One final question

Man: (refreshes his glass of Midleton) So, before you kill me, how did you find me?
Two strangers: (look at each other with puzzled expressions)
Man: I changed my identity ages ago. I went off the grid. Were you clicking through old bookmarks from days? Do you even remember that “last updated” feed they had? I’m still friends with people I found that way. That was the best.
Man: Or was it a random social media link?
Man: Or something more sinister?
First stranger: I did a search for facts about the grunion, actually.
Second stranger: Names for electric cars, here.
Man: (takes sip, says nothing).
Man: Ah.

They sit that way for a very long time. The strangers glance at the bottle of Midleton now and then, but the man ignores them. They will be drinking this soon enough, he thinks, when I am dead.

First stranger: Actually, we’re not actually here to kill you.
Second stranger: No.
Man: Ah.
Man: (Pours himself a fresh glass, and puts the bottle away)
Man: (takes sip) Then you will be going soon, I imagine.
Two strangers: (Shrug, look at each other)
Man: Before you go, I want you to know one thing.
Man: All I want is for you to be happy.
Man: That’s all I want. But I realize that just saying it is useless.
Man: I mean, there used to be people who wanted only for me to be happy, and it had no effect. I disappointed them and myself. Happiness is an elusive target, anyway. I suppose what they wanted was for me to achieve a situation, a mental state and social/economic situation conducive to self-actualization and a condition of agency in life, and here I am, the same lost bobbing cork as always.
Man: But I am content.
Two strangers: (Give each other puzzled looks. One glances at the glass in the man’s hand)
Man: I am sitting in a garden, petting a cat and waiting for death. I have not achieved all I dreamed, but it no longer matters.
Man: All that matters is that you are happy. That you attain a state of agency and personal power. That you can speak of yourself with honesty. (Drinks the last of the whiskey, sets glass on table.)
First stranger: (Licks lips involuntarily)
Man: (Looks at the sky outside) Now I wonder if, when someone told me “all I want is for you to be happy,” they really meant “all I want is for you to have a life of your own and get out of my hair”.
Man: If, when they said, “Do anything you want,” they meant, “do something.”
Man: Hrm.
Man: (Notices the strangers have left)
Man: (Pets cat) (Drinks the last drops of liquid in the glass)
Man: (To cat) I wonder if that is what I meant.
Man: (Sighs, begins typing fresh story)

The secret of happiness: WWASPD?

Part of being happy is doing things that make you happy.

Part of being happy is avoiding doing things that make you unhappy. This second class of things include stupid things.

By definition.

Both of these skills can be helped with the WWASPD method.

Like yesterday. There is this guy. He is driving home and there is a bottleneck where the road from Vienna goes into the Vienna Woods. The road is lined with old homes and goes from two-lane to one-lane for a block. Each end of the bottleneck has an electric sign that lights up red when there is oncoming traffic.

The sign is black so the guy goes. He meets two oncoming cars. Either the sign is not working or they ran the red light.

But since there are several oncoming cars now, he backs up and lets them pass.

The sign is black so he goes.

He meets a big, fat Audi driven by a guy about 60 with a chihuahua. They stop and look at each other. There are no cars behind the Audi, but a line of cars quickly forms behind our guy. Two things are possible: the Audi ran a red or the light is broken.

They wait like this for a couple minutes. Then the Audi begins to honk.

Cars behind our guy honk back.

What Would A Smart Person Do? thinks the guy.

The situation is out of his hands, he realizes. He can relax. The problem will solve itself, somehow.

So he relaxes while the honking goes on. It’s a nice evening and in the distance the Vienna Woods are just beginning to change color.

Eventually the Audi driver gets out of his car. Our guy rolls down his window. The Audi driver yells at him. Our guy doesn’t even try to explain his theory about the light; he just says, I’m kinda boxed in here as you can see. You’ll have to talk to the guys behind me.

The Audi driver goes and yells at the other guys. They all seem to be, as our guy noticed earlier, burly young construction workers, and they yell back. The Audi driver eventually backs up and lets everyone pass.

And they all go on their way, happily, except for maybe the Audi driver.

The secret of happiness

There is this guy. His wife made roast beef.

The guy carved it, with the carving knife, slicing it as thinly as he could, and the family ate it.

The roast beef was really good. The guy’s wife was really good at cooking beef. Her steaks were also fantastic.

The next day, the guy looked at leftover roast beef in the fridge. It was beautiful. It had that brown-grey layer around the edge, and the healthy pink center.

It was really beautiful. He ate a slice, even though he had just eaten cereal for breakfat, and the roast beef was delicious.

It made him happy.

This is the secret of happiness, thought the guy: roast beef.

