The Kiss of Lust

I went to the bathroom this morning to take a shit and I had a choice of two pieces of reading material. “Icons of Photography” and “Cosmopolitan”. I chose “Cosmopolitan” because it promised to teach me “the kiss of lust” technique. Because even if you have fame, sex, money, and power, you can’t really be happy unless you also know the “kiss of lust”.

(Linda Evangelista, photographed by Helmut Newton, who is featured in Icons of Photography)

Which, of course, reminds me of my youth.

I was miserable in my 20s because I had written four novels over the course of three years and I couldn’t get any of them published. I probably had over 100 rejection letters. I should have “kiss of lusted” a publisher.

I thought I would be happy if I got a job at HBO. I was so happy when they made the offer. And the amount! I couldn’t believe how big an amount they would pay me. They asked what my salary was at my old job. I said $38k when it was actually $26k. I lied. But they offered me $40k. Score! I was RICH! But then…

I was miserable. The commute from my parents home in NJ was 90 minutes each way. One day, walking from Port Authority, the woman standing right next to me was run over and killed by a cab. I wasn’t qualified to do anything at work even though I had been a programmer for years. They had to send me to a remedial school and everyone knew that I was functionally incompetent at what I was hired to do. I had no girlfriend.

I would put my phone number on two dollar bills I would leave for waitresses as tips and ask them to call me. None did. And the work was super boring.  So then…

I thought I would be happy when HBO let me do the website I wanted to do: interviewing people at three in the morning on Tuesday or Wednesday nights. If you were out at 3am on one of those nights chances are you were a prostitute, a drug dealer, a homeless kid, a drug addict, mentally ill, a john, or all of the above. I know this because I interviewed you then! And then I might’ve dated you! For three years. What fun! But then…

(some of my interviews from the HBO 3am website)

I wanted to do it as a TV show. I couldn’t be happy unless 3am was a TV show. So finally they accepted my pitch and gave me money to shoot it as a pilot. But now I was very unhappy. I didn’t know what to shoot to make it exciting as a pilot. The girl helping me said, “don’t you ever get happy? You should be celebrating right now!” But…

HBO liked my first shoot so I was happy again after hours of shooting and in the editing room. I shot prostitutes and drug dealers waiting for the bus on Riker’s island. In another segment I mic-ed up a male prostitute. In another segment I had homeless kids fighting in Tompkins Square Park at three in the morning. But then Sheila Nevins at HBO didn’t like some of the other segments. So I was unhappy again.

And then, after three years, I was tired of doing it as a website. I was doing websites for many entertainment companies. I was getting tired of it all. So I got an offer from someone to buy my company. I was happy again. But then it took six months to close the deal. I was unhappy the entire time. Miserable. My company was going to go broke unless the deal closed. But then it closed and I felt for the first time in my life like I had money in the bank. I was happy.

(a kiss sometimes makes me temporarily happy)

And then, as I’ve recounted before, I lost all my money. I was so unhappy I was suicidal. I lost my house. People who used to point to me and say, “this guy is MONEY” would no longer return my phone calls. I would look at my 2 year old baby and wonder if she would remember me if I killed myself. Better if she didn’t, I thought.

I could keep going. It’s like when someone wakes up and says, “I have to tell you my dream”. It’s boring. I could go on and on detailing my unhappiness.

Fame, sex, money, power. At different points I felt like I had it all. Sometimes even all at the same time. When I wanted it, I was unhappy. And when I was coming down from any of it I was unhappy.

Sometimes people say, “It’s the journey, dude!” I had to add “dude” there. It is so not the journey. I hate the journey. The journey is the worst part. Here are aspects of the journey: fear of failing, things mess up and you have to fix them, money dwindling with no predictable outcome, rejection rejection rejection until (maybe) acceptance, and so on. Cheating. Stealing. Worse: People laughing. The journey sucks.

So then others say, “its that feeling of crossing the finish line”. Yeah, but that only lasts a second. And then you want more, or you have less than you thought, or you got the trophy but you have no place to put it, or you fall over and now they have to shoot you.

