Which, if you're reading this around the time it has been written, includes you.
But what are you? Who are we? There's almost no way we can objectively answer this question. The only real answers will come from people who look at us well after the fact, and of course, those will be colored by their times and places and viewpoints. Just scanning around culture these days, though, it doesn't look good.
Before we start, please note: This is a longer entry. You may not wish to wade through it all. You've been warned.
I have been interested in answering these questions for myself for at least the last couple years, and increasing my diligence in doing so. My goal is to set aside all the irrelevancies and the cultural programming, to find out who I really am and what I should really be doing with myself, and how I can benefit the world most. Because that's more important than simply consuming.
Professionally, I think I'm doing all right, though there's always room for improvement. That is something I take up in a different forum, though. Which leaves my personal life. And there's lots of room for improvement there. The way I see it, there are a few areas of investigation to review:
I won't get into great detail here, but in general my philosophy about life is that it's more about giving good to the world than taking resources out. I want my personal balance sheet to come out in the positive rather than the negative. Since I don't believe in religions, I live by a fairly simple code in that way.
This is the consumption part. Like nearly all Americans, I've done a lot of consuming. It's not just food I eat or resources I use, though, it's also media. Video media, written media, social media. Prior to, say, college, I've had little control over my consumption habits, though as a child I certainly didn't help by being a spoiled kid. I wasn't bad, of course, like all children I was a product of my environment. At least I can say I wasn't mean-spirited. And I think I learned about the impacts and effects of consuming things by doing so.
At my present age, and for about the last five years or so, I've done a lot to reverse that consumption. I try to be more about not getting things unless I can use them completely, and not taking in a lot of harmful media manipulation which shapes us and in many ways warps our perspectives. Even media sources we see as being 'on our side' still shape and manipulate us. We're way past the optimistic days of the early Internet where we saw it as democratizing and positive force only. If anything, this decade has put the punctuation mark on the dark side of Internet media, from all corners.
As I say below, though, there's still room for me to make changes. Though I have eschewed Facebook and Twitter, I'm a big YouTube consumer. I read biased news sources, the most notable being the Washington Post. While I can acknowledge that there's a great deal of bad in the Trump 'administration', I can also recognize that the Post beating the impeachment drum all day every day is a real issue as well. I have a hard time believing these days, though, that there is anything close to attempting objective journalism. It isn't just politics, of course, there's also the standard capitalism baptisms, and skewing of our perceptions of society by dramatic video productions (what we once called "TV shows"). None of that is new, certainly, but I try to be more aware of it.
Talking about consuming materials, though, that is one of the most important conversation any person can have with one's self these days. I doubt that anybody reading this is a denier of climate change, so I don't think I need to sell you on the harms of consumption. But even those of us who do see climate change as real fail to make important changes. For example (judging only myself here), I still eat meat, I still drive a car. I do buy considerably less than I used to, and I am deliberate in my choices with regard to how I'm affecting the environment at large. I bicycle whenever possible instead of driving, I am trying to do better about using plastics. I think the biggest thing I can do to help fight climate change, though, is to not have children, and to seek to change the political environment, disappointing as that is.
One of the biggest concerns I have right now is attempting to make sure my money does not directly support harmful causes. I say attempting, because there's no way for me to stop using materials from authoritarian regimes entirely, for example, or knowing how large corporations are using the dollars with which I buy essential items. In 2020, this is going to be a bigger focus for myself.
This is where the rubber meets the road, or the shit hits the fan, or the...peanut butter joins the jelly? I lost the metaphor.
There's still a lot of work for me to do here. In my career, I've always tried to make it about doing work that benefits society in some way rather than just makes rich white guys richer. I think I've done OK there, not perfect, but OK.
