My day job involves a lot of sitting at a computer, wearing headphones and performing monotonous tasks. In fact, it involves nothing but these things.
When I just can’t take it any more, I like to go for a quick walk to Technomall’s small bookstore. There, I can awaken a few different areas of my brain as I process the new books that interest me, relish the prose of good writers and laugh inwardly at the cheap tack by the crap ones (until I feel guilty, because while I might think ill of these writers, it’s a certainty that someone out there who reads this will mock me mercilessly for it).
Usually I stick to the fiction section, with its stock of prizewinners and the cream of Indian literature in English. Today, however, I stumbled upon a section I’ve always avoided in bookshops: the self-help (or ‘personality development’) section. I mean, I read David Cain because he is actually kind of inspiring and not force-fed down your throat, but I’ve never felt a need to consume chicken soup for the soul, or to read one guy tell all about the differences between rich dads and poor dads like it’s some big secret. Speaking of which, I’ve sure as hell never been interested in The Secret.
But there are so many of these books.
I looked closer at the bookcase, but became steadily more uncomfortable as I contemplated this particular book’s title.
One minute had been enough. Those monotonous tasks weren’t so bad after all. I returned to the office, inspired back to work in a new and unsettling way.
(For the record, Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ gives value and meaning to this entire genre. Have you been inspired or helped to see things in a different way by a self-help book?)
David Cain is the author of Raptitude.com, a blog about ‘getting better at being human’. His posts are a combination of truths he feels he has discovered about the nature of humanity, and/or the world, and experiments he undertakes – and their outcomes – in trying to improve his skillset for life.
He also wrote a travel diary about his experiences travelling in New Zealand which is here. The photos in the post were taken by David in NZ.
I discovered Raptitude.com at a particularly low point in my life and while I wouldn’t give David all the credit for turning it around, his well-composed, clear and unpretentious words provided me with plenty of inspiration. He himself has experienced darkness and appears to write from a deep yet continually developing understanding gained through those dark times, and is dedicating his greatest efforts to something as simple and meaningful as sharing what he knows.
David’s following grows daily into the high tens of thousands, but he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Why did you start blogging, and why do you keep blogging?
I was a fan of Steve Pavlina’s blog for a long time, and one day I read a post in his archives about his favorite blogs. One of them was Problogger.net, which I hadn’t heard of at the time. I visited, read a few of the posts and a few of the comments, and realized there was a whole culture of blogging out there, with its own history and social structure. It wasn’t unlike the music scene; there were up-and-comers, has-beens, wannabes, hacks, big shots and legends. Everyone was doing their own thing, and talking about what others were doing. I wanted to be part of that. So I got started.
I keep blogging because I love doing it, and I feel like I have something to say that can help people create more ease in their lives. Another side-effect of writing is that it helps me clarify my thoughts and beliefs, because I have to finally put them into words. I am now too accustomed to this to stop.
Do you keep a personal journal/diary as well as your blog? If so, how much is one an extension of the other?
No I don’t keep a journal. I have tried, but every time I do I think, “Who’s going to read this? Not me.”
What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Every year we had to write short stories in grade school. It was one of the few parts of school I loved.
Describe something that is beautiful to you.
The surf at sunrise. I really need to move closer to the ocean.
What were the circumstances in which you first came to read Ralph Waldo Emerson?
Good question… I came across a quote of his, in the Crypto-Quote puzzle in the newspaper I think. I forgot about him but remember being amused that his middle name was “Waldo.” I pictured Waldo from “Where’s Waldo.” Later on I was reading a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who mentioned Henry David Thoreau. I read a bit of Thoreau and soon learned that Emerson had been his mentor. I finally looked up Emerson, found his essay, “Self-Reliance” online, and loved it.
How much of an effect has travelling had on your belief system(s)?
I think it has left me with fewer beliefs… fewer foregone conclusions about people. It’s left me more curious, more open, more forgiving and more grateful. It has also rearranged my priorities in life. I now feel it is very important for me to travel a lot, which means I can’t settle for a typical 9-5 lifestyle for long. I can’t be happy with two weeks’ vacation a year. Or even four or eight. I need to see the world in a big way, and I’m not waiting for another lifetime to do it in.
You frequently discuss the effect of habit (and addiction) on today’s society. How large a role does habit-forming play in your life now?
Well I’m currently doing an experiment where I’m trying to install five little habits at once, and it’s going well so far. Habit change is hard and I’m not particularly good at it. I have never had terrible habits that I was desperate to change, which means I have never developed a lot of strong habit-changing skills. But I am always working on something, and when I look back I see I have made a lot of progress.
Habits and addictions are by far the greatest determinants of a person’s quality of life, so I will never stop working on them.
Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?
Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.
I would like to visit France, and I’d like to visit Thailand again.
Do you believe in God?
Tricky question. My answer is no, but that doesn’t mean I think God doesn’t exist. I just think the conventional concept of God — the God as characterized by churches — is way out to lunch, like not even close to meaningful, and I don’t think there’s any merit to it. The idea that God has emotions or desires, or resembles a person or a thinking mind in any way strikes me as completely asinine.
So when people ask me that question I say no. What the word God means to me is not something I can explain fully here, but let’s say it has something to do with a higher intelligence that human beings can have access to, yet are habitually oblivious to. Beliefs, more than anything, are what get in the way. So believing in God doesn’t make sense to me. Once it’s a belief — a mental image or a mental position — it’s not God.
Clearly there is some order behind the universe that we don’t yet fully understand. Even hard-minded empiricists must agree with that. God, to me, is that order, or is an aspect of that order. It seems to be intelligent. Einstein would agree.
This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click the category tag in the ‘By Category’ section at the top right of this page.