Tag Archives: Book

The Overdue Library Books

overdue-stamp

I’m coming unraveled.

And I’m angry.

At myself. At my ex-wife. At my life.

But mostly, it’s just me.

Own your shit.

I make bad decisions. And when you make more bad decisions than good decisions, the net sum is a shitty life.

And make no mistake, my life is shitty. And it’s my fault.

And I have two library books sitting on my passenger seat right now which represent just how ill-equipped to be an adult I really am.

The two books are Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, and Your Money Ratios by Charles Farrell.

I borrowed them from my local library several months ago and never returned them. They’re books designed to help me make better choices about my life.

I haven’t read either.

I got a bill a while ago charging me for the books. Replacement charges and stuff.

I haven’t paid it yet.

I see the books every day. And I just leave them there. Like a masochist.

I get phone calls from unknown numbers on my phone. Maybe a collection agency wanting me to pay the $50 for the books. I have the money. I should pay them.

But I don’t. And I don’t return them either. The library is nine blocks from my house. I drive by it at least twice a day.

A Bit of a Mess

That’s what I am. I’ve admitted to it here and there—talking about how I now let dishes pile up in the kitchen. How I let my laundry pile up in my bedroom.

But it’s really worse than I let on.

I haven’t vacuumed up the pine needles from putting up my Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I haven’t organized my son’s room from the chaos that ensued after his mother moved out on April 1.

I haven’t completed a project for one of my very best friends. It should have been done six months ago.

I left the office a half-hour early on Friday and drove straight home. I didn’t leave my house—literally—until this morning to come back to work. A job and a life with which I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied.

Because this can’t be what life is supposed to be.

The Daily Grind

I wake up every day at 6:30 a.m., sleeping in because I don’t work out.

I take a shower. I stand in there a little too long. Maybe I shave. Maybe I don’t. I don’t really care.

I get dressed. Many times, I have to go down two flights of stairs to my basement laundry room to get a new shirt because I don’t always put my laundry away once I’ve hung them up in my laundry room. It’s not uncommon that I have to re-run the dryer for several minutes to eliminate wrinkles from my shirts I left in there overnight and refuse to iron.

Business casual. Always, business casual.

Half the time, my son is home. I suck at getting us both ready in time to leave at 7:50 a.m. which gets us where we need to be stress-free, even if there are weather or traffic issues.

I clock in like a chimp between 8:15-8:30 a.m., writing copy that sells stuff for other people.

I don’t eat lunch because I don’t have time to pack, and I want to write here, so I don’t go out for food, which is good, because then I’d really waste a lot of money.

I’m generally a little lightheaded when I leave around 5 p.m. every day, because I haven’t eaten since 7:30 a.m. and because I stare at two computer monitors all day—three, if you count my phone.

Then I drive home, half the time picking up my son, and the other half coming home to the quiet, empty, disorganized house.

I sometimes make food. Sometimes, I get takeout.

I take care of the chores I can’t ignore—all the ones related to “owning” my house. And then I go to bed and start it all over the next day.

What the Hell am I Doing?

I’m serious.

I need someone to explain to me the merits of what I’m doing here.

Because I make more than 150 percent of the median household income in my town, and I, quite literally, can’t afford to do anything besides pay my bills and eat food and drive to work.

I do this shitty, depressing routine every day. The only reward is my paycheck. And I spend my entire paycheck on all of the stuff I “need” to maintain this lifestyle I don’t even like.

A house. A car. A mobile phone. Daycare for my son. Food. Gas. College debt.

I spend 40-plus hours per week in a cubicle so I can do this same shitty routine every day for the next 30 years, when I might be able to retire and maybe just have enough money to maintain this standard of living for as long as my tired old bones stay together—assuming the market doesn’t crash and wipe out my life savings.

There’s got to be more to life than this.

There’s got to be better choices I can make.

There’s got to be a better way.

The Daily Practice

I’m rereading James Altucher’s Choose Yourself.

He’s the only person I know of that has felt worthless and horrible and couldn’t get off the floor, and then found a way to pick himself up, and then tells the story so other people can try to follow suit.

He employs something he calls The Daily Practice.