Here’s the paradox. If you give up the goals of fame, money, sex, power…then what happens? Do you disappear. Do you lounge around all day watching soap operas until finally you check into the homeless shelter and the soup kitchen? That doesn’t seem very good either.

But I have a top secret technique. You can’t tell anyone. And it’s corny so if you hate corny stuff, please, I beg you, stop reading. I even put a photo right here so you can stop before you scroll further.

(was Consciousness around before the Big Bang?)

I call it “The Visitor”. The Visitor was created in the Big Bang, 15 billion years ago, give or take 700 million years. The Visitor might’ve even been around before then. He’s just visiting. Because we have this undefinable quality called consciousness that nobody has ever been able to measure or study, my theory is that a small piece of The Visitor is inside each of us. That’s our consciousness. That’s us. But we forget that, combined all together, we are also The Visitor.

Sometimes I say, “ok, it’s all yours” to The Visitor. And then he takes over. And if I forget. If I try to use my tiny mind to control the universe to get more fame, sex, power, or money, I remember that The Visitor knows more than me. He’s happy to take over. He laughs and says, your puny mind is just a test tube. I’m THE VISITOR!

Sit  back, he says, let me take this one. You won’t regret it.

So I surrender. He can take over my body for that second, or moment, or if I’m lucky, for the whole damn day.

Because he’s never failed me. In my worst moments it’s as if he wakes up, looks around and says, “ok, I’m back here again. I know what to do in this situation.” And he does what needs to be done that second. With his 15 billions years experience and brain as big as a galaxy he doesn’t worry, he doesn’t fear, he doesn’t get angry. He knows what to do that very second. So he takes over.

And then if I’m luck he/she/it teaches me the Kiss of Lust. And that makes me happy.

  • zzz

    Journey sucks – fk yes, but I wouldn’t mind being miserable with $50MM in the bank

    • Money definitely will solve your money problems (for awhile). But they won’t solve all your problems. 

      • Otaddy

        And we see examples of this daily.  Just look at all of the celebrities and their problems.  Desperately fighting to stay young, to stay relevant, to prove to others that they are charitable.  

        So we can easily see that fame and fortune aren’t the magical keys to peace and happiness.  

        They do get one huge benefit:  They can say that they made it.  Others, like me, get told:  “If you are so smart, then how come you aren’t rich?”  Luckily for me, I don’t get invited to any cool parties so that question doesn’t come up often.

        So, yes, the journey sucks, but only because the goodness is hidden by all of the phoniness, bad thoughts, and petty distractions.

  • Read the whole post twice over, and I still don’t understand The Visitor and the Kiss of Lust. Can you please elaborate a little more fr inferior minds like mine? Thanks!

    •  sometimes you have to know when and how to surrender.

      • Maybe I have never surrendered, and that’s why I don’t know who to surrender to, or how to surrender. This is too much mumjo-jumbo for me. Any book suggestions you can make on this instead?

        •  No. Just try it when you wake up tomorrow. The first thing you think is, “ok, where am I now.” and you are not you, but sent to help Prat Agarwal with all his issues for that day or moment. Oh, and you are 15 billion years old, so you dont really care that much.

  • Nick

    I prefer to call the Visitor “The Powers That Be.” To refer to everything outside of myself that I can’t control.

    So, you’d trust The Powers That Be even if the flaws in your character included inertia, an inability to focus, and an inability to execute a business plan with any confidence?

    • Yes. They take over and know what to do. If a fear pops up, thats me trying to break in. But the powers that be no better so I need to keep quiet. And it’s in my own silence that they are allowed to work. 

      •  One thiing I would add to your statement, Nick, is when you say “everything outside of [yourself]”. When you “You” being and “everything outside” starts? Is it outside of your skin? Is it outside of your mind, or your emotions, or some stillness that everything “outside” floats across, measurable or not? We don’t really know.

      • Nick

        Thanks for replying. I guess what I’m saying is that, if I really took the pressure off myself, I would probably (a la Office Space) sit and do nothing. And it’s tough to see how that’s consistent with a successful, productive life, even if I’d probably be much happier.

