How to Make Sense of an Irrational Person

Over the course of my life I’ve gotten close to at least a few irrational people — those whose actions seem perpetually and needlessly self-destructive, who seem to overcomplicate the simplest things, who inexplicably lie or withhold truths for no benefit that you can see.

For a person like me — who tends to presume that everyone thinks like me, acts in their self-interest, has decent intentions — such a person can prove immensely frustrating. You try to make sense of their behavior and decisions; you make excuses on their behalf — all in the interest of explaining the unexplainable.

To practice these mental gymnastics can drive you mad, and it’s ultimately a futile effort. You must accept that you can never understand such a person and there’s no use in trying. Rather, the rationale for them lies entirely in their physiology, which is beyond control.

If you were to perform an MRI on an irrational person, you would see that parts of their brain — e.g.: the region that houses empathy, or long-term thinking, or decision-making, etc. — are severely inactive in comparison to the average brain. Whether this was caused from trauma or birth doesn’t matter; the fact is their brains function differently and that explains everything you need to know.

Even if this brain theory isn’t true (though I’m quite certain it is more often than not), moving forward with this belief will help you to find closure. Don’t look for the rationale behind an irrational person’s actions…it’s simply a malfunctioning brain, unfortunately most likely beyond repair.

Beware the Energy Vampire

No one knows why it does what it does. Its agenda seems unclear, other than to suck energy without ever giving any…for no discernible reason. Perhaps it survives on attention.

Whatever the case, it is cunning in its predation. Over many years it has honed its ability to reel its prey in with its charm and its continued promises. They never waver in their ability to appear sincere, and their brokenness — however predictable by now — always seems to be unintentional. Every time.

But you must judge this vampire not by its words and expressions of empathy, but only ever by its actions. When you isolate this variable, the vampire’s sinister nature becomes all too clear, helping you to take proper precaution.

The best course of action? To ignore this vampire and not give it one inch. Never initiate or act…only wait for the vampire to make the first move, and then you may react. But it will never come to that, because proactiveness is the opposite of an energy vampire. Its empty words, devoid of follow-through, will always reveal its true nature.

Divorce Yourself from Time

More and more I try to distance myself from the human invention of time. Part of this is a natural byproduct of trying to live in the present, a realm that is eternal and therefore timeless.

When you don’t know what date (or day) it is, when you don’t have to set an alarm…you know you’re living your best life. Furthermore, you’re less likely to feel anxious or rushed. Just do whatever you’re doing, and whatever needs to get done, will.

Of course, the obligations of modern life sometimes make avoiding time impossible. You need to show up to work on time, so just do that…and the rest of the time forget about it.

I find that limiting the amount of information that enters my mind to its bare essentials is a recipe for well-being, and what time it is (or how much time we have left until something is over, or how much time has passed with whatever we’re doing, etc.) is all useless information. Knowing won’t change the fact, and thus can only disappoint.

Life is happening now — experience it.

Momentum is Everything

Now that I missed a few days of this blog, I’ve noticed myself beginning to fall off entirely and regard this exercise as merely optional. My mind has begun to shift and make excuses, telling me that now I have a dog and thus bigger priorities — that this blog no longer serves a purpose.

Well, I’m going to take this as a challenge to face inertia dead in the eye and say to it that, for the sole purpose of proving to myself that I can defeat it, I will regain my daily ritual and prevail. Yes, I can handle a new puppy with all its needs in addition to all my previous obligations…and any other tasks I wish to pile on top of it.

I will not be a slave to old, bad habits…I will grow and improve and fulfill my fullest potential. And then I will one day die, satisfied and without regret.

Sometimes this blog is just a pep talk for myself. Maybe all the time.

Reframe Setbacks as Opportunities

My mind is still on — you guessed it — all things dogs…

Like how they significantly slow your life down. Not only must you walk them, but it’s a slow walk. And it’s not over until they’ve relieved themselves.

But the flip side is sometimes it’s good to take a nice, slow walk around the block — to, as they say, stop and smell the roses.

And you must train them, which takes time and patience and consistency and dedication.

But the flip side is it’s also training yourself — to be a clear communicator.

For every setback and constraint, there are positives to be gained. And when you step outside of your comfort zone, your world expands.

My Dog Has Given Me a Window into the Regrets that Parents Inevitably Have

For instance, one mistake I made was allowing other dogs to play a little rough with Morty at the dog park. I wanted to socialize him and let him get out some energy with his peers.

But I almost feel like one of those sports dads who pushed his sensitive son into something I wanted him to be but was not in his nature.

Now Morty is scared of the dog park and freezes when we get near. Now my challenge is to somehow teach him to overcome this new fear that I created.

