People Watching And Time Dilation: Part 2 – The Internet

Part 2 was supposed to be about applying the lessons of Part 1 to yourself. But…after 400 words or so, my heart wasn’t quite in it. So I’m going to make that part 3.

Instead let’s talk about an adjunct that Cigargoyle touched on, the complexity of people as related to online interactions.

Let’s start with a conversational misstep I took:

Back in the early 2000s when I was a blogger (err…well…when I was FIRST a blogger. Because I guess I’m full bore back there now) I was having a conversation with my Father.

I talked about the people I’d known through shared blog circles (again, back when that was something that made sense) and I said…”They’re great. But…it’s online. People online aren’t really people.”

“Jesus Mike.” My father said. He wasn’t exactly a denizen of the internet the way I’ve always been.

Now look. I get it. I know what he meant and he was right, so far as it went. But now, something close to 20 years later I hold to the underlying sentiment.

Interactions with people online are for the most part very one-dimensional. You can’t see anything aside from what they put forward, intentionally or accidentally. I can learn more about you from watching you walk across a room or talking with you for two or three minutes than I can in three months of talking to you online.

The kind of observational understanding I was talking about in the previous post is ABSOLUTELY UNAVAILABLE to us online, on social media, through our writings and pictures.

Now the twitch streaming and video conversation medium has mitigated a lot of that. But no where NEAR enough of it.

Social Media interaction has created this strange illusion where we think we’re talking with people, but we really aren’t. It’s like (well, not ‘like’, it’s not even a metaphor) trying to judge someone based on their online dating profile. You just can’t connect with people, not in any real way, through these mediums.

So we’re left with these strange one-dimensional pictures of each other and wonder why we still feel disconnected.

It’s because we are. These forms don’t take the place of real social interaction any more than aspartame, sucralose, or saccharine take the place of actual calories.

And like artificial sweeteners we deluded into thinking we have connections back and forth when we’re just, in a very real sense, playing a video game where we pretend to be interacting with other people.

It’s absolutely dangerous. Go back to the bar I talked about in my previous post. Watch how many people, especially people in the 30-50 range can NOT seem to get off their phones. They’re not watching anything or anyone. They’re just absorbed in being online more than they are in the real world. Oddly I’ve found that younger people, in their 20s roughly, have learned to navigate back and forth between their phones and real life, as if their phone was just another conversational participant. It’s interesting and frankly, heartening.

You have to go out. You have to go be a part of the world and make small talk with strangers, say hi to people you just pass on the street or in the gas station. It’s important.

You have to expose yourself to the Chaos Soup of humanity if you want anything to come of your life. No man is an island (hey, someone should write that down.) This weird belief that you’re being social when you’re hanging out on twitter, reddit, instagram, snapchat, and facebook all day is creating sociopaths of the lot of us and nothing good can come of it.

Now it’s not like you can put that genie back in the bottle. I used to try and take the neo-luddite position that social media was just toxic. But I’ve learned, like the 20somethings from a couple paragraphs ago, that there’s a balance to be struck with these new tools. (NOT that they’ve got such a great grasp of it. But it’s there.)

There are too many good people out there that I would have had no exposure to were it not for the nearly complete geographic irrelevance afforded by social media.

There are too many things I would never have learned without the firehose of twitter blasting in my face.

But even I (he says, vaunting himself perhaps overmuch, perhaps not) catch myself thinking that hanging out on twitter (my personal poison of choice) is real social interaction instead of just a series of video game style dopamine hits.

It is absolutely something from which we should escape.

I wasn’t sure how to close this part out, but let me suggest a couple tips and tricks.

Take a day (ideally a weekend, if you’re brave a week or a month) off of social media.

Now you’ll read that and flinch, almost certainly. That actually proves my point.

“But I don’t know anyone else.” Well, yeah even MORE to the point.

Go out. Go to a bookstore. Okay well a book store isn’t a great example. It’s like going to a library for conversation. Leave your phone at home or at least in the car, and take yourself out to get something to eat and NOT to a drive-through. Go sit someplace and eat something. Scary? Sure, if you’re not used to it. You know, like everything else. If you’re of age and not a tea-teetotaler, go sit at a bar, have a drink and bullshit with an available bartender. Talk with a stranger.

You’ve got to get away from the tailored, scripted (if ad hoc) interactions with avatars on the screen and deal with people.

Over time you’ll start seeing it all for what it is. And it gets easier. Like most things it’s an uphill climb at first. But over time, relatively short time really, you’ll get to the point where the “safety” of online interaction isn’t really worth it.

It’s scary. It’s not just that online interactions are shallow. It’s that we’ve grown accustomed to the safety of that insulative layer. That vulnerability involved in actually interacting with other people is vital. It’s what makes for a real interaction. While it’s nearly a tautology it bears saying that the degree to which you avoid exposing yourself to other people (heh, insert flasher joke here) is the degree to which you isolate yourself from humanity.