I've always been a creative type, certainly anybody who knows me knows I have had the pretension of wanting to be a writer, by which I mean a published somebody or other who, sheesh, gets their material read by other people. At this I have singularly failed to apply myself. Doesn't matter; I am a writer, I write everyday both at work and at home. At the beginning of this decade, I still held an archetype in my head of what a writer should be. I have let this go, having seen more of the universe of publishing. I now believe that what's important to me is simply applying my creativity in whatever way that I prefer. I do not need the validation of a publisher's nameplate or the (likely tiny) compensation involved. That doesn't mean I'll say no to it if offered, but simply that those things are secondary to the benefit of having put something out into the world rather than just taking things in.
Artistic creativity, though, really needs to be placed behind more important forms of expression: being good to people (which I'll get to in the next point), being honest and truthful in your dealings, the giving of material and personal comfort to those who need it, and keeping an open mind about how you help or hinder the world and being flexible in changing that behavior if need be. I do all right in some of those areas, but could certainly stand to do better. For example, I try to donate to good causes, especially ones that I know will have a direct and immediate positive impact (such as, say, giving clothing to the homeless shelter), but I don't think I give nearly as much as I should. I don't take enough steps to be involved in improving the community in Des Moines, and I should be doing more of that. I say a lot, but I don't do as much as I talk. I've certainly been involved in plenty of empty protests, but how much change has any of that actually done?
I've been bad, guys, and I know it. I mostly walked away from social media with no plan at all whatsoever. To some who know me, I might even seem downright antisocial these last couple years. It's a struggle for me sometimes to be social. I have grappled with how to balance things, and I know the balance is way off right now. I do like having friends, I do like interacting with people. I don't do well with traditional social obligations. Since I don't drink, that definitely limits a lot of options for me, but then I'm also a pretty big introvert as well. Parties, let's face it, I suck at them and don't generally like being in large groups of people. I feel bad when people invite me and I can't make myself go.
Then there's social media.
Facebook is a minefield, we all know that. I had to get off that train, but I don't know how to replace it. I have this blog, but no one knows about it, and even if they did, would they check it? I know most of my friends still use Facebook, and I feel like I'm missing out by not having it. At the same time, I don't miss it. It magnified my pain of dealing with parties, because there was always the inevitable personal politics of it. Then there's the algorithmic manipulation; whose friends' posts am I not being shown? Leaving Facebook has been a tremendous net positive in my life, but the price was indeed high. I can only hope that in this decade we can find technological ways of interacting that aren't being run by shadowy forces of darkness of some sort. In the meantime, send me a text, send me an email, and I'll do my best.
I don't have the answers here. I promise, however, to make an effort to do better in this coming decade. I need to reach out more, to be willing to interact more. I do best with small groups (or one-on-one) in quiet settings, watching media, playing games, that sort of thing. If I don't come to your 40-person party (or even your 10-person party), please forgive me. It's a complicated thing being an introvert, but that doesn't make it less real.
Putting aside the mea culpa, I try always to be a positive person whether I'm interacting with friends, family, or strangers. Even to people with whom I disagree, I try to keep my interactions positive. The nice thing about being above a certain age is you no longer feel (hopefully) that you need to cut a provocative line against the world to stand out. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'll agree with everything people tell me with a bright sunny smile on my face, but that I can be respectful and friendly in my responses at all times. One thing for sure is, I do want to see people more, to be out in the world a little more, and to try to make peoples' days better, because we're all we've got.
No I never do this.
Overthinking is what I do, I learned at some point in the past. Instead of being sloppy as I thought I was, I get vapor locked and bogged down by letting things get to me and making little shit into unnecessarily complex and overwrought shit. I have made overthinking my adversary lately, and I'm glad to have done so, because my momentum is picking up, and I'm getting into things that I've always wanted to get involved in without having to be SUPER CRAZY PERFECTIONIST COMPLETION MAN about it.
Going along with overthinking things is being capable of recognizing when I should not take a new thing on. Work has helped me to understand this better, where I recognize that I only have two hands and a brain able to manage one task at a time, and there is plenty of shit out there that I a.) am not capable of doing, and b.) not interested in doing.
