Choice and Fear

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Here's a simple math problem. If I were to flip a coin, what are the chances of heads turning up?

A. 50%

B. 50%

I didn't say it was a hard math problem. Let's say the coin lands and gives us heads. Now if I flip the coin a second time, what are the chances of me getting heads again?

A. 25%

B. 50%

C. 75%

Ooh. Three choices! The answer is B. Let's say the coin turned up heads again. Flipping the coin once more, what are the chances we get heads again?

Believe it or not, the chances are still 50%. Each coin flip is completely unrelated to each other. They're separate events in time. I hope it's easy to see this truth.

Living as humans, we're constantly haunted by our past. Maybe it's evolution's way to help protect us from making the same possible fatal mistake. But when this fear of the past seeps into other parts of our lives that may not have the benefit of killing us, then issues may arise.

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I have a friend who has had a devastating past with men. In general, men have not treated her kindly. In many cases violently. Her current beau is a strange bird, a conspiracist, or a believer of such non-scientifically proven things as the earth is flat and the moon landing was faked and...well...to go on would be a waste of space.

Short story long, they've broken up numerous times, citing mental abuse, specifically him wanting her to believe in the crazy. After breaking up for the last time, she's told me she would never go back to him again, using the words, "Read my lips...no new taxes." OK. That was George. But we all know how that turned out. So, too, did my friend go back on her own word. But it's her life, and she can do whatever she wants with it.

I bring her up for a specific reason. When they had ended it for the nth time, she feared that she would not find anyone better than her ex, citing her past. So I gave her the coin flip math problem, which she answered correctly, and I said that her past does not determine who she dates in the future. She wasn't sure, but she put up a strong front on Facebook, posting happy pictures.

Several months later, I hear through the grapevine that she went back to her ex, well her non-ex now. I guess my coin flip analogy failed to imbue her with the courage to seek a new man. Hey. Who knows? They may work it out.

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So how do you know when to "get back on the horse" or when to move on?

Because if my friend works her relationship out, and they both live a life filled with happiness, then it doesn't matter if they broke up and got back together many many times. In contrast, if they fail as a couple, then she may have wasted a lot of time.

Sometimes you act in the face of fear because in reality it's all in our heads.

I remember listening to an interview with Kathryn Stockett, who wrote The Help. She was rejected 60 times before finding her literary agent. So if she had decided to give up at the 60th rejection, she may have not found the success she has today. Emotionally, she has gone through a rollercoaster of a ride trying to get her book published. All writers do. She must have had intense doubt as the rejection letters piled higher and higher. But something in her spoke to her, to continue submitting query letters, despite the fear of rejection. But she did it! If we look at the coin flip analogy, each letter had no effect on the other. She could have possibly received endless rejections because one rejection does not promise that the next won't be. And she could have received an offer letter if she had queried her current agent first.

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An example of real fear is when a grizzly bear is chasing you. As you're running away, you remember a frightening fact. They can run way faster than humans and over greater distances. You look back, and the bear is gaining on you. Fast. Good luck.

Let's get back to my friend and her beau. She decided to start the relationship yet again out of fear, which was that she wouldn't be able to find someone as good as him. We can't say that there is a better match for her because there are no guarantees in life. Save death. But we do know there are plenty of other men out there that she hasn't explored. So her fear that he's the best for her is unfounded.

It would be one thing if their relationship worked, then there'd be no need to look further. From what little I see of them, she's trying to change him, he's trying to change her, and that to leads conflict. In other words, they haven't accepted each other for who they are. Nor have they accepted themselves. Once those things are done, then getting along with each other becomes much easier.

Such a Drag

I've harped on how the writers of The Walking Dead had made several mistakes. Lately, the writers have dragged the storylines out so much that it's transparent that they're dragging the storylines out.

With their spin off show, Fear The Walking Dead, there are two main things the writers are doing wrong. One is pacing. The other is rooting. Both are important, but if you root someone to your characters, then making mistakes such as pacing can be forgiven, as we see in The Walking Dead.

Pacing is the rhythm or momentum of a story, or really how those things feel. Like in life, when you're having fun, time flies. When you're bored, time moves like a molasses wave.