Roast beef is the secret of happiness.

His wife made him roast beef, and the roast beef made him happy. You cannot make someone happy directly. But you can make them roast beef, and the roast beef will make them happy.

Even now, a couple days later, he’s still happy.

That’s the secret.

If you’re a vegetarian, I’m sorry.

Don’t get off the boat, now with a 30% chance of cutesy alliteration

It was a weird, warm, wasted winter day, quiet in an eye-of-the-storm way and Odin sat on the bench, unfocused and confused — he had just called his wife and she had complained about confusion and lack of focus, too — sort of a postapocalyptic, full-moon feeling – and unpacked the curry chicken sandwich.

The crows were already waiting. Odin could see Huginn and when he tossed him a piece of the sandwich, Muninn swooped down, landing behind the bench and Odin gave him a piece. The third crow must have been waiting too, out of sight, because it showed up seconds after that.

In just a jiffy, everyone was eating.

Odin also had some cashew nuts and cranberries in a mylar bag.

I don’t know. Quiet isn’t the right word. More like, timeless. Some days life hurries you along, but on days like this, it’s like the temporal axis has just fallen off the graph completely.

Bare branches are black against bright grey sky.

This particular universe has been behaving oddly.

Like: Odin writes in his journal about the fact that there is actually only one day in all of time, and we just keep on repeating it, just with changed hopes and regrets; and then that same evening he visits a friend and they watch Groundhog Day.

Or, Odin writes in his journal about how everything is okay, and his friend sends him a link to a button online labeled “Make Everything OK” that you press, then there’s a loading bar, then it announces that everything has been made okay.

Or, Odin is waiting for a bus and a woman asks him something about the bus, and instead of waning, their conversation grows and is interesting and when the bus comes, after half an hour, it is too soon and the woman, who is a painter visiting town from Frankfurt to look at the Lucien Freud exhibition, gives Odin a catalog of her last exhibition saying, I brought this along in case I met anyone I wanted to give it to, and I’d like you to have it.

Sometimes things just go really right, sometimes, if you let them, Odin thinks.

So, Odin is trying to figure out why, when his wife asked him if he loved his life, he almost burst into tears.

Odin loves life, and he loves many of these universes, but don’t ask him if he loves his life unless you have the time.

In fact, don’t ask him.

In fact, it reminds Odin of Apocalypse Now, when they get off the boat and a tiger attacks them in the jungle and the guy hollers, Don’t get off the boat.

What say the slain?

Same as always.

What say the hanged?

He owed me money.

He threatened me.

I didn’t even see him.

I thought he was a wild animal.



Luwak epiphany


Photo by Bruce

I was at the doctor yesterday and she asked me how I was mood-wise cause a medication she prescribed can cause suicidal depression. I had totally forgotten. I thought it was the fog and general greyishness. Overall not so bad, though, I said. Actually, really great, I think now. My kids ate dinner with me and it was fun talking to them. The cats were freaky when I got home because my wife is away on a business trip and they were alone all day. This morning I was carrying one around and she stuck her tail into my coffee and I had to decide whether to make a new cup or just drink it. Making a fresh cup would have taken 30 seconds and I didn’t want to wait that long so I just pretended it was Luwak coffee. Then that, in combination with everything else, triggered an epiphany, which I sort of described in a post at

Writing blog posts is a lot of fun. Sometimes I am really happy with what I end up with, despite or because of the randomness and accidentiality of them. I am trying to write a novel right now, yet again, and am trying to figure out how to translate blog-type writing into a novel.

A whole bunch of short chapters, I guess.



I don’t want to jinx anything, but I have been somewhat happy lately. The German word for happiness is the same as that for luck: Glück. That feels right.

Not sure why. Maybe I’m sleeping better.

Maybe it’s the phase of the moon. Austrians are strongly affected by lunar phases. The moon is currently full, and the road to work was full of crazy asshats this morning. Either the full moon turns about 25% of Austrians into really bad drivers, or it makes me cranky, impatient and hypercritical.

I think it’s sleep, though. I have a phobia of going senile. After observing the process in two relatives, I have the feeling that there are aspects of the onset of senility that one notices about oneself and either accepts or denies, and there are (and this is maybe worse) aspects that one does not perceive. And I have noticed myself forgetting words and names. I tell myself that I have done this all my life and it is just the fact that I am 50 that I connect it with senile dementia, but one still worries. And I did get all flustered at the music store recently and buy a stack of sheet music that I had eliminated, and neglected to buy the notes I wanted, and had to go back the next day and exchange, but that can happen to anyone, right?