  • I think I saw The Visitor as a cosmic entity in a Marvel comic years ago. Super intelligent, mostly disengaged and disinterested in the affairs of humans except at situations of dire cosmic peril. Interesting that he would deign occupy your body at times of your personal crisis.

    • I think you might be thinking of “Eternity” in marvel.

      I think of the Visitor as ALWAYS in my body. But I usually get in the way of it in my desperate but insane quest for fame, sex, money, power.

  • Efrain_M

    I wish mine would kick in right now. I’m in so much debt and looking for a job after being fired. I wanna cry. I can’t wait til this all over. THE VISITOR where are you????

    • He’s already knockingon the door. Invite him in and kick back for awhile. It’ll be a weight off your shoulders.

      • Efrain_M

        Yeah, I just think that of all the problems, money problems are one of the worst because you feel scared, guilty, ashamed. If I had no debt, I’d run across the United States right now. No joke. As the kids say, FML.

  • Chuck

    I took a lot of ecstacy and nitrous oxide once and in a millisecond I was flashed back in time to the beginning of time (startrek warpspeed-like) where everyone and everything was 1.
    This post reminds me of that.

  • I use quotes like “everything happens for a reason” to accept that I have no control of the universe :)

    Sometimes it even works!

    • Stupidpostabove

      Ummmm drive a nail into your hand with hammer. Then proceed to do the same to your other hand. If you don’t then you have passed the free will test.

  • POGO

    James – your writing has been exceptional lately.  Don’t know if you’re doing anything different but I look forward to receiving your emails!

  • Jontrader

    I don’t think you’re crazy. The Visitor really exists and it’s an entity called Life. Life uses evolution to survive. Every living being is a cell of Life. Life programmed each cell a certain death timer, as to provide a way for evolution to exists. (if we lived immortal, we would have no evolution) And the reason Life needs evolution is because without it it cannot survive on Earth. Earth has mass extinctions so the only way for this entity called Life to exist is to have their cells (humans, animals, plants, multicells, bacteria, viruses) be able to adapt to changing environments caused by mass extinctions. Thus this Visitor called Life has programmed our death on purpose. We are a puny cell meant to die, so Life has a bigger chance of survival.

  • James, I am fairly new to your blog, but I want you to know that I love what you write!  Thank you for bleeding here as often as you do…

  • It is the journey, James.  Indeed, the journey is all it is.  Destinations are an illusion.

    Fortunately all that negative stuff you listed as aspects are just superficial crap that got layered on.  They have no more to do with the journey than gum on the bottom of your shoe.  Pull out your sharpest knife, scrape ’em off, and be on your way.

  •  Wow, it’s crazy how we think we are in control yet we are far from it…surrendering to The Visitor , is always such a liberating feeling…mine I call God…notice how they both have the aaaaah sound.

    You should have named this post, “How To Surrender To The Kiss of Lust”. This is one of those, “just read in time” posts, thanks James.

  • Ana Calves89

    I’ve been reading the book “The Secret”, and this post reminded me of it…the universe thing…the not thinking…in bad stuff….just letting yourself go with the Universe/Life….

    • Ana Calves89

       the hardest part is letting yourself go…because its scary as hell and you just want the journey to end…i try to think like the song “shake it out” from Florence and the Machine – “it’s always darkest before the dawn”….and i try to “shake it out”….thought its “hard to dance with the devil on my back”.

  • This was a good read. You said more in a few paragraphs than when I read”The Secret”, which just cobbled together familiar works and turned into a cottage industry. 

    Does the Visitor know what’s going on in your head, or do you usually have to actually say “ok, it’s all yours”, and are you usually writing ideas out at the time? 

  • OMG, you believe in god!  I didn’t see that coming.

    • 7tse

      What does God mean to you, Vince? What is God? Who is God? Where is God? 