Rooting is showing a character in such a manner that the reader cares about that character. We saw this in Harry Potter with the murder of his parents, and when his aunt and uncle forces him to live under the stairs, do all the chores while they dote over his cousin Dudley, then Rowling further rooted us by showing Dudley receiving 38 presents, while Harry drawing himself a birthday cake on the dirt floor.

Excuse me while I cry my eyes out.

Fear The Walking Dead had two seasons, and the story takes place around a family right at the moment the zombie apocalypse begins to engulf the planet. The first half of the season felt like a molasses wave that had been in a freezer for a thousand years. From my point of view, the writers ran into a couple of major issues. One, the characters have never seen a real life zombie, and the show never makes mention that zombies were ever part of the popular culture like it is in real life. So the characters have to learn how to deal with these monsters, which is fine. The other issue is that we the people in the real world watching these fake people in the fake world already know how to deal with real zombies of the fake world. Uh what? The parent show has educated the audience about zombies and how to dispatch them. And that can mess with the pacing of the spin-off show. Big time.

The writers of Fear chose to actually show the family learning how to deal with zombies. But zombies weren't yet the prolific monsters we're used to. So there were barely any within the first few episodes, which meant realizing what they were let alone learning how to kill them took a really long time. It was painful to watch.

The writers could have taken a page from The Walking Dead where Morgan Jones educates Rick, the main character, in the ins and outs of the walking dead. But that wasn't necessary because Fear already had a way of educating the cast. There was a scene where a live newscast shows the police being forced to finally shoot a dead man walking in the head. This could have been the vehicle to educate the cast and get the story moving forward, asking questions like what would you do when the world you know and love falls apart. But that didn't happen. So the writers had to slow things down.

Cue filler. It's filler time. Filibuster. Phili steak sandwiches with no meat.

This brings me to their issue of rooting. To us, the educated audience, seeing these people bumble their way slowly down the dark alley of this world makes them look stupid. And it's hard to like stupid people, hence the rooting problem. The family is also dysfunctional, but there's nothing redeeming about the characters themselves.

They're not like Walt White from Breaking Bad. Having being diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, Walt decides to make and sell meth to not only pay for his treatments but to provide for his family after his death. That's a righteous dude.

Back to Fear, eventually we run into a character named Daniel Salazar, who actually has depth. And some redeeming qualities. He has a barbershop and hides his family inside it while the streets of LA are consumed in a riot. The cast finds the shop and convinces Salazar to let them in and wait it out. He questions their motives, fears for the safety of his family, his ailing wife, but also keeps a strong guard against revealing too much about himself and seems way more prepared to deal with the end of the world. Unfortunately, Salazar feels like he wasn't meant for anything more than a supporting cast member.

Because the audience isn't rooted to the main characters, meaning we don't care for them, we become impatient when it comes to the pacing. In other words, we're forced to wait for them to catch up to us. Story should lead us into mystery, into love, into enlightenment. Instead we're looking at our smartphones waiting for something to happen.

To help illustrate my two main points about Fear, I've found one favorable and one unfavorable review. It's not the reviews that are important, but the reactions by the commenters about the show.

Here's a link to a favorable review. Here's what one commenter said:

"i thought they did a fantastic job actually. especially the kid who portrayed the addict & i was on the edge of my seat a couple times through out the show!"

So through a 90-minute pilot, that person was on the edge of their seat twice. And that's good? For a zombie show?

Here's another review with mixed bag reactions from commenters.

Going Down Memory Lane

No, Memory isn't Lois' sister.

Lately, for the past couple years, I've been going to various spots that I used to hang out as a kid. I remember driving to the street where I used play kickball, where my best friend and I used to play with his Star Wars figures. The ones that are worth a lot of money today.

Those were the days way before cell phones were in. But all my friend's mother had to do was holler, "Jason!", and like a cub, he would scurry on back home. Even today, I marvel at that.

Jason was my first best friend. He was a big boy. Funny. Full of happiness. Why wouldn't he? He had grandparents that had always brought a mountainous pile of gifts when they visited for Christmas. Santa would shove one gift under the tree for me to share with my niece. We were close in age. Jason was always kind enough to share his loot with me. He helped me learn how to ride a bike. He had an old Spider Man one that had training wheels. We removed them, and I was off riding the bike for a second before falling off.

