality with a particular taste and not with any objective standard. For example, in the TV show Roseanne, the mom would always empty the generic brand cereal into the same name brand cereal box and her kids never knew. They thought they were living the name brand cereal lifestyle for years.

6) Is it intellectual consumerism? You might be saying, “I didn’t know intellectual consumerism was a thing.” I had to make it a thing – it’s an appeal to the intellectual ego, like a growing book collection far outpacing your reading pace, or even knowledge that goes unused.

Some students bring a the-customer-is-always-right mentality to education, and this started happening more when universities shifted to operating with the values of large corporations instead of with the values of education for the sake of education. In a way, the university is becoming lost in its own symbol as it gets subverted by the consumption-based zeitgeist – a cultured child of American in its own right. Tied to that, many people are going through the motions of learning. Technology has enabled droves of students to become proficient at Google while sacrificing independent thought and creativity. Students have become the symbols of students, paying with the symbols of wealth, to earn a symbol of education, in hopes they can graduate and obtain all the symbols of a well-adjusted life. Maybe you don’t see it that way. That’s all right.

7) Is it trying to placate negative emotions? This is a big one. Buying to fill a void that’ll never be filled with stuff. Going to the store because you’re bored, lonely, depressed, upset, etc.. Let it go long enough and you’ll find yourself in a George Carlin segment – you’ll need to get a new house to fit all of that new stuff, but then that new house will seem spacey…

“It was mostly junk,” a child of a UAW said in The Millionaire Next Door, remembering all that his father bought and filled the house with before he passed away.

8) Are you trying to tie a purchase to an unrelated narrative? “I deserve this because…” I remember seeing a young woman on the news who said this as she rationalized the purchase of a $150+ belt. Did she have enough money in her wallet for the belt? Yes. Could she afford it? No. Two different things.

Edward Bernays, as talked about in the documentary The Century of the Self, was largely responsible for recognizing that consumers’ irrational behaviors could be manipulated by presenting a narrative that had nothing to do with the product being sold. Cigarettes were called “Torches of freedom,” clothes and cars were tied not to functionality or quality but to the modern individual – a marketing concept for “who you really are deep inside and how you want to be represented,” and just about everything else under the sun and moon was tied to sex so they could steal your sexuality and sell it back to you. Sexy car.

9) Are you buying more because you’re being fooled into using more?

a) Toothpaste started selling more when the commercials showed an excess amount on the brush.

b) Alka-Seltzer started selling twice as much when the commercials showed two pills dropping into the glass instead of the dosage of one.

c) People eat less when they have less before them. People eat and drink more when they have bigger plates or bowls or cups, because not only do they want to make the meal appear complete – often on a level they’re not aware of – but also simply because that’s what’s within their reach. It’s like we’re all still programmed to take down wild animals in the forest. The next meal is uncertain, and so we better eat it while we have it.

10) Are you going purposeless into stores?

a) As soon as you’re in there, the social obligation to buy something arises. “Going shopping” with no greater purpose than the shopping itself must be somewhere in the consumption handbook for indoctrinating children to repeat the patterns of their parents.

b) “Because I’m hungry” is a surefire way to assault your budget at the grocery store. Make a list. Check it twice. Find out the cost-per-ounce and final price.

This may sound like an end-of-an-entry ploy, but if anyone else has tips on what they can do to take control of and be more mindful of their own consumption behaviors, I would truly like to hear them. I’d like to use them for my own life.

When this whole topic is brought together, it forms the basis for understanding personal momentum, because one thing that was abundantly clear in The Millionaire Next Door was the PAW’s constant awareness for how momentum could work for them. Unfortunately though, when you’re poor it’s the momentum that often works against you, and it’s tough, and decades can go by without an end in sight. But hopefully a list such as this one can help, if even a little bit.

~Matthew