And I’m thinking it’s time to start baby-stepping my way there. It’s too big of a bite to chew all at once. But I have to take some kind of action.

Otherwise, I’m just going to die sad and alone with no friends and a son who can’t respect his father.

The Daily Practice is hard. Really hard. I’m highly unlikely to be able to do it all in one day once, let alone every day. But if I can knock out 75 percent of it, I have to believe my life will be infinitely better than it is now.

It’s going to start today.

I’m driving to the library as soon as I leave the office. I’m going to walk in and explain what a bad person I am and apologize. Hand them their books. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Most likely, I’ll have to pay them about $50. I probably own them now.

I could buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad today for $6.83, and Your Money Ratios for $11.39 from Amazon, which would have saved me more than $30.

If I don’t make a change, I’m going to die. Or I’m going to want to, which is basically the same.

I’m wasting my life.

It’s time to stop.

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The Writing Itch and a Love Song for One

I've got the itch.

I’ve got the itch.

I woke up today and thought to myself for the first time in my entire life: I can write a book.

I’m not saying anyone will read it.

I’m not saying it will be good.

I’m not saying I have any good ideas. I don’t.

However, I can write a book.

I believe that because of what I’ve been able to do here. It’s a productivity thing. I’ve been averaging north of 1,000 words a day for close to a half year. You can fill a couple books with that many words.

There are people in this world—amazing, creative people—who splatter good ideas all over the place. These are how successful businesses are made. How great movies and television shows are made. How the most delicious food is made. And how the best books are written.

They start with ideas.

And that’s kind of a problem, because…

I Never Have Good Ideas

Case in point: My 10-year career as a newspaper reporter prior to my layoff in late 2009.

I could write a decent story when news was happening. Piece of cake. Event X happens. I write about it.

Same’s true of this blog, really. Some life event happens. I write about it.

Easy. Don’t have to think about it. Just tell you what happened and how I feel about it.

With the news, I just had to tell you what happened.

But some days, I had to come up with “enterprise” stories. That means, I have to dig. Find an angle on some random thing and manufacture a good story out of it. Those were my most-challenging days.

The same is true here with my daily blogging efforts. If I don’t have something specific to report on, I have to come up with some enterprise idea. I try to resort to what’s top of mind, when in doubt. To document the journey as best I can. And this is what I’m thinking about.

I Want to Love Myself Again

I stood in the shower first thing this morning. Hot water stinging my neck.

I thought about something I read before bed last night about how a man changed his life by making “I love myself” a personal mantra. By truly learning to love himself again after the rigors of adult life had stolen his innocence.

And then I got to thinking about how shitty I feel sometimes. About how I felt awesome as a kid. Every day. Even with my parents divorced. Even being alone a lot.

I felt great. I was sad when people died. I was sad when one of my best friends moved away. I was sad when I had to say goodbye to my dad after summer and winter visits. But I was also resilient. Bounced back quick.

I smiled. I was positive. I was kind. I was friendly. I loved.

I loved my family. I loved my friends. I loved myself.

Then adulthood hits. Christmas stops being magical. No one cares about your birthday. You lose touch with all your friends. You don’t go to huge parties with a hundred people anymore. You don’t get the same attention from the opposite sex that you used to. Your hopes and dreams begin to die as you watch other people achieve things and wonder what they have that you don’t.

You make bad choices.

The sins pile up.

Your insides get poisoned.

And then you frown a little more. You laugh a little less.

You darken. On the inside.

I’ve spent most of my adulthood believing this phenomenon happens because we have the wool pulled over our eyes as children. We’re innocent. We don’t know how ugly the world can be. Most of us—the really fortunate ones—don’t experience extreme tragedy and hardship as children. Those moments tend not to arise until we’re wading through adulthood. We thought we’d have life figured out once we got here.

Then we arrived. And we feel less ready than ever. Less confident than ever. More unsure than ever.

The clock ticks a little bit louder now.

Tick, tick, tick.

The bottom of the hourglass constantly filling, reminding us that time isn’t on our side.

Then we feel sad.

Angry.

Depressed.

Lonely.

Unfulfilled.

