Riding home from the café this morning, I experienced a powerful sense of temporal displacement. The temperature, the color of the sky, the damp scent of flowers, the particular slant of the wind, the shade and shapes of the pavement transported me emotionally to Provo, Utah, 1982, riding my bike down the street away from the mountains homeward as the weight of an impending storm pressed from all sides. Swallowing to equalize the pressure in my ears, I watch eddies of leaves intermittently swirl up and then scatter haphazardly back to the ground. I feel a low, diffuse sense of anxiety–an urgency that has been cut with disappointment so often that it no longer tastes of immediacy, but still has that bile-bitter edge of expectancy. The future has been stripped of detail. The projections that adults weave like tendrils into otherwise unmapped time have suddenly withdrawn as if in flinching recoil from an unexpectedly repulsive sensation. All that is left are vague impressions of possibility; there are no appointments, no plans, no rituals, no assurances. What awaits is formless, raw. And there is a crackling excitement in that. No dread of inevitability. No deep-grooved tedium of habit. Just novelty and a long absent sense of infinite malleability humming as current through my nervous system. A sense of freedom sweeps over me, but it's a freedom so overwhelming it is frightening, almost unbearable, incongruously oppressive.
And then in an instant it's all gone: I'm back to the present, my calcifying future restored, the jaded pall of dull predictability draped again over the piled corpses of once overoptimistic ambitions, a quiet trembling in my chest, a tightness in my throat. I suck in a deep breath, slowly let it out, and then all this too passes, settling me back into an uncalibrated equilibrium, coasting down the street and through an intersection, balanced with familiar ease on a measured uncertainty.
I have returned after quite a while to the careful consideration of Buddhism. Each time in the past when I have attempted to apply Buddhist principles to my life, it has been a rewarding and beneficial experience. But one of the immense hurdles to this way of thinking is that it is not a way of thinking. If egocentricity is what is ultimately responsible for suffering, and thinking over something rationally is a manifestation of egocentricity, I'm in a poor position for eliminating suffering—and furthermore have been deliberately, methodically entrenching myself more and more deeply into this mire for most of my life. And ironically, this evaluation of my situation is simply yet another example of the very sort of distraction from awareness of the present that it is itself criticizing. Measuring, evaluating, and judging are tools I have long relied on for making decisions. I have valued a propensity for thoughtful, impartial, thorough deliberation as a most admirable, invariably worthwhile trait. It appears that this is going to be tremendously hard for me to let go of; extensive, elaborate thinking is what I have depended upon on most heavily for directing my actions. How can I simply abandon this vast investment, and on little more grounds than a peculiar variety of faith? What's more, doesn't the persuasiveness of exercising this faith derive from arguments directed at reason itself? Isn't that suspicious? Is suspicion just another of distractive contrivance of the ego? Is this entire discussion just a way to avoid further reading?
The elevators in the building where I work have a long history of being unreliable. I work on the sixth floor. Until recently, the two floors below were home to a company that developed MMORPGs, Perpetual Entertainment. Sometime in the middle of last year, I was riding up in the south elevator with one of the Perpetual employees when the elevator suddenly lurched and then stopped. And stayed right where it was. We discovered by prying the elevator doors open that the elevator was nearly—but not quite—on the fifth floor; but the doors between the elevator and the floor would not open. However, we did notice in our survey a lever well beyond reach that we suspected would release the doors. Eventually we were able to contact the security guard at the front desk by cell phone and he arranged to have someone come out to fix the elevator and get us out, but it appeared that this would take more than a half an hour at best. Meanwhile, there was a very loud, almost unbearable alarm going off in the elevator. Annoyed at the alarm and impatient with the delay, the Perpetual employee vowed to take action. I resigned myself to being stuck indefinitely. But the Perpetual employee grinned widely and drew from his backpack a genuine, full-scale, tempered steel longsword. He gleefully brandished the weapon, then reached up and prodded the release catch on the doors that we had seen earlier. We crawled out, leaving the alarm sounding in the elevator for another couple of hours.
I have been thinking a lot lately about thinking. In particular, about the way in which our predispositions of perception, cognition, and experience broadly affect the types of thoughts that we tend to have, and consequently form the unique ways we each understand the world. I should note that the uniqueness of this understanding really applies only to all of a person's ideas as an aggregate. For it seems clear that we are capable of communicating with others, that the transmission of individual ideas is indeed possible. If you think that you know what I mean, even if you disagree, then you accept this premise. All I am getting at here is that although we may never be able to understand one another comprehensively, many of us can still come awfully close to a common understanding of innumerable particulars. One of the impediments to this sort of common understanding is an inability to conceive of—or misapprehension about—how another thinks. Investigating and subsequently understanding the ways in which we differ in our conceptions of the world and its contents, and the mind and its contents, can help us correct for these very discrepancies. Systems of classification, taxonomies, are often the result of such investigations, and sometimes even provide the means for them. If we can independently agree about which category a thing or idea fits into (and why), this is often a sign in itself of a shared understanding. But the criteria of classification have to be meaningful themselves. Otherwise our agreement is meaningless.
And some taxonomies are more successful in this way than others. When it comes to reflexive classification in particular, we as a species have had questionable success. It seems at once strange and inevitable that the criteria of classification of personality types, for instance, are so contentious. Judging by the sheer proliferation of various systems of personality type classification, it seems we don't understand ourselves enough to agree on which characteristics are sufficient to cleanly delineate our similarities and differences. Admittedly, the subject under consideration is one quite vast and complex. And perhaps each system is focused on what are simply different nuances of an incredibly monumental, multifaceted nexus, such that to some degree the systems are not necessarily in contention at all. Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, there is no widely accepted, unproblematic standard for identifying unambiguous sets of interrelated personality traits. And I'm sure there are further cross-cultural complications of which I'm only dimly aware. We do employ some broad, colloquial differentiators that for the most part lack any sort of rigorous definitions (and incidentally these seem frequently to be presented as mutually exclusive dichotomies rather than sentinels on a continuum): introvert vs extrovert, intellectual vs emotional, serious vs lighthearted, considerate vs rude, strict vs liberal, confident vs shy, masculine vs feminine, etc. Even as I write these down, I feel like their meanings are shifting and subjective, and they're arguably poor examples. But what constitutes a good example here? What are some truly meaningful ways to characterize and identify what makes up each one of us in such a way as to have enough granularity to achieve precision, but without going too far? 6,658,694,324 divisions is too many for all but one statistic. Two begins to be more meaningful, but falls short of offering much understanding beyond the superficial. What enumeration of cross-sections of characteristics is worthwhile without being oppressively unwieldy? I guess the particular question one poses is critical to answering this.