About a dozen times later I asked, "Can't seem to get it to work. How do you ride a bike?"

Jason thought for a moment and said, "You just run, jump on, and try not to fall."

Oh. Was that all?

When I was in elementary school, a few of us had gone to the cemetery just to check it out. At the time, most of the graves were really old. From the dates, a lot of the people that were buried there were born in the 1800's. Some of them had even made there way West with the Donner Party. I remember seeing a tombstone with that name as well.

During one Halloween, a group of about five or six of us eight-graders were going to go to the cemetery at night. It wasn't far from where we lived, within walking distance. We were all very confident that nothing would happen. No zombies. No ghosts. No werewolves. And vampires. Psh. They ain't real, I said.

The night was cold as winters seemed to have started much earlier in those days. Daylight savings also ended earlier in the year, which meant that day darkened to night faster than we had liked. We turned right onto the street where the main entrance laid open. The steel gate rarely swung closed, allowing cars to drive up the wide and long gravel pathway and park. Whoever the groundskeeper was didn't do a good job of getting rid of the weeds. Tall weeds grew everywhere adding to the low mist that seemed to hide the many tall and ancient tombstones. We all huddled behind the bravest boy, Alex, at the edge of the gravel.

I was scared. Plain and simple. But we made the adult decision and respected those buried there and headed on home. Of course, we weren't adult enough to not trick-or-treat some more.

Today, the Bay Area had a break from the cold weather. It was sunny, wisps of clouds flavored the sky, the air smelled fresh. It felt like it had been forever since I strolled outside. I'd been stuck inside working, writing inside cafes, hanging out with friends in bars or clubs or restaurants, that the feeling of being outside was calling to me. I decided to haunt one of my old stomping grounds. The Dublin Cemetery.

Driving up that same street, I remarked at how manicured this part of Dublin was. Not too long ago, they had built the Dublin Heritage Park & Museums, which houses a lot of different buildings that help represent what it might have looked like back in the late 1800's to early 1900's when working the land was a viable option.

Instead of the gravel pathway, the front of the cemetery is groomed and paved with a small parking lot. I walk in and notice that new graves have been added, but I assume those who are buried here are somehow connected to this area's past. There are signs around the cemetery the briefly discuss who some of these pioneers were. There are a few unmarked plots.

There was no sense of dread or fear that I remember feeling that fateful night. OK. Nothing happened that night. But even the odd scurrying sounds didn't unnerve me. Squirrels. But the heavy religious nature of the giant tombstones, the words inscribed on them, the old St. Raymond church with the cross cutouts in the wooden window coverings evoke a feeling within me. And I'm reminded of how we can so easily succumb to religion. Especially in those days where the miracles we take for granted today were seen as amazing back then.

As I make my way around the plots, I'm also amazed at how small this cemetery is. Standing at the far back corner, I can see clear to the front where I parked my car. In my dark childhood memory, the cemetery was large, and there were far corners where we had to trek through brush to get to. And I guess this is partly why I'm so fond of my childhood.

Everything then seemed so big and impossible. Things were amazing. I loved eating candy and ice cream. OK. I still do. But I remember taking a bike ride to the local store, which was located next to the cemetery, to buy a piece of candy with a penny was a huge journey. I watched Ghostbusters and Back to the Future five times each in the movie theater. Movie tickets were $2.50 then. I mean, the movies of the 80's are now considered classics. Watchutalkin' about Willis?

Maybe I'm fond of those memories because I'm experiencing my midlife crisis. I had a dream where I dreaded being eighty years old. Though, I've yet to go around yelling at kids to get off my lawn. But that's because I don't have a lawn. "Get off my cement parking spot!"

And I think that's why I don't like going to clubs, or bars, or doing stupid stuff like attending cocktail parties where small talk is the center of conversation. I just want to watch the sun set, watch the moon arch the sky, watch the ocean waves roll in, smell the clean air on slow hikes, spend time connecting with people that I enjoy, or even people watch.

Looking at these graves, I feel time is so fleeting. Ego is useless. What we have to show what we've accomplished is meaningless. For all the good and bad that happen in this world, for all the great people who are remembered and for those who will never even be given a thought, the meaning of life becomes a simple truth. It's the pure joy of living.

Are You Lovin' Your Passion Piece?