People need the genuine reinforcement and connections that can only come from that mutual vulnerability when we’re actually in a room, in a real conversation with each other.

It’s literally the only thing you can really do to snap out of that illusion and join the world where The Interesting People live.

The internet is a tool. You don’t have to be.

People Watching and Time Dilation: Part 1

Current Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LH5JcJtV94

So Cigargoyle told a little story last night about people watching that hit a chord from my past.

It’s always been one of my favorite things to do, and is one of the things I miss terribly about My City. There were any number of places I’d go and just sit and watch. Barnes & Noble all over the city. Any number of bars; downstairs in Grand Central Terminal. I’d take my notebook down and just have my head apparently down while listening and watching.

People don’t notice what’s going on around them outside the shortest tactical time-horizon. What’s a danger? Who’s around? Where am I going? Aside from that, something outside the bounds of defined normalcy has to occur in order for it to be noticed, kind of by definition, really.

We can’t pay attention to everything all the time. We’d fucking explode with sensory overload. So we make massive amounts of judgements behind the scenes of our consciousness in order to figure out what we actually NEED to pay attention to. By definition that means: “If it’s not of immediate concern to me, ignore it.”

Perception is nine kinds of fucky that way. You think you see what’s going on around you, but you really don’t. You see what’s important to you.

A few sentences paraphrased from something I wrote 20 years ago:

One of the great things about people watching, especially in NYC is that you can’t imagine the bizarre dramas that are taking place all around you unless you stop, unplug from the present, and watch what’s going on.

You have to change your time horizon to see properly.

Imagine, if you will (thanks Rod) a multicolor display that you’re looking at through a blue gel filter. The guy next to you is using a red gel. The world is like that. Well, everything is like that.

There are parallel dimensions that overlay each other at different frequencies. Now…I COULD get metephysical about that, but I hold those cards pretty close to the vest. But that’s not even really what I’m talking about here. Maybe some day.

When you sit down where there are a bunch of people, let’s say at a bar, the first thing you’re likely to see and hear is “crowd” and “noise.” Maybe even “busy bartender.” So you sit down (hopefully with your back to the wall because you’re not a moron) and watch and wait a little. After a while you start seeing things appear out of the chaos, like you’re tuning in from the static and adjusting your perception, going through the process of filtering out what you don’t need to pay attention to in order to see the patterns.

You’ll see the dynamics of the people you notice (and who, out of the crowd, you notice is another matter entirely.) Who’s here by themselves? Who’s looking at their drink. Who’s listening to the music? Who’s watching whom? What do they want? Who’s watching the bartenders ass every time she turns around? Who’s noticing them do that? Why are they here? Are they fussing with their clothes? Their hair? Are they checking their watch or worse, their phones?

As you watch you experience a time dilation, meaning you start seeing things on a longer time horizon. The more you watch the more you see patterns, recognize them, and bank them in your head so that you don’t have to pay attention to them.

THEN, with those in your head, you get to look for larger (and longer) patterns. You see who’s trying to make a play for whom, and who’s waiting for someone to say something. You see who’s having a rough time. Who’s here to forget and who’s here to remember.

At this point you’ve absolutely raised in dimensional awareness to see an entirely different layer of humanity. And all you had to do is sit still, lean back, and let your eyes, ears, and nose take in room.

Now this is just from going anyplace and sitting there. We can take this to a much higher level very easily, by going back a couple times. Now you’ve jumped another level of time dilation.

What’s happening with these people’s lives over time? Who are they and what are they doing? How are they dressed from one day to the next? Who’s coming back? What are people drinking? Who’s here for what’s on the television and who’s here because it’s just “what they do?”

Over time you can learn so very much. Put people in boxes, because you have to face the fact that people can be put in boxes, however fuzzy their borders are.

It’s fascinating.

But the example of a bar is something of a contrivance since one of the purposes of a bar is to behave as a pot in which everyone tosses themselves in order to experience the apparent chaos of humanity and see what happens when they add themselves to that mix, sometimes to make things happen.

Cigargoyle’s example was to sit outside on the porch of a gas station/convenience store and sit and watch the ebb and flow of people. In a place like that it’s a much different kind of scene, different kinds of patterns. But the idea is of course exactly the same. People go there for a very narrow set of purposes. But to watch through what I’ll call the expanded eye still gives you SO much. What do they drive? How do they dress? Where are they going to and coming from? How many people are in a rush? Who looks down at their shoes and who looks out to others? Do they do so invitingly or warily?

I’ve often thought a supermarket would be a great place to do this kind of people watching. But there’s really no place to do it from. It’s not like you can sit to one side of the checkout lanes and just watch people for hours on end. But I’ve no doubt it would be fascinating if you could.

The breadth of what a human is out in the vastness of real space is absolutely wild.

Spend some time watching people. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do with your time.

Of course this all applies to watching your own life as well. More on that in a bit.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

[So…this was a bit of a different post. But I wasn’t happy with it so I’ve rewritten the bottom half and made some tweaks to the beginning and the middle. As far as timing toes, I initially wrote this last week so take references to relative time with that in mind.]