Most people I know well already know these things about me, but I realized that I haven't collected them all into one place and commented on them as a collection. And maybe I'll surprise someone who thought that they knew me. Here is a list of things that I am confident that I will absolutely never do voluntarily, however many days longer I live: drink alcohol, smoke, take drugs recreationally, get a tattoo, get a piercing, believe in God, have children, deliberately harm myself, or chew gum. And when in doubt, I will always choose left. All of these are purely personal decisions I have made for myself. I do not pass judgement on those who have decided differently for themselves; all of my life experience has convinced me of the impossibility of any sort of practical objective universal morality. Some of my choices are an indirect response to the self-righteous who might insist otherwise, some are almost completely arbitrary, some are simply promises I will never break. I find it edifying to maintain a diverse set of dictums to which I am utterly committed, but which have radically different motivations. Now if only I could apply the same stubbornness and certainty to other, more immediate, aspects of my life.
Tonight Tadhg suggested that I stop letting my long-term personal goals float aimlessly and incoporeal through my fickle, inconstant attention. Maybe write them down or something. Maybe define them in stricter terms than, “Do some stuff and stuff before sometime later.” This seemed like a reasonably good idea. Committing to substantial, sustained goals that stretch further than tomorrow night is not something I have done much of lately. Stretching further than a couple months is a true challenge. So, setting some objectives for the calendar year seemed a good start.
Here was my first pass at these goals:
- read some stuff
- get into some vague sort of shape
- write some code
- invest some money
- play some guitar
Woohoo! Looks great to me! But for some reason, Tadhg found these unacceptable and insisted I develop them further. Boo. So I fleshed them out like so:
- finish reading a specific number of books (at least)
- get into shape enough to be able to perform a specific number of repetitions of two particular exercises
- complete the first functional versions of three particular software projects
- invest a specific amount of money (at least)
- play guitar for a specific number of hours (at least)
I'm going to keep the particulars and the specifics to myself for now. I also have plenty more immediate goals I'd like to accomplish and scores of other good habits I'd like to develop or reinstate. But many of those things I could potentially do in much shorter spans of time. Each of the things I've listed here will require regular attention over a long period of time. I intend to spend some time every day for the rest of the year working on at least one of them for a little while.
As the end of 2007 approaches, an incomplete overgeneralized summary of the year is certainly in order, right? Broadly speaking, it seems that I have finally been getting all my ducks in a row. Okay, maybe just a lot of them. And maybe not precisely in a row, per se. Hurtling through the year, I started a lot of projects and developed the means to start others, but for various reasons did not follow through. Now I feel like I'm getting much closer to having the ability to follow through. I got renter's insurance. I started backing up my computers regularly. I have been exercising regularly. I have become noticeably more proficient at my work. I appear to have found a solution to a debilitating problem that has plagued me for most of my adult life, and have overcome my stubbornness enough to embrace it. I have actually been putting to good use most of the gadgets I bought this year. I have been getting in contact with old friends and acquaintances. I have been more reliably enjoying playing guitar (when I do, at least). My overall attitude and disposition have been improving.
There are some things I have identified that would probably help me going into the next year. Do my dishes right after I use them. Netsurf less. Watch less video. Exercise greater self-discipline when it comes to gaming. Resume running regularly. Switch to posting on the first of the month rather than the last of the month. Establish designated places for storing things. Make a greater effort to keep in touch with people. Spend more time with friends. Write more often. Read more often.
if you ever find yourself in the situation of having burmese catfish curry leftovers in your backpack, i strongly recommend not keeping them there overnight. playing guitar for eight hours straight is much more rewarding than an occasional five minutes of languid pentatonic noodling. if you see a car driving down the street with a cane on the top of it, the driver will most likely be grateful if you ride your ass off to catch up with them at a stoplight, tap on their window, and present said cane to them; but be prepared for a surprised or frightened look when you first tap on the window. this one has yet to fully sink in for me, but the possibility of indefinite preservation does not necessitate it; ephemera have a definite place in our lives (even if only for a little while). poor memory seems on the whole to make life less interesting. a tiny, 2mm sliver of wire smaller in diameter than a garbage tie is sufficient under the right circumstances to cause a flat tire on a mountain bike; carrying a bike pump and a $20 bill on my weekly rides has proven to have been a good practice.
I am sitting on a couch in the Haber home struggling to identify a thought around which to organize this entry. My ten year St. John's class reunion seems an obvious focus, but I don't feel that I have anything interesting to say. The inferences one might draw from this statement quite likely do not provide an accurate reflection of my experiences this weekend, but it is certainly consistent with how I have been feeling for the last couple of months. My interest in my own thoughts is exceptionally low right now, so it takes quite an effort for me to share them, to presume that anyone else could possibly be entertained, amused, or informed by these fleeting, ill-constructed, inadequately considered heaps of almost random words. If I am annoyed at my own voice, why speak? The commitment I made to write here at least once a month has managed to compel me to make an attempt, even if it is unsupported by my current sentiment and reason. Sadly, this does not come packaged with inspiration and substance. I'm stuck in my head, but there seems to be so little activity here.
Dad and Heidi came out to visit earlier this month. We had a great time. Aside from the usual regimen of just hanging out and talking, we rented bikes and rode through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, toured the USS Hornet, watched most of the first season of Eureka, ate at some of my favorite restaurants in the City, and Karen took Heidi boogie boarding with Jenn and Chris. But the highlight for me was our trip to Sequoia National Park. I booked a cabin at a fairly remote campground and we all spent a few days relaxing, driving through mountains on windy roads, hiking through the sequoias, and stargazing. Dad had rented a telescope, and with a tripod we borrowed from Tadhg we were able to take some decent pictures of the moon with his new digital camera. As with seeing real sequoias versus photos of them, looking at Jupiter, the moon, and other celestial objects through the telescope is quite a different experience than seeing photos. I now have a much greater appreciation for my dad's love of astronomy.