I wanted to give him the choice to go in by rewarding him with treats, but I ended up carrying him in and finding a private area where we could safely play together. He slowly got into it, but doesn’t play with the confidence and energy he has at home.

We’ll see. Every day I’m making new mistakes, making new success, and learning more and more what it is to shape a fertile mind.

My (Forthcoming) New Area of Expertise

It seems like every six months to a year I take an interest in a new subject and plunge deep into it, devouring every book and online article on the topic until my curiosity — or, better still, requirement of the knowledge to take action — is fulfilled.

For instance, three years ago it was retirement investing. Until then, even by age 35, I knew basically nothing about the stock market other than that it seemed like some legal form of gambling. I couldn’t tell you what it was or how it worked…and I certainly had no interest in learning.

I was, however, by then immersed in what’s known as the online “financial independence” community. The way I initially arrived there was by opening an edition of Walden that I got from the library. I didn’t get very far into it (as I found it quite boring), but I did at least make it past the introduction, which referenced a contemporary book called Your Money or Your Life — about how to be free by living frugally and making your resulting surplus of money work for you. This led me down a path of blogs such as (most famously) Mr. Money Mustache and others, and before you knew it I was off to the races. I realized I needed to put focus into the well-being of my older self, so I learned everything I felt I needed to know in order to strategically participate in the market, and now it’s all automated and I can move on knowing that my future is likely secure — or at least that I did the best that I could.

Now that I have a dog, I’ve decided that my next area of “expertise” should become dog training. Rather than be overwhelmed by the undisciplined nature of a living creature, I want to lean into the challenge and make it a goal to train him well — not only to spare both of us the stress of a lifetime of disarray, but also because it will in essence be training me to become a better person and I can take pride in knowing that my well-behaved dog is a reflection of my efforts. Besides, I’m certain that learning to properly train a dog translates to being a good leader in other contexts as well.

So…as I often do with my impulsive and obsessive nature, I’m more-or-less putting aside my immediate plans to devote the majority of my time over the next several months into shaping Morty into the dog we both wish him to be.

If You’re Going to Fail, Just Fail

Since getting a dog, I’ve had a few days when I was out and about and preoccupied for the entire day, and I just didn’t have the time to sit down and think of something to write.

But I made a pact to myself that I would post a blog every single day.

So, in order to make good on my word, on those few consecutive days I quickly jotted down the promise of a future post.

Problem solved: something — even if it contained no substance — was posted.

Then, a few nights ago, as I was completing a longer reflection on my first week with Morty (my dog), I got distracted by the company of a friend. When I looked back at my computer, I saw that the clock had just struck 12:01am. I missed the day’s post.

Now that I had failed, I realized…I actually failed those other two times too, and to post something empty in order to make good on a technicality was actually robbing my failure of its dignity.

I didn’t require myself to have a word minimum on any posts, nor that they even had to take the form of a completed essay. But I can’t allow myself in the future to write nothing more than an “IOU”. Because that’s the beginning of a bad habit.

It’s okay to miss a day, even two. But then just miss it already, forgive yourself, and start anew the next day.

Some Initial Thoughts on Having a Dog

Now that it’s starting to sink in that my dog is a permanent fixture in my life, I’m starting to absorb some of its implications.

One is that I’m grateful that my dog’s “problems”, for lack of a better word, are relatively few, minor, and manageable — and likely correctable (if not outgrow…able?).

Another is that I’m easy on myself for whatever mistakes I may make with him, because I feel certain that his life with me in just one week has been so much more stimulating — as far as places he’s seen and beings he’s met — than all his time with his previous family, if what they told me about keeping him full-time in the backyard is true.

So far his life with me has looked something like this:

DAY 1: On the evening I picked him up, his first stop was to visit friends and their dog in Queens. After they sent us away with some supplies, his next stop was at an Alphabet City bar whose crowd surrounded him with love.

DAY 2: He explored my neighborhood and made his first of now-regular visits to the local dog park. I can tell he hasn’t spent a lot of time around many dogs — as he’s shy and clings to my security — but his intensive in socialization has now begun.

DAY 3: He went to Manhattan and visited another pair of friends and their dog. They offered more supplies and invaluable advice. Then he went to my mom’s house, where he met family that was immediately smitten by him.

DAY 4: He met a great many more people (and a few dogs) at the Burning Man container load-out in Jersey City, and then he got to ride out to Brooklyn in a 26-foot truck. On the way back, he stopped at my cousin’s house in Staten Island to make her and her husband’s acquaintance.

DAY 5: He attended a pool party, where he went swimming and met many more people (and yes, another dog).