So I say no more often. Seems simple, right? Everybody knows that's not true, but I have an increasing natural resistance to adopting things at this point, with the exception of things I really, really want. I think this is healthy, as long as it doesn't lead to stagnation. I want to try new things and I want to get better at the things I really want to get better at. But I have to think in terms of boxes. I only have three boxes in my head where I can focus on projects. I fill up those boxes, and that's where I've got to stop.
That part about stagnating is important to me, though, knowing my mom's back history. My mom, in her strange ways, was so lost in her mind that nothing external mattered. I was telling Jenn about this. In the '80s, my mom set us (me and her) up with a two-bedroom suburban apartment that was nicely furnished, full of stuff she never used. She had a living room TV which she never watched, a balcony, a dining room, a kitchen--even the bedrooms, she never used them ever. She slept in the living room, on the couch. As a kid, I thought it was odd, but as an adult I realize I can't fathom that at all. If I don't use a thing, I make it a point to get it out of my life so that I can focus on things I will use. My mom's behavior (admittedly colored heavily by her mental illness) is partly a spur to me to keep me from getting too deep in my own ruts.
There is a baffling side to my personality that I'm afraid to admit to, but will go ahead and do so. I'm obsessively fascinated by disasters. I always have been. I don't know exactly why, and I feel bad sometimes for it. But the reasons for my interest are something of a mystery to me.
It goes back to elementary school. I went to two elementary schools, Moore Elementary in Des Moines, and Olmstead Elementary in Urbandale. I do not recall reading or being interested in disasters at Moore, but, then, I was also a small child. However, I was witness to a disaster while there; as a second-grader, I was part of the audience of the Challenger explosion live on television. I cannot say for sure if witnessing this terrible event "primed the pump" exactly, but starting in third grade at Olmstead, I began reading in earnest about two disasters: the Mt. St. Helens volcano eruption of 1980, and, of course, Chernobyl. Lord only knows what teachers and fellow students may have thought of this, if they knew.
I proceeded from those into equally dark subjects for a child -- reading about the atomic bomb, and the radiation incident with the crew of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, better known to us as the ship called "Lucky Dragon", following the Bikini Atoll nuclear test. I've always been interested and horrified by nuclear war. But the list goes on: I've watched nearly all of the series "Zero Hour", and the bluntly named series "Air Disasters". The shuttle Columbia break up, and on and on.
Lately, I've been reading and watching videos about the 2011 tsunami following the very large earthquake off the coast of Japan. I read a book called "Ghosts of the Tsunami" by Richard Lloyd Parry, which goes into great detail about the impact of the tsunami on a small village called Okama, where 72 children and their teachers were killed by the tsunami. Strangely, the school administrators, instead of retreating to the nearby high hills, inexplicably walked their students toward the river and the approaching tsunami. Nobody really knows why, because almost none of those administrators survived, and one was so wracked either with guilt or PTSD that he wouldn't talk.
Setting aside the details for a moment, I want to understand why I'm so interested in these things. I can justify myself somewhat by saying that knowing about disaster helps one prepare for an unforeseen occurrence. Probably true to a certain extent, though who can ever completely prepare for the unknown. But I also think I'm lying to myself when I think that. Really, I think it's more likely that I find the unusualness of it interesting, and also I want to know more about the people and society involved and why they did what they did in reaction to disaster. But that doesn't entirely explain it either. There is definitely an element here that I am not fully understanding. That I think is where the guilt comes in. I'm fascinated, for example, to watch video of the tsunami (there's plenty out there), but, at the same time, I feel guilty for watching these videos where literally tens of thousands of people died essentially for entertainment purposes. Isn't that wrong? I'm not so sure it's 'entertainment' though so much as being compelled to find out as much as I can.