“Oh, I don’t know what the hell to write about.”

I kinda pulled the training wheels off last week and really almost didn’t hit post. But, as is almost always the case nowadays “that might be a little too much” ends up in “omg I’m so glad you wrote that.”

It’s tough to dig down there like that and maybe not for the reasons you might expect.

It’s not that I don’t want to deal with what comes up in my head during those sessions, it’s more that I don’t want to hear it from people who think I’m talking about them either to the good or the bad.

People have an ability to project their own identities on the actions of others that sometimes astounds me and sometimes causes me to shrug my shoulders noncommittally.

I mean, of course they do. What else is there.

The number of layers involved in “consciously understanding” (a convenient but wholly inaccurate phrase) something outside of us (therein lying the rub) is crazy.

The visual stimuli (true enough for the other senses as well, but let’s stick with visual so I don’t have to keep swapping verbs out of some twisted sense of sensory equanimity): This is simple enough. We’ve got to get the input.

But our brain goes through some fascinating pattern matching to try and figure out what it is that the distance, color, and shapes of what we’re seeing really map to.

THAT involves an internal library of objects and their Platonic essences (i.e. “what is chairness? What makes a chair a chair and not a table?”) And already we run in to some difficulty. Go into a museum, or even better, a farmhouse estate sale or antique store, and see how much there actually is in there that you can’t quite identify. How much can you really take for granted about what you see? You think “well a chair is a chair, duh.” But it’s not REALLY that simple. Would you recognize a bed from rural japan from 150 years ago? I’m not at all sure I would.

How much of what you see is locked into the context of your current time and culture? The classic example is to show a kid a rotary phone, old hand tools, a cabinet radio, fax machine, or a VHS player. See if they can even figure out wth it is. Sure those are hackneyed examples. But we’re just familiar with them because of this very exercise.

Assuming you “know” what you’re seeing you then have to filter that through your life. Is that the kind of chair your grandfather sat in when he’d slip you a piece of candy? Or when he’d hand you $2 and ask you to go to across the train tracks and buy him a pack of Luckys?

All of that is going to come bubbling up SOMEplace in your mind from different tracks, sub-personalities, and memories. You can’t separate those things. You have emotional reactions, usually pretty subtle ones because otherwise you’d be freaking the fuck out ALL the time.

Things aren’t what they ARE to us. Things are what they MEAN to us. A chair is comfort, it’s dinner, it’s a library or a classroom or a workbench where we hated sitting in Chemistry class or where we love sitting to drink or write (into the amber screen of a distraction free word processor in amber with artificial clicky sounds on my laptop with a purple wireless keyboard to ‘Jump’ by Julia Michaels on repeat in an over-airconditioned back room of a cigar lounge at a high-top and smoking an Illusione MJ12 with a 24oz Diet Dr. Pepper at your side while you keep switching which leg you have folded up as the edge of it cuts off the circulation in your thighs…for instance.)

So we have this strange sense that we perceive “objective” reality. And in the strictest sense, we may. But the objectivity of it all can’t get through our minds into our actual consciousness. Our perceptual motivation only notices things that have meaning to us. It’s how you can stare right past things that other people see. It’s really quite amazing. Richard Feynman, in his singular style, talked about this at the most basic physical level.

Now I went through all that to get to this. So hold that all in your head, the way we see only our interpretations of things, conscious and unconscious. The fact that we define the world around us by its meaning and how we take all of that for granted.

Now let’s talk about people and how we understand each other.

It’s the same. (Calling Captain Obvious, I know.) The difference I think is that we have SOME grasp of how all of that is true when we’re dealing with other people. BUT, and let me see if I can weave my way through this, the fact that we think we understand the degree of subjectivity with which we interpret the actions of other people gives us a false sense of security, like we really know what’s going on. It’s because we’re ourselves and first of all we think we know what that means. But then we take it farther. We classify most other people as people and assume they’re just LIKE us. But that’s completely erroneous and if we really understood ourselves deeply the FIRST (well, okay, second) thing we’d realize is that there’s no WAY other people are like us. But we don’t understand even that much, not really. That (entirely false) sense of security blinds us from understanding quite how severe that ‘problem’ (not that it necessarily is one) that the people we’re talking to are deeply and unaccountably different from us really is. “Why wouldn’t you like that chair? It’s a perfectly comfortable chair.” … “Well, that’s the kind of chair my father sat in when he’d just look down and shake his head in disappointment.” Or whatever (these examples are all contrivances.)

So if people are going to understand you it’s almost always as a reflection of themselves (which is really what I’m tacking towards here) their reactions to you are going to have a necessary level of projection. They are in a very concrete sense, reacting to themselves. To say nothing of the local cultural context and agreed upon modes of behavior. That’s a whole almost different can of worms.

This is at the heart of why people give other people advice that they most need to hear, and treat people the way they feel they deserve to be treated.

