Materialism

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When I had gone to the vision board party, one of the tasks was to dream big and find pictures that represent our wishes and paste them onto the board. We had piles of magazines that ranged from gossip to golf to science. Leafing through them, I could find pretty much anything my heart desired. But there was a problem. Leafing thought the mags, I saw nothing that struck a cord. Except a picture of Jason Momoa as Aquaman because I want more tattoos. But that’s within my reach. In other words, I didn’t need a vision board to help me manifest this.

I had a feeling that this was going to happen. Having it played out in front of me confirmed that I strive to live more like a minimalist; someone who doesn’t need excessive materialistic things. To be clear, I have things: caR, I’m Appled out, an iron horse. So in that respect I’m a hypocrite. In my defense, I enjoy all of the things that I own. However, they do not bring me happiness. To me joy and happiness are two different things.

I see so many people buy things for no real reason except maybe to fill some emptiness that lies within. Instead of addressing that emptiness, they buy things to try and fill it. I think there are two basic problems with this approach. One is that the emptiness is within the individual. Second, buying something gives people that endorphin rush. I’ve been addicted to new stuff. I totally get it. But it can hurt the wallet.

My sister has five different ways of heating food up. The oven. A microwave. A toaster oven. A hot air oven. And she recently bought a portable steamer.

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An acquaintance of mine asked me what I had thought about the new iPad Pro. I told him that I went to an Apple store and played with it. Very nice. But my original iPad Pro that I had bought three years ago still works well. I do almost everything with it. Writing. Blogging. I watch all my streaming services on it; I don’t have a TV. The new iPad wouldn’t do anything different for me. He said he was thinking of upgrading.

Why, I asked.

The processor is faster, he answered.

What do you do on it that you need a faster processor?

He shrugged. I draw on it sometimes.

Dude, how fast do you draw that you need a faster processor?

Another acquaintance came up to me in Starbucks a few weeks ago. He looked excited and told me he had good news.

You get a blow job, I asked.

His eyebrows lowered against his eyes. No, I bought a new car.

Don’t you have two already?

Yeah. I traded the SUV in.

He has a sports car that he daily drives and had bought and financed a new sedan. Because he needed more room than his sports car could provide? Which is why he got rid of the SUV? Or he needed a smaller car because his SUV was too big? I was a bit confused at this point.

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The issue is that the emptiness within a person is bottomless. That person could buy everything in the world and still have that emptiness within them because they’re not trying to find out what is causing that emptiness. Instead they’re trying to fill that emptiness with stuff, and that hole is devouring it up.

The new Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, shows how stressful people can be when they have a lot of stuff. After getting rid of the shit they don’t need, the people on the show feel relaxed and serene. We as Americans have too much stuff. I mean, it’s not a surprise that we have to either buy bigger homes or rent storage spaces in order to store our endless junk.

Hypocrites, raise your hands.

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I’m guilty. I have two cars. But at least I didn’t go into debt buying a second car.

The question should now be: What is this emptiness?

It could be anything. Lack of confidence. Loneliness. Living a purposeless life. The game is to explore yourself and find out. Honestly, that’s the fun part. For me, I knew I was a creative. So I explored different outlets before settling on writing and storytelling. That took a lot of time. For example, I delved into acting for three years before jumping out of it. But, man, that was fun. I learned so much about myself going on stage and acting. It was one of the big steps that opened me up to me. Since then, I have never left the deep end.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

I told a friend that I wanted to take a six-month sabbatical from work and travel the world. He knows that I spend a lot of time writing at Starbucks. So we were taking one night and he urged, more like proclaimed, that I go on my sabbatical immediately because that would make me happy. There must have been an awkward look on my face because my friend tried harder to convince me that I’d be happy traveling.

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I’ve talked about this before, the difference between happiness, being content and at peace, versus the enjoyment of an experience.

