Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Game of 10's

I'm a big fan of doing nothing. If I had a totem spirit, it would probably be a rock. Moss-covered, unremarkable, of no particular pedigree. The kind of rock kids would pass up on because it wouldn't even be interesting enough to toss through a neighbor's window. All assuming, of course, that kids these days even went outside to play or that minor acts of relatively-harmless vandalism wouldn't result in people going to jail under the current zero-tolerance laws.

But I digress.

Doing nothing is great and, I think, something of a lost art. If people acquire too many consecutive minutes these days, they usually spend them staring at one screen or another. Me, I just stare off into space and gather wool...even though I have no idea why the hell I'd want more wool, let alone spend time accumulating it. Maybe it's an old-timey metaphor for something more exciting like juggling chainsaws or punch-fighting grizzly bears. Who knows.

But that's besides the point. I think a lot of stress these days comes from peoples' inherent inability to just slow the fuck down and do nothing every once in awhile. It's not particularly encouraged in modern society. Everything has a time and date attached to it. We've become a society of clock-watchers, Facebook-status-updaters. Twitter ain't going to watch itself.

Cities aren't designed to be walked anymore, let alone ambled. I live right across from a grocery store, but the road separating us is the most heavily trafficked in town. Should I attempt to cross it at any time other than ass o'clock in the morning, I would be mowed down like a line of coke at a Hollywood ad agency. It would be like playing Frogger, if you're old enough for that reference.

Wasting time is a lost art. And that's a shame.

I think the biggest single tool I've had over the years in optimizing my finances and time management is day-dreaming. Because, really, what's the point of having any money if you don't know where you're going? And the best way to figure out where you're going is to pay attention to what the eight year who lives beneath your brain has to say about you.

I've got many day-dreaming prompts but my favorite is something Charles Pellegrino writes about often. Charles Pellegrino is a damn fine writer. His books range in topic from diving the Titanic, to 9/11 and Pompeii, to startlingly-advanced civilizations which predated ancient Greece. By background, he's more of a geologist, which makes his career arc rather surprising--you'd expect a geologist to write more about rocks and less about, say, the Roman empire's use of plumbing. I suppose he's what somebody from the Renaissance would call a polymath. He knows a little about a lot and is very good at conveying his enthusiasm.

One of the things he does when he shows up in a new area is what he calls the game of tens. You step out of your plane and then imagine what everything looked like one year ago. Then you clear your mind and picture what it looked like ten years ago. Were those buildings there? That tree was probably a bit shorter. Maybe another company owned the airline you're using back then. Were the haircuts longer then?

Then you go back another power of ten, to one hundred years. One hundred years ago, that airport was gone. Planes were barely even invented yet. It would have been a long time before paved runways. There were other trees here, perhaps not even a road. Just a corn field and some cows.

How about a thousand years? Ten thousand? One hundred thousand?

And on and on.

It's a weirdly effective way at dealing with scale. What am I going to do in one day? Ten days? A hundred? What do I want to be doing in ten thousand days? It gives you a built in structure to reference things.

Money, distance, time, it's all good. I do money a lot because it's tied in so deeply with so many other life goals. Money is a terrible end in and of itself but it sure as hell can buy a lot of freedom, flexibility and piece of mind.

What would I do with one dollar? Ten dollars? A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, ten million and so on.

Sometimes it's easy. But sometimes you find yourself coming up with answers which are too glib, too rote. Never work again? Why? I'd give a lot of money to charity. Why not? I'm rich. Daydreams are fun and relaxing so you can just keep asking yourself the questions over and over again until you start giving yourself interesting answers, like a bored toddler with an easy target. Why, why, why.

After you keep asking yourself these questions over and over, you start to realize some things. All your answers start to acquire patterns if you reflect on them enough, push for the truth beneath the truth.

Why do you keep resorting to "travel to exotic locations" for half your rote responses? Are you actually dodging the question that you're terribly bored where you live? Why aren't you travelling now? Maybe you need a change of scenery. You want to buy a big house, have all your friends over for parties? Can't you do much the same already? Why? Why not?

And that's the rub. Daydreaming is an escape from the real world, but the real world is an essential part of the equation. I like it because it's simultaneously an escape from and a good place to explore the real world. It's fun because you don't have to take it seriously, but at the same time it's a great way to short-circuit your boring adult brain and figure out what you find really important in life.

Finally, you do enough of it about one topic or the other, you get to the Million Dollar Question: why aren't I doing this now? After all, giving to charity is free. All you really need is time. Travel? Travel is weirdly cheap if you think laterally. You want a really awesome car? A bigger house? It's all achievable if you think creatively enough or work harder or take more free time off. But you need to know your goals first before you can go after them.

Unless your daydream is about being able to fly because you have a magic cape, like Superman. That's absurd because everybody knows that Kryptonians are inherent fliers.

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