And THIS is where the problem is.

Yeah it’s easy (or should be) to forgive people the way they act towards you. After all, they AREN’T reacting to you, they’re reacting to themselves as their internal levers are pulled by the way they perceive you to behave towards them in ways you can’t possibly understand. Your part in that play is actually pretty small. (“You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes” – Butthole Surfers.)

After all, if you’re insulting someone it’s either accidental or intentional. If it’s accidental, it’s easy to forgive, even if it DOES get to you. If it’s intentional then it’s a ‘them’ problem. That’s not to say things aren’t insulting and you should spend time whenever that happens, exploring why. But it gives you someplace to go when it happens.

On the other side of the equation: If you buy someone a gift you’re buying something for them, not buying them something you wish someone would buy you.

Frankly I think people need to do a better job than they do at consciously detaching ourselves from our interactions with each other.

For my part there are a couple things that get under my skin something absolutely fierce. I spend a lot of energy saying “it’s not me it’s them” when in fact it’s absolutely both. Hell it’s probably more me than them.

Overt expressions of emotion: By my estimation friendships, for instance, should be defined by actions, not words. I find myself thinking very frequently of Loki’s disgust with “sentiment” in The Avengers. Yeah that may have been a throwaway “look, he’s a villain” personality trait. But…I agree with him. It’s just so damned crass to say what you’re feeling. Sure, I understand where that comes from in my own life. I had a Scots-Irish “A River Runs Through It” upbringing and I get that not everyone did. But it seems yet like such an amazing waste of energy, as if you’re so emotionally illiterate that the only tool you’ve got to express yourself is to say things out loud.

People PULLING unnatural at me trying to get me more and more involved in their lives. God I hate it. Let things flow the way they will. While “introvert” isn’t necessarily accurate, I would almost always rather be by myself than with other people. Sure, I’ll close up the laptop if a few of the guys come in and go sit with them. But…come work out with us, come to church with us, hey we’re all going to so and so’s. In isolation these things are fine here and there. But sometimes I get the impression that someone’s trying to drag me into every portion of their lives. It just seems…premature. I’m sure I’m not describing this well and it’s going to piss people off. But there’s not really anything I can do about that.

Obsequious Praise: The “everybody’s great” or “everything you do is awesome” phenomenon. Well, if everything I do is awesome (see the tendency to say things like “I’ll support you in anything you do” well, that means you’re not discerning at all. What I do doesn’t matter and your support isn’t REALLY worth all that much.) If praise and acceptance is unconditional it’s meaningless.

But while on one hand I find obsequious praise absolutely repulsive perhaps I need to reframe that as coming from someone who runs themselves down and doesn’t hear a lot of praise either from themselves or from outside. It’s not so much ABOUT me as it is projecting what they want on to their interactions with people around them. Perhaps they “could never do anything right and are damned if they’re going to do that to other people.”

Now that’s a pretty pure motivation and while I get it, it still gets under MY skin for the opposite reason.

Here’s another one: People who want you to regard them the way they regard you. This one is a bit more abstract, gets a bit more touchy and frankly it’s something I’ve only recently realized. But I find that in all relationships there is a hierarchy of two. Someone is more invested than the other.

Someone wiser than I once said that the best friendships consist of two people who esteem themselves slightly above the other. Of course one response I’ve gotten to this was “well I think WE’RE beyond that” which is the most beautiful expression of the fact I’ve ever encountered.

But more subtly, and perhaps more purely is someone on who you’ve made a great impression who wants to be as important to you as you are to them. I’m finding that a tough one on a couple fronts. Indeed I am currently and have historically been on both sides of that equation with a more than a few people. It’s very strange and I’m not sure what, if anything, to do about it. There’s some friction because, well…friendships at this level aren’t really equal.

I wonder if they ever are. It’s been my experience that this is some thing that is always kicking around someplace beyond a certain cursory depth of human interaction.

Maybe it’s a problem that doesn’t require a solution. But it comes up all the time in my interactions. On the down-side of the equation it feels like people are pulling at me, wanting my involvement in their lives to be deeper than I do. “Hey let’s work on a piece of writing together.” Yeah, no. “Hey we should all go out to your favorite place. That sounds like fun.” Yeah…no, y’all aren’t the right crowd for there.

I TRY to be a pretty private person. I’ll give y’all a moment to crack up at that.

MY problem with THAT is that I can’t stop myself from just running at the mouth. I know people find me interesting. But I can’t really relate to them very well (speaking to my previous post quite strongly. Hmm…maybe this is a series.)

When I deal with most people I find that over time they treat me as a curiosity. “Good grief he’s…weird.” Yeah that’s fine. I get it. Warts and all I am unabashedly who I am and I understand why people think that’s weird. Hell the fact that it’s TRUE, regardless of ‘who that person is that I unabashedly am’ is inherently different. But it leaves me feeling, most of the time, that I’m something under glass, a curiosity at best and more often than I like, a clown.