DAY 6: He went to the vet.

The more I think about all the places and people he’s seen, the more I think, ‘Wow, look at all the places and people I’ve seen.’ My dog is reminding me of what a great life I have, and I realize that to ensure that he has the best possible life means ensuring that I do as well.

Lastly, I had a revelation that for some time now I’ve been wanting very much to love and be loved by somebody. I’ve also been not liking that I want this, because I want to be free of desire and expectations. I got this dog just because I thought it would bring even more joy to my life. But what I’m realizing is that now I do have something I love on a very deep level, something that loves me like its life depends on it — because its life does depend on it. And suddenly, I don’t feel so needy.

There's No Such Thing as a "Quick" Meetup with My Family

And for that I’m so grateful.

I found myself passing through Staten Island this early evening with my pup, so I called my cousin (who lives there) to see if I could swing by real quick and show her the new addition to the family. Well, she put together a lovely dinner, followed by tea and dessert, and I stayed all night yapping it up with her.

More and more as I grow older I consider interaction with family and friends the best possible use of my time. We come into this world alone and we leave it alone…but at least while we’re here we can share in this life together with others.

This Dog is Keeping Me Busyyy

What a major life change. I like change. I’ve just been hardly home today to write anything, since Коржик (“Korzhik”, the name I settled on) has been making the rounds meeting friends and family. And not being home is always a good thing.

Yesterday I Got a Dog

And that’s why I neglected to post something.

But it feels good — not only to have a dog, but to take action. Indeed, ever since I returned from Burning Man I’ve been pulling the trigger on a lot of ideas.

Getting a dog is something I’d been thinking about for a few years, but I was afraid of the commitment, responsibility, and severe reduction in freedom. I weighed the pros of added happiness against the cons of added constraints. Then I realized I’d been thinking about this all wrong.

The commitment, the responsibility, the restrictions on my freedom — all these are also positives. Perhaps I need more commitment and more responsibility and less freedom. Perhaps these challenges will build character and actually serve as development tools. Perhaps avoiding them has only contributed to my stagnancy, and to take these hurdles head-on will only accelerate all I wished to accomplish when I had only myself to consider.

Anyway, the truth is I just wanted a bundle of joy for companionship, to love and to be loved by.

But I also welcome the life that is now in my hands.

Don't Work

A friend of mine recently remarked on how I seem “really chill”, as if I “don’t work much”. Indeed, I told her that I’m lucky enough to work probably less than half the year. And my goal is to continuously reduce that as much as possible, hopefully someday to zero.

This is because “work” as we know it — as a means to obtain money — is unnatural and therefore deleterious to our health and well-being. In the natural world, we would only ever be doing things that directly relate to our survival and pleasure. Money is arbitrary and indirect, and thus the connection is lost.

Let’s say it’s your job to carry a heavy object up six flights of stairs, as it is for a mover — or even that your job is just to sit in one spot for eight hours and analyze numbers. Either way, for your time and effort you are paid a sum that allows you to buy food (survival) or take a vacation (pleasure). But moving that object or analyzing those numbers — at least in the natural world — in no way leads to being fed or smelling the roses. They’re just arbitrary acts for which modern society established a reward system that’s trained us to perform — and even vie for — activities that we would otherwise never think to do; activities that would actually be a waste of our time.

Instead, natural “work” might be putting time and effort into, say, roaming through a forest to forage for something to eat (survival) or to smell a flower (pleasure). It is direct and pure. It is this kind of logical work that creates satisfaction and well-being.

Modern life has overcomplicated this simple, soulful way of being with extraneous variables, perhaps to increase our “standard of living”. But our standards — at least here in the developed world — are actually luxuries and not necessarily worth the price that many pay with surrendering half of their waking life. In many cases, the luxuries themselves even contribute to our unhappiness, such as by isolating us in our single-occupancy apartments.

My uncommonly low workload is made possible by a mixture of luck and design. I’m lucky enough to have parents who set me up with a support system that cushioned me enough to explore ways of being without feeling suffocated by the demands of society. But I also took proper advantage of this and designed my life in such a way as to accelerate my returns on their investment — most notably by finding ways to be self-employed (and thus in control of how my time is spent) and to minimize my spending (and thus my reliance on money and, therefore, work).

My Latest Fantasy

Since returning from Burning Man, I’ve been fantasizing about buying an RV or bus and souping it up. And then, perhaps, moving into it. It excites me to think about how such constraints of space on the one hand, yet freedom of movement/location on the other, could supercharge my life. Plus, the vast sums I would save on rent and associated costs would further unleash me from work and obligations. I picture ways in which I could securely strap my electric piano and guitars in there, with perhaps a desk area for video editing. It would be a fully-functioning mobile creativity studio. And my sleep would be deep, as sleeping ‘outdoors’ always is. Bathing and such could be outsourced to a 24-hour gym, and coffee shops would serve as my office. Anything that forces me out of the ‘house’ and among people is a godsend.