And now that I am sleeping, I feel less confused. So there’s that. And there is also the thought that maybe part of my problem is that I’m surrounded by so many sharp people. There are all you smart people reading this. There are all my smart friends. Many of you belong to both groups, of course. There are the women in my family who have been kicking ass lately. Gamma, who turns 13 in a few days, was at the doctor recently for a checkup with her sister and her mother, where the following conversation ensued:

Doctor: Und was hast du für Beschwerden, Gamma? (What complaints (symptoms) do you have, Gamma?)

Gamma: Ich kriege viel zu wenig Taschengeld! (My allowance is way too low!)

Anyhow. Maybe I need to watch Fox News for awhile until I start feeling smarter.

50 things I failed to do before turning 50

I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish before turning 50. In no particular order, here it is, as near as I can recall. Contrary to the title of this post, some of them I actually accomplished. See the footnotes for more details.

  1. Fix the silicone caulking in the kitchen.1
  2. Sand and paint the fence.2
  3. Fix the downstairs doors so they don’t drag along the floor.3
  4. Start drawing Bug comix again.4
  5. Compose something for a string quartet for some kids.5
  6. Figure out my electric cello.6
  7. Get an amp for it.7
  8. Compose a percussion piece to be played by slapping spatulas on Dame Helen Mirren’s naked body.8
  9. Publish a book.9
  10. Publish a story.10
  11. Submit stories, at least.11
  12. Make a list of potential places to submit stories.12
  13. Write a list of 50 things I want to do before I am 50.13
  14. Lalalalala. No one reads these lists past 10, amirite?14
  15. Learn to paint.15
  16. Build a treehouse.16
  17. Learn to fly.17
  18. Learn to ride a motorcycle.18
  19. Learn to speak Chinese.19
  20. Climb Mt. Everest.20
  21. Acquire as many crossbows as a man needs.21
  22. Zombie sword. Zombie sword.22
  23. Lose 15 kg.23
  24. Learn ballroom dancing.24
  25. Learn wine basics.25
  26. Communicate with my father.26
  27. Make up with my wife.27
  28. Establish career as nude photographer.28
  29. Learn to bake bagels.29
  30. Learn to bake sourdough bread.30
  31. Drive across the USA.31
  32. Take the Trans-Siberian railroad.32
  33. Learn to scuba dive.33
  34. Learn to throw a knife.34
  35. Quit smoking.35
  36. Stop being depressed.36
  37. Overcome shyness.37
  38. Prostate exam.38
  39. Learn cello.39
  40. Learn basic electronics.40
  41. Throw a party for my friends.41
  42. Learn the art of invisibility.42
  43. Get rid of a bunch of junk.43
  44. Get the yard looking good.44
  45. Get a tortoise tattoo.45
  46. Make a few good friends.46
  47. Give away all my junk and move to a Zen monastery where they happen to teach you badass fighting skills, too.47
  48. Work from home.48
  49. Invent something clever.49
  50. Be illuminated.50