I'll try to post photos soon.
somehow on the way over to cup-a-joe i completely forgot what i had decided to write about. i do remember that it did not have a whole lot to do with anything that i have been predominately preoccupied with lately. this happens a lot, but usually not over the course of fifteen or twenty minutes. i guess it's fair to say i am a bit distracted. i am having trouble focusing on anything right now.
i have been listening quite a bit to the track "the falcon's cry" on zero hour's most recent album, specs of pictures burnt beyond. and i just now noticed the tipton brothers are from san francisco; i had assumed they were nordic or something because most good progressive metal these days is scandinavian, right? got the new kamelot and symphony x albums as well, along with a couple more savatage albums, another nightwish, and another crimson glory. and all of this because i wanted a usb ethernet adaptor for my zaurus. damn you, amazon.com!
i have been spending a lot of time at work. the more time i spend at work, the greater need i feel for time for myself, and generally this has the ironic result of my my wasting less time overall. i have been reading a lot of technical material, mostly on the topic of software development. i have been writing a lot of code in my own time, and doing a lot of maintenance on my computers. i have not necessarily been doing the highest priority tasks first, but i'm getting a lot done. and now i remember what it was that i had been thinking about writing about.
preserving state. i currently have 29 windows open in my email program, eudora. i have 52 windows open in my web browser, camino, each with an average of about 5 tabs in them. in my text editor, vim, i have a session with buffers open in a dozen tabs. i have multiple screen sessions with about five windows each (to say nothing of the profusion of windows in screen sessions on all of the other machines i use regularly and have access to). all this, and my current uptime is only about five days. mac os x 10.4.10 has been one of the most unreliable updates i can recall, and i have had to reboot much more frequently than i would like (i would like not to have to reboot at all, but only after major system updates would be—and has been—fine). yet, with the features of the programs i use together with scripts i've written over the years, a crash or a deliberate restart no longer has as much of an impact on the state i have on the machines i work on. i rarely if ever lose data anymore, and now the configuration of my virtual environments is fairly stable as well. for most environments i use regularly even if i don't have executable scripts i have checklists that i can use to walk through getting everything set up just so. and yet i wonder if this all comes with a veiled disadvantage in that there is no longer any semi-regular event that involuntarily clears the slate for me. it used to be very easy to just let go of all of the unread pages i had open in my web browser when it crashed because there was nothing i could do about it anyway; now i don't have to let go, but i don't always get around to actually reading everything i have open. so now i'm accumulating digital clutter to rival the clutter i surround myself with physically in the form of unsorted mail, papers, books, discs, magazines, and gadgets.
on the other hand, this preservation of state has been helping me immensely at work. i have been more organized and productive at work than i have been in a while. i just need to start using the tools and techniques i have been applying on the job to my personal life, and i think i'll be better off.
i was interrupted while writing by a pleasant conversation with a couple of educators from denmark. we talked politics, weather, earthquakes, dry standpipes, camper travel, and multilingual tendencies of europeans.
i have been seeing a large number of discarded televisions in the streets lately.
there is a cat that i run across in the vicinity of the vallejo steps that must be getting awfully annoyed with me by now. i scare it away at all hours of the night. i have not yet missed a run.
earlier today i bought an apple airport extreme base station to replace my crappy linksys befw11s4v4 that flaked out on me one time too many. so far the only thing i miss is having one extra ethernet port, but i don't really need it right now anyway. and meanwhile, the airport is so much nicer to configure. i had absolutely no problems with it at all. in the way that mac os x is to windows, the ipod is to other portable music players, and the iphone is to other cell phones, the airport is to other wireless routers. it's the attention to details, and the right details at that. i even plugged in a spare 30GB drive just to see how the usb drive sharing worked. not only did it just work, it prompted me to mount the new drive on my laptop. i would have preferred firewire, but oh well.
macports has definitely become my preferred port system for mac os x. it is just so much cleaner and more intuitive than fink ever was for me. i just trust it more. now that it has all the ports that i used fink for, i think i'm going to get rid of fink altogether.
i like vim. a lot.
i have been working some late nights this month finishing a project important to my employer. although the deadlines can be stressful at times, i feel like i am finally starting to improve my craft noticeably. i am getting into a rhythm with writing code and establishing good habits. i still have some difficulties focusing as well as i would like to some days, but once i get in the zone i really enjoy it and want more. and anyway some of my best hours are between 22:00 and 03:00. so tonight i got home around 04:30. i put my things away, got ready for bed, and then put on my gear and went for a run.
a what? huh? when? you? sure, it's been oh say about ten years since i did this regularly, but what's a decade between exercising good habits? or good exercising habits. or whatever. so this was the sixth premeditated run i've completed in a row. i run two times a week for about twenty minutes around my neighborhood. if you've been to my neighborhood, that probably means a little more to you. suffice it to say, there are a lot of hills. i like to listen to music as i am running. this morning i was listening to the rodrigo y gabriela album tadhg gave to me earlier this week. their cover of metallica's orion is pretty incredible. and that got me up the steps at vallejo and taylor. earlier this week as i approached the top of those stairs i was listening to dream theater's the dark eternal night and labrie had just sung the lyric "...climbing endless stairs...". haha. at the top of those stairs, i usually turn right and head down towards green street. halfway down the hill, the view previously obstructed by trees clears and you can see (well, during the day) an amazing view of alcatraz. so i think i might just be able to keep this up. even if my zeal to keep my schedule may be a little crazy.
i need to post more photos. the brunch karen and i hosted recently was a great success, and there were some fun pics from that. i have another series of hawk hill photos. i promised to scan the photos chris took ages ago. i told rana i'd put some on my sjc alum page. and who knows what other miscellaneous randomness lurks in the bitrotting digital jungle of my desktop.
i am looking forward to a visit from dad later this year and hopefully heidi as well. the only sibling to visit me in california so far has been jorgen, and that was about nine years ago. note to family: i can help with expenses and provide a place to stay. sometime in the next five years, i'd like to have everyone out here at least once.
i had some other things to say, but i've been up for almost twenty-four hours now, and i'm beginning to trough again.