To not be taken seriously, to be ignored, is MY fucking Achilles’ Heel.

So I’ve found myself, as I always seem to, in this weird web of counterbalancing prejudices, mine and that of others overt or occulted by the psychologies and histories of everyone involved. I’m trying to navigate my need to be taken seriously with the fact that I can’t actually discover how I am perceived. There are just too many levels of indirection to wade through and they’re not generally apparent. And I’m trying to navigate the weird difficulty of the fact that I’m perceived a certain way by a preponderance of people, and to understand the implications of that.

On one hand most of my friends are, shall we say, “of a certain type” as I described last week. So I should take it within that context. BUT I also can’t ignore that if how I’m finding myself treated by friends has followed me 900 miles and almost six years into the future that some of it is almost certainly true, and that (just a little longer) I need to see in them that which I haven’t been able to accept about myself.

Now, something someone said the first time I posted this struck me. I didn’t understand it at all. But that’s what happens with most people when they think you’re weird. You’re outside their framework so they consider you at arm’s length. I spent a couple days pretty fucking angry about that. But upon some thought I realized it was really a case of me wanting to have my cake and eat it too. You can’t be fully accepted and a part of a group of people who just genuinely and overtly don’t understand you. So I got over it pretty quickly. Of course that means I have to spend some time reindexing the guts of my head to come to new conclusions about old bitterness. But that’s fine. It’ll happen over a couple months and then it’ll be fully integrated.

After all I’m FAR more married to who I am than how people perceive me. And if that’s the cost of being myself well then fuck it. So be it.

BUT.

That’s not enough. It really isn’t. I’m not going to “not be myself” ever. Non-starter. But that’s not to say that there aren’t adjustments I could be making and that the reflective treatment I get from other people shouldn’t signify a blind spot I’ve got.

So let me take it at face value, hard as it is to even type: That I come off as a clown.

The most immediate implication is that I don’t take myself seriously enough. Now that’s a tough fucking nut to swallow. But THAT’S true because it certainly IS true. It’s one thing to blow sunshine up my own ass because I’m an Outsider at heart, and I do because I am.

Frankly I want to deserve the interest people seem to have in my meanderings (“Oh but you do, you’re too hard on yours…” son, just don’t.) But I need to go about it in a different way.

Three things come to mind:

  • Dress better: I dress in ill fitting jeans and t-shirts. Now I’m going to blame a lot of that on the weight loss. I have a closet full of XL dress shirts that I’d prefer to wear. But I just can’t justify buying a new wardrobe at this point. That doesn’t mean I can’t pay a bit more attention to how I present myself.
  • Talk less: This is a big fucking problem for me. I need to stop talking about every single fucking project and idea that pops in to my head. Most of them are things that are beyond the interest of whomever I’m talking to, so it’s really just masturbation at that point. “Look at how interesting I am.” Nobody at the cigar lounge gives a shit about the Pi 400, or the cyberdeck, or the trading software, or the sourdough (see dumbass, you’re doing it again.) As for speaking everything that pops in to my head, same thing. I tend to learn by hearing myself talk. But “be a one-eyed jack” was one of my father’s little rules for life. It stands to reason. If someone else brings something up, then fine. But stop babbling for fuck’s sake. People can’t relate to it.
  • Start lifing: There’s no more sure sign that someone takes themself seriously than maintaining their own health. That’s just too damned self-evident to write more than that about.

That gives me (or is at least suggestive of) a concrete list of things I can actually work on. I’ve never been very good at zooming out and setting myself better longer-term goals, and I think that’s really my biggest problem (well, there are underlying reasons that’s the case and THOSE are my biggest problems. But that’s a post for another time.)

Modern wisdom (which isn’t) tells us we shouldn’t care what people think. But that’s a bunch of crap and everyone knows it. The sooner we stop pretending that’s true the sooner we’ll be able to get on with actually improving our lives. Since it’s the reflection of the truth that we want from other people, near as it can be had. The more energy we spend on “keeping up with the joneses” the less actual keeping up we’ll be doing. (Okay the metaphor breaks down in there someplace, but you get the point.)

But it’s an entirely different matter to consider that I’m doing a lot of what I do because I like being noticed. I’m getting better about that, to be sure. For one I no longer believe in “guilty pleasures” since that’s just a fear of fitting in, and fitting in for the sake of fitting in is not something worth spending energy on. You just end up lying to everyone involved.

So it rolls up to this:

A combination of being who it is you want to be AND finding people who will (or can) see that in the light in which you want them to see it.

AND you have to do so without copping out. By which I mean it’s easy for me to hang out with a bunch of young people who are impressed that I’m in to all kinds of weirdness. But that’s the cheap way out and I’d know it for the lie it was.

The trick, as I try to wrap this up, is to find more people with whom I’M impressed as I work my way forward.

I’ve clearly got my work cut out for me.

