Enough Is More Than Enough

Freighter - Great Lakes

Thanksgiving means different things to different groups, all protestations notwithstanding.

For Native Americans it is a reminder that simple acts of generosity can result in the loss of a homeland.

For turkeys it is an opportunity to sacrifice in service to the nation, a sacrifice made freely because among turkeys it is well understood that pleasing humanity is the ultimate responsibility, indeed, the highest calling, for all animals.

Among alcoholics, Thanksgiving is known as the official start of Drinking Season, which does not conclude until the very last play of the Super Bowl.

No matter which disorder, illness, condition, syndrome, or demon nips at your heels, Thanksgiving has much to offer. Take gluttony as an example, flagship of the Thanksgiving neurosis armada. Thanksgiving unapologetically celebrates the American desire to have too much of everything now until it is gone.

It is frequently observed by people who make this observation frequently that one of the great human questions is how to define “enough”. This is especially true when it comes to mental health.

No one can tell us whether we have enough because we get to decide what “enough” means to us. This profoundly empowering concept appears to be lost on the entire American nation of “sane” people since, almost without exception, they seem to never have enough of anything they want. They lead lives of perpetual grasping, like Tantalus; fulfillment is always out of reach.

Americans sitting at the Thanksgiving table resemble the early pioneers who, bristling with a sense of manifest destiny, struck out for parts unknown buoyed by a supreme self-confidence and belief that they were entitled to capture, kill, eat, or at least decorate, anything they found. This atmosphere of Roman indulgence, bordering on an hysterical appetite gratification, is with us even today.

Lost is the notion that Thanksgiving is intended as welcome respite from our endless ego-driven campaigns when we may count our blessings with appropriate humility and gratitude and consider what we might do to deserve them.

And so my fellow Whackadoomians, my fellow residents of Cookoopantsatopolis, we must look upon these tormented individuals and remember that for some of us it is easier to be grateful, for some of us the bar is lower, for some of us the priorities are closer to the ground; for some of us life is both more complex and simpler.

As you know, I usually use this column to give the appearance of making personal observations without actually doing so. However, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is to say, giving, I will tell you one thing that makes me feel grateful.

I am grateful I was not born in the Middle Ages when people with bipolar disorder were routinely burned at the stake because it was thought they were possessed by Satan.

In the cold church basements with their obligatory coffee machines, battered folding chairs, and nicotine stained posters, we are told to concentrate on what we have, not what we don’t have.

I do not know what “enough” means to you, that is for you to define. Maybe it is just that you are doing a little bit better fighting your battles than you did last year. On this Thanksgiving, I hope that you can look at life and say, today I have enough, and I am grateful for what I have.

Let’s Eliminate Wretched Writing

Learn To Speak The Truth Foreign Language

I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years and in that time I’ve learned a few things. So, with the help of with my old friend Taz, I’m going to toss out some pointers guaranteed to make you a better writer.

“Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.” Taz Mopula

Today, everyone can instantly transmit shabby, incomprehensible phrases around the world. We are awash in a tidal wave of staggeringly poor writing. The good news for you is that it is easier than ever to stand out – good spelling alone puts you in the top 5%.

“Writing is the easiest part of being a writer; the most difficult part is becoming a writer.” Taz Mopula

Arranging words is the very last step of the writing process. Great writing begins with great thinking; your writing will improve immeasurably if your thinking and motives are clear.

“On the Internet, all statements are true; including this one.” Taz Mopula

The Internet is like a broad boulevard where idiocy, divinity, and evil stroll hand in hand. The poor reader must learn to separate cheese from Cheez Whiz. Your writing will either exploit and exacerbate this problem or help repair it.

“Learn to speak the truth; it is helpful to be fluent in a foreign language.” Taz Mopula

Truth is the hallmark of great writing. Most people purposely avoid telling the truth. Most of those who try, fail, since they habitually deceive themselves. While there is no such thing as absolute truth, understanding and sharing your personal truth catapults you into the top 1% of all writers.

“We write to discover who we are, and in the process, become somebody else.” Taz Mopula

Writing well requires a reckless disregard for comfort and safety. Be Columbus, sail off the edge of a flat ocean and you and your readers will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. Personal evolution is an almost inescapable byproduct of great writing.

“Ultimately it’s not what you don’t say that matters most so much as how you don’t say it.” Taz Mopula

Here is an exercise for you – listen to the music of Thelonious Monk for a day. Listen to the spaces in-between the notes. The confident writer says more by saying less, but when you do say something, make it count.

“Even the greatest paintings are flat; they only become three-dimensional in the eyes of those who behold them.” Taz Mopula

As a rule, writers are arrogant, narcissistic, impatient, self-indulgent and drunk. You’ll find over time that these qualities work against you and must be mastered. The finish line is the realization that you are a craftsman and a servant – without your audience you are merely a mime performing at a school for the blind.

The Importance Of Being Unimportant

One Cannot Overestimate The Importance Of Fully Grasping

One day, while sitting in my windowless corporate office and trying to imagine it didn’t resemble a jail cell, I picked up my ringing phone to discover the call was not business-related, it was in fact a friend I’ll call Chumley Frampton, although his real name is Syngen Enthwhistle.

Arrogance: What stupidity wants to be when it grows up. Taz Mopula

Now, bear in mind that Chumley is not what you would call a close friend, so I wondered immediately what the purpose of his call might be. I didn’t have to wait long. With fabricated faux urgency for which he is well known, Chumley informed me he was too busy to speak with me right now and had to ring off.

Multi-tasking: The fine art of doing many things badly at the same time.” Taz Mopula

Yes, that’s right. He called me to let me know he was too busy to speak with me, even though we hadn’t spoken in months.