What’s interesting is that people mix happiness and joy up a lot. They often link happiness with having things like cool cars, cool clothes, cool watches, cool boyfriends or girlfriends. Essentially, their status in life determines their level of happiness. The problem is that status can be taken away, and the enjoyment of an experience is always temporary. So if I buy a super cool car, I’ll feel the joy of having a new toy, but eventually I’m going to need a new experience to get another endorphin hit. That can mean buying something new over and over again, sort of like a drug habit. So it’s no surprise that the poorest people in America tend to carry the most credit card debt. They may not be satisfied with their lot in life, so they try to buy their way into happiness.

Happiness is being content with where you are in life. Not that people can’t strive to be better, but they do not need anything in order to be happy. There is nothing that people need to do because contentment and peace is the natural state of the mind. It’s one of the reasons why people tout meditation as a way to center oneself. From what little I know about meditation, it aims to quiet the mind, lessening the number of thoughts that crowd your head.

When we look at why people are unhappy, or unsatisfied with life, most of the time it’s the comparison phenomenon. For example, if my friend gets a super cool car, and he’s younger than I am, I may think to myself, “I’m a loser because I don’t have a super cool car. How’d he get it before me?” Then I may feel like crud cuz I just drive a champagne-colored Toyota Camry. So even though my natural state is peace, I cover that up with a cruddy thought. And thoughts are the main driver of our emotions.

This is evident given how advertisers prey on our emotions. The Axe commercials are a classic example.

We see this commercial and think, “Yeah, that could work.” So we men go out and buy Axe Body Spray with the hopes of getting more chics. Of course, when this reality doesn’t manifest itself, we become unhappy because our expectations weren’t met.

That’s another thing. Expectations. Society has a knack for telling us that we’re not fulfilling our full potential and we should expect more. However, life has no schedule. People come into their own on their own time. I know. That either sounds obvious or repetitive. Or both! Still, if we are judging ourselves by what society dictates, then we’ll find ourselves falling behind or trying to keep pace with it. Even if we find that we’re ahead of the game, we’ll self-impose a new bar, goal, and chase that. What we fail to enjoy is the journey. Even though there is enjoyment in finishing a project, the journey is the most important part. The trials and tribulations of creating often leads to great wisdom and skill. Without this aspect, our civilization will become stagnant.

I write every day because that’s my temperament. My writing requires that I do this on a daily basis, that I continue to learn to hone my craft. And I’m at peace when I write, except when I want to kill a character and that character needs to complete an important task. So I’m not sure if my friend sees me writing and assumes that I’m not happy. But I think he links happiness and joy together and they’re really two different things.

Life Has No Schedule

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I went to World Con 76. Their convention is much like the San Diego Comic Con, except there aren't any big Hollywood celebrities, you're not forced to move with the crowd because there aren't 150,0000 people attending, costumed super heroes and villains don't roam the convention center, and the con centers around books. Specifically SFF, science fiction and fantasy. This is the group that gives out the Hugo Award for the genre, which is like getting an Oscar. So much of fiction is riddled with romance, because that's what sells, so it's heart warming to see an organization dedicated to SFF.

I was excited to go to the Hugo nominees' readings where the authors read a selection from their own books. There might have been sixty to eighty seats, but they were all taken, so I had to stand. I didn't care. I wanted to hear excerpts from great writers. Then we were told that the fire marshal wouldn't allow us to stand as it was a fire hazard. WhatchutalkinaboutWillis? I had a clear path to the door had there been a fire. Still, I and the other standers were asked to leave. I suggested to the room we bribe the fire marshall, but that wasn't well received. Especially from those seated. Bastards. Joking...things like bribing or paying off porn stars and Playboy models ain't my thing.

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I decided to go to a talk about how aliens might think. The panel was made of two university professors whose specialties lay in human consciousness, and a SFF author who studied AI at MIT. Her name is SL Huang, which I assumed was her pen name, since the panel kept calling her Lisa. She sort of had this Natalie Portman thing going on. Dating has been hard for me, so maybe my celebrity crush was manifesting itself in some way. But I checked out her website, and she's quite an accomplished author. She had to be in her thirties. She looked younger, but Asians don't raisin.