If it is wrong, I don't know that I can stop myself from continuing to read and study disasters. But instead of rationalizing my behavior, I think I do need to keep in mind a respectfulness for the loss of human life in these situations. I will say there are lessons to take away from these things, and so I try to get a positive, productive benefit from my behavior. Maybe that will redeem it somewhat, I don't know.
Conference completed, and thank goodness, too. I didn't dislike it, and my volunteer duties were good. But I want my off time to be off time. Work-Life balance is critical to me. I feel like I've got the balance mostly back, though, and that's good. At the same time, I question (from the macro perspective) the 40-hour workweek. Most of us do it, and money is necessary for me as it is for everyone. I don't feel like I need it, though. With the exception of having enough money for emergencies and retirement, I have found that working a lot to buy a lot to work more is not a lifestyle I like. In the 1950s and 1960s, of course, many magazines were sold by putting forth pop futurists' fantasies of the "man of tomorrow" working 15-20 hours a week and enjoying a life of leisure and reflection the rest of the time. Nobody bet on George Orwell's dark vision of a national machine requiring society to produce and produce and produce only to destroy those materials in war. Although we do have perpetual war like "1984" posited, our overproduction just gets tossed into the sea, like sacrifices to capitalism.
That got dark fast.
In any case, I do believe that, with the exception of emergency money and my retirement plan, I could be fine with trading money for time. I don't need very much stuff, less and less all the time. And I can use time. I do not want to reach old age wishing I hadn't spent so much time in the office.
Don't take this as a screed against my employer, however. I genuinely enjoy my job, and there is PLENTY of work to go around in civil-servant-land. Anyway, I want to keep my job in its box, and only bring it out when appropriate. Back into the box it goes. The real subject for my life, both in my job and in my personal time, is governing myself. I need to govern myself, and I need to do it better than I have. No, there are no disasters, things are fine--better than fine. But my tendencies toward laziness and sloppiness do not reflect well on me. The only way to counter those tendencies is to manage myself, at all times. So I've been pressing myself, pressing everyday. Saving for things, managing my stuff, keeping myself healthy. It requires attention and focus. I'm happier when I do, so long as I also manage management, if you know what I'm saying. There's room for relaxation, for personal time, for enjoyment.
This post reads like a motivational pamphlet. My apologies. It's not all hard work and efforting. I'm doing personal Star Trek role playing that is a TON of fun. And reading more. The Star Trek role playing so far consists of a Mead notebook into which I pore my story-making and world-building. It's a parallel life for me, taking place in The Next Generation era, aboard a tiny ship called USS Steadfast. I have characters I write about, and I incorporate real life situations and places as much as possible. It's just for me, and it's great fun. Someday, I may include others in this, if there's a way. Or not.
This has been an eventful week, as we prepare for a big conference that my workplace is hosting. I'll be 'volunteering' for it Sunday and Monday. But in my personal life, the most exciting thing that's happened this week is the procurement of a new pair of eyeglasses. Maybe this is not exciting, but it's pleasing to me--I've been wearing cheap Internet-bought eyeglasses for the last several years to save money, and, although the value for money is exceptional, the comfort of them is lacking. Some things are in fact worth paying for. Not that I relish the idea of spending a couple hundred bucks on glasses, but I recognize the benefits of a good pair of nice fitting specs. Plus the magnetic clip sunglasses are such a convenience--provided you don't lose them. Here is a picture of the new glasses:
I have been, as usual, biking a great deal. Mostly to work, though I can't seem to break out of the "two days riding, three days driving" routine. I was hoping earlier this year to be biking at least three or even four times a week. But it isn't practical to do so in some situations, and I have to leave a whole hour before I usually would go. That means getting up earlier, and having less morning time to ease into the day. But, of course, it's a trade-off. I enjoy the trip more (which is saying something, considering I own a sexy red convertible), and the exercise is invaluable. It's two sessions a day of more than 15 kilometers' worth of riding. If I 'bang it out', as I put it in my head when I'm doing so, this is tremendous exercise. But it can be exhausting if I overdo it, which I did last Thursday. I have to remind myself of the phrase 'everything in moderation.'