      When somebody says he/she believes in God, those who are not religious usually roll their eyes. But the thing is… both of these parties have a different definition of God. Trust me, I know. I used to be one of those eye-rollers. But only because I didn’t understand what God was. I thought of a gray-bearded fellow who lives somewhere in the clouds (or at least somewhere ”up there”). And no, I do not believe that there is a all powerful man-shaped God who judges us. Punishes us. Or whatever he’s suppose to do. When I’m praying, I’m not actually addressing my prayer to this man-shaped God. When I’m praying (i.e. saying mantras), I do it to calm my own mind. I feel very good after doing it. It’s not like I’m asking for something from this God-person. Even if I’m asking something, I guess I’m just throwing it in the air. To the universe, if you will. I’m not expecting anything, as it’s beyond my control. I just send it out there and.. whatever happens, happens. 

      But getting back to the definition of God. I take a buddhist/hindu view to this issue. God; for me, is everything. I am God. You are God. This computer and blog are God. Love is God. God is. 

      As I already said, I am not religious in a sense that I believe in some all-powerful God-like man. But I do believe that this life is a very small part of our entire existence. If you look at the animal kingdom. Or trees and plants. If the leaves turn yellow and ”die” in fall, do they really die? Or were they even born in the first place? Because after all, the leaves are back the next spring. It’s like that all over the planet and universe. Nothing is born and nothing dies. We, humans, are the same way. I’m not going into detail about what this world is all about (and that how our minds create it), but it all makes much more sense to me than science. After all, believing in science means as much as believing in man-shaped God. If you go back in time, not long ago people thought the Earth was the center of the universe. And that it was flat. That was science back then. And people who believed in it, thought that’s the way the world was. How wrong was that? 

      If you believe there is nothing besides this materialistic world. If you believe we only live once and after death there is nothing. Nothing at all survives (or is reborn), then… explain the big bang. How did the entire universe and life was born? How can something come out of nothing? If you believe in science, you know that energy is never created or lost – it is simply transformed (i.e. no birth, no death). So when energy is never created, how did this universe was born? How did something come out of nothing? If you do figure it out, let me know. I’d sure be glad to make a few billion dollars out of nothing. :)

      Yours truly, 
      God :)

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    Like the famous movie line goes “I have what she’s having!”

    Ok, I love all your stuff. This one was a bit of a stretch. I see where you’re going with it, though.

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      Oops, the line is “I’ll have what she’s having!”

  • Tenbobnote

     How wonderful it is to surrender! How could we ever be fulfilled by ourselves?? … You know what’s awesome; this visitor has a name, Jesus, and he loves you.

    James Altucher, I don’t know where you live but if you live around one of these stations, give it a listen.


  • Gonzalo Gandia

    And now you’ve done it, James…’twas only a matter time before we got a Jesus reference…

    • Bruisedbutnotbeaten

      Not sure, but I think that was Jame’s point….Jesus IS the answer… so are Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Zoroaster, and Confucius.  Take a step back…study the history. Man has made a conscious effort to find the “visitor” since day one. We are ALL part of that streaming consciousness….that collective of thought and being. When we label it….we restrict it. The visitor is much bigger than a religion, a title, or a name. WE are the visitor and the visitor is US. You may have heard the often quoted phrase “where two or more are gathered in my name, there shall I be also”….. wade through the inconsistencies, the diatribe, the tenants of the faith….and you will understand it IS the faith in a “visitor” that separates us from the ambiguity of life. I always laugh when I hear Christians bash Jews….Jesus was a Jew. We’d still be worshiping rocks if the Jews hadn’t come along and given us monotheism. The entire framework of the Constitution of the United States was framed by Thomas Jefferson…a man so opposed by organized religion it was almost comical in his day and time…however, the Constitution contains equitable concepts adopted by Jefferson from almost every major religion of his time…why… because it contains all those elements of the visitor and it works…so…  what is so bad about saying Jesus loves you? I’m glad he does. 

      • Gonzalo Gandia

        I have to disagree with you. I don’t get the same message from James’ post. I was brought up in a fundamentalist christian home. So I do have some perspective. I don’t think that James is equating the “Visitor” with any other man made deity. Jesus’ message is shrouded in a religion, and all the dogma that is involved with Christianity. The message of that religion is believe in him and go to heaven, if not, go to hell for eternity. If you are one of those folks that only see that as a sort of symbolism rather than literal truth, then this post does not pertain to you. My take away from this post is totally different from the message of religion in general. James will probably never admit to it, but he probably agrees with me. It would be foolhardy to alienate some of his readership when there is no necessity to do so. 