I meet a lot of people through meetup.com. Meetup allows people to create groups that others can join. Groups cater everything from writing to adventurous travelers to dog lovers to swingers (Uh...my friend told me about the swingers). So I decided to go to several self proclaimed geek groups to try and see why they love the things they love, the geek culture. I wasn't sure what I'd be looking for, since I wasn't going to change my books to their likings or preferences. But I did find something interesting.

Geeks are people too. Well, that wasn't the interesting part. But geeks are very passionate. I've yet to meet a non-passionate geek, or else they'd be the run-of-the-mill person. And what they're passionate about varies quite a bit.

We were all talking about what our favorite SciFi/Fantasy series were, why we loved it, and which one was better such as the classic Star Wars vs Star Trek heated debate. Most were able to pick sides. Some had to recuse themselves from choosing. Again, that's not interesting. What was insightful were the reasons behind their favorite SciFi/Fantasy stories.

Because geeks are people too, they love having their imaginations sparked and having deep conversations about what these stories mean, especially to them. For example, I personally love the original Star Wars series because of the philosophical aspects; my favorite being when Luke turned off his targeting computer and trusted the force, in essence trusting his own intuition and wisdom. Others stated they loved the social commentaries certain stories talked about like Starship Troopers, written by Robert A. Heinlin. Or the huge imaginative elements fantasies like Harry Potter portray that always delve deeper than what you see on the surface.

Whatever the reason, I realized one basic thing. Because geeks are very passionate, the storytellers must also be passionate about what they create, maybe be a little bit insane. And I think the more passionate we are about our stories, the more the audience will love them. Part of that love, for me anyways, is always the depth of the story, or simply put, what do I hope my readers will get (a deeper understanding of life?) aside from escaping their own world?

That's why I tend to be biased toward stories that have character or story arcs. There's always some sort of message that enlightens us to be a better person or make the world a better place.

One of my first writing conventions that I attended had a key speaker who was a best selling author. His poignant advise was to write what we're passionate about, what we think about everyday, what pulls us to write or tell stories. And he was right on. When actors make movies for money, we can see it. Their performances are flat. Stories are empty. We come out unchanged or unmoved. When actors are passionate about their roles, we can tell. Our heart sings when their characters succeed, cries in their pain, or rejoices in their growth. It's the actor's passion pieces.

So meeting fellow geeks only reaffirms what I had first thought when I researched what made certain authors successful. Write your passion pieces. Work on them. Love them. Stroke them. OK. I may have gone too far.

How to Fail at Dating

I had a small spiritual epiphany watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. How can a sitcom give anyone anything other than empty entertainment? I don't know, but it helped explain the string of bad dates I've been having. Whatchutalkinbout, Willis?

I'd written an article about the show, describing how the writers had given depth to characters who all seem to be the same on the surface: nerds and geeks.

One character, Sheldon Cooper, is a doctor in physics whose dream is to win the Nobel Prize and attain the fame that comes along with it. In one episode in season seven, Sheldon makes a discovery that earns him global fame. So, of course, he's walking around praising himself. One of his character traits is narcism. Then disaster darkens his world when he realizes his discovery was based off of a simple mistake that he had made.

Here's the epiphany. If Sheldon hadn't made the mistake, then he wouldn't have made the discovery.

Now, hindsight is 20/20. As we move through time, we don't know if mistakes will lead to greatness. But in spiritual circles living the guided life, trusting The Lord for He has a plan for all, living with innate wisdom, co-creating with the Source, living from the inside out, or whatever else you wanna call it suggests that there is some guiding force. Those same circles state that our free will is just a basic choice of having faith and following it or flat out ignoring it.

So how does this apply to my bad dates and disconnects with women? It seems women don't realize I have a sense of humor. And I warn them that 99% of the time I'm joking, and the other 1% I'm not serious. But still, I seem to make the same mistake, making jokes that women take seriously. You'd think I would stop with the jokes. Nope.

Stop me if you've heard this one: A couple is about to get married, but the guy gets cold feet. Or a feeling of canceling the wedding overwhelms the woman. Maybe, their intuition is telling them something. Although, I suspect some of the trepidation is just trepidation. 