Treading Water

I pulled in to the gas station on my way here today, having listened to the first twenty minutes of Count Zero, the follow-up novel to Neuromancer, on my way down the hill. I caught my reflection in the glass as I walked in the door, hair still wet it was in a tight ponytail and clean. The humidity had a ways to go before it actually won out over the conditioner I’d left in it.

I thought about the whorls of social activity going on around me as I walked to the cooler to pick up my standard pair of diet Dr. Peppers and energy drink, one of those insipid monster things with lots of caffeine, zero calories and no doubt extra cancer to make up for it.

I made some small talk with the locals on my way out of the place and stood, before getting in my little Tacoma, looking out at the ebb and flow of customers, pumping gas in the heat, walking in and out of the place, ball caps, printed t-shirts, shorts, and beards.

I’m treading water here. I am not of this place and it is not home. I am, as they say, “in it but not of it.” It never will be home.

Home.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been fooled in to thinking I’ll ever have such a thing. It’s something I’ve grown accustomed to. I am my home.

“China is in the heart, Jack. Wherever I go, she’s with me.” Egg Shen said as he walked out of the movie, his work done.

That’s not a matter of despondency. Not the way you think. But I do realize that culturally, I’m sinking here. The people are nice and good on the surface and no worse internally. But there’s something missing from them which I find tough to quantify. There’s a level of complacency, of pacivity and somnambulism that infects this place.

It’s anathema to me.

I had an edge to me once. It was a kind of an edge, it had a life to it. But even as I think that I wonder if it’s not the pretension of the past creating the authenticity of the present.

In the late 90s, more now than twenty years ago (a realization that shortens my breath for a couple beats) I would take a notebook on Saturdays and go to the little mocked-up garden in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right off the Chinese Calligraphy exhibit. It was never very crowded, no matter how many buses of tourists were weaving about the Arms and Armor or Egyptian exhibits. It was either in an obscure corner of the byzantine complex (not to be confused with the Byzantine complex) or it was simply not sexy enough for the prolitariat at large. I would sit on a bench there and write, fantasizing that I was a writer.

In 2018, after my father died and I’d lived in Nashville for three years, I went back to My City and met with my sisters to… “settle his accounts.” I took a few extra days and, Saturday morning, left my hotel with my notebook and went to the Met, walked the architectural mandala of the museum to my exhibit, my garden, my seat, and I sat there and poured myself on to page after page after page, pausing a moment to marvel at how I’d so unwittingly created my present through those past pretensions.

So it may be that that is the only way we create authenticity, by creating a persona that we can fit in to later. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe that’s a clever phrase that I’m hoping is an example of itself.

I thought about the people I know and who’s company I quite enjoy. I thought about what they want of and for me and how, in the front of their minds they really think they want the best for me, and how easy it is to forgive the advice they’re giving themselves through the mask if giving it to me.

I stood there in the sun and humidity and just watched those people move about. Three of the same exact car in the parking lot, five or six of the same outfits. I thought about the conversations I’d had with so many of them, or so many like them, not quite sure there was a difference. It all seemed so small, small habits, small lives.

I looked down: Red t-shirt, a bit large, jeans, too big given my weight loss, black sneakers, a bag in my hand with 2 24oz diet Dr. Peppers and a Monster Energy Drink. $7.68. I knew that. After all, it’s what I always get, as stop there every Thursday on my way to the cigar lounge where I sit and write for a few hours before bible study and the drinking afterwards.

Small habits. Small life.

Treading water.

When I catch myself thinking like this I have the presence of mind, given a few minutes of distance, to consider exceptions. After all, if it’s true of “everybody” then it’s you, not them. And it holds as true now. The exceptions stand out glaringly in my mind’s paging through the past. No. I’m right.

“Oh, you don’t impress us.” Nate said, a couple weeks ago. I stared at the side of his head for a couple beats as he looked down to fiddle with his cigar in an expression of practiced disinterest.

“Bitch please.” I said. He cackled, breaking the mask.

“Yeah I was trying to get through that with a straight face.”

But what is it about this place? These people? Why do they seem just so…different?

It seems to me that they aren’t pushing very hard at life. Oh, there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, are there not? But even the high neurotics at least push against themselves. I’m not sure I’ve met a single artist since I moved up here from Nashville proper. And if I have and haven’t noticed it serves only to accentuate rather than dismiss my point.

Even those people I know (and there are more than a couple of them) who I’d consider exceedingly successful seem to have found a track and are just racing along it at a pretty leisurely pace. They’re good people and I am nothing short of humbled to have people of that quality that I can now call friends, and I can only endeavor to be worth the appellation.

But it’s absolutely maddening. Not an overtly exploratory spirit in the bunch. Oh there are some who have an interest in new things. But not in the way I mean.

I wonder briefly if it’s a matter of age. It seems to me that the twenty-somethings I know at Johnathan’s have a bit more fire in their bellies than the people my own age. Now, there are other problems with that. They’re still figuring out their place in the world, and suffer from the problem of thinking there is ‘a place’ where they’ll fit. I don’t understand that motivation at all. But at least it’s THERE.