I've really got to stop waiting to the last minute to write this monthly post. I've had what I think were some good ideas of topics to write about, but at this point I can't remember what any of them were, wouldn't have the energy now to do them justice even I could remember, and didn't even see fit to write them down anywhere anyway.
I feel like I've been slowly emerging from the listlessness that has characterized most of my time over the last few months. I've also dusted off my capacity to introspect. Most of the exercise of this rediscovered ability has gone into writing journal entries. I'll list some other random highlights for this month. I started re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series for the first time since adolescence. I've watched nearly the entire Babylon 5 canon. I had another great Memorial Day weekend in Tahoe. I updated my todo lists for the first time in ages, started using my Doing.app regularly again, and added a new entry to my Daily Record for the first time since March. I bought a label printer, a better bluetooth headset, and a document scanner. I started taking a vitamin every day again. I'm drinking more water. Yes, I think I'm finally turning the corner again.
personal There goes another month. April might as well have been thirty days more of March. I do feel like I've evened out a bit emotionally, but I'm still not terribly motivated. I think I did my dishes twice the entire month. I'm happy to have kept up my weekend ride. Happy to have done some reading. Happy to have taken some steps toward fighting my allergies. Happy to have picked up on my writing again. Not so happy to have been almost entirely uncommunicative with anyone not within earshot. Not so happy to have neglected most of my incipient good habits. Not so happy that I have not done much fruitful self-reflection. So here's another fluff entry.
I don't have much to say. This month has gone by quickly and I don't feel like I've been much a part of it. Things started out pretty well. Then I spent three solid days in bed sick. Somehow I don't feel as though I've fully recovered from that. I had been sleeping four or five hours a night, writing code, working on personal projects, feeling a sort of excited urgency to get things done. That is pretty much gone now. I'm back to struggling to find interest in my own thoughts. I finished reading Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile series. I'm slowly working my way through The Design and Implementation of the 4.4BSD Operating System, though I often feel like I am doing little more than dutifully looking at each word in the chapter in turn. The volume and frequency of my writing has decreased dramatically. I didn't play guitar much this month. I have been listening to a lot of new music this month: Imogen Heap, Shiny Toy Guns, Leaves' Eyes, Epica, Savatage, Ayreon, Within Temptation, Crimson Glory. That is all for now.
personal photos I've been riding almost every weekend out across Golden Gate Bridge and up Conzelman Road into the Marin Headlands to a nice little spot overlooking San Francisco called Hawk Hill. I decided a while back to try to take at least one photo every time I go. My photos hardly begin to capture the grandeur of the view, but here they are. The first set is the view from the turnaround before the precipitous drop toward Bunker Road; I try to take these from exactly the same place every time to give a time-lapse view. The second set are more or less random photos that I've taken while on this ride.
there is a unix tradition of creating configuration files in your home directory to customize the behavior of programs you run (preferences or settings files serve a similar purpose in other computing environments). as a way of reducing the visual clutter from the proliferation of all of these configuration files, their names are prefixed with "." (pronounced in this context as "dot") because files that begin with this character are hidden from casual inspection. sometimes the syntax of these files can be a bit arcane, and discovering the settings that best fit your style of work can take time, research, and even serendipity. but one of the great advantages of this system is that once you have invested the time in preparing your dot files, your computing environment will consistently and reliably operate according to your preferences. you might spend a fair amount of time experimenting, but once you have found what suits you it is preserved indefinitely for future use. some people have carried their dot files from one computer to another for decades.
my interest in things technical has been on a sharp upswing, so i have been spending quite a lot of time lately tweaking dot files. as i woke this morning i thought of how nice it would be to have something analogous to these configuration files for myself, for providing consistent and systematic initialization values for my mental and emotional states. these are currently so unpredictable and apparently random that i occasionally wonder if i am the same sentient entity from day to day.
i suppose this function is roughly filled by habit and ritual, but i am not happy with the volatility of these. my memory is not good enough to reliably reproduce the original rationale behind my habitual behavior, and this often leads to the dissolution of habits even though i might still consider their motivating principles to have great merit (if only i could remember them and correctly associate them with the behavior). and unfortunately, i often require reaffirmation of my habits in order to continue them, especially after any significant hiatus.
there is a certain amount of distrust of myself inherent in this attitude. all of this might just be a roundabout way of saying that i do not have enough confidence in my decisions, and that developing a more formal system of recording and describing important decisions might be a good step for me.
I'm tired and unaccoutably dispirited as I write, so this is entry is not likely to be terribly interesting. I have been fairly successful so far this year in staving off the usual urges for distraction, though I have not consistently filled the newfound time with rewarding activity. My inspiration and energy comes and goes in seemingly random pockets of intensity. Instead of trying to direct my interests and action with plans and intentions, I have been allowing myself to do whatever occurs to me in the moment. This has resulted in uneven attention spread across a wide variety of activities. That I even have things occuring to me in the moment is a vast improvement over last year, but whatever in me that poses as my ambition is starting to get impatient with the vacillation. I do not feel as though I am the same person from day to day. Isn't there supposed to be some sort of coherency and continuity of consciousness, awareness, and design? I find myself regularly in disagreement with choices I have made only recently and alientated from freshly formed opinions.
Amidst the relative tranquility of rural Ohio during the winter, I realized that much of my genuine happiness relies on memory, imagination, and nostalgia. The problem with the majority of my leisure activities lately has been that they inhibit or dull my desire or ability to enjoy my own thoughts. Watching television is a prime example of this type of activity, and this is one of the primary reasons I decided never to own a television. Yet I've successfully subverted the intention behind that decision with things like DVD televideo, Netflix, youtube.com, and Google video. Gaming and reading fiction have a similar effect, though not quite in the same way. After engaging in this type of activity, I will often feel lethargic, uninterested in more immediate aspects of my life, and reluctant to even attempt any type of creative endeavor. And sometimes this will last for days.