But I also suspect that some of that is truth. And calling off the wedding or engagement goes against societal norm. Cuz, hell, everything has been paid for, invitations have been sent, airline tickets have been bought, the venue has been reserved. We can't cancel a miserable marriage and a horrible life together to inconvenience people. That would be rude.

Recently, I had made a joke about paying for dinner to my date. And I realized that was a mistake when the girl went off on me. We've since never talked again. Oh, well.

I always pay for dinner just as I would open the door, let the lady order first, offer my hoodie if she's cold. Yeah, no suit and tie for me. Whether she's the one who got away (that would be a no), or a good mistake where I dodged a bullet (most likely), I'm content.

When dating, it's good to fail hard and fast. That way you're not spending precious time with someone who isn't a match. I say this because I've met a lot of people who seem to get hung up on the fact that they failed, as a result, are afraid to fail again, and to prevent further failure they don't move on, which is true failure. My path that led me to writing has been wrought with many failed dreams and attempts at many different art forms. Some creative art forms took longer for me to realize they weren't for me. Others like trying to learn how to sing was pretty quick. You do not want to hear me sing at a karaoke bar; basically, I sound like I'm reading the words on the screen because I am reading the words on the screen.

Are You a Settler?

Why is the only guy with white pants sitting on the ground?

In a rare moment, I was having a soulful conversation with a friend at a restaurant. The waitress had filled our glasses with water, and I commented that she was very attractive. So I asked my friend if he'd date her.

"She's a little out of my league," he said.

I was taken aback by this statement because I don't believe in that. Certain people may not be matches for each other for many, many reasons, but to say that one person has more value as a human being than another is ludicrous to me. On the other hand, it's no surprise that we think this way, given that the media pounds this idea into our consciousness. Our worship of celebrities whether they have anything meaningful to offer or not, our over obsessive want for things like the best tech, and our need to compare who is better than who partly derived from our day jobs and sports have blinded us to what it means to be human.

My friend's assessment of himself was this: the older he gets, the lower the bar plummets for the woman that he thinks he can get. Basically, he'll settle.

Not only is this an insult to the woman, but it's an insult to him. Meaning, he's telling himself that he isn't deserving of anyone of quality. Quality or beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. 

I tried to convince him that whether he deserves the woman of his dreams, whatever that may be, is a choice he makes. I also told him that a high quality woman requires that he have a high level of self worth. And this is where I made the mistake, but I didn't know how to describe self worth without using that term.

My main character in my book had lost his son in a very tragic incident. Ever since then, he guilts himself into believing that he's a bad father. From my point of view, the author who is The Creator, my main character was powerless to save his son. Period. Before this incident, he was a fantastic father. But layering this guilt upon himself has skewed his view of the world and forces him to continue making mistakes with his other children that can be detrimental. Because he was a great father before, he still has it in him to be a great father now. But he simply isn't because he believes he isn't. And same goes for self worth.

Building self worth is a lie. In other words, we inherently value ourselves. When confronted with danger, we automatically try and find a way to survive, fight or flight. Our bodies are built to self preserve. If we try to kill ourselves by holding our breaths, we'll faint, and our bodies will breath, suicide thwarted. Suicide jumpers who have survived have wished they hadn't jumped after jumping. I duck when I hear a sound like a gun shooting. Self preservation is born innate within us all. 

And so is self worth. It's when we lather lies upon ourselves—that we aren't worth anything—that we cover our innate worth. And because adults are so good at holding onto thoughts that thoughts naturally multiply, forcing us to hold onto those same degrading thoughts even more, multiplying ever more so, creating a vicious cycle. And suddenly, the lie that is low self esteem becomes real. So if my friend believes he needs to lower his standards to attain a woman as he gets older, then that thought becomes his reality. The sad part is that he can easily change his reality by simple observation.

Every color in the rainbow exists in our world. We, however, don't take notice of all of them or even some. It isn't until we ask ourselves, our minds, to look for a particular color that we see it. But once we do that, any other color is likely not to get noticed. So if you were to look around and note all the things that are red, you'll likely miss the things that are yellow, and vice versa. In turn, our minds act like a filter.