Then my insecurity reared its ugly head into my mind. Here, I'm writing an article that will likely never be read, had been going to a writing group work-shopping my second book when the first one isn't even published, and still trying to get representation from a literary agent. Loser!

Breath...om...Keyser Söze...

I reminded myself that life has no schedule. Except that things are born and then they die. I know, real insightful. It seems people need to plan everything that happens in between these two points. I have to graduate high school in order to go to college, then I can get a job and earn enough for a down payment for my first home by this age. I'll need to meet The One soon if I want to have kids because I don't want to have them too old, otherwise I'd be too old. Eventually I'll have to change jobs every now and then so I can get the requisite pay increases and save for my retirement. And I do want to leave something to the kids when I die because they're my children and that's what a parent does.

In the span of 105 words, I've scheduled my whole life. All of that, by the way, is crap. Life has no schedule. Some people die before they're born. Others die after more than a century has past. A lucky few make it big in their chosen industry. A majority do not. Some people earn their way in. Others do not...ahem...the Orange One.

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My writing group and I had been interviewed and on a podcast. One of our writers had an interesting story. He volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference where he set up and tore down rooms for presenters. He set a room once for an author who pulled out binders full of rejections letters from literary agents that had amounted to hundreds. He eventually made it, but it was through sheer effort and not giving up. In contrast, a dozen agents rejected JK RowlingKathryn Stocket, who wrote The Help, was rejected by 60 agents. The point is that different people make it at different times. And because we as humans are very bad at telling the future, we don't know what's coming around the bend. Had Stocket given up on the 59th rejection, she would have never found her current agent and her ensuing success.

Does that mean you should never give up? No. I think there are circumstances that may indicate ending something is good. I had given up on acting because I fell out of love with it. My best friend and I had decided not to open our own martial arts school after planning and working on it for a couple of years. So far a reason to give up my writing hasn't presented itself to me. Having a never quit attitude doesn't guarantee success, however you define success. But you'll never succeed if you don't start or give up too early. And be cautious about attaching your happiness to circumstance. Not making it in any industry doesn't affect your happiness.

Life has no schedule.

Happiness vs Joy

I don't go on Facebook very often. Maybe once a day. I'm pretty busy and am not interested in my friends’ minute-to-minute going ons. I prefer conversation. I'm old fashioned, I guess.

One of my close friends was disgusted by a couple’s posts on how to have a great marriage. She didn't like their advice because they don’t have children. According to her their ignorance can skew their advice. The couple had launched a life coaching business where they focus on health, wealth, and relationships. I know them. But they've stopped talking to me because I'm a bit silly. And I have a potty mouth.

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I tried talking to them about deeper things, but I felt they were closed to my ideas.

I decide to wade through the couple's posts and see what they have to offer. One video shows the wife saying something to the effect of "Nobody likes to be yelled at in public." I think she’s talking about respect and how to communicate with your partner. I'm not the best example, since all of my relationships have failed. However, failure is the nature of relationships. The first thing that comes to mind is that no one likes to be yelled at. Period. Unless they're in the throes of ecstasy. Then yelling can excite the activity. Or frighten little children.

They also have a video series on happiness. That peaks my interest. After hearing the advice that nobody likes to be yelled at in public, I am not too hopeful. The series talks about being grateful, having passions, having someone to love and love you back to increase your happiness. In my view, this isn't happiness. It's joy.

Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. So if I get a big raise, I'll feel joy. If I sleep with a hot woman, I’ll feel a lot of joy. A lot. Buying stuff can evoke joy. Hence America's problem with credit card debt.

Happiness is the constant. Humans are inherently happy. Young children are evidence of this. For the most part, they're a content group of people. It may not seem like it, due to the yelling, screaming, and bad behavior. However, that's the nature of children.

Their imaginations can be captured so easily. How often do little girls have tea parties with inanimate objects? Or boys running around fighting imaginary monsters. Remember the Floor is Lava game?