Now that I've recognized and acknowledged this about myself, I intend to reduce the amount of time I spend in pass-ivity, and to try to be more aware of the consequences of my inactions. This is one area where doing nothing really is better for me than just doing something, anything.
personal A mere two days after arriving in Ohio my incredibly unreliable Linksys router locked up, leaving my server inaccessible for the duration of my visit and araxia.net essentially non-existent for the latter half of December. In the unlikely event you sent me email during that time and you happen to be reading this now, please try again now. If you can recommend a reliable wireless access point router with built-in 4+ port 10/100 switch, web administration, and DMZ, drop me a line.
I've taken some time off from work. Originally, I had vague plans to use this time to try to adopt new good habits and shrug off at least a few bad ones. I had looked forward to working on languishing projects and completing long-deferred tasks. I had hoped to spend time figuring out just what it is that I want for myself, who I want myself to be. I feel that for years I have been gradually becoming less and less reflective and self-aware. I want to reverse that trend and work at being more deliberately myself. Perhaps these sundry goals are overambitious for the time I have available. I feel hollow and undisciplined right now. I now fear I will squander this time off and return to work no more happy or resolved or certain than when I began. Contrary to my hopes, I started my vacation by interrupting a long string of routine. I missed my first weekend bike ride in a long while. I stopped exercising daily. I stopped doing my daily checklist. I don't cope well with interruptions. I've slipped into a nocturnal rhythm. I've been reading a lot of fiction and gaming far too much. Getting out of bed is more difficult than ever. I seem incapable of setting goals for myself or sticking to my resolutions. And it's cold and the ants have returned.
personal In the last few months, I have been writing more than I have in years. For some stretches, almost every day. But you wouldn't know this from my looking at my outgoing email or my blog. My writing has been predominantly self-directed. Maddeningly self-directed. The words crackle like static between radio stations; repetitive, irritating, but with the occasional bleed of coherent content from adjacent stations. Concurrent with this resurgence of writing has been a renewal of self-doubt and self-reproach. I had managed to cultivate a period of stability of sorts for a decade or so, and now that appears to be crumbling. And I have conveniently forgotten how I arrived at that relative contentment. It's as though I have forgotten how to be happy. My memory horizon is short and hazy enough that I cannot be certain that in crisis I have not conjured nostagic illusions of memory with which I now poke and prod myself. I cannot be certain of anything.
I don't feel real. I look at my hands and they look like they belong to a stranger. I wonder how similar peoples' experiences of a (non-threatening, inoffensive) stranger are. Does saying my hands look like a stranger's effectively communicate how I feel? Even as I watch these hands move in response to my thoughts, I feel nothing substantial in that connection. They might as well be part of a video I have on in the background. The aches and the pains I feel do not belong to me. How can that be? The music that I am listening to does not affect me. When I talk to people, words come out of my mouth that are semantically contiguous to those that have preceded them in the conversation, but I am not in them; they are just words. Where am I?
Yesterday, what began as an innocuous search through my email for a trivial bit of information left me mired in the wreckage of unfinished missives. Hundreds of unsent messages lay bitrotting in my out box, many of them years old, and this search brought them to my attention. As I started to read through some of these fragments of abandoned prose, I initially felt the thrill of a voyeur—the familiar novelty of a not entirely unexpected discovery providing a sort of vicarious pleasure. But continuing on, that pleasure curdled. Here were so many promising threads left to wither, so many budding relationships suffocated by my self-absorbed silence. And these orphans are not outliers; they are representative of a deeply-ingrained, chronic pattern of abandonment, representative of my character.
This tone tastes disappointingly of regret, a flavor quite bitter to me. But spitting it out does nothing to sweeten the aftertaste. "To live in such a way as to have no regrets," has long been my overarching goal; and what success I've had in this has never depended upon my refusal to acknowledge regrettable behavior, but rather my mindful preemption of it. Even so, cowardice, laziness, lassitude, and indifference govern far too much of my activity.
Much of my dissatisfaction results from my habitual inability to promptly answer the question, "What is important to me?" I have not sufficiently developed the skill of improvising integrity, of spontaneously mapping the diverse abundance of choices immediately available to me at any given moment to the carefully aggregated choices I have already made through thoughtful deliberation. And yet so often it is unmistakable to me even as I act (or fail to act) on something that the choice I have made to do so is not "right." But this awareness rarely provides an effective dissuasion. This skill I seek of quickly and reliably acting in accord with my principles is surely developed not by detached contemplation, but by regular practice; by taking risks, by making mistakes, by my active involvement choosing—by doing.
Welcome to the "Every 30th" blog, where I scramble at the end of each month to toss a handful of words into the ether. This month, I bring you much random.
Recently, I've started using Last.fm to track what I've been listening to and to discover new music. I've been quite happy with the recommendations, although I find Pandora better at delivering a greater variety of random music that I like. Nevertheless, Pandora doesn't offer any sort of browsing capability, and their Flash-based player is less than great; Last.fm allows for iTunes integration and has a good site and community.
Primarily through these services, I've been exploring progressive metal music, roughly in the style of Dream Theater. Some of the bands I've found that I really enjoy are Pagan's Mind, Kamelot, Andromeda, Sonata Arctica, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Fates Warning, Trivium, and Winterfell.
I spent Memorial Day weekend in Tahoe with Karen, Tadhg, and a host of fun people. For such a large group of mostly strangers, I was impressed at how little friction, how much cooperation, and how much fun there was. It felt like the better days of high school and college, staying up late playing cards, poking fun, talking, laughing, and enjoying the company of happy people.
I experienced a strange period of time earlier this month in which people appeared to me as nothing more than shapes and color. I found it extraordinarily difficult to identify with anyone. My ability to empathize and sympathize nearly disappeared. Upon seeing a random person, in place of wondering what motivated him, what she enjoyed, what he did, what she was thinking, where he was going—in place of these things, an assortment of vaguely familiar shapes registered briefly in my attention and then dissipated.
For the first time that I can remember, I've developed allergies. And pretty badly. I spent most of this month sneezing, sniffling, coughing, and expectorating unpleasant viscous blobs.
Some of my other hobbies lately include not replying to email, not playing guitar, not reading, and not keeping my apartment in order.
I am hereby committing to posting at least one entry to this blog every month. But I can't promise that any future entries will be as exciting as this one.
On Valentine's Day, San Francisco had a pillow fight. When I first read about it on boingboing, I couldn't stop smiling for hours. I can't describe how much fun this was. I've posted photos (trying iWeb for the first time, this link may change). More photos available on Laughing Squid.