We search for meaning.

Believers ask: Why me, God?

Some believers stop believing because of this. Why have you forsaken me? I guess you’re not really there at all.

Non-believers say: I told you so. Nothing matters.

Some of us die hopeless and alone.

But not all of us.

Because maybe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Maybe the wool wasn’t pulled over my eyes.

Maybe I just really loved myself as a child. Respected myself. Took care of myself.

I chose good over bad. I was physically fit. I got plenty of sleep.

I had friends. I felt purpose going to school. I had goals and hopes and dreams.

But mostly, I had love.

Meant to Be More

I think I stopped loving myself after my layoff.

When I would lay around all day, unshaven in sweats and a t-shirt watching TV with my two-year-old son at home while my wife went to work.

It was a new kind of worthlessness.

I don’t remember how long my wife put up with me, but I should be grateful for whatever amount of time she did.

How could I expect her to love and respect me when I didn’t even love and respect myself?

I came close to getting it back.

In 2011, I started eating right and working out every day. I lost 30 pounds and became physically stronger than I’d ever been before. People would always compliment me when they saw me. That’s always an amazing feeling.

My confidence soared.

I was offered and accepted a job in June 2011, right around my son’s third birthday. I was now making significantly more money than I’d ever made before, plus I had income from my freelance writing business.

I thought I’d finally beat back my demons at that point. Everything felt really good. Back on track.

And then in October, just a few months later, the bottom fell out again when my father-in-law died suddenly. We had dinner with him. He was the same amazing guy and grandfather he always was. Then we left. And got a phone call the next night.

Then my life spiraled out of control.

I lost everything that mattered to me when my wife walked out the door on April 1 of this year.

I fell hard. And I’m still on the floor. I just fake not being there sometimes.

And I was reading that book last night before falling asleep. I love myself. I love myself. I love myself, the guy repeated over and over and over again.

He faked it for a while.

But then the message finally started to sink in.

I love myself.

He started to believe it, because we can trick our brains.

I love myself.

Then he started living like he loved himself.

Took care of his body. Took care of his mind. Took care of his soul.

Because he loved himself. Genuinely.

And then everything changed.

He felt happy again. That really pure happiness we feel as children. Not fake happy. Not drunk happy. Not drugs happy. Not sex happy. Not money happy.

Real happy. And then all the other pieces of his life fell into place, too.

This idea makes sense to me. You say we can’t go back? We can’t have what we lost?

Maybe we can. I’ve never bothered to ask. I’ve never bothered to try.

What if life didn’t ruin us? What if we just stopped loving ourselves the way we did when innocence was all we knew?

And what if starting again is how we get to where we want to go?

Can’t hurt to try.

It’s okay if it feels corny. It’s okay if it feels fake. It’s okay if we don’t believe it.

Because if we just say it enough times, we’ll start to believe it: I love myself.

An Idea Machine

That’s what I want to be. A guy who has ideas. So I can write something that matters.

And to have ideas, I need energy. And to have energy, I need to feel good. And to feel good, I need to love myself.

I like the hot shower first thing in the morning. Some of my best thinking happens there.

I want to work out. I want to look and feel good.

I want to be good even when no one’s watching.

I want to be a better friend, father, son, grandson.

I want to be financially responsible.

And then.

I want to write a book.

I’ve always wanted to write a book. For many years, my ultimate fantasy was to sit in a movie theater watching a film based on something I’d written.

As I aged, becoming more interested in the things that make human beings do human-being things, I began to gravitate more toward non-fiction.

I like simple stories. Few characters. Emotional heartache. Forbidden lust. Poisoned hearts. Ruined lives. Healing and forgiveness. Redemption. Or stories of greed. Deceit. Or simple comedy.

I like complex stories. An EMP attack. The world goes dark. Society breaks down. It’s everyone for themselves. What’s a husband, wife and two kids to do? When the cops don’t come. When there’s no more grocery store. Or pharmacy. Or hospital. Or military defense. Or anything.

I like ongoing stories. Like great television shows or novels with reoccurring characters.

I like books that offer solutions to problems. Books that help human beings become better versions of themselves.