Without looking like he's psycho, my friend should take note of who is checking him out throughout his day. Be it man or woman, he should only acknowledge people who seem to show interest. At first, the number of people will be scant. That's because he's learning to see what those queues are. His intuition will teach him what those are as long as he's not delusional. As several days go by, the number of people he perceives that are attracted to him will increase. What he'll realize is that he is an attractive man. Maybe not to everyone—no one is universally attractive to everyone—but his mind will soon learn that he has more options than he ever allowed himself to believe.

Ignorance Is Bliss

Wow...this pakalolo is good...

Wow...this pakalolo is good...

The soft sounds of the of the Pacific waves washed over my ears and caressed my yearning for the Hawaiian Islands. The day was full of screams from the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, the smell of funnel cake meandering around the Boardwalk, the hot burning sand, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and the all too common sunburns. Twenty of us had met up for a full day at the beach, which was something I needed.

Toward the end of the day, some dude had made the statement that he doesn't read fiction anymore because it was a waste of time.

If he was going to spend time doing something, he'd rather watch documentaries because they were both entertaining and educational. He was all about education and fun. But I guess you can't do one without the other, in his world anyway. 

Immediately, I asked him, "So you think art isn't important?"

"It is." Then he talked about his love for ballet. And that basically shoved my ego back where it belonged. Not sure where that would be.

Being a writer, I can be sensitive when someone tells me that fiction is a waste of time. I had to remind myself that not everyone reads fiction, not everyone who loves art is going to love every form of art (I certainly don't), and everyone connects to different forms and that can change as they grow as a human being.

My best friend had succinctly defined art by asking the question, "How does it make you feel?"

Story is the epitome of feeling, emotion being a subset of that. According to Wikipedia, feelings are the subjective perception of emotion. But emotion doesn't necessarily dictate how we feel. I imagine President Abraham Lincoln having happy emotions after getting the 13th Amendment passed and winning the Civil War, but feeling sad and spent from the effort and the sacrifice of human life.

So the question becomes: Why tell stories, specifically the written word?

As Robert McKee stated in his Big Think interview, novels can focus in on characters' specific inner conflict, something that movies, and yes, even ballet, can have a hard time doing.

What the esteemed gentleman, who graciously stated that fiction was a waste of time, doesn't understand is that fiction allows us, the readers, to process our own inner conflicts through story. If someone had lost a child, they may read my book to see how my main character handles those feelings of loss. Whether readers agree with my character's choices or not is not the point. Seeing a character go through that horrible event, forcing him to go through the ups and downs of life afterward, making wrong choices as a result of that event can help readers look at themselves and say, "I'm not crazy for feeling guilty, blaming others for my loss, or having thoughts of anger and suicide."

Reading fiction can also help us feel when were forced not to during the one place most us spend our lives: work. And most people work in the corporate world where having emotions or individualism is really frowned upon. Corporate leaders may deny this, offering the importance of work/life balance. But once we get pissed off, show some balls (not literally), or express individualistic ideas and opinions, we're forced back into the line of conformity. But that's for another post.

What more do you want, ladies?

No where is the need to feel more prevalent than the genre of Romance. When I tell people that at least half of the money spent on fiction is on romance novels, they're very surprised. So much attention is on fantasy type books like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Divergent, superhero movies, and other spectacles that romance novels get glazed over in our minds. Women clamor to feel needed and loved and wanted and most don't get this in their real lives, so they delve into books. Most men don't see this and realize their women have needs, and it's not a surprise that women cheat just as much as men do for the exact reasons I've listed.

Obviously, the esteemed gentleman made a very ignorant comment because fiction has affected our way of life in more ways than he'll ever allow himself to know. Look at Christmas. It's a well known fact that writers Washington Irving and Charles Dickens helped influence the way the world celebrates Christmas. Family gatherings, gift giving, peace and love and thankfulness are emphasized in their stories.

I didn't put up much of a fight after my ego-laced 'Do ya 'preciate art' comment. I don't know why I took myself so seriously. Maybe because the guy was ignant and smug when he hated on fiction. But then he was rambling on about his travels, his knowledge of other cultures, his appreciation of ballet, and how great his life was in an effort to impress a young woman. And I'm not one to try and cock block anyone unless I was interested in that person as well. So I backed off and turned back toward the soft waves, the velvety breeze, and the smell of meat cooking from a nearby barbecue. And I realized that maybe ignorance for him was bliss.