The way I offset the more intense rides is through engaging in a practice I call 'bike strolling'. Walking is a nice activity, but as a means of getting anywhere in any amount of time, it's kind of the pits. I have found that I much prefer riding casually to places when I'm not driving. I don't have to bang it out everywhere I go (I suppose I'm not EXTREEEME enough to be a hardcore cyclist) -- it is reasonable for me to just throw on some clothes and derp my way to a place on Kinetica going about half of my normal cruising speed. Bike strolling, for me, is essential to preventing burn-out. It reminds me of why I loved biking as a kid. Also, bike commuting shouldn't have to be a pain if you don't want it to be.
In other news, I got to proofread a copy of "Call of the Wild" by Jack London this week. Much of my freelance proofing involves textbooks, which can be interesting, but I'm certainly not doing it for fun. This, by comparison, was a true joy. It helped that I had never read it before. I still haven't, kind of, because I was skimming the text looking for errors. Nevertheless, I got enough of the gist of the story to appreciate the quality of the tale. Jack London deserves the plaudits he likely gets from English teachers around the world. I appreciated both the narrative and the lavish, sophisticated prose that flowed so satisfyingly. I certainly hope I get to proofread more novels like that in the near future.
As I chose to use the plural instead of the singular word "photos" in my header, I leave you with a fun image I picked up on the Internet this week, from a collection of Japanese 'Americana' I found:
I'm not really. I actually enjoy being amongst friends and enjoying small get-togethers. I'll admit, I don't like parties. They don't do a thing for me. For one thing, I don't drink. I also don't like meeting large groups of people and having to be 'on' all the time. But at the same time, I love having small things at my place, watching movies and enjoying people's company. I just like to do it without substance use and pressure to be popular.
What's important to me these days is learning to balance friend time in such a way that I leave myself enough personal time to be comfortable in my skin. I think I balance time with my partner just fine, which is a bonus, but finding time and capability to do friend time is somewhat tricky. Nevertheless, I did do a social thing a couple days ago. I took three days off from work to accommodate RAGBRAI. My friend Josh and I did the Winterset to Indianola day on Tuesday. I prepped a lot for this event. Although I bike regularly (in fact, I commute sometimes up to three days a week by bike-15 km there and 15 km back), I wasn't sure if I was up to the challenge of the hills. Turned out I need not have been concerned. Josh and I had no trouble making the nearly 65 km of the jaunt, the shortest day for RAGBRAI this year. I felt glad to have made the achievement, though I'm not sure I need to do it again. We will see what next year brings...or maybe the next after that, depending.
I felt fortunate that all went well at RAGBRAI, however. I had a real "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" kind of moment beforehand. For one thing, the RAGBRAI website ate my registration, which I did not discover (due to my error) until the morning of. Then, apparently, the inner tube on Kinetica's front tire gave out somewhere between when I inflated the tire the night before and Josh's house the next day. So at the last minute before leaving we were frantically changing out the inner tube like it was a Formula 1 race. I worried that these occurences were a bad omen, and thought maybe I should not attend the event, but then I realized I'm an atheist who doesn't ken to that kind of silly nonsense, and I sucked it up. Damn right, too.
In any case, now that the great bike ride of the year is complete (at least, the great official one), I can get back to relaxing quiet nights typey typing, and my day job, which provides me with an assortment of interest and challenge. As it should be. I'm also writing Star Trek fiction for my personal entertainment, which coupled with the NES Classic I put at Jenn's house, provides me with all the fun I could need.
My last week has been both invigorating and tiring to the extreme. My job had me doing long-distance travel, at least by Iowa standards, and I was in three cities I have never previously visited since last Wednesday. I was meeting with many Iowans and learning all sorts of things about my workplace, different communities, and getting to stay in a couple of pretty decent hotels.
