Saturday, October 15, 2016

I, Me, Mine: On Turning 48, The Seth Saith Interview...With Myself

Hi Seth, thanks for doing this
Hi Seth, you're welcome. Thanks for asking.

This probably seems a bit strange, but it felt like a fun way to do a self-reflection post for the 48th birthday.
Sure, and probably quite self-absorbed, too, but although I haven't conducted too many blog interviews lately, I've always enjoyed what can be learned and revealed in the process. Plus, I like to self-reflect--probably as some kind of ego salve. So ask away.

So how does it feel to turn 48?
Well, my pat answer is: better than the alternative. And while 48 does sound a bit old, especially with the reality that I've already lived far more years than I'll continue to, probably by a wide margin, that doesn't really daunt me and I'm pretty happy in my day-to-day existence. That's all that you can really ask.

Why are you so happy? 
I wouldn't necessarily say "so happy," as there are many joys in life I can't celebrate, such as that a wife and kids can undoubtedly bring, and I've never had much in the way of romance, companionship, dating, etc. Career wise, I've long been mired in unemployment or intermittency, and although I've had a good (if not all that creatively-fulfilling) job for the past 6 months, it was only temporary and is slated to end this Friday.

But I have great relationships with a few close relatives and friends, find terrific nourishment in culture, entertainment, sports fandom and other outlets--such as this blog--and while there certainly are moments of doubt, despair and darkness, I guess on most days, and in most hours of most days, I find reasons to enjoy life, actively.

What are some of those reasons?
As much as possible, I do things that I enjoy--going to concerts and theater and museums, watching sports and movies and TV, reading a bit, appreciating art, learning, even if no longer in an academic way, traveling, trying a variety of restaurants, etc.--and that give me, perhaps, a grounding, nourishment and emotional sustenance.

It may sound trite, but I really believe art is our salvation, and being able to embrace Springsteen or Sondheim or Picasso, etc., etc., etc., as deeply as I do is probably what keeps me happy, and perhaps even sane and alive.

Without it seems, other overt forms of self-medication? 
Well, I obviously eat too much, and I'm sure there's some sort of psychological bandage at play there, so in no way do I purport that I'm doing things better than anyone else. Probably worse. But I likely consume fewer than 10 alcoholic drinks in a given year and never touch recreational drugs. And without meaning to convey any negativity about these things, the strength and support many seem to find through religion, psychiatry, etc., so far for me have been sufficiently supplied by rock 'n roll, theater, art, etc. And of course, the love and support of family and friends. My outlook would certainly not be as psychologically or philosophically bright without some key people in my life, most especially my mom.

What would be your advice in regards to maintaining a healthy outlook? 
Try your best to avoid comparison, envy, judgment and anger. There will always be people doing better than you, and others struggling far worse. And always believe that you're special, just not any more so than anyone else.

How are you feeling physically at 48?
Day-to-day, very well, at least as opposed to illness, again, knock on wood. I've been working at a job for the last 6 months and haven't missed a day of work. In my adult life, I've never spent a day in the hospital. But without wanting to get too specific, I'm on a variety of medications to essentially combat being overweight, and I'm not oblivious to the risks I've engendered. My heart is still supposedly in good shape, thankfully, but I'm aware I'm at an age when people start having heart attacks.

So why don't you lose weight?
My doctor would tell you I don't have a good answer for that, just excuses. Such as that I don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs, etc., so damn if I'm giving up cheeseburgers.

Clearly I know that it would be beneficial from a health standpoint, in reducing prescription costs and even theoretically in helping to meet women (or at least feeling more confident about it). But I don't particularly enjoy exercising, nor depriving myself of foods that I favor, and excepting the repercussions, being fat doesn't make me acutely unhappy.

How are you going to celebrate your birthday?
As silly as it sounds in juxtaposition, undoubtedly with some good meals. Yesterday a friend at work took me to a good lunch. Last night I had dinner with my mom, sister Allison and some good family friends. Tonight I'm going to the wedding of a close friend's son. My friend Paolo is taking me to the Cubs playoff game tomorrow, then I'll have another dinner with mom and Allison Monday. Plus likely other meals with co-workers and friends. And I tend to treat myself pretty well. So even though there won't be any kind of party, or even a Movie Night, which I've hosted in previous years but have postponed in deference to the Cubs, there shouldn't be a shortage of merriment.

That was quite some game the other night, huh?
I probably shouldn't admit this--or even have asked about it--for fear of excommunication from Kingdom Cub, but I fell asleep before the 9th inning on Tuesday night. It certainly wasn't looking good for Cubs and after staying up most--but not all--of the way on Monday night, I was really tired, plus I had begun fasting for Yom Kippur (despite not being particularly observant) so I was a bit hungry too.

So around the 8th inning, I conked out, but while thinking how cool it would be to wake and learn the Cubs had miraculously won. And that's exactly what happened, actually around 2:30am. So though I felt sheepish to have missed it, it nonetheless felt pretty terrific.

So have you been praying for the Cubs?
No. Although I was raised Jewish and have respect for my heritage--hence the Yom Kippur fasting, and family dinners on holidays--I'm not religious, and any "belief" in a higher power feels more like superstition than faith. So I don't really pray in any officious way, and when I do, let's say, ask for help from above, it's about life and death matters. Recently, I did so about two close relatives facing health challenges, and things turned out well (knock on wood). That's far more important than baseball outcomes, so the Cubs will have to be on their own.