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Happiness is contentment. As humans, we don't need much. Food. Water. Shelter. Health. We're good. Having only those things may not bring joy, the experiences that fill the dullness of life. But the issue is that we cover that contentment with shit like I'm a loserfeeling that thought instead.

Going back to the couple. Their videos focus on rearranging the outside world to fit what they think it should look like, fulfilling an expectation that can bring joy, which can feel like happiness. But it's not. Imagine rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. That ain't gonna stop the ship from sinking. You have to look within yourself for happiness.

The minute we NEED things like an awesome car, the perfect job, and a guy that checks off the long list of requirements is when we can become discontent with life. Wanting those things, knowing we don’t need them, allows us to enjoy the luxuries of life for what they are. Experiences. 

What about being grateful? That’ll make us happy. Right, Jimmy? It depends on what they mean by being grateful. If they require that you have to say "Thank you for this blah, blah, blah...", or have a notebook full of gratefulness, then no, it's not correct. You simply are grateful or you take some things for granted. Both happen on a daily basis without us even noticing. I'm not saying don't be thankful. Keep a notebook of gratefulness if you want. I'm just saying the act of being grateful isn't necessary to be content. Saying I love you to someone that you detest isn't going to make you love them.

The couple does hit on something that I agree with. Status. A lot of people go into credit card debt keeping up with the Joneses, which is an act of rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. So materialistic endeavors don't contribute to happiness, but that doesn't mean you can't derive joy from it. I ride a motorcycle because I enjoy riding. It surprised me how much I love it. But I don't use it as a status symbol.

The only issue that I have with the couple stating that status shouldn't matter is that their Facebook posts are filled with materialistic luxuries. From the few that I have seen, they seem to have the top of the line stuff. Again. I'm not against this. But why post it for everyone to see? Why not just enjoy what you have?

What they're practicing isn't aligning with what they’re saying. Action speaks louder than words.

Happiness comes from within. It’s our natural state. That doesn’t mean we can’t cry or have bad moments. But if we clear our minds, we come back to that natural state of contentment. 

The Missing Link

I was watching this YouTube video about a guy who goes through bouts of depression. He did a lot of drugs to expand on his artistic creativity, but that took him away from society, which he called an illusion. I tend to agree. The video didn't state how long he had done this, but he decided to re-enter the illusion and rejoin the human race.

At the end of the short video, he said that life has more to offer than happiness and that he wanted to pursue something more fulfilling.

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Before I started my illustrious career in writing, I knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. So I tried everything from drawing, acting, poetry, martial arts, etc. before I careened into writing. Diving right into it, I wrote almost every day, creating my world, free writing to meet my characters. I asked cool questions like: How do these people sleep and have sex? or Where do they pee and poo? or What do I call an apple in this world? Apple was the answer. Deep thinking here, folks.

However, there were moments where I didn't feel happy nor content. So I naturally questioned my passion for writing, for storytelling. I should be grateful for having the freedom to pursue something, anything. But I wasn't.

Then it hit me. No. Not my writing. I was linking the activity of writing to happiness. Those two things should not be linked because they have nothing to do with each other. It's kinda like linking the climate control knob in your car to the volume of your stereo. The knob turns the fan on and off. It does nothing to modulate the car speakers.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. From his experiences of being a concentration inmate, he discovered that people are able to experience happiness or peace even in the direst situations. That circumstanth doth noth determinith yorth worldeth viewth . Sorry. Something was stuck in my teeth. Your circumstance doesn't determine your worldview.

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I had written about a woman whom I named Miss Hates Myguts. She had chosen her friends like how someone might choose their dining ware. The right cutlery flanking the perfect plates must match the serving dishes. The gleaming statues of glassware must highlight the richness of that setting. So, too, in this way had Hates Myguts chosen her friends. She surrounded herself with the right kind of people because they represented her in a way that matched what she thought her world should look like. And I'm the dirty, broken dish that did not fit in her world. But there's a fallacy to that thinking.

