The Pursuit of Happiness

My hairline is dropping back.

Like, way back.

Everyday I take a shower and rub in some expensive conditioner that’s supposed to thicken my ever-thinning man mane.

After applying the fraudulent product I always pull my hands down and assess the damage.

On a good day, there are only two or three black strands lying limp between my fingers.

I praise the brittle, dead hairs for fighting valiantly and them let slide away, down the drain, to Valhalla.

A Viking burial.

Luckily, my head isn’t shaped too oddly, so once I give up the good fight and shave I think I’ll be able to pull the look off. My younger brother Daniel, who looks just like me with bigger ears and more body hair, has been pioneering the Lex Luthor with moderate success for about two years now.

My brown, furry, Brooks Brothers-wearing guinea pig.

Not all heroes wear capes.

 

Cure-For-Baldness

 

As I processed and eventually accepted the inevitable arrival of shiny-headed Aaron, I began to take a look at my life on a grander scale. Okay, to be honest, that’s bullshit. I’m always analyzing. Over the last six or seven years I have pounded introspective processes and mindfulness into my routines. Plato said, “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and I examine the shit out of mine, probably to a fault. I’m working on it. Writing helps.

That’s actually one of my favorite things about writing. Sure I love to motivate and make you guys laugh, but if nothing else, my blog posts and short stories serve as my own digital roadmap. With one click of the mouse I can revisit my old pieces and analyze past perspectives. I can see exactly how I felt about my career path or my personal relationships or my abuelito thinking I’m gay.

So, no. I didn’t need a case of male pattern baldness to catalyze self-examination, but the gradual and consistent reminder of my ‘maturation’ served as a reference point. And it reminded me of an article published by my life guru Mark Manson called, “The Four Stages of Life.”

In his article Mark lays out his simple theory about, you guessed it, the four stages of life. Let me give you the Readers Digest version:

Stage One: Mimicry

Mark calls his first stage of life ‘Mimicry.’ In the first stage of life humans learn to navigate the world, both physically and socially, by mimicking those around them. Young humans are like little sponges, observing and imitating the behaviors of parents and siblings and the snotty-nosed punks they go to kindergarten with as they learn to navigate the world. Once an individual develops the capacity to make rational decisions and act independently, they move on to Stage Two, ‘Self-Discovery.’

Stage Two: Self-Discovery

Stage Two usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and lasts until a person reaches their mid-twenties or mid-thirties. As the name suggests, these newly autonomous individuals set out on a journey of self-exploration.

Manson says it best,

In Stage One, we learn to fit in with the people and culture around us. Stage Two is about learning what makes us different from the people and culture around us. Stage Two requires us to begin making decisions for ourselves, to test ourselves, and to understand ourselves and what makes us unique.

This stage of experimentation can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Some go to college. Some try various jobs and career paths, others experiment sexually. Whoa, that sentence escalated quickly. But it’s true.

Some people prefer to try drugs, lots of drugs. Still others yearn to explore in a more physical and temporal manner, setting off to travel for extended periods of time (cough, cough). After some time running through the gauntlet of experimentation, most people begin to reach their limitations.

In short, we figure out where we excel and where we, well, suck. We discover the things we like and the things that move us. We also begin to realize that some of the things we experimented with don’t serve us in the marathon of life. Our strengths and weaknesses become apparent and we begin to envision a general course for our lives.

Stage Three: Commitment

Stage Three is the commitment stage, the time to start setting some roots.

Manson writes,

Stage Three is the great consolidation of one’s life. Out go the friends who are draining you and holding you back. Out go the activities and hobbies that are a mindless waste of time. Out go the old dreams that are clearly not coming true anytime soon.

The very genesis of this blog was sparked by a personal quest to finalize my transition from step two to three. I stood at a turning point. I jumped and brought ya’ll along for the ride. I had vision and a sense of purpose and damn, it felt good.

One more ride on the experimentation express and I’m done, I swear. I can remember the sense of assuredness that coursed through my veins as I typed the question (and subsequently answered myself )”… do you want to quit your day job and travel the world before you start teaching again? Fuck yes. ” 2015 Aaron was a smug little bastard.

But the bridge between self-exploration and commitment has been everything but easy.

As I travelled my sense of purpose surged. I found great joy in meeting fresh faces and exploring new cities. I was invigorated by exposure to foreign ways of thinking and the customs that accompanied those mindsets. I thought my passion rested in exploration, so coming back home hurt. I mourned my time abroad instead of celebrating it. I took a good paying job in an industry I knew nothing about and frankly, didn’t ‘love.’ After years of writing and telling you guys to break the chains of complacency and go for broke, I felt like a sell out. I had an ocean view, a shiny new car, and a shitty attitude.

