When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

Demons and Darth Vader on the Washington National Cathedral

Been sick so the insomnia’s been pretty bad.

Have you ever heard the saying, When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you?

It’s from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil,” and the full quote goes:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

In a nutshell, the idea is that, as you fight demons, you have to be careful not to let the demons affect you so much that you’re consumed by them. And potentially even become one of them.

We see it all the time in literature and movies: Oedipus, Macbeth,  Darth Vader, etc.

It’s an explanation as to why narcotics cops can become dealers and defense lawyers become criminals themselves. It’s why we have to always be on our guard.

But lately, at night when I’m awake, the demons come and sit beside me and tell me that it won’t be ok.

And there’s always a possibility they’re right. So I listen to them.

For now, at least, they seem to be wrong and I hold out hope.

Him: I’ve got some good news!
Me: Man, I could use some. What is it?

A lot of people don’t realize that there is a grotesque of Darth Vader carved into the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? To have our modern devils beside our historic ones?

Location: an hour ago, still in bed sick
Mood: still sick, but less anxious
Music: I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait
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There’s a difference between Possible and Probable

Some people I know can’t tell the difference

I’m sick again. Spent the weekend essentially lying around my pad. My buddy Gio and one of my wrassln coaches came by before I hit bottom.

B the time my brother came by from California again, couldn’t get out of the house to hang with him.

Did manage to get some work done and also follow up with some friends via email. What I’m noticing about people as they get older is that they’re having a harder and harder time distinguishing the difference between possible and probable.

I learned it early on with my geeky love of all things Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four when he said, [W]hen you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Unfortunately, people I know mix up probability and possibility all the time.

  • A woman whose property I manage is concerned that her microwave is irradiating her.
  • A friend refuses to just explain something via email because … “hackers.”
  • An acquaintance is certain that there is a global conspiracy by America to take over the world.

It goes on. All are possible, but hardly probable.

There was a time when I’d argue for ages for people to see the difference but at some point, these beliefs become so ingrained that they’re impossible to change.

We always think when they’re young, Oh he’ll grow outta that. But that’s rarely true. Young, broken people grow up to be old, broken people.

The thing is, I’ve known these people for years and have seen them go farther and farther off.

At this point, it’s best to let them stay in their world and I stay in mine.

Location: sick in bed
Mood: sick
Music: I can hear the sounds of violins, long before it begins
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Grateful for my adversaries

The Cartoon with Ralph and Sam, the Coyote and Sheepdog

A Great First Date is finally out on Amazon!

It came out Friday and I was going to write a post on it, but work got in the way. In any case, now it’s available on all platforms including Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple iBooks.

If you like this blog, you’ll probably like the book as it’s essentially one long entry about one narrow topic. More on this later.

Me: You just elbowed me in the head!
Him: You just slapped me.

Was telling someone recently about this Warner Brothers cartoon I used to watch as a kid where there was this sheepdog named Sam and a coyote named Ralph.

Evidently, they’re not just friends and roommates but also co-workers. What makes the cartoon interesting is that between the hours of 9 to 5, they are mortal enemies – each trying to outwit, and even kill the other. But once the bell rings to signal the end of the day, they put their differences aside and go home.

I have a regular training partner when I wrassle and we’re pretty good friends. But the moment we hit the mat, we each expect the other to bring his best, which means a lot of relatively controlled violence.

Then the bell rings and we go home.

I’m grateful for my adversaries in life; the ones I count as friends and the ones that I don’t.

They make me anti-fragile.

And these days, I find that I need that more and more.

Him: Oh man, what have you been eating, you weigh a ton.
Me: Chili, what else?

Location: at the end of several deadlines
Mood: hopeful
Music: be brave with what you want to say
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Gradually, then suddenly

Hemingway summed up the human existence in three words

Went to the doctor’s again this weekend. Not for me but it was just as stressful.

The thing with life is that you expect everything to happen to someone else. Injuries, disease, general misfortune, etc., these are things that happen to other people and not you.

And when it actually does happen to you, you think, What the … ?

Ernest Hemingway had a character in The Sun Also Rises that was asked how he became bankrupt.

“Gradually, then suddenly,” he replied.

And that’s why Hemingway was a brilliant writer. Because in three words, he summed up the totality of human existence.

You live your quiet, banal, little life when suddenly:

Or whatever personal little hell you have to deal with.  And you have to drop everything to deal with it.

And there’s not much else to do but deal with it. Some days you deal with it better than others.

Him: How’re doing?
Me: Well, I broke down crying like a 10-year-old girl on the 7 train the other day; which I don’t recommend. Because of a whole other list of craziness, I haven’t had a drink for 45 days and won’t be able to until next week – when I’m gonna drink the CRAP outta my rum stash. And my insomnia is kicking up so I slept one hour last night. But besides that, not too bad. You?

However, there’s hope.

Because joy also inevitably comes.

And it comes just as unexpectedly and just as suddenly. And so I wait for it.

For the time being, without my rum, but still…


Did get a tiny piece of good news last week, which is that a Facebook Fan site I created for A Great First Date hit over 1,000 likes in less than ten days.

Take a look and maybe hit that LIKE button yourself.