Famed life coach, Michael Neill, once said on his radio show, "Rearranging the furniture on the Titanic ain't gonna help, sucka." OK, I added some ghetto flare.

Often we link things to our happiness. If I get this job, I'll be happy. If I get this chic, I'll be the man. Once I roar down the street with my loud ass motorbike, people will think I'm the badass ass in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think of it this way. A CEO of a Forturne 500 company is no more human than a homeless man ambling down the street. One has more stuff than the other. But that has no real meaning except that he has more stuff. And we already know money can't buy happiness.

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I apply this missing link to money with security. The more of it I have, the more secure I feel. That's OK for now, but what happens if I lose all of my wealth? I'll feel incredibly vulnerable, broken, worthless as a human. There lies the crux of greed. Money is not the root of all evil. It's fear. We fear not having enough. So what do we do? We hoard. And the only thing money is good for is buying stuff. Because security is an illusion. You can have all the armed guards in the world, but that doesn't guarantee your safety. And if you need all of that security, meaning the fear has taken over your life, then you'll never be happy or be at peace.

And money can't buy happiness because it's a state of being. Not a tangible object.

So why pursue anything if we can be happy no matter the circumstances? That's where the fulfilling part comes in. When I dove into writing, I was fully engaged with my creativity. There's joy in that. If someone loves farming, then they love working the land, tending to their animals, reaping the fruits of their labor. I know that last part is cliché, but I'm not a farmer and don't know what else they do. 

Being engaged with whatever moves you fills the soul. It's heaven.

Appearances

One of my biggest fans, code named Hates Myguts, rejected my FaceBook request. Here's a simple truth: no one is obligated to like you or me or anyone. A friend of mine had confirmed her sunny disposition toward me, if sunny disposition meant disgust.

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Some months had passed when Hates sent me an invite to her birthday dinner. At this point, solving the mysteries of the universe would be easier than trying to figure out why Ms. Myguts invited me to celebrate the result of her parents' sexual conduct. "Here's my birthday gift for you," I responded to her invite. "I won't be coming. Happy birthday."

She messaged me and told me that someone attending the dinner might be interested in me. Let's review the logic here: Hates Myguts has a sunny disposition toward me. Despite that, she had wanted to set me up with her friend. And, oh yeah, birds of a feather flock together. In other words, bitches run in packs, yo.

If Hates don't like me, then her friend ain't gonna be much different. I'm assuming, of course. When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. In truth I didn't want to spend time with someone who hadn't liked me. I'd rather be manscaping.

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My friend had attended and told me that Hates brought me up in conversation during dinner. Apparently Ms. Myguts was upset that I didn't grace her with my presence. Issues much? I have to say that made me smile. My friend asked the girl who Hates was trying to set me up with if she wanted to meet me, and said, "He's rich."

I'm not. She was referring to me owning property.

"He doesn't act rich," Hates said.

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When I heard this, I couldn't stop laughing. I eventually did cuz it's kinda hard peeing while laughing. It shakes all over the place. And that's not very sanitary. Imagine the amount of paper towels I'd waste if I truly couldn't stop laughing.

It's obvious Hates doesn't know a lot of rich people. Rich people are like...people. They come in all different sizes. They're big and small, thick and thin, smart and stupid. Some want to show off their wealth. Others are unassuming.

The reason I had laughed was because I was a bit relieved. When my friend told me that Hates didn't want to be my friend, for a moment I felt like a loser. That was all in my mind. This is important: Hates didn't cause this feeling within me. Me thinking of being a loser caused it. Eventually this thought left my mind, and I felt fine again. Now, I don't discourage my friend from hanging out with Hates Myguts. When we have dinner together, I don't hate on Hates because I don't want to delve into hateful thoughts. I make that mistake sometimes, but I eventually find my way out of that black hole.

Thoughts can be powerful when we hold onto them. Sometimes I linger around the loser thought. So when Hates had brought me up at her birthday dinner and stated I don't act rich, I knew her judgement of me had nothing to do with me. And that's true of all people who judge. The issue(s) lies within them.