After months of wallowing I realized something that seems obvious in hindsight… traveling is not my passion, I was just blessed with an opportunity to do some really cool stuff during my stage of self-discovery. Mr. Manson says screw finding your passion, I say amen brother. But we all get caught up trying to find that “p-word” these days. It’s all around us. Every time we open our smart phones it slaps us in the face. We are constantly drowning in an endless array of options, doggy paddling through pictures and inspirational captions of our smiling friends ‘never conforming,’ ‘chasing their passion,’ and ‘catching flights not feelings.’ This never-ending barrage of imagery leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the levels of cognitive dissonance that come with commitment.

For right-swiping, Instagram obsessed Millennials, stage three is scary.

You mean to tell me that I have to pick one career? One vacation destination? One lover? Billy is in Bali swimming with sea turtles and homie hasn’t had a job in like five years. Ooh, Brett and Bonnie just bought a house. How the hell do I buy a house? I don’t have a cool million lying around. Fuck Brett. Damn, I need a wife. What should I eat for lunch? A burrito. It’s always a burrito.  (All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Fuck you Brett.)

I may have gotten carried away with the alliterations in my “scrolling through Instagram inner monologue” but you can see how this over exposure to a false reality made up entirely of success and accomplishments can lead to low self efficacy, envy, and hell… even depression. These modern day highlight reels also cultivate indecisiveness and wire our brains to crave constant distraction. At the very least, high levels of social media usage can alter our daily moods, effecting our overall sense of happiness, productivity and personal relationships.

It’s no wonder older generations have taken to calling Millennials the Slash Generation, referencing their inability to commit to one specific career path. The fact that a high number of Millennials feel that they have no influence in the workforce doesn’t help. How are we supposed to be passionate if we don’t think we can make a difference?

Maybe we’re just asking ourselves the wrong questions.

Instead of seeking to align our careers with our passions or looking for our life’s purpose, perhaps we should simply ask ourselves “what can we do with our time that is important?” And for me, that subtle shift in questioning has made all difference. The need to constantly over-analyze my path and purpose has been lifted ever so slightly. The pressure has been lessened. I’ll take it. It’s all about progress, not perfection. Thanks Mark.

The question has also helped eliminate negative thinking patterns and unproductive habits that snuck their way into my daily routines. The shift is gradual and requires constant tending, but I can feel the difference. No, managing a small business who’s signature service is killing German cockroaches is not my passion, but learning how to be an effective manager and leader is definitely important. The volunteer work I do through my church with the immigrant community is important. Being in close proximity to my family and spending quality time with them is important. Building capital to provide stability and security for my future family is very important.

I feel better about it.

Perhaps you do too. If not, try getting off your phone ya dummy.

Now quick, let me tell you about Stage Four so you can take your dog for a walk or something and get some fresh air.

Stage Four: Legacy

The last stage of life is all about cementing one’s legacy. After decades of dedication to whatever it is an individual deemed worthy of their commitment, a person enters into the last phase of their life, working to ensure that their hard work survives, even if they do not.

Stage Four is important psychologically because it makes the ever-growing reality of one’s own mortality more bearable. As humans, we have a deep need to feel as though our lives mean something. This meaning we constantly search for is literally our only psychological defense against the incomprehensibility of this life and the inevitability of our own death. To lose that meaning, or to watch it slip away, or to slowly feel as though the world has left you behind, is to stare oblivion in the face and let it consume you willingly.

At a young age, after enduring some difficult seasons, I gained the understanding that Stage Four is a luxury. Many of us never get a Legacy Stage. Others are forced to scramble in haste, scratching and clawing to ensure their legacies will be protected.

I suppose I’ll worry about Stage Four when I get there, but I have a feeling I’m on the right track.

A little less scrolling and a little more gratitude goes a long way.

It feels good to be back.

 

 

 

 

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Aaron Ragnarson

January 15, 2018

San Clemente, California

9:00 pm

Aaron goes to the local grocery store and sees a beautiful woman in the produce aisle.

There is always a beautiful woman in produce aisle.

Before he can strike up a conversation about avocados, boyfriend rushes in from left field to mark his territory (an annoyingly frequent occurrence at Aaron’s local Ralph’s).

Aaron has moved to a Couple’s Only town.

Aaron walks away vexed, feeling sorry for himself, dreaming of Spain in the frozen food section.

Fifteen minutes later, as Aaron checks out, previously mentioned boyfriend walks to the counter, visibly frustrated. Asks clerk, “Dude, do you know where the damn vegan butter is?” looking sideways as his girlfriend nips at his heels, barking about ‘non-dairy almond cheese.’

Aaron pays for his steak at the counter.