I sat down with hundreds of eager thoughts, but the empty page nearly brought me to tears. Alas, it took a full sentence to pull that trick. Writing and crying. This is home, is it not?
Am I a writer?
What a terribly frightening question. I think I think like a writer. But I have not exhibited the patience of a writer. Nor the discipline. Nor the words. That doesn't make for much of a writer now, does it? I haven't cracked a dictionary in months, digital or otherwise. And, no, it's not because every word I desire comes to mind effortlessly. Funny how a neat, orderly collection of words has come to represent to me what writing is all about, and yet what writing is really all about winds up making a complete mess of that tidiness. Let you in on a secret: I just used a dictionary to find a synonym for "order" as a better last word in that sentence. Another secret: I didn't really just use a dictionary; I wrote that sentence knowing that I would eventually do what I said therein. Still another secret: none of these sentences have survived with their original phrasing intact.
I'm just full of secrets this morning, aren't I? But isn't anything I haven't written a secret? A secret hidden in silence or forgotten memory? On the other hand, are my long-neglected scrawls in notebooks any less forgotten? Potentiality does not invest a thing with substance. Ouch. That stings. How often have I put off taking action because I knew that I could? What a fool! Of course I can! But canning a thing is not doing it. Doing it is doing it. And little else matters.
How does a writer stay focused? How does a good writer say the simple truths in no more words than it takes to understand them, and yet no fewer than it takes to convey them effectively. Was "effectively" one word too many there? Can I succeed in making you, dear reader, as self-conscious of my poor writing as I am? What a fool! Of course I can! But canning a thing is not doing it. See above.
The temptation to gush is now too strong. I felt like I was starting to write again right there. It felt good. It felt indulgent, even. My cockiness and arrogance started to ooze out of my fingertips in goops of molten self-indulgence. I looked over my newly minted sentences with guilty pride and thought, "Sure they need some polishing, but my don't they look fine, these words I've arranged here so cleverly." I was quite pleased with myself. Look how nicely it all flows! Look how it rewards the careful reader with its lightly-veiled wittiness and sage, worldly wisdom! Look at all of the rules and guidelines for good writers that I am following so diligently! And the humble, self-deprecating tone! Brilliant!
Then, as I start to count the exclaimation marks in what I begin to recognize as dross, I feel the crushing grip of doubt around my chest. I am an amateur. A dilettante. Not even a hack. At least a hack finishes. Insufferable. This is why I stopped pretending to write. This is why I quit. This is why I am unhappy now. Because I want to be a writer, but I don't want to work to get there. Because I am lazy. Because I am no longer able to suspend the disbelief that anyone would really want to read my drivel.
Just to read? No, not just that. To learn from. To be persuaded by. To be entertained by. To be moved by. To be motivated by. Why else does a person write? To be heard? Do I want to be heard? What do I have to say that's worth hearing? I don't even know what I've got to say that I want to hear myself. Not quite inspiring, I must admit. Am I teaching myself, persuading myself, entertaining myself, moving myself, motivating myself? Am I hearing myself?
Yes. Yes, I am hearing myself. And it's a tedious titter that I hear.
Sandy's comment a while ago that I whine when I write hurt. Because it's true. And I know that it's true. I know it quite well. Like an invalid knows his affliction. To know, the invalid doesn't need someone to scrape their dirty, unmanicured fingernails across his wounds and—after having examined the fresh blood undernail—pronounce the name of the affliction. If you know what I mean. If you don't, then I'm a bad writer. If you tell me I'm a bad writer: get your bloody fingernails out of my wound; if you don't: I appreciate your humoring me.
Last night I dreamt I was on a moderate, featureless slope that appeared to stretch into the horizon on both sides and upward indefinitely; I couldn't see behind me. Where I lay face-down on the slope, it was covered with thick, layered white bedding material. I held onto the material with both hands, using it to keep my place even though the slope was not really that steep. I was gradually sliding down the slope on the material. The sensation was akin to falling, but I wasn't moving quickly. I suddenly started to scramble up the bedding material trying move up the slope, but the more energy I put into climbing the more swiftly the sheets moved downhill underneath me, carrying me with them. Then in my peripheral vision I could begin to see the bottom of the slope; it ended in a vast, dark chasm. Alarmed, I immediately stopped scrambling. Once again I lay motionless, gripping the sheets, slipping slowly but inexorably toward oblivion.
I've certainly read a lot of interesting things in the course of my days, and some have had gradually come to influence my thinking and way of life over time. But the last time I read something that dramatically and abruptly changed my worldview, it was Kant's Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals. Before reading it, I had been unable to conceive of an ultimate end to human endeavor other than Happiness; every last activity consciously initiated by any sentient being was in one way or another a means to this end. How could it be otherwise?
Kant's presentation of Duty as an ultimate end shook me deeply, if only in its delivery of a first cogent alternative to Happiness. The profound novelty of the idea resembled the effect of non-Euclidean geometry or Abbott's Flatland, except that the subject addressed here was something that I grappled with intensely almost every day. I had to carefully reconsider the fundamentals of every meager scrap of tentative certainty I had managed to forage up to that point. This experience proved alternately gutting and exhilarating, all depending on the amount of psychic energy I had available at the moment to wrestle with the dichotomy.
Last week, I finished a book that has had a similarly overwhelming psychic impact, James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency. Now Kunstler is neither as rigorous nor as thorough as Kant, and it's hardly fair to compare the content of their works, but the profound impact of each on my thinking is undoubtedly comparable. Each has significantly altered my perception of innumerable phenomena I had previously taken for granted or had missed altogether.
In short, The Long Emergency presents a compelling exploration of the events likely to accompany the imminent end of the fossil fuel era. Kunstler convincingly argues that almost every aspect the way of life that we have come to take for granted has been a brief historical anomaly that is about to end. And that end is not likely to involve a calm and orderly acquiescence of amenities. It could be violent, brutal, shocking, chaotic, etc., but regardless of its exact characteristics the key is that it will be dramatic and it will happen within our lifetime. It could be argued that it is happening right now. There is very little in the world currently familiar to us that will not be affected greatly by these inevitable changes.