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Whatever sour thoughts that invade Hates' mind, sours her view of the world. So to make her world right, she has to surround herself with people she thinks will represent who she is. But this doesn't work.

It's sorta like buying a fast sports car, having cool clothes, and carrying around an iPhone X to impress people. He wants people to see these things, that he's well to do or cool, but he's still him whether he has this stuff or not.

So in Hates' mind, if she has the right kind of people around her, then she must also be all right. If she truly wants to be all right, then she needs to release the thoughts that she's not. Or at least not think about them so much. As I've said, sometimes I linger around the loser thought. Sometimes longer than I’d like. But once I realize what I'm doing, then I'm able to let go and move on. There are things you can do to help facilitate moving on. Take a walk. Pet your pet. Even that pet. Get together with friends. Laugh. If you don't hold onto those thoughts by actively thinking about them, then they'll go away naturally. 

The Deep End

Social media is the bane of my existence. Its become a way for people to try and attain some sort of fame, front a facade to hide behind of, or collect a large bouquet of followers to sell to.

Artists use it to get the word out on their work. I do that by writing these articles and posting some of them on Facebook. To be honest I don't really know who reads them. I don't go around asking, "Didya readit?" It's not that I don't care, but I sorta don't care. Some people have told me off hand that they’ve read a post I’ve written. I mean, I'd love it if everyon did. The crazy thing is that I don't speak to most of the people that I'm connected to on Facebook. I can count the number of my close friends on one hand.

When I ride the train during rush hour, I find myself swimming in people facedown over lit pieces of glass. Not that I don't do that. I do. But I spend more time people watching, and there's not much to watch.

This isn't a commentary about how our society is slowly being drained of real human connection. Though, they are.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time alone because I'm either writing or critiquing my fellow writers' pages. I love the work. I also go on long hikes and walks and fall into my introverted side and become introspective. But all of that gets lonely at times. Then I go on Facebook and everyone is liking and commenting and having a jolly good time. So it seems that if I don't participate in all the likes and commenting and gushing over how good that plate of food looks, then I don't exist. I'd rather like and comment and gush over what's happening in person. That's more fulfilling than who has liked my shit on Facebook.

In what is claimed to be the longest study on happiness, Robert Waldinger states that fulfillment in life comes from real human connection. The deeper the better. That's what she said.

Now I'm presented with a choice. Do I do what everyone else is doing and put full effort into building my social media? Or do I try for deep connections with people?

Why not do both?

Both are time consuming. And for me one gives me no real satisfaction. The habit of social media is to collect followers and likes. You become a bean counter of sorts. And like material wealth, it's never enough. So you continue chasing and accruing, chasing and accruing...

It's fun at first. Much like eating a lot of candy. It's not very nutritious, eating all those empty calories. 

However, forming deep connections can be difficult for me because my sensibilities are raunchy with a little bit of dry humor mixed in, peppered with a bit of hot temperedness, toss in some uncomfortable questions, and top it off with a heaping scoop of sarcasm. That's a mixture most chefs would be like...

Most of the time I'm not an asshole. I'm not asking women if I can slap their plump butt. But it's no surprise people who can't handle my mess of a personality run for the hills. Hence...count my friends on one hand. The most obvious solution is to dial my sensibilities down a notch...maybe all the way. Like take a tranquilizer gun, point it at my butt cheek, and yank the triggah. Eventually I'd wake up and be my old self again.

The real solution is to find folks who are willing to jump into the deep end of the crazy pool with me. Just to be clear I'm not that crazy. I don't go around flashing people. I don't do hardcore drugs. I don't torture animals. I torture people with my sensibilities, but I don't physically hurt them. Unless it's sexual where it hurts so good. I'm liberal so I'm accepting of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and the like. In other words, I'm aware enough where I'm not hurting anyone. If people are offended by me, then so be it. They can climb out of the deep end and scream running. I'll just float all by my lonesome.