Aaron goes home.

Aaron eats his steak and watches Vikings.

Aaron smiles.

 

 

 

The Terrible Towels

My abuelito thinks I’m gay.

“When I was your age I already had 7 kids!” He teased me in Spanish.

No gracias Abuelo.

But in his defense, it has been a long time since I’ve brought a girl around the family.

My younger siblings getting married and having babies doesn’t help.

Thanks a lot guys.

The final straw took place in January when I went home to spend time with family. Trying to show off my improved Castellano,  I made the mistake of lisping the “c” in Barcelona in front of the old man.

He slapped his knee and pointed his finger, letting out a laugh that I’ve never heard him make, like an ‘I knew it!’ kind of laugh.

I thought it was hilarious. 

Don’t get it twisted guys. This isn’t some homophobic rant, some of my greatest friends are gay. Like they say in Spain, me da igaul. But I know my old man doesn’t like his old man thinking his eldest young man is gay.

Ever-cognizant of this antiquated yet completely hilarious quandary I’ve put my pops in, I wasn’t going to tell ya’ll about what happened to me last month.

But here we goooo.

Sharing a living space is never easy.

After spending my first eight months living in the Barri Gótic with some of my best friends in the city, it was time for me to find a new flat. After a month of some serious searching, I finally found a room in the beautiful neighborhood of Gracia. Although Gracia is often considered the most gentrified neighborhood in Barcelona, a certain charm of authenticity remains. I hit the narrow streets during sunset as the locals take their evening stroll around the neighborhood. The paseo is a delightful tradition, bringing a strong sense of community to the barrio. Young parents chat as their children laugh and play in the street. Sometimes I sit and watch the old men play their pick-up games of bocce ball in the dusty squares. 

The neighborhood more than makes up for the size of my room. “Shoebox” is an upgrade. And I haven’t had a bed so small since I was eleven.

“We’ll share the shelter of my single bed?”

Bob Marley was full of shit on that one.

But I have my own terrace that gets amazing sunlight and a cool breeze. I even strung up lights and bought some flowers and aromatic plants from a local nursery. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

I share a wall and a huge bathroom with Melissa, a rad chica from the U.K. who’s in Barcelona for hairdresser school. Our bathroom has a bidet and I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long without one. So fresh and so clean clean.

My two Italian roomies, Franceso and Andrea, best friends since childhood, share a room and a smaller restroom down the hall. After about a week, I noticed that they had begun taking the liberty of utilizing our more spacious lavatory. ‘Not a big deal,’ I thought to myself, ‘mi baño es su baño amigos.’ I’m prone to fits of claustrophobia myself so I understood their need for ample leg room whilst handling their business.

I forgot to mention that our apartment is technically a student housing unit of sorts. I was leery upon finding this out, but essentially the title is just… well… a title. A way for the management company to assuage a community that has witnessed rent prices skyrocket in their neighborhood over the last decade. But the title does come with some perks. Basically, any appliance or piece of furniture that we need is a simple text message away. Need an iron? Text our landlord Sebastian and you’ll have it within a day or two. More plates and silverware? How about a fan in my room? No problemo.

When I noticed some new hand towels hanging in the restroom near the door, I smiled and thought, ‘Sebastian… what a guy.’ 

For about a week I used those lovely little towels with gusto. I preferred the green towel, which was bit more course, for drying my hands.  I reserved the white towel, which had a higher thread count and much finer fabric, for my evening face wash. One night, after plunging my face in that lovely white cloth, I noticed a hint of funky smell emanating from the fabric. ‘Hmmph,‘ I thought, ‘must be time for a wash.’ After finishing up with the green towel, which still had a sweet fragrance, I took the white towel, along with some other clothes that needing cleaning, and started up the washing machine.

A couple of hours later, Andrea returned from work after a long day at the pizzeria. He changed clothes and made his way to my (our) restroom, newspaper in hand. But before the door closed Andrea muttered something in Italian and remerged into the hallway, angry, quite uncharacteristic of the ever-chipper and gregarious Italian. “Aaron, what has happened to my towel? Have you been using my towel?”

Taken aback by his aggressive tone, I responded in a like manner, “What are you talking about, bro?”

“If you mean our hand towels in my restroom… then of course I have.”

Clearly frustrated by my response, Andrea barked back in Spanish (his Spanish is better than mine, another fact that would probably make my abuelito laugh and point in my direction), “you should not use other people’s towels Aaron.”

“Listen buddy, you and Fra have been using my restroom for weeks and I haven’t said a word. And now you want to claim our community towels too?”

“No. You do not understand. Those are our towels. From Italia. They are for the culo. You have been using our ass towels.” The anger in his voice had subsided into a menacing laugh.