I don’t want A Place. I want to be moving forward. I want my Place to be a fight that I’m winning a bit more than I’m losing, “fall down 7 times, get up 8” and all. I don’t want life to be something that I settle in to.

At this point I’m afraid I many questions and few answers and no startlingly clear revelations or quippy endings.

“You are the average of your five closest friends.” The horrible quipwisdom teaches. But there’s an element of truth to it. It seems to me that I need to find the group of people I’m looking for, hinted at above. Otherwise the task of maintaining myself will always feel like I’m trying to ice skate uphill.

I need to find the artists. Badly.

The Diamond Age, Neuromancer, and a question of identity.

“202…shit, 8 right? No, 5. Fuck. No, it’s 1. 2021.”

Weird way to start off a damned post.

About a week and a half ago I finished listening to Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” in the running for my favorite science fiction book of all time. I’ve listened to the audio book of Diamond Age no less than 9 or 10 times. I’ve read it probably half that many.

In its stead I cued up Neuromancer for my first listen (having read IT probably a dozen times) and, questionable narration aside, I realized two things within the first two hours:

  • I easily absorb 8-10 times as much information from an audio format as I do from reading words. I knew it was more, but I didn’t realize how much. I might as well be reading Neuromancer for the first time. There’s SO much I just glossed over and blew past. It could, I suppose, simply be that I’d forgotten about a lot of it. Possible I suppose. But I don’t think so. Sure, there’s some element of that. But even the things I’d forgotten I remembered once I re-heard them. No. There’s a tremendous amount that is absolutely new to me.
  • The Diamond Age is #2. Neuromancer just wins and wins by a lot. Just so much. I adore The Diamond Age. And..all tolled it’s probably a “better” book by any objective standard. But that doesn’t interest me as much. Neuromancer jacks into my head at a point underneath where Diamond Age ever even touches and lives there.

It’s tough to write this and not immediately go in to “compare and contrast” mode. So indulge me a bit while I drift off that way for a couple paragraphs.

The Diamond Age does what great science fiction is supposed to do that being “to ask and explore the question of what it is to be human” from the perspective of culture (rather than something like the Bobiverse books, also exceptional, which explore what it LITERALLY means to be Human.) He presents a few different sets of cultural frameworks and does an interesting job exploring their relative value against each other, the notion of “intentional” culture and such.

In fact The Diamond Age does that SO well that it prompts me, every time I read it, to go back and read Confucius and try hunting down a couple books about the emergence of Victorian culture and the Southern Neo-Victorian upper and middle-upper class social structures. Frankly I think those ideas can save us. But that’s a different discussion.

So I ordered a couple books on the topic and while they’re starting to come in, they’ll be drifting to my loading dock (i.e. front door) over the next few weeks. Hopefully I’ll still be sufficiently full of enthusiasm to dive in. But in practice I expect they’ll sit on the shelf until the next wave.

The problem with that, if you can call it that, and I’m not sure I do, is that as I’ve said I started listening to Neuromancer.

So my head has been steeping in the Cyberpunk aesthetic for the last week. My woodworking projects seem a distant whisper back in the deep halls of my brain. My consciousness has been replaced by purple neon, rainy city streets, and filthy chrome. I’ve pulled out my books on (seriously totally white hat) hacking, my cyberdeck project, coding windows, soldering irons, cables and components.

Neuromancer doesn’t do what The Diamond Age does.

Gibson runs through a high-octane setting with incredible set description full of broken people who are just breaking more throughout the entire book. It’s a race to get through to the end while they still have a shred of humanity left in them. Case, Molly, Armitage, Riviera, Dixie Flatline, all of them are just shells. I don’t to say they’re two dimensional characters, by the way. But the technology is indistinguishable from fantasy. The book, like all cyberpunk really, is a caper novel. It’s one of the most engrossing things I’ve ever read.

The Diamond Age I find fascinating to watch. Neuromancer? I want to BE there. I want to don the trodes of an Ono-Sendai and jack in to the consensual hallucination that is the matrix (a term predating that goofy ass movie by 15 years.)

The magic of Neuromancer lies in part in the fact that it was published a decade before the Web existed. Gibson was making this shit up out of whole cloth and it just fucking sings.

Thus endeth the compare and contrast. Read them both. It’ll do you some good.

Now, back to the point, hinted at above.

It’s interesting to me how completely my brain has switched from one mode to the other. A week ago I could have had the conversation about slowly letting go of writing software and being a technophiliac as a lifestyle. I’ve got a lot going on and maybe it’s not leading me where I want to go.

Today I find that notion laughable. Jack me the hell in, man.

It leads me to wonder: Is identity so fucking ephemeral? Really? Is the witchcraft of a well-crafted word enough to focus the laser on a completely different facet of my personality, to the seeming exclusion of all the others? I mean sure, when I’m on a Shakespeare jag my language changes markedly.