And what about the upcoming election?
Again, not for me a reason for prayer, but I'm certainly hoping Hillary wins, and expect her to. Which normally wouldn't be cause for great jubilation, but under the circumstances...

Are you concerned about the state of America right now?
Yes and no. I don't think it's possible to know that a sizable percentage of Americans will be casting a vote for Donald Trump to be our president, and not be greatly concerned for what that means about the principles of equality, respect, tolerance, etc. And believe me, I don't see Hillary as a savior, and have been disappointed with what Obama was able to get done. The crushing of the middle class while Wall Street ran criminally unchecked is what has led not only to Bernie Sanders--who I supported--but Donald Trump.

But instead of taking the professorial approach like Bernie, which can't work because concepts like financial derivatives and credit default swaps and other triggers for the financial meltdown from which we've never really recovered are too hard for most to grasp--though I really suggest everyone read The Big Short, and also Flash Boys, also by Michael Lewis--Trump just points at scapegoats. The historical precedent is obviously chilling.

Still, much as when you watch a newscast and largely see bad news, but not day-to-day stories of teachers inspiring kids or doctors working miracles or even just friends chatting over lunch, I believe it's possible to be realistic, pessimistic and optimistic all at the same time. Savor the good, try to fix the bad.

What about personally? What's your outlook look like?
It's not impossible to believe I could land a new job--at least another temporary one--in a few weeks, but also not inconceivable that I could be without income for quite some time. I may never get another full-time, career-advancing job.

But even with my current one slated to end, because the work I was hired to help with is slowing down, I was told that I did excellent work, they liked having me around, they will miss me and wish they could keep me. And colleagues are even trying to help position me for another possible role with the company.

So even though the situation might seem distressing, it actually makes me feel pretty good about myself.

What are you proudest about through your first 48 years of life?
That I have great relationships with my family. That I've had the same best friend since the first day of kindergarten. That I have a good handful of other great friends, including some made in fairly recent years. That I have passions that enrich my life, and which I try to share. That I've traveled extensively. That I amuse myself.

Just for the record, where have you traveled?
Most major U.S. cities and many European capitals, some National Parks, Australia, Rio, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Israel and Egypt. A nice photographic retrospective can be seen here.

I've been to every current Major League ballpark except the one in Tampa (and soon Atlanta), more than 150 art museums, dozens of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses, some of the best restaurants in the world. 

What's on your bucket list?
Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal. I'm hoping to get to Cuba fairly soon. I'd like to explore much of the Far East, which I haven't to date. And Colmar, France has caught my fancy, perhaps paired with Basel, Switzerland.

You seem to have many cultural interests; why is that important to you?
Put simply, I think exploring, witnessing, experiencing and appreciating greatness gives me purpose in life, and as I noted before, sustenance. And a reason to write this blog, which I enjoy.

What do you recommend these days?
I recently got to see Hamilton for the first time, and can't recommend it enough. But to get what you should out of it, I think you need to put some time into it. Listen to the cast recording, read the lyrics, check out some reviews, interviews with the show's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and feature articles. Understand some of the history the show contains, before you get to the theater. Because while there is nothing like live theater, I think 75% of the brilliance of Hamilton can be appreciated without having to get yourself a ticket, which can obviously be quite difficult and/or expensive.

What are you reading, watching, etc.
I recently signed up for Hulu in order to see Ron Howard's documentary on the Beatles, Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, which was fun though not really all that revelatory.

But having Hulu let me watch the 11.22.63 mini-series (8 episodes) based on the Stephen King book about a guy who goes back in time to try to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. I enjoyed it, but probably because I had read the book some years ago. I'm currently reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born to Run. I've written here often about Harlan Coben, my favorite contemporary author, and enjoyed his latest, Home, though wouldn't suggest starting there. And of course, I'm watching the Cubs. 

How do you afford to go to so many events?
MasterCard. But though I do spend a good bit on spectator events, it's less than it may seem. Most theater I go to these days is either part of a subscription costing me around $25 per show, or complimentary as some theaters have been inviting me to Press Nights. Concerts aren't cheap, but I usually go for the cheapest ticket available--often under face on the aftermarket--and whenever possible, don't pay for parking (such as at the United Center, where I park on the street). I have a relatively low mortgage and property taxes, no car loan--I have 157,000 miles on my 2005 Dodge Stratus and hope it lasts another 50K miles--and, of course, I don't have to pay for orthodontists or school clothes or expenses others may have.

What makes this a happy birthday?
All of the above, everyone who may be reading this--even those I don't know personally--and the possibilities of what's to come. 

Any closing thoughts for me?
My three favorite abiding principles:

1, by Monty Python: "Always look on the bright side of life."

2, by my hero, Bruce Springsteen, from the song Badlands, "Badlands, you gotta live it every day, let the broken hearts stand as the price you've gotta pay, we'll keep pushin' till it's understood and these badlands start treating us good."


3, by me, or in this case, you: "If it won't matter tomorrow, it don't matter today." In other words, don't get pissed at traffic jams or other minor annoyances; I think you'll be happier for it.

Thanks again, Seth

Sure, no problem.

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