I need to pick one and try. Because I finally believe I can do it. And that’s a big step.

But first I need energy.

Physical fitness. Spiritual wellness. Reduced stress.

And I’ll get that by treating myself with the love and respect I feel for those who matter most.

I love myself.

I want to take risks.

Take my shot.

Choose myself.

Because I miss that happy kid from all my old photos.

And I intend to find him.

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Watch For Falling Prices, Vol. 2

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

A few days ago, I found a brown package tucked behind a planter on my front porch.

I smiled.

Could it be one of those two books I ordered from Walmart?

I had received an email from them informing me that my orders had been cancelled the day after taking advantage of price glitches on their website to order $50 worth of books for about $11, including a small shipping charge. So I guess they screwed up twice. Yay me.

I had made the joke in the first post that I was going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—which I’ve never read—and use its contents to propel me to unimaginable success as I continue to move forward in my personal and professional life.

I wrote this:

“I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.

Then, you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.

And a decade from now?

I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.

I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”

And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”

They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

But you will.

Carpe Diem.”

So, I picked up that package. I smiled. I opened it.

And sure enough, it was Outliers. And I thought to myself: Hell yeah. I just got a good deal. Because I try hard to keep my promises.

And then I got excited.

Because I’m going to be so freaking tall and rich and sexually active now.

The world is mine.

10,000 Hours

There are many nuanced, well-researched and brilliant observations made by Gladwell in this book (Which I haven’t started reading yet. I’m afraid of the growth spurt and having to buy all new clothes).

But the one most people seem to focus on is the idea that to master something, we need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.

All the greats do.

Musicians.

Painters.

Athletes.

Chefs.

Adult film actors.

Teachers.

Writers.

And I wondered: How close am I to putting in my 10,000 hours?

So, I began a crude analysis based on lots and lots of possibly incorrect guesswork.

It looked like this.

1. I’ve been writing quasi-professionally or professionally for 15 years.

2. In those 15 years, I have:

Written and edited news stories.

Written and edited shitty poetry.

Written and edited marketing materials, including email, brochures, web copy, advertisements and video scripts.

Written and edited blog posts—both corporately, and here.

3. From age 19-21, during my college years, including countless hours in the college newspaper’s newsroom and my summer and winter break internships, I estimate spending about 1.5 hours per day writing. For three years. That’s 1,643 hours.

4. From age 22-34, during my professional career, including even more hours in daily newspaper and weekly business publication newsrooms, operating my own freelance copywriting business, working in internet marketing in my current job, and all of my private writing including what I do here, I estimate an average of 2 hours per day writing. For 12 years. That’s 8,760 hours.

5. If my math is correct, and I have no reason to think it’s not damn close, that’s 10,403 hours.

6. Holy shit. I’m an expert.

The Definition of Success

My mom always defined success as getting paid to do something you love.

And I do.

In the grand scheme of writers, I’m probably even paid well.

But I want more. Because I’m selfish and greedy and want to go on vacations and have an in-ground swimming pool and maybe even a really fast car I don’t drive very often.

Also, I wouldn’t mind having financial security for my son.

Okay, fine. And maybe I would try to do a little good with it when I wasn’t busy sipping fine tequila by my pool while writing books people actually wanted to read.

And while I appreciate what my mother is saying, I can’t agree. I won’t agree. Because I don’t feel successful.

I feel grateful. But not successful.

My dad probably defines success more in financial terms.

He makes a lot of money now after pulling himself out of poverty and making a good career move in his late 30s. He reminds me all the time that we were all just as happy back when we were clipping coupons, driving shitty cars, and living in mega-humble conditions along a Mississippi River tributary. And he’s right. We were very happy despite the absence of money.

I know that money will not make me happy. I still want some. But I know there are wealthy people who are miserable. Money does not fill the voids in their minds, hearts and souls.

That can only come from love. And spiritual balance. And good health. And family and friends. And gratitude. And generosity.

Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” and “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”

I think I like that second definition best.

Because that’s what I always want to happen—no matter what we’re talking about. The correct thing. Whatever’s best.

That’s my desired result.

Since the day I decided to pursue writing people have asked me what my goals were.

