Headspace

Last night, my dad told me about how he felt a roach crawling on his back.  He said reaches eat peoples fingernails and eyelids as they sleep.  He hit the roach off and it crawled under the bedding he’d laid down to make the floor more comfortable.  He tried to kill it, but it wasn’t until the roach scatter and hid under a paper where he could see it’s shadow that he could deliver the killing blow.  Roaches everywhere, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, dead and alive.

It’s not a fun time for my dad.  He finally moved in with his sister in a tiny hoarder house at the Georgia Tennessee border.  He’s thrown away more than 30  bags of trash and only cleared out one room.  He has to move his stuff out of the storage facility in GA by tomorrow, or they’ll charge him another $30 on top of the $6 pro-rated rate, and that $30 is a big deal.  His sister is mentally ill, unwilling and unable to understand the problem with the 30 empty shampoo bottles littering the bathroom floor or what is unusual about having molded clothing next to a broken window in a room where the floor is filled with newspaper with headlines from 30 years ago.

The way he deals with it is by calling me and talking about it.  He’s able to purge some of the stress by telling the details.  He knows he can’t do it everyday, but over time he’s tried to call every other for marathon 90 minute conversations, recounting the status of the shitty rent-to-own stove (1 burner works, 1 is broken, 2 unknown) or the laundry (good that they ran pipes into the garage, which was converted into a “room” by her sister’s 300+ lb amputee husband, because otherwise they’d have to do laundry in the tiny basement room filled with 2 inches of cat shit, but bad because the pipes froze b/c the house got too cold from the broken window.

I remind my dad it’s better than sleeping in his car (which was starting to give him swelling and nerve damage), which happened in 2015, and he tells me he saved a lot of money sleeping in his car, and it’s amazing he was able to stretch the money out so far and live for a year on it.  But the truth is, the money he used to live for a year wasn’t from sleeping in his car – it was from me buying the furniture he had no place to keep – and it wasn’t amazing he was able to live for a year, because he was paying well above market rent to live in an extended stay hotel.  He mentions though, that at this new place he’ll be able to save $500 a month, and in 2 months he could have $1000, and you can take a pretty good vacation for $1000.

Point being, my dad views the situation as a trade of money for life.  There is no discussion of the work he did or didn’t do and the impact of that on his life.  There is no discussion of the friends he does or doesn’t have and the impact.  Previous discussions about failed relationships all center around how people would have stayed with him if he’d had more money.

When I was younger, I only really learned from him that money was very important, especially important for men.  He never discussed the importance of being funny or looking good (beyond having muscles for protection).  An old man will not be alone if he has money, but if you don’t have money, nothing else will count for anything.  Over time, I’ve understood more and more that this worldview is what he tells himself as a way of discounting and ignoring his personal failures.  That the problem is external – money – and not internal – his attitude toward the world.

Over time, I’ve learned that his problem is one of connection.  His inability to stay married, get a job, or find a friend’s couch to crash on is ultimately rooted in his failure to connect with others.  But even with this understanding, my brain has already been programmed to phrase problems quantitatively.  When discussing my future, my brain focuses on reducing it to a math problem – how much rent will cost, how much food will cost, etc.  It fails to focus on what is more connected with success – my ability to connect with others and persuade them to help me do the good work.

Last night, a girl tells me,

if I had your body and we did a magic switch, I would know how to talk to women. it isn’t what you say often it is how you say it.
first date: avoid saying more than one or two sentences about money
“I am saving for xx months to pay off the rest of my condo. it’s almost done!” That is it. don’t say more.
don’t talk about 401K and don’t lecture on and on about it. It gives the wrong impression. lol
don’t talk about how much others you know make on the first date too
it will give the wrong impression
and you will attract the wrong kind of girl
She is right.  I have known this is problematic for, well, years now.  But even being keenly aware of it, I haven’t been able to stop myself from doing it.  It’s kind of a weird thing to know you can do these complex analytical tasks, to know that you have some self awareness about what you should stop doing, and still be unable, after years of consideration, to stop doing it.
I believe part of my problem is one of headspace.  Talking to him so often.  Spending most of my time planning out the numbers aspects of paying off the condo or food budgeting.  My numbers paths are overdeveloped, so my brain too easily relates and goes there.  The problem isn’t so much the choices I make when meeting new people as the fixed state of my brain that makes those choices so easy.  To make better choices, I need to make a better brain.
How many other people have these conversations with their dad?  What do they do about it?  Do they talk about it with other people?  Forget it?  Drink about it?  What is their coping mechanism?  How many people have dads who talk about something healthier?
When I was in SF, I had a room mate who talked about headspace.  I thought it was bullshit.  And I still think it is, just in the sense that it’s not well defined.  But it’s definitely true that our brains will organize themselves around the ideas they soak in, and we get to choose what those are – by setting our web browser home page, by joining certain groups, by picking certain books and developing certain friendships.  It’s a balancing act.
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