Before you criticize a man, walk half a mile in his shoes, turn around, retrace your steps, and return them to him.” Taz Mopula

I don’t usually deconstruct for the reader’s benefit but let’s look at this briefly. 1.) Apparently he was incorrect, he wasn’t too busy to speak with me – the communication was false. 2.) Had it been accurate, why would I have cared? What possible purpose could have been served? 3.) The exclusive point of this contact was to remind me of his importance. (This quality, by the way, existed only in his mind, assuming that one measures importance by gauging influence, power, achievement, and celebrity, which he did. So, not only was it a tiresome nuisance, it was wildly inaccurate.)

“Celebrity: A state of being where one is not known by a large number of people.” Taz Mopula

As concept humor the story is hard to beat, but there is another reason why I’ve retained it all these years. Long ago a psychiatrist said to me, “It really matters to you that what you do is perceived as important.” This was both true and damning. He didn’t say that it was important to me that I achieved important things – (like Chumley I existed on the periphery of accomplishment but had nothing to show for myself) – he said it was important that I was perceived as having done so. Back in the day, Chumley and I managed our images fastidiously, what others thought of us mattered tremendously, indeed, it determined the value of our stock.

“Humility is nothing to brag about.” Taz Mopula

Today I know with absolute certainty that I am not important. On occasion I may be involved in work that is potentially important, and now and then I may serve the purposes of a very important entity, but that is another matter altogether. If I ever find myself making a case for self-importance I immediately take a time out – recalibrate, and begin again.

“Never underestimate your ability to underestimate others, and overestimate your own capabilities.” Taz Mopula

I am perhaps important to the extent that I have learned the importance of unimportance.

Fred Astaire On Ice

thin ice

Having an unusual name is downright aggravating if you’re the type of person who wants nothing more than to skate through life unnoticed. In Scotland, Alistair is popular (Gaelic for Alexander), but on the unforgiving playgrounds of America it’s virtually unknown. I have grown accustomed to spelling it repeatedly, and even providing pronunciation tips. The most successful of these is pointing out that it rhymes with Fred Astaire.

Astaire was known for his elegant, fluid style; gliding through densely populated art deco sets like a bird. In stark contrast, when it comes to dancing I am two leftover feet. However, growing into a reasonable facsimile of adulthood I too developed a terpsichorean signature – dancing through human relationships without ever touching or connecting. Shark-like, I had to keep moving forward to survive and, also shark-like, I consumed pretty much everything I encountered.

Suffering in the shadow of a larger-than-life father who neutralized anyone reckless enough to compete with him, I aimed low. The atmosphere of fierce, unforgiving intensity and extreme achievement threw a warm, appealing glow onto failure, which beckoned like a welcoming friend.

Understand; I had no appetite for magnificent, fearless failure, far from it. I was drifting towards the quiet desperation Thoreau described as though it was a beach resort.

For many people, life has a rather linear quality. Certainly there are peaks and valleys; moments of triumph interspersed with difficult, challenging episodes. But overall, life is of one piece; there is a philosophy, a rational context, driving it inexorably forward. That, and only that, is what I longed for, safety in the comfort of reason!

Other lives contain a terrible moment of clarity when, either through the auspices of a transformational event, or a revelation of insight, you understand fully that you will not have the life you craved.

For me, this moment did not occur at 20 as I sat in a German prison cell after being pinched at the Austrian border with a kilo of Afghani hashish.

Nor did it occur to me at 26 as I lay in a hospital bed with dozens of stitches in my face, having been beaten and left for dead one winter night after roaming the desolate streets alone on a drunken jag, stewing in depression and rage.

It didn’t even dawn on me at 36 when, divorced and penniless, I wondered why I’d been fired from two corporate jobs in just six months.

My inability to face the inevitable fueled astonishing powers of denial. Despite the long succession of catastrophes I still clung to the precious fantasy of a mediocre, uneventful life where I would be spared the demands of greatness.

In 1989, after a spirited round of fisticuffs with two large police officers who ultimately managed to subdue me, I sat silently as the cruiser approached Norristown State Mental Hospital. At that moment I realized there was no chance of leading a quiet, bland life – and wisdom meant surrendering to the life I was actually living. There was no dancing out of this one.

Self-Actualization

Arrogance And Intellegence Yes Arrogance Wisdom No

I have learned never to confuse facts and information with knowledge, much less wisdom. In “the information age” there is an endless waterfall of data, but who is there to teach us how we can make sense of it? Mere information is almost valueless and the glut of information we have today is actually an impediment to healthy living. As ever, balance is the key – and you will never achieve balance in the absence of wisdom.

You can get education from others but wisdom, sadly, must come from within. In general, the important lessons of life arrive on the business end of a 2×4. So, for starters, don’t think there are short cuts; the best way to learn is to live. You must have the experiences yourself for them to mean anything.

I think of the process sequentially, so, for want of a better name, let’s call it the Taz Mopula Hierarchy of Self-Actualization – TMHSA – and have a look.

1. Know Yourself. – Few people attack this step and most of the ones that do, fail. It requires curiosity, relentless determination, and brutal honesty.

2. Forgive Yourself. – Only after thoroughly understanding yourself, the good and the bad, is it truly possible to forgive yourself for character flaws and harm done.

3. Love Yourself. – Do not confuse this with narcissism; it is all about unqualified acceptance, humility, and gratitude. The universe loves you, why disagree?

4. Enjoy Yourself. – You can easily spot people that have made it this far, they have absolutely no envy, they can’t think of anyone else they would rather be.

5. Allow Others To Enjoy You Enjoying Being Yourself. – This is the ultimate, it involves you allowing others to enjoy the real you, even if it means suffering their admiration.

The wisdom here is that you will enjoy life, you will have healthy priorities, and you will have purpose. In a situation like this, doing triage on the deluge of useless information clamoring for your attention will be child’s play.