It’s so easy to say you want to have a novel published. And I always have. That was always my canned response.

But that’s bullshit. Because I can write a terrible book tomorrow, self-publish it, and fire it out to the world in hopes that a sucker or two reads a third of it.

Writers don’t want to write books.

Writers want to be read.

And I remember always saying that, too.

If just one person reads something I wrote and likes it. If just one person reads something I wrote and feels better. If just one person reads something I wrote and it compels them to be better, stronger, wiser, braver.

Then I’ll have done something. I’ll have been successful.

I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. Paid my dues. And I’ll continue to pay them because I have a love affair with the keyboard.

Think about all of the things in your life you’ve put 10,000 hours into.

There’s something.

Thinking. Loving. Tasting. Caring. Feeling. Praying. Hoping.

You’re a master of something.

Just like that guy over there. Just like this lady over here. Just like me.

It took a Walmart pricing glitch to see it.

But I’m just a little bit taller today.

And so are you.

Let’s go dunk on somebody. And be awesome.

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Watch For Falling Prices

carpe_diem11

Walmart.com had a pricing snafu on its website this morning where some items were marked down ridiculously low and others were marked ridiculously high.

Popular video game Grand Theft Auto V was marked down to $18 and had sold out. Many toys and books and other items were marked down as much as 85 percent.

I overheard a co-worker mention it. It generated some office buzz. We got online and laughed at some of the prices, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures priced at $369.99.

There was either a glitch on the back end of Walmart.com’s web pricing, or someone hacked the site.

The Opportunist

I’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was on sale for $3.05. I put it in my online shopping cart. My favorite novelist’s new book—Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt—is set to release on December 2. It was on sale for $3.05 as well, plus free shipping.

I plugged in my debit card info and ordered both books. $11 with a small shipping charge for the Gladwell book.

Boom. Savviest purchase ever.

I texted a couple people about it encouraging them to take advantage, knowing full well this was a pricing mistake and that Walmart was losing money each and every time someone ordered something at these prices.

Is this who I want to be?

Is it okay to do what I did this morning?

Let’s discuss.

The It’s-Wrong Argument

Of course it’s not okay.

It’s fundamentally no different than a bank truck getting in a freeway accident, having the bank’s money flying all over the road, and being one of the people who snatches up as much of it as possible and drives away.

I KNEW Walmart wasn’t having a special sale. The evidence was obvious. There was a glitch. A mistake. There was even the possibility that some rogue hacker had caused this, and here I was trying to capitalize on it. Near as I can tell, I swindled Walmart out of about $30 by ordering those two books this morning.

Would I ever walk into a Walmart (*shudder*) and just steal $30 worth of goods? Not a chance.

So, why did I think this was okay? Why was my instinct to jump all over what I saw as an opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others?

The It’s-Perfectly-Fine, Walmart-is-the-Retail-Satan Argument

Of course it’s okay.

Fuck Walmart.

They’ve been using brute force and high-volume buying power to put competition out of business for years. Little mom-and-pop shops all over the United States and presumably other countries are just shutting down because Walmart’s bean counters decided they could turn a huge profit by opening a new store in a particular location.

It’s a small-business death knell—the news of a massive discount retailer moving into town. At least for any small business that sells similar wares as Walmart. And Walmart sells an awful lot of stuff.

Walmart makes all of its money doing EXACTLY what I did this morning. Jumping at an opportunity to get more for less.

The Final Analysis

I don’t really know how I feel about it. My guilt meter isn’t exactly going off the charts right now.

In fact, my co-worker JUST came back from Walmart where she’d ordered some things at huge discounts and Walmart refused to honor the purchases she’d scheduled for in-store pickup. They canceled the orders. My co-worker didn’t argue with them, she said.

In my case, I asked for my books to be delivered to my house. I even paid the delivery fee for one of them. It will be interesting to see whether Walmart treats my order differently as a result.

I don’t particularly care either way, but in the end, I’d like to see my books show up on my porch one of these days.

I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.

Then, you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.

And a decade from now?

I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.

I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”

And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”

They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

But you will.

Carpe Diem.

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