I arrived home in time to do a little bit of Demicon, the small sci-fi/fantasy convention in Des Moines, which was celebrating its 30th year. I did a panel on Star Trek and Doctor Who, my fourth time in four years. That was certainly enjoyable, as was catching up with a couple of my friends, including Mr. Lars Pearson, with whom I was sharing a table at the aforementioned panels.
Sunday (today) has been a decent chance to rest and relax after all that excitement, but it has been a bit anxious. I took a brief bike ride, and discovered myself short of breath, and it's been plaguing me all afternoon. I wonder if I'm coming down with some kind of lung infection, after doing a little, ahem, productive coughing. I will say, as always in these moments of less than total perfect health, that, worry not, I am not dying, all is well. And it probably is. Now to convince my anxiety-prone brain of such things.
How, though, can anything really be wrong when one has a delicious homemade cinnamon roll from Little Norway, a.k.a. Denison, Iowa?
Still around, still kicking, very sorry at how I've been so willing to avoid society for such a long time. In 2019, I've been focusing on connecting better, and I'm sort of walking myself back. If we use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I have been making my way back up the pyramid.
But I'm doing fine.
Another thing I've learned is that a person is only what he or she puts out into the world. There's a lot that happens in one's head, but who you are to the world is outside, as perceived by others. I'm still against social media, with the entirely hypocritical exception of Reddit. I have a convertible once again, it's red and delightful. I was hit by a drunk driver in December, but by sheer good luck and fortune, I came out personally unscathed. I appreciate life so much more.
Work is going fine.
I feel like I can come back to the larger world, too. I will admit to feeling deeply put out by the election of that Russian puppet here in the US, and the increasing rise of racism and nationalism in the world. Deeply put out. I couldn't watch the news between January 2017 until maybe about a month or two ago. But I feel like I've been copping out. The world needs positive energy, and those of us who live by reason and humanism need to make sure we do not give up, especially when the insanity is at your doorstep.
There's more to say, but it's 10 o'clock, and time for me to relax before bed. Plus I gotta have something to pontificate on next time. Stay cool, if anybody's reading this.
The return of snow and cold with a vengeance has made my last few days a minor challenge, but it also has fueled considerations of spring. Specifically, how to plan for what to do with the time when the flowers are fresh and the air is welcoming.
Two things I've been doing this morning have had to do with spring planning: bike renovating and trip planning. They are related, because a lot of my vacation time involves me taking my bike Kinetica up to places where I can bike--downtown areas, bike trails, parks, that sort of thing. I have found that the best way to really get to know a city is not by car or even on foot, but by bicycle.
This year will mark Kinetica's tenth anniversary as my bike of choice, and I have decided to drop a little money into renovating his appearance. Last year, I spent a bit of coin to refit his components, which was a necessity, but the upside of doing that in '18 is that I can focus on appearance in '19. As a result, I've been spending time considering what color schemes I'd like to apply, as well as what decals. It's entertaining to do for sure, but also overwhelming. However, I think I've narrowed it down. I'm planning to go with a cobalt blue and yellow color scheme, with reflective stickers to enhance the style and visibility.
At the same time, I'm planning on a couple different places I can take Kinetica so that I can bike and explore. I have two specific trips in mind at the moment. I have a plan to take Kinetica up to Ft. Dodge, then over to Sioux City. Then, later, a trip to Saint Louis, MO.
Being as I am a middle class government bureaucrat, money is always a consideration, but I think with a modest budget and some time, I can get lots of bike exploration in all three cities. Stay in cheap hotels, eat delicious food, get relaxing vibes and listen to good music. That's my travel objectives so far this year.
Now I just need to get through February and March. Iowa's tough when you own a convertible and you can't put the top down. I need to find some more engaging indoor activities to keep me busy until the sun returns. Maybe writing perhaps!