This is my latest fantasy and the seeds are planted in my mind. We’ll see where I am in a year,

My Two Personae

I recently had a revelation that I have (at least) two dominating personae: Phil and Филипп*.

In the same way that language equals thought and is the window through which we perceive the world, so do my English and Russian names represent the different ways in which I subconsciously see — and present — myself.

Phil is American, somewhat crude and childish, maybe even a little mischievous. He’s a bit of a loner in the world, perhaps without a family. He hides his more refined qualities, attempting instead to blend in and appear as unpretentious as possible.

Филипп, on the other hand, is not exactly American. He’s an honored member of a loving family. He’s thoughtful, artistic, mature. Like Phil, he also has a sense of humor, but it comes out in subtler, more nuanced ways. His voice even sounds a bit different from Phil’s, and he can sometimes be shy or hesitant when speaking since he realizes his grammar is lacking.

These are just a few ways in which Phil and Филипп are different.

There’s also an offshoot persona of Филипп named Филиппок (and its derivations, Филиппочек, Филичка, and Филин, among others). This one is a good, nice, happy, little boy. His voice is perhaps an octave higher.

Historically — at least outside my family life — I have been Phil. But more and more, as I grow in age, I wish to be — and relate more closely to — Филипп.

*Pronounced ‘Philippe’.

Watching Stories vs. Making Them

I’ve always been super into movies. I still am to some degree, but something has changed recently. Part of it is that I’m less interested in watching experiences and more interested in having them. I want to make my life a movie, and indeed that’s what I’m doing.

Lessons from Burning Man

I just returned from my second consecutive Burning Man. I had a blast, met friends new and old, and, perhaps most importantly, wrestled with some life lessons. Here are some things I learned:

“Silence and patience.”
These were the two virtues repeated to me by an older Australian man I randomly(?) and briefly shared a joint with one night on the open playa near Mayan Warrior. I don’t remember how we got into it, but he related how he came to honor these characteristics as he grew in age, and I thought about how I’ve severely lacked in especially the silence part, always telling anyone who will listen exactly what’s on my mind. Patience I’ve generally been better at, but I will continue to stamp these two words on the post-it note of my mind as I continue on in life.

Let go of your agenda.
This one is hard to admit and is something I’ve long struggled with, but I had the opportunity to put it into practice throughout the week. When I would find myself roaming around — whether by foot or bike — and wondering where I might most likely meet a girl, I would stop myself and think instead ‘Where am I least likely to meet a girl?’ and go there instead. I took it as an opportunity to be led by discovery rather than searching, to be present and happy with whatever moment I find myself in, to uncover new experiences that following my desires might have robbed me of. Besides, humans are everywhere, and you never know in what obscure corner of the earth you might meet your soulmate when you least expect to find her.

Like vibrational frequencies naturally find each other.
I met and immediately connected with a new friend named Vitali. Then, in a population of 80,000 with no way to connect by modern technology, I amazingly kept on bumping into him throughout the week. At one point he saw me standing next to my friend Yulia and introduced us. When she explained that we’ve already known each other for a few years, he commented on how wonderful it is that we’re longtime friends, suggesting the synchronicity in him knowing and liking two separate people who turned out to already know and like each other. I asked him how long he’s known Yulia, and he said they just met, which surprised me because I got the sense that they had already known each other perhaps even longer. Then I met Vitali’s friend, Kiril, and, despite a decade difference in age, he and I were fast friends. One day after the official final day of Burning Man, when I assumed most people had already left, I was at a nearby party and got a tap on my shoulder: Vitali again. Kindred spirits naturally find each other.

Just. Let. Go.
After the man burned I was partying in the pyramid. When I was ready to move on, I realized I couldn’t remember where I placed my backpack. People kept flooding in to fill every crevice of the space as I circled the room and had a harder and harder time finding it among the accumulating bodies and growing piles of backpacks. My backpack contained all my most “important” possessions, including my expensive camera with all my pictures from the week, not to mention my barely consumed bottle of water in this arid desert location all the way on the other side of the playa from my camp. Tripping on more LSD than I’d ever taken before, my search grew frantic as I began to panic. Then I stopped and gave myself a pep talk. “Phil, don’t make this your entire night. Your backpack is either here or it isn’t. Looking for it won’t change that fact. Go out and enjoy the night, and come back tomorrow when the party is over and all the bodies and backpacks have left and it will be easier to find.” And that’s exactly what I did. The next morning I returned and immediately spotted my backpack by the DJ stage with all my possessions in it exactly as I left them.