Rolling Stone published an article adapted from this book. You should read this article.
I've been drinking coffee during the week again. Even staying up all night, I feel as though I do not have time to get done what I want to get done. But what do I really want to get done? I have trouble keeping the same goals from day to day. I often say I want something, but my actions do not substantially reflect those statements. Reminding myself isn't helpful. I'm not losing sight of anything; it's the very desires themselves that vacillate. I tell myself, "Hey, this is what you really wanted." I reply to myself, "Meh. So what?"
Technically, I suppose that I've now missed the 29th, too. But my day doesn't end at midnight. That's all.
This looks like it's going to be one of the mere placeholder entries. I have little to say. I'm writing primarily to procrastinate. I got my copy of the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack CD-BOX today, which I'm listening to right now. It's excellent. One of the best soundtracks ever to one of the best anime series ever. Having the TV Edit of "Tank!" alone makes the purchase worth it, but there are so many other great tracks, too. I really wish I understood Japanese—subtitles for the dialogue tracks would be hard to pull off on an audio CD. Maybe someday. Yes, maybe someday I'll comprehend Japanimese.
I don't know whether the greatest factor fundamentally is complacency, laziness, indifference, or absent-mindedness, but I've managed to miss a day already. I suppose I had to have acknowledged the possibility of failure considering that I had only committed to seven days, and yet still did not have complete confidence that I would succeed. I guess it's the manner in which I failed that is most troublesome. I had imagined a scenario along the lines of having a long, hectic day full of distractions that triggered my increasingly powerful tendency to take the path of least resistance. Instead, I simply forgot; I forgot that I had made a commitment. It didn't occur to me all day that I was not doing something I had chosen to do.
I feel like I was significantly more responsible and disciplined when I was younger. Of course, I did have motivations then that are entirely absent now, and a sort of self-involved idealism that allowed me to dismiss (or reinterpret) whatever aspects of the greater world that were incompatible with my elaborate conceptual fictions. Now I seem to take for granted that no choice I make or action I take can be meaningful outside of the myopic tableau of my personal perception (which I tend to hold quite low in esteem—if I can even be bothered to consider it). I suppose this itself may be a new manifestation of self-involved idealism. Though clearly this sort of cynical fatalism is not idealism, but rather something closer to base-ism.
I realized this morning that my entire diet yesterday consisted of a latte, a chocolate chip cookie, two sodas, and two bags of microwave popcorn. Bad. I slept from 18:00 until 09:00. Good.
I will post to this blog every day for the rest of March, regardless of how short or inane the entry. I'm not sure what reward I'll give myself if I do, or what punishment I'll inflict on myself if I don't; past experience suggests that contemplating which of these strategies would be more effective at helping me to keep my commitment would delay inception indefinitely. Similarly, any attempts to work out in advance what time of day I do this, from where, how long I spend on it, the minimum or maximum length of the entries, what topics I'll address, whether or not I'll reply to comments, etc. are likely to be highly counterproductive. Whether I actually learn anything from this exercise or endeavor to record what I've learned is irrelevant. What is important is that I do what I have chosen to do, even in the face of the nearly pathological—and inadequately explored—fear or despair I've developed with respect to writing.
I made a resolution last month to read at least one essay each day. Although I have faltered in the execution of this resolution according to the original terms I had set out for myself, I have been reading a lot more lately. And that was the essential aim of the resolution.
Tonight I've been playing catch-up for the nights I've missed in the last couple of weeks. To prevent the indecision induced inaction that often results for me in the face of an abundance of choices, I've just been methodically working my way straight through The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Expository Prose, Tenth Edition.
Scott Russell Sanders' Looking at Women brought me back to lazy summer days in Annapolis at City Dock with Dave discussing and appreciating women. Sanders is likely a little more thoughtful and thorough in his treatment than we were (simply by having used a greater number of words than we did then, perhaps), but I like to think that our conversations were not far removed from the sentiments he expresses. Yet his conclusion, beautiful as it is, rings too sentimental for me now. "I must prepare a gaze that is worthy of their splendor."
To sustain this conceit requires one to concede a fundamental, insoluble division between the sexes (or at least between the stereotypical gender roles that inform all of our behavior to some degree or another by virtue of our participation in or interaction with a society that continually *cough* engenders such roles). Anna Quindlen addresses this "otherness" in her essay Between the Sexes, A Great Divide. Perhaps my dogged insistence on egalitarianism and my failure to acknowledge any inherent characteristics guaranteed simply by inclusion in a given class (whether that class is gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) is in some way a manifestation of my insipid maleness. But in any case, I can't get out of myself to make an objective judgment. And contrary to Thoreau's Observation it is exactly this that makes the subject less interesting to me.
Next, Andrew Sullivan takes a stab at What Is a Homosexual? The themes he deals with are ever so human; it just boggles my mind that there are so many intolerant and narrow-minded people out there. And perhaps my lack of patience with such people is a manifestation of my own brand of intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Sullivan calls the stereotypes I was talking about in the last paragraph "collective characteristics". I like that. What collective characteristics, what generalizations that "ring of truth", are acceptable? What makes them so? It seems we could all benefit from being more rigorous statisticians.
Charles Lamb's A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behavior of Married People both rings of truth and is pretty funny, although somewhat at the expense of accuracy. Yet all is forgiven Lamb for having used the word "usufruct" in his essay.
And with that, I am nearly ready to go on a rant about the ongoing decline of St. John's College since 1997. But I don't suppose that 1) The Gadfly not being available online 2) not liking the new wordmark and 3) rumors that swing dancing has all but vanished from the Great Hall are reasons sufficient to condemn my alma mater.
Time to close before I wax too nostalgic.
popcorn fills a bowl
mongolian fire ablaze
i eat a full meal
The microwave at work tells me "ENJOY YOUR MEAL" when it's done popping my popcorn.
I like to think I'm a reasonable, fair-minded adult capable of appreciating a good argument even if I do not agree with the opinion that that argument is used to support. I acknowledge that I have my biases and limitations, but I like to think I am capable of understanding another point of view even when I do not share that point of view. But I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding how a well-informed person with reasonable intelligence in an average station in life could support the Bush administration. I would sincerely like to have someone provide me with (or provide reference to) a clear, well-reasoned explanation for why they feel that the Bush administration adequately represents the majority of citizens in this country.