        I do agree with most of your post above, Bruise, so don’t get me wrong. There’s a subtle difference between what you think and what I think. But the difference is huge. I don’t need Jesus to love me, and once again, not the essence of James’ post…Please take this in good spirit, I hope my words don’t sound like I’m attacking you!

        • Bruisedbutnotbeaten

          Absolutely! No thought of an attack….religion is pointless if it divides…I agree with your points….I’m not suggesting James was insinuating the “Visitor” WAS Jesus…but, as it seems, to others, he is…hence the “Jesus, and he loves you” post….is just as correct as you or me, for THAT individual, and apparently, many others….not to pick fine points…you mentioned you were raised in a fundamentalist faith….I do know that not all Christians believe in either “J’s way or the highway”, hence the Reformation and many of today’s splintered Christian faiths. Personally, I am no fundamentalist. If you read behind the dogma, you’ll find so many inconsistencies that it really boils down to one premise…. Your faith is YOUR faith…and I think James clearly points out that as long as you believe in something greater than self, then it is OK…it certainly is with me…. 

  • murali

    Four great posts in a row, James. You are on a roll!

  • 7tse

    ‎”life is a meal and old age is the dessert. i spend so much of my time worrying about the future, you know? where’s my career going, who am i going to marry? but when you’re old, you don’t worry, ‘cos all that stuff’s already happened. plus you get to wear comfy shoes and a chair takes you and up down the stairs. it’s perfect.” -ted mosby (HIMYM)

    Sounds good to me! I hate the journey too!!

  • So…I would like to think that you’re saying that there is a God out there…

    •  if thats what stress relief and imaginary friends are.

  • Charlotte

    Your titles always lure me in James :) 

    I’m in a similar predicament as it seems you were. I worked really hard but lost my well-paid job –which I commuted for three hours a day for– because someone important took a dislike to me. Earlier that year I saw a man have a heart-attack at my terminal station and tried to help, but I think he died.

    Since then (six months ago) I’ve fallen deeper and deeper into depression to the point that even the slightest thing makes me cry and panic. I thought I’d be happy if I didn’t have to commute but I’m not. I feel out of control all the time, like there’s nothing I can do to make things better.

    I make a big deal out of small things and reading this I realise that because of the past year, I can’t let go and allow things happen to me. 

    I guess I don’t really have a point here, but your blog post struck a chord with me so I thought I’d just write and say that I think I kind of get where you’re coming from as a writer now a little more.   

    •  Charlotte, I think you do have a point in your note. It’s that the more you try to control the things around you, the harder it is. Imagine a juggler getting more and more balls thrown at him to juggle. Eventually its too much.

      I’m not saying all of these things are unimportant. But turning a concern into an anxiety is no good. Turning historical into hysterical is no good.

      Do what you can this second. Give up control of the things that are out of your control. And, if you want, its helpful to know that when you “give up” sometimes there was support you never realized was waiting all along to give to you.

      • Charlotteelizabethclark

        Thanks James, keep on writing it definitely makes a difference to me :)

  • Null

    James, you ruminate a lot, you may have pure OCD.

  • Arceupins

    Thought is anxiety. Silence is confidence. The Visitor is the connection between ourselves and the universe. By trusting The Visitor you surrender to the universe; letting go of those terrifying realities that existed only in your mind, and becoming closer to the one true reality. This is my interpretation.

    There is empirical evidence that people given only a single, irreversible choice between different positives will be happier than people given a single, /reversible/ choice between different positives.

    The first group doesn’t worry about whether they made the ‘best’ choice, because once their decision is made, it’s irreversible. The second group does worry about whether they made the ‘best’ choice, because the decision is perpetually reversible. Thus, they continue to hum and haw, forever unsure of whether they’ve made the right decision.

    In pondering ‘What if?’, people cede their ability to live from moment to moment, and their happiness with it.