These are some lessons that come to mind at the moment. I’m sure more will present themselves as I continue to integrate into the “default world”. In which case, to be continued….

Gratitude for My Parents

I recently asked my mom what inspired her and my dad to give me piano lessons around the time I was six years old. She told me I was singing all the time as a little kid, so they determined I was very musical and wanted to cultivate that.

And so it went with so many areas of life: I liked to draw, and so I got art lessons; I took an interest in chess, so I went to chess school and was driven to tournaments; I discovered my freshman year of high school that I was good at cross country, and the following summer I was sent to a running camp; sophomore year I wanted to learn the guitar, and so I got guitar lessons (though, to the chagrin of my poor parents, much of those sessions was spent more on discussions of religion, since at the time I had taken a special interest in the subject and my teacher was super Christian).

Every little interest I had, however impulsive, was fostered.

When it came time to consider colleges, my parents encouraged my many applications to various art schools. These were immigrant parents, mind you, with a justifiably deep concern for financial well-being and security in life, yet they never pushed me in a direction they felt I had no interest in and nevertheless considered the potential viability in an art-related career such as animation or graphic design…none of which I ended up pursuing.

Ultimately, I wanted a “regular” college experience and chose a non-art school where I would just major in Fine Art. To this day nearly every wall of my parents’ house is adorned with all the various artwork I churned out in my classes.

During my junior year, I spent a semester studying art in Rome. I recall an episode one evening when I called my mom to check in; I suddenly felt so racked with guilt over the blissful life I was experiencing compared to my parents’ struggles*, and for feeling like I wasn’t honoring all that I was given because I didn’t put my full effort in my education and opportunities, and I began to cry as I told my mom that I hoped they were proud of me. She assured me that they were, but I wasn’t sure I deserved it.

After college, I began to follow my dreams as a performer by going to standup comedy open mics and handing out flyers for two hours in exchange for five minutes of stagetime, while simultaneously working as an unpaid intern at a tiny production studio in the Bronx in my pursuit of filmmaking. Again, my parents did not discourage me.

Within a year at the production studio, I felt I had learned enough about shooting and editing to start my own one-man operation. My parents bought me my camera and editing suite, and I was off to the races. To this day I remain self-employed, and I feel very grateful for the freedom it gives me in life.

Several years later I began to get paid gigs doing standup and started focusing more of my energy on that. I started hitting the road and traveling all over the country, and sometimes beyond. My parents didn’t try to stop me.

When I was 28 years old, I sat my parents down in their kitchen and delivered them a piece of news that I was scared to tell them because I knew they would have a hard time receiving it: I would be moving to Los Angeles. My mother cried. My father, ever the stoic, showed little emotion but clearly did not want to see me go. But they didn’t get in the way…even though I didn’t have much of a plan, other than to take what little money I had and hit the ground running.

Within half a year in LA, I was given an amazing opportunity: I was booked on a comedy tour of New Zealand and Australia. It turned out to be the biggest setback of my comedy career and my morale, as the “booker” turned out to be a very damaged and deceitful person who only posed as a comedy booker, and I got wrapped up in a long-lasting drama that set my life off course (but also gave me a much needed learning lesson).

Afterward, I found myself back at my parents’ house and had my 30th birthday. It was only then that my father finally sat me down for the first time in my life and explained that I was now 30, no longer a kid, that I tried the comedy thing and had my fun, but it was time to get serious and start considering my future. I understood where he was coming from, and I felt bad that my parents were worried about me.

But still I went back to LA. My parents were not happy about it, but what could they do? Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason they “allowed” all my crazy pursuits is because they knew that I was going to do what I was going to do, and to try to stop me would be futile, so they just hoped for the best.

I feel so lucky to have parents who poured so much into me and, while at times naturally concerned, ultimately allowed me to lead whatever kind of life I wanted to lead. My life is so rich due to the childhood I had, and now that I am an adult and have a better idea of the value of money and all the many hurdles to life and to what must go into raising children, I’m especially grateful that they spared no expense in my development — even for the many things that were not directly applicable to getting a “good job”, but just for being a well-rounded person with an appreciation for the fullness of life.

If and when I have a child, I will give them the exact same treatment that my parents gave me. And if said future child ever reads this, you now know that you have your grandparents to thank.

And I thank you too, Mama and Papa.

*Their only time in Rome up until then was in a refugee camp while waiting for admission into the United States.