2fail, so far this year, although in my defense i have been waiting for warmer weather. will get it done this summer.
3fail, as last weekend’s houseguests can testify.
4fail. although i have been noting ideas.
5started to do this, but it was rejected as too difficult to play. it was minimalistic, with long stretches of repetition, and would have been too hard for the kids to keep track. instead, they composed a piece themselves, which is even cooler.
6am starting to do this. will be easier, i suppose, when i have an amp.
7working on this. many friends gave money towards this at my party, and I’m going shopping with a musician friend this saturday. some friends actually gave me a small, old guitar amp at the party as a joke. i tried it out this morning and despite its size, it cranks. but don’t tell alpha i already have an amp, or she wouldn’t appreciate me getting one suitably large.
8working on it. although i have the impression that the composition would be the easy part of  this project, and getting dame helen to go along with it would be more difficult, with her busy schedule.
9to do this one must write one first, which i was working on, although i recently took a break to write some short stories.
10working on this. strictly speaking, i have actually published stories, but that was many years ago.
11i’m submitting stories every week. so, not fail.
13working on it. this is a pain in the ass, though. any list i write is bound to be arbitrary. maybe i’ll reserve the right to change it as necessary.
14wow, you’re even reading the footnotes! respect!
15i have painted abstract paintings i and/or others like, but it’s more a therapeutic, mystical process at the moment than an artistic one. looking over another 50 list i just found, i see another version: “paint enough pictures to have an exhibition, whether or not i actually ever have an exhibition.” this would be a nice goal, actually, and i even know a great cellar to have an exhibition in, although the light is not so great, being underground and stuff.
16acrophobia and the lack of big trees made this impossible as a kid. although i have overcome acrophobia, a lack of big trees continues to vex me.
17won a flying lesson at the age of 11 in a contest of some kind and have liked the idea of flying since then. no time, though.
18fail. i decided it would be too dangerous.
19fail, or, if you accept a substitution of rudimentary japanese for chinese, success.
20fail, unless you accept a substitution of walking up mt. fuji.
21success, if you belong to the “a man needs zero crossbows” camp.
22fail, although this is a non-negotiable must. a H&K  repeating shotgun would also be swell, but i accept certain persons’ antipathy to firearms. also, it’s not like i really have any need for such a thing. it’s more an object to be admired theoretically, or from afar, like helen mirren.
23working on it
24working on it
25fail. switched to single malt for a while, because there was less competition. that is, fewer people could wax rhapsodic about whiskey than about wine. simply saying, hrm, iodine aftertaste, must be an islay and you were an expert, as long as you avoided actual experts.
26fail, for the most part. we were on good terms when he died, we were always on good terms, he was patient with me, but i have this feeling that i let him down without meaning to.
27this currently looks like success. no doubt the purely academic nature of goal #8 helps.
28fail. this was a boyhood goal, fueled less by aesthetic interests than you know.
29success. still perfecting them though.
30fail, but have not given up hope.
31fail, so far.
32success. 1986, i think. highly recommend it, if you don’t mind the idea of sitting in a train for 2 weeks. once would be enough for me, though.
34fail. have tried this, and learned that it’s harder than it looks. finding a place to practice is also harder than one would imagine.
36have been lucky in this regard lately. exercise helps. still sufficiently melancholy, but have not experienced extended uncontrollable depression for a long time. brief depression while exhausted or stressed, yes, but it has passed rapidly, lately.
37success. i made a speech at my birthday party. i am not going to start selling encyclopedias door-to-door any time soon, but i stood in front of 50 people, okay, friends but still, the idea would have filled me with terror recently, and told them what i thought of them. i told myself this was necessary given the occasion, so no one had to twist my arm. it really made me happy. i got choked up and had to stop before i’d said everything i planned, but it sufficed; and it was probably good that i didn’t sing “kilkelly, ireland” as i had briefly considered. knowing when to quit is half the battle. i subscribe to the opinion that it is a good thing to tell people what you think of them sometimes, at least if it is positive, and i appreciated having the chance to do this. looking at a roomful of people who had accepted my invitation and come, i was surprised to realize i had so many kind and thoughtful friends. i have been perceiving the world differently in the days since then, and not only because i’m fucking exhausted from 1. the partying and 2. cleaning (although the guests were extremely clean and well-behaved).
38really should make an appt. it’s been a couple years.
39working on it. here too, i’ve surprised myself by sticking to it, although i would suck less if i practiced more.
40fail, electronophobia. although a book i recently bought about hacking electric objects to make simple instruments is motivating me to pick up a soldering iron. i showed it to a friend who knows the vegetable orchestra, and she told me they have the same book and have been experimenting with it. that’s how cool i am!
41success. about 60 people came. my only regret was that i didn’t have enough time to spend more time hanging out with each person.
42fail, mostly. except in restaurants and with taxis. man, i get my money’s worth out of that joke, don’t i? but it’s true. however, i generally don’t feel the need to be invisible as much as i once did, which i think is a good thing.
43working on it.
44working on it, although i’m trying to train it to look good with a minimum of labor on my part. did put in a nice little vegetable garden this summer. if it works i’ll make a larger one next year.
45maybe some day.
46way exceeded this one, despite my rotten character. people are basically beautiful, and intelligent, and funny and talented, and they all like me. or are really good at faking it. i used to suspect the latter, but i’m getting over that.
47outgrew this one, i think
48have managed to avoid this so far. there are some serious pros and cons to this.
49This would be the Chaos Coefficient, if you ask me. As well as the idea that efficiency is good for individuals but bad for societies, in certain ways. C=(f+p)f is the formula for the chaos coefficient, where “f” is the number of family members living under your roof, and “p” is the number of pets you have. It is an approximate measure of the average chaos level you can expect in your life.
50i was super illuminated in the night of 8 may, because i had a sore back and took some muscle relaxant, expecting to go to bed early, but friends dropped in and one thing led to another and i felt awful just giving them one beer, but i was out, so i got out the jameson, and as they say on the warning label, do not mix with muscle relaxants. i was so relaxed that when my wife came out to the terrace to say hi, she thought i was my friend and gave me a hug and said welcome back to austria, nice to see you again. of course, the friend shares birthdays with me so we’re practically twins. and when i stood up, i fell right back down again, although i adjusted quickly. so illumination has its pros and cons, too.