    Check out this video, James, I think you’d really enjoy it: ‘Dan Gilbert asks: Why are we happy?’

  • Bruisedbutnotbeaten

    Dear “G-d”….I have studied Old and New Testament…Koran….even parts of the Torah..and who knows how much commentary and scholarly reviews. Religion is what separates man from the truth. I believe you, as a Jew….of “sorts”.. ;) …. have come to the same realization as I have. We are not alone, we are part of something bigger than any one of us. Yet, the more we seek, the more we are broken, the more we trust in what ever G-d is…the more mystery is revealed. I have no idea why I first read your column, but I do. Give me someone who has been to the top and was broken. Give me someone who can admit they were wrong, and wishes to be forgiven, and have learned from their mistakes. That same “Visitor” cannot be understood, but can be trusted. (Insert all cliche’s you’ve ever heard here)…..I am at the place you experienced years ago….broken…in so many places…..but I know this….we are the culmination of something greater than ourselves. We may lack direction, but not purpose. Flying on G-5’s, eating the best gourmet food, having someone put your “usual” cocktail in front of you at the club without you having to ask…is all world, when things are going good…one becomes so “happy” when these things are happening….but the truth is these are only diversions. We’ve bought into the “dream”..and it is a lie. Life is not good when we live the deception. We are not happy when we finally get the brass ring in our hands. John Lennon said it best, 
    “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

    • Bruised, there’s something amazing about getting it all, losing it all, and then realizing what really matters. It makes enjoying the fine things easier, as well, because you don’t need it to be happy and aren’t afraid to lose it all anymore. Aren’t afraid of what people will think, of not knowing what to do and needing to be resourceful.
      Having a larger priority to align oneself to, beyond lust/prominence/money, is “an anchor for the soul”. I find that when I do work for a cause I believe in (not just donate money, but donate part of my heart), then not much can shake me.
      Lots of people seek happiness in self-centered things, in “getting”, but it really doesn’t take much to be happy if we allow it. Some sunshine, good sustenaince, clean shelter, friends, maybe some kisses.
      I lost a hundred thousand dollars before age twenty. Turns out it didn’t matter much, (although I’ve learned how to not repeat that event.)

  • Yinghan

    Hi James,

    Cool stuff.  Thanks for writing – your blog is a life saver. You might be interested in Ajahn Brahm’s discourses on youtube – in tune with your post about kiss of lust

  • Caro

    Totally agree. 
    I’m having big trouble now with a work situation, where after a very hard selection process I earned a big promotion but they won’t give it to me, because they want to give it to some friend (“They” being the government, which makes things pathetic beyond speech). I’ve been feeling wronged and trampled for months, because I have the Truth and Justice on my side. But it doesn’t matter to anyone.So finally I’m trying to surrender, since it’s the only way to at least stop suffering. Let it be. And it works for a while, I can have days (or parts of the day) when I fell calm and fine. The problem is: every time someone asks me about this matter, or something reminds me of it, I feel all the anger coming back, and I feel awful again, as if I had a rock over my chest. So, it’s hard to surrender. I GO ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACKWARDS.How can one solve that?I find that -besides the daily practice- it’s good to gain some perspective, like thinking about death or illness or other extreme situations where my problem would be so tiny in comparison.I would really like your point of view here, James.

  • Guest

    Thanks for yoru blog.  

  • Summer Berkeley

    Another good one from you- this one made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  • James, only you could start off an article with that sentence and turn it into a great article.
    I think surrendering is the first step to truly succeeding.

  • Go for it James, always great to read the outflow.

  • MadeInBrooklyn
  • Valerie Carruthers

    OMG so funny and true. Reads like you were channeling Mel Brooks channeling the 2000 Year Old Man. 

  • Man, I just found your blog today and can’t stop reading! Lots of varied topics with an original take. This post reminds me of perhaps my favorite book: “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James. That guy had humanity pegged so damn well, it was an amazing relief to read his work. He’d say your choice to rely on the “Visitor” is totally legit as it had the direct effect of improving your mindset and worldview — he was pragmatic for sure, but with the right kind of spirit. Anyway, looking forward to following your work from now on–rock on!