Location: an hour ago, in front of a large needle
Mood: anxious
Music: Someday all this mess will make me laugh, I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait
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Two Scenarios

Hope you had a better weekend than me

It was not a good weekend. Without getting too much into it, there’s something about disappointment that’s particularly hard to bear.

Suppose I give you – totally randomly – $100 but there are two scenarios:

Scenario 1
You don’t know me and I just randomly hand you $100 and tell you that I give out $100 to anyone I like that day and you’re that person. How do you feel?

Scenario 2
You don’t know me and I just randomly hand you $100 and tell you that I just gave out $100,000 to the first guy I met, $10,000 to the second, $1,000 to the third and now $100 to you. How do you feel?

You feel different, don’t you? In Scenario 1, you’re elated. In Scenario 2, it’s a lot less so.

The funny thing is that the baseline transaction – me giving, you getting $100, unearned – is exactly the same.

What we expect of the world shapes our perceptions of what happens to us and those circumstances make things happy or sad.

It was not a good weekend.


On a slightly positive note, just put up my Facebook page for A Great First Date and already have close to 200 likes.

If you’re on Facebook, consider giving me a like?


Location: chained to my desk with a broken computer
Mood: deflated
Music: I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing these days?
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People who are willing to sacrifice their rights for safety, deserve neither

Another thing with an air of truth

Spent Sunday actually relaxing cause I finished almost all of my projects for the year – and by “relaxing” I mean fixing stuff around the house.

Also read a lot of Facebook.

Two friends separately, and coincidentally, paraphrased a Benjamin Franklin quote; one while talking about NYC random bag searches, the other about US gun owner rights.

But it’s one of those commonly referred to quotes that have the air of truth but no real truth to them at all – at least depending on how it’s paraphrased.

Both quoted it as saying: People who are willing to sacrifice their rights for safety, deserve neither.

But that’s not what Franklin said. What he actually said in a book called, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin, was:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

The following words are often and conveniently left out:

  • Essential – are guns essential? I’ve lived 40 years with only firing one less than a handful of times. In other words, does everyone need to own guns like the way everyone needs a voice in government. I doubt it.
  • Little temporary – is the ability to not get blown up in a bus a little temporary safety? I’d hope not.

Franklin was saying quite the opposite of what my two friends and many people use his quote for.

He wasn’t saying that every right was equal, he was saying that essential rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – were not worth exchanges of small temporary safety.

A bag search is not that. Sane gun laws are not that. They are both the opposite of that.

Sorry, every once in a while I have to be a lawyer and lawyers aren’t allowed to be inexact.

Like that quote that goes, First kill all the lawyers…, what a quote actually means, often means the opposite of what they think it means.

Here are more quotes that have the air of truth to them but either have no real truth to them at all or are misquoted/misunderstood:

Location: desk, being a lawyer
Mood: nerdy
Music: don’t mind the traffic cops or the TSA Long as I’m with you I’m having a good day
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A Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Only time will tell what makes you better or worse

Just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Actually enjoyed it better than his other books – which I also enjoyed – particularly because it seems to echo things I’ve always believed to be true. For example, he notes that there’s a difference between:

  • Direct hits – where something kills you, literally or figuratively
  • Near-misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, and it’s enough to send you spiraling into despair
  • Remote misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, but it’s far away enough from you to help you become stronger

Although not mentioned in David and Goliath, I think that two quotes best sum up the basic idea of the book:

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. – Winston Churchill
All experience is great provided you live through it. If it kills you, you’ve gone too far. – Alice Neel

It’s only with the passage of time that we’re able to see if the remote misses are near-misses and vice versa. Of course, that’s only if you overcome the blow in the first place. It’s not a perfect book – what is – but that rings true to me.

David and Goliath uses a lot of religious references (obviously) in order to show how these ideas have been with us since the early days of humanity.

And whether you believe in the biblical god or not, I’ve always like the story of how Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome. The angel could easily have destroyed Jacob but allowed him to survive to learn how to survive.

I’m not a parent, but I would like children of my own one day. I’m just not sure how to pass this type of knowledge down.

After all, a parent doesn’t wish troubles onto their children. But it’s only through stress does something become stronger, become anti-fragile.

Maybe that’s why I want them to fence, to wrestle, to struggle. I’d want them to know what it means to  get beaten, and then get back up again.

I think that’s why I do what I do. To give myself a daily dose of remote misses and to struggle to get back on my feet.

Location: getting dressed to go struggle for an hour
Mood: geeky
Music: a rattle and hum; Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome
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It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

What’s the Point?

Him: What’s the point? You’re 40, when are you ever gonna get into a fight, let alone a sword fight?
Me: Why do you play the guitar? You’re never gonna be in a band.

Spent most of the holiday weekend traveling around the city – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island – and New Jersey as I did work, saw my rents, and the wife’s family as well. Exhausting.

Was debating going to the gym last week because my leg was killing me but I ended up going, knowing I’d be eating my weight in complex carbohydrates.

While I was there, a buddy, who forgot my leg was injured, was goofing around and kicked my knee. I went down like a sack of bricks. Still not a 100% now so I’m using it as an opportunity to catch up on some work and my social media.