If an essential part of your argument relies on the validity of your particular interpretation of the Bible, I suspect we're going to run into difficulties that I currently lack the capacity to reconcile.
During a dream last night I devised a technique to cut and paste between dreams and reality. I cleverly pasted the description of this technique on the shared dream/reality clipboard. I was thwarted by the fact that alarm clock snooze bars clear the clipboard.
I went to the dentist this week for the first time in almost a decade. It wasn't as bad as I had expected, but I still have a mouthful of trouble. What finally got me in was a compacted molar, which came out on Thursday. Ouch.
If you need a dentist in downtown San Francisco, I can recommend Dr. Larson without reservation.
So it's been almost six months since I've updated this thing. I've written only about five entries in my journal in that time, and hardly any personal email. Until a few days ago, the most extensive writing I had done for months had been for work.
I have been doing well. Fairly uninspired at the moment, but well. Undoubtedly, for me to try to recount all of the drama and excitement of this year so far would be counterproductive. I'd probably never finish this entry, much less post it.
Random highlights include such things as: starring as Lord Mormon on Fantasy Bedtime Hour (Episodes 16 and 17; kung-fu voiceover in Episode 14), playing lots of MTG, spending lots of time at Cup-a-Joe, and not playing enough guitar.
I've been spending most of my time with a small number of close friends. I don't feel like I've been at home a whole lot lately. By the time I do get home each day, I rarely have the combination of energy, time, and timing to keep in touch with anyone.
Sandy has shamed me into starting to update this blog again. I set him up with his own blog not too long ago, and he's been posting to it regularly. He surely has much less free time than I do, but still manages to post at least once a week. Surely I can do as much.
David also gave me a man-mule sized kick in the...er...ass.
If you, dear reader, would like a blog of your very own to neglect grievously, drop me a line.
My last Pilot Pentopia T2300-P has finally run out of ink. Time to get some BRFT4 refills. This is by far the best pen I have ever used. The weight, the balance, the flow and consistency of the ink all seem to be made for the eccentricities of my style of writing. That this fine instrument happens to include a mechanical pencil and stylus is icing on the cake.
Walking home from work tonight, I thought about samsara, the Buddhist notion of suffering brought about by craving. Wishing that things are not as they are is a rejection as much of what is good about now as it is what is not. But all is as it is; no need for dichotomy. Still struggling with that. Rejection of now is self-perpetuating and habit-forming. Accepting now does not preclude growth or change. Why do I reject now?
Words I repeated to myself frequently as I walked up the hill were "lust", "doubt", "guilt", "uncertainty", and "fear", each of these words bringing to mind images and impressions of people and events from my recent past. I have often felt reassured by the simplicity and apparent truth of the notion that one ought not desire to affect what is not within one's power. But this time, as I thought about it, I could not escape the gray area I'd done so well at avoiding: how does one know what is within one's power? Is it merely a matter of faith that I could, despite a lifetime of experiences making me less and less likely to do a certain thing, spontaneously choose to do that thing? Or are my proclivities so strong that I would never do that thing though I might without effort convince myself that I could, thereby conveniently avoiding the test?
I stand alone in an elevator, descending. All at once the elevator lurches and starts dropping precipitously. A terrible roar erupts as concrete rips violently against steel; the metal and wood-panelled sides of the elevator ripple, rend, and then scrape off leaving me in a concrete box, still descending, now amidst rushing whispers of silence. Then the walls begin to move in. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. Surrounded in concrete, still falling, walls steadily closing in—abruptly I recognize my imminent death. Fear evaporates. Instead, an exasperated frustration recedes into irritation and then gives way to indescribable disappointment. Moments before the encroaching concrete crushes me, I open my eyes. I lay in bed, heart pounding, sweating profusely. In that instant I know I had been dreaming. In the next instant, I close my eyes again—a blink in reverse—reenter the dream. And die.
I sleep soundly for the rest of the night.
I'm glad to hear that you've gotten out of London. I hope all is well in Stockholm. Förlåt, raring.
How much change do you need to have before it makes sense to buy a change counting machine? How do you know if you have enough change to buy one?
My monkey melted today as I slept. I pulled an all-nighter and fell asleep in the early afternoon. When I woke up, I found patches of what felt like cakes of sea salt on my sheets. Then in the shower, I discovered and brushed off many small bumps on my upper back and neck. It wasn't until I had put my contacts in, stepped back out into the bedroom, and saw my bookshelf that I realized what had happened. My wax monkey had melted. And as its waxy corpus dripped from the top shelf, the drops hit the lower shelves and the arm rest of my futon and splattered all over my bed, my books, the carpet, and my sleeping self.
Continuing to abide by my promise to Evil Incorporated, I am placing the Monkey in another prominent place here on my site, where I hope it will be less susceptible to another meltdown.
Today I did laundry, made a list of bugs I found in an application I downloaded today, wrote an email to someone I've never met, read part of a book, played guitar, changed two light bulbs (one with the other), netsurfed, played a video game for far too long, finally disposed of a dozen or so pairs of rather ratty underwear (i.e. overworn underwear), listened to a lot of music, moved my car to avoid yet another parking ticket, and paid some bills. But not necessarily in that order.
Today I didn't find the matching sock for four socks, didn't write email to any of the n people I've been meaning to write to for ages (where n is greater than fifty), my faith in the the average human being to do the right thing didn't increase, I didn't write a single line of code, I didn't work on any of my projects, I didn't post another page of dailymes, I didn't memorize anything, I didn't talk to anyone, ad nauseated. And didn't sleep. But not necessarily in that order.
I think the [Joseph] Heller influence is still strong with me.
In the context of all that has happened in my life since I started this blog, these lists highlight the utterly random nature of what I actually do blog. Of course, if you're not me, or don't know what's been going on with me, you may not fully appreciate the significance of this. Or, for that matter, care.
Proust is moving up my reading list.
I want a search engine that can catalog and search the text of every book and magazine article that I've ever read, complete with my comments in the margins. And while we're at it, it should return the results in my handwriting. In pencil.
I've finally put up the few photos I took at my class reunion earlier this month.