Life Made Simple


I've never felt my age. What the fuck do I mean by that? When I turned 21, I thought to myself, "I don't feel 21. I don't even know what a 21-year old feels like." (Yeah, I've never made out with a 21-year old). Then everyone told me wait till you're 30. Everything goes down hill when you're 30. Your metabolism plummets. You get fat. Your body starts to fall apart. Your sex drive wilts and fades away. You'll need Viagra just to get it up enough to pee.

So when I turned 30, I had waited for my arms to fall off, my penis to drop onto the floor, and my testicles to hang below my knees. Thankfully, none of those things happened. My weight remained the same, my eyesight got better because I got LASIK (so not a good example), and luckily for me, my attitude toward life only grew more passionate, focused.

But, as I get older, I find myself reflecting more on life and what works for me. So many of the things I had worried about have no meaning anymore—whether people like me or not, societal norms, keeping up with the Joneses, and my hairy chest. OK. I'm Asian, so no hair on my chest.

What I strive for is simplicity. Not that I don't want children, for example, but that enjoying the simple things in life is important.

I just came back from a trip to Mono Lake in Yosemite National Park in the Eastern Sierras. Tufa—limestone rock formations—surrounds the lake and many seem to float on the water. These limestone structures give photographers fantastic opportunities for pictures. The tufa also resemble the landscape in one of the provinces that I've described in my book, albeit smaller in scale. Here's a lakeside panoramic:

The main reason I went on this trip with a group of people I barely knew was to see the Milky Way (not the chocolate candy bar). When I was at 5th-grade camp, one of my fondest memories had been the band of stars that crossed the night sky. Many years has passed since. And when I saw a picture of what the night sky looked like without light pollution, I had realized what I was looking at so long ago.

Our camp site in Yosemite was about two and a half hours from Mono Lake. It took us about an hour longer than planned due to a fatal car accident on Highway 120. After the police let traffic through, we had made several stops to other lakes and view points before getting dinner and making our way to Mono Lake. We arrived around 8:00 PM.

Our tires crunched the gravel like a mill, the stink of the bathrooms swirled across the parking lot, and the promise of an unmolested night sky came with the sun's silent descent behind the far off mountains and a closed moon. In my book, the people use the term closed moon to mean new moon or moonless night. To reach the shore, we had to wade through tufa formations that were surrounded by endless fields of green shrubbery that seemed to hold the threat of a waiting predator, a wolf hungry for its next meal. Wade is a strong word since there was a paved path to the beach, but my imagination always runs wild when I'm in an unfamiliar dark area. 

Once we weathered the imagined threat, we settled on the beach and several of the photographers set up their cameras. It took another hour before the light of the sun had completely disappeared, and for me, it took another half hour before my eyes had gotten used to the complete darkness. And slowly, like an invisible curtain being raised in a darkened theater, the night sky opened and revealed one of the grandest sights I'd ever seen:

This night sky is always available to us, but as I have said earlier, light pollution shrouds most of the stars, giving us only a preview of what we can see with our nekked eyes. What I didn't expect was how captivated I had become. My eyes kept rolling back and forth, as I tried to marvel at the significance of the Milky Way's arm stretching across the heavens. The picture above is a little misleading because the band of stars is faint. But the camera was able to capture enough light over a 30-second period to illuminate what my eyes couldn't. So for the next two hours, I stood, gawking in awe, straining to see more, unaware of the ache growing in the back of my neck. 

My need to appreciate nature has been growing. When I lived in Hawaii for three months—no matter what, barring weather—my day had to consist of four things: laying on the beach, swimming, watching the sun set, and writing. I had never been like this before, or at least I hadn't been aware of it, and wondered if I was being antisocial.

Earlier in the day, I had gone off on my own down a mountain side so I could get a better view of a waterfall. Suddenly, I found myself staring at the fall, losing myself in the moment and not wanting to rejoin the group, until they yelled at me. 

At Mono Lake, several of the photographers were experimenting with light painting. Basically, someone stands in front of the camera, another uses a flashlight, and the camera captures only what the flashlight illuminates, which is a neat effect since the camera was set for 30-seconds of exposure.

The stray lights threatened to take some of my night vision away. So I slowly backed closer to the water's edge, away from everyone, so I could continue to gaze at the arm of our home galaxy. I started to wonder if I actually hate people because I spend so much time writing, I don't speak to a lot of them.

Self doubt seeped into my mind, accusing me of being antisocial. But that's just self doubt. It's sorta like Big Foot. People think it's real. There seems to be a lot of evidence pointing to it. But so far, all that evidence proves nothing. Right? Again, self doubt seeped into my mind. Gallery of me being anitsocial or enjoying the simple things:

The next day, I read a quote of the week from self help author, Michael Neill:

"There is a line from the Greek poet Archilochus which is generally translated as:

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

While foxes might be cunning and able to devise hundreds of strategies for catching unsuspecting hedgehogs off guard and eating them for dinner, the hedgehog has only one defensive strategy - to curl up in a ball, spiky spines exposed, and wait until the fox (or other predator) gives up and goes away."

Michael talks about Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, that shares the following differences between foxes and hedgehogs as they relate to how people relate to life:


"Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are 'scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,' says [the essayist Isaiah] Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple—indeed almost simplistic—hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance...

To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity. What could be more simple than e = mc2. What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious organized into an id, ego, or superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith's pin factory and "invisible hand"? No, the hedgehogs aren't simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest."

So what does all this mean? That I'm more awesome than other people? That would be a No. Simply put, I seem to be moving toward the life I've always wanted to live: be an artist, be healthy, and having fun, while ignoring everything else that doesn't pertain to my life.