Speakinga which, I’m genuinely amused by people that are so critical of the whole Black Friday shopping frenzies.

The way I look at it, everyone’s got a thing. Something that makes no sense to anyone else, but matters to them.

One guy whom I’m friends with, wakes up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym, goes to work, goes to the gym again, and lives to punch someone in the face or get punched in the face. To anyone else not in the life, this probably seems crazy. “What’s the point?”

To him, there’s a point.

Yet he had this whole rant as to people waking up at the crack of dawn to get a good deal on a television, essentially saying, “What’s the point?”

I remember my parents waiting in line for a 13″ black and white TV for me years ago. It was my favorite possession as a child. It made me feel less poor.

For all I know, that’s why these people braved the cold and the sneers. What does he know? For that matter, what do I? And who really cares what people hang meaning upon?

There’s a hypocrisy with people that point out the inane in someone else’s life while not realizing it in their own.

I know it’s a bit ridiculous that I spend so much time either rolling around the floor or whacking someone with a blunt object. Yet to me it has meaning.

And look, I think it’s nuts that someone would want to risk life and limb to try to get a cheap toaster. But I’m not them. And they probably think it’s nuts that I spend so much time icing my leg because I can’t accept I’m 40.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the fella that climbed Mount Everest, once noted that, It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Personally, that someone has a goal – however silly I might personally find it – is a laudable thing in and of itself. It’s better to have some passion for something than live life as if in a haze. Even if no one else understands it.

Me: Spent Friday upgrading the two computers. I installed about 40 updates and a wireless 802.11n card into the living room MCE. We can stream full HD wirelessly.
Her: That’s nice.
Me: FULL WIRELESS HD! Not 720 like a chump. 1080p!
Her: …
Me: Clearly, you’re not affording this the attention it deserves.

Location: icing my leg at home
Mood: amused
Music: I have to climb Up on the side of this mountain of mine
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A walk with David and Goliath

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Me: I took an online health quiz and it says my real age is 20.
Her: 20? That seems too young.
Me: I work out 1.5 hours a day!
Her: Ok, but were there any questions about how many hot dogs or pieces of fried chicken you eat?

My wife and I went out for a walk this past weekend. Stopped by the local bookstore and picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath.

I’m only about seven chapters in, but like all his other books, the writing is snappy and subject matter is interesting. The basic premise is that the things that we think of as disadvantages may work out to be advantages and vice versa. But only time can show which is which.

This is a recurring theme in this blog as I think it’s all about growing into one’s self.

There’s this place in the Indian Ocean called the Desolation Islands that has an odd feature about the insects there: they don’t have wings and the particular species of insects are supposed to.

What the scientists have figured out is that the winds there are so strong that the ones that had wings were blown off centuries ago, leaving only the ones without wings.

Dunno if Gladwell mentions this in his book but it fits into his basic theme.

In my case, my childhood disadvantages – my astounding nerdy-ness and weight as a child – have helped me greatly as an adult.

With this in mind, I’m sure my constant eating of fried chicken will be an advantage in some capacity someday, if it hasn’t already.

Wrestling buddy: Oooooph, jeez how much do you weigh?!
Me: 170. Mostly as a one inch layer of fat distributed evenly throughout my body.
Him: I can’t breathe.

I’m actually writing another book myself called, A Great First Date that I’m hoping to be done with in a month of so.

I’ll tell you more about it as I wrap it up.

Location: my desk, icing my leg
Mood: injured
Music: The better things I have to say will fall to you
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The time I went to Bowlmor Lanes in Times Square Pt. 2

Gradually, then suddenly

To continue from last time, after we stuffed our faces and drank our fill (for the time being), a singer came out and belted a few tunes – I thought she was pretty good.

We ended up getting most of the bowling lanes to ourselves and played next to this blond couple that were hyper competitive.

Met a photographer with the same camera family as mine so we traded lens for a bit and I walked about looking for things to photograph.

Every so often, these incredibly tall models would float in and wait for the make-shift photo-studio near the lanes. Ended up chatting with one named Jamie-rae from exotic New Jersey.

Me: Dammit, knew I should have brought a step ladder. Try not to make me look too short, ok?
Her: (laughing) I’ll try.

I made my way to my buddies and had some more drinks – the rum situation had not improved so vodka was the word of the day.

Then it was time to go.

Me: Hey man, I better jet. (pause) You gonna be ok?
Him: Yeah. It comes and go.
Me: Life’s crazy, isn’t it? Everything’s gradually then suddenly.
Him: That’s exactly right.

Making my way home, kept thinking about Hemingway’s  gradually, then suddenly line that my wife told me about.

When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, there was a parade of friends getting married, then from early 30s to now, a parade of friends having kids. And now, all of these funerals.

This all happens gradually and then suddenly. Gotta admit that I dread the next suddenly.

Wife: How was it?
Me: Good. Some other things we can chat about later but it was good seeing the guys. (brightening) Wanna see some pics?
Her: Sure.

Location: wishing my brother a safe trip at the door
Mood: concerned
Music: We count our dollars on the train to the party
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