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit light headed.

Apparently, a bidet is no mere luxury for Italians. Nearly every home in Italy has a washroom fully equipped with toilet and bidet. Next to each bidet you’ll find a rack with small “hand” towels. DO NOT use these towels. Like, ever. Don’t even look at ’em.

For Francesco and Andrea, pooping in my restroom was not about leg room. Utilizing a toilet without a bidet would be outright barbaric for them, and leaving their ‘booty towels’ on the rack near the bidet was nothing out of the ordinary, something they never even thought to warn their ignorant roommate from the USA about.

Awesome.

After regaining my composure all I could do was laugh and tell Andrea how Francesco’s booty had a much sweeter fragrance than his. Like fresh lavender and honey.

You can laugh, just don’t tell my old man.

Schmidt.gif

Baseball IS Life

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I am a Dodger fan.

It’s no secret.

Anyone that has a pulse within a 5000 mile radius knows that I bleed Dodger Blue.

All emotional investment in this season’s outcome was washed away when my boys were eliminated last week. But as I sat and watched game seven of the World Series, I couldn’t help but lose my shit. I couldn’t stop myself from jumping and hollering as momentum swung from team to team, like some cruel, sadistic pendulum.

The tortured faces of Cubs fans flashed across my screen and their suffering oozed through the pixels. Grown men wearing inside-out caps with hands on their faces, watched the game unfold through trembling fingers, the weight of 108 winless years bearing down on their drooping shoulders. Bill Murray looked catatonic one moment, on the verge of cardiac arrest the next. From Lost in Translation to Caddyshack with every pitch.

39,466 days of hope and suffering relived in a five hour ballgame…culminating in one beautiful moment of shared jubilation. There will be no sleep on the Northside of Chicago tonight.

What a game. What a ride.

Two days after the Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason my dad called to talk about the game. (He knew I needed some time to process. Thanks Pops).

“Did you cry when they lost?” he asked. A strange question from my father who usually shies away from sentimentality.

“Uh… kind of.” I replied neutrally, unsure where he was headed.

“Well your brother did. He took it hard. He went into the kitchen and wept like a baby. What’s up with that?” I laughed as my heart swelled with pride.

Baseball is a marathon and an investment. Each season blossoms in spring and stretches deep into the year as the air turns cold and leaves begin to fall.  Every team suffers injuries and enjoys winning streaks. Beloved players are traded and unknown rookies emerge into the limelight. Dedicated fans sit back and experience it all, each loss… each victory… every pitch. Together.

For the past three seasons, my brother, roommate and I have done exactly that. We would rush home from work to eat dinner and watch the ballgames together. We cursed players when they underperformed and danced during walk-off victories and Kershaw no-hitters. We took naps and ate burritos, too many burritos. The whole while Vin Scully’s voice echoed through our apartment, the beloved narrator of our shared experiences. We carpooled to Chavez Ravine, sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to the organ of Nancy Bea and stuffed our faces with grilled Dodger Dogs. How spoiled we truly were. You may scoff, but it was the best time of my life.

My European friends gasp when I tell them how many games are played each year. 162 games? 6 months? That sounds horribly boring. And they’re right. Baseball is fucking boring. And so is life, regardless of what your friend’s Instagram account leads you to believe.

OMG Susie I want your life! You’re always going on adventures! 

I love reading the comment section. People only post highlight reels. No, Susie isn’t always going on adventures. She was probably sitting in traffic or pooping when she posted that picture under the Eiffel Tower. Modern attention spans, or lack thereof, don’t appreciate the intimate, slow unfolding beauty of baseball. They don’t value long innings or double-headers. They just want Paris and slam dunks, touchdowns and hard tackles. Not me… I love pooping.

Baseball, unlike anything other sport, has the beautiful capacity to mimic life. The boring innings and thrilling highlights, an intricate and interdependent patchwork of the sweet and mundane. And victory wouldn’t taste so sweet without the investment of time, life’s most precious commodity, that true fans make each season. So when we lose, it hurts. The end of a season marks the closing of a chapter of our lives. We simultaneously mourn and celebrate the passing of our shared experiences.

Baseball, like life, isn’t so much about the end result. It’s about the in-betweens. The ups and downs. The ride. For 108 years Cubs fans have stamped their tickets. This is the narrative that has taken over your social media feed. Cubbies Nation takes pride in their investment, as they should. But don’t be fooled, the World Series is not the fruit of their toil. The prize lies in their struggle. A century of time spent hoping and cheering together.

And when the celebrations end and the confetti is swept, we will do it all over again. Baseball doesn’t end, it marches on.

Baseball is pain. Baseball is beautiful. Baseball IS life.