Oddly, it’s not an idea that fills me with any kind of crisis or existential dread. It’s marvelously liberating. It (if you’ll forgive my indulgence in the current mode) suggests that I can simply program myself through what I decide to read, watch, and partake in.

It’s yet another pointer to the fact that my essential identity is something deeper than these stylistic clothes I put on from one book to another. The separation of those surface concerns clarifies the point the improvists keep trying to make of “just do SOMEthing. It doesn’t matter what.” Now that’s something I’ve always had a problem with. “Of COURSE it matters what!”

But…maybe I’ve been looking at it wrong. More of the ‘what’ is window dressing than I’d expected. It’s like walking around shirtless because you can’t decide on the color.

So yeah. It’s about 1100 words crafted around a “huh.” moment. It’s one of those things I’m going to have to let seep around in my mind, conscious and otherwise for a while. Maybe I’ll end up peeling away the next level of dirt in a couple weeks. Tough to tell.

Practice!

It’s Father’s Day and I thought about writing a bunch of stuff about my Father today. But frankly, I’m not sure I have it in me. Or, rather, I DEFINITELY have it in me but I don’t think the outlet piping would maintain the integrity required to handle opening those valves.

Besides I kinda feel like writing something to post today, since what I was working on Thursday wasn’t for the blog. And I figure if I leave these two completely unrelated paragraphs at the top then I’ll get the absolute confusion from my readers that I do so childishly enjoy.

Instead I’m going to talk about practice.

At least for a couple sentences. But then I might go someplace else in my head as I’m feeling pretty fucking scattered right now.

Hell, I may end up writing about my Dad since, you know, it’s Father’s day and all.

cue Ren’s maniacal laughter

Among the massive list of shit I’ve always been drawn to (and I just found out that there are people out there who still carve cuneiform in clay tablets as a hobby so there’s THAT happy nonsense I need to try…of course that means I need to learn cuneiform. le sigh I kinda wanted to do that anyway.) is knife making.

The very idea of Creating Weapons has a cthonic appeal that I lack the poetic tools to describe adequately, at least to women.

Men know exactly what the fuck I mean.

Sorry. It’s true.

If you’re a man and you don’t understand what I mean, stop drinking fucking soy milk and watching anime and start eating meat, smoke cigars, and go to bars to talk to girls. Maybe lift some heavy shit and put it down too. Then read some Seneca, Chesterton, and Mickey Spillane (I’ll also accept Dashiell Hammett.)

“Ya know not every…”
“Son, just don’t. Just fucking don’t.”

I’ve made a few little knives. Nothing fancy, only a couple of them would even count as interesting (and, in fairness my “interesting” knives are interesting as fuck.) None of them are any good. I haven’t put scales (handles, more or less) on any of them. I don’t do a very good job heat treating them, mainly because I don’t have a heat treating oven. MAYbe I could use a toaster oven. MAYbe I could use my kitchen oven (though that sounds like a startlingly bad idea.)

Knowing this, I spend a lot of time thinking about making knives and not a lot of time making knives. Truth be told the word I should use there is ‘fantasizing’ not ‘thinking’. But I leave both versions in there and don’t make the correction inline because that single little misconception is the one that really just kinda hit me like a ton of bricks a couple days ago.

I think about proportions (give me the fig leaf of using the word ‘think’ from hereon out since the ego blow when I write ‘fantasize’ every time is a little much and I’m trying to be good to myself for a fucking change) and scale placement, ricassos, thumb grooves and lanyards, scale materials and blade profiles, grinding jigs and bevel angles.

I fantasize about buying $2800 grinders and $6000 surface grinders and $1800 heat treating ovens and $8000 water jet cutters and $5000 “desktop” milling machines.

Because if I spend a bit under $25,000 on tools, then another $3000 on grits, blade steel, end mills, vices, and other consumables, then hell, my knives will be awesome.

Yes. I know. Trust me. I know.

I think. I think too much. I get it. I don’t always think particularly well.

Well a couple days ago I tripped over (yet again, and I can’t tell you what triggered it since I was in the truck and didn’t write it down) the single most basic fucking realization on the planet when it comes to doing things:

It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter what you fantasize about. If you’re not DOING it, you’re not progressing. Not at all.

The truth is (“you’re the weak, and I am the tyrrany of evil men. But I’m trying Ringo…I’m trying to be the shephard”) I’ve fallen into a trap of thinking I could think my way into progression in a field (in this case, making knives) that requires hand art. It requires so much information that I simply don’t have and CAN NOT ACQUIRE WITHOUT PERFORMING THE TASK!

My primary pursuits are largely intellectual: Writing prose and software. Even they have this aspect. But there HAVE been times I’ve been able to simply think through a particular problem or obstacle. So the temptation to try and apply that easy (and sometimes not so damned easy at all) success to all problems is just too great.

I’ll sit and think about making a particular knife, say some basic hunting knife, the knife we all think of when we think of a basic, not particularly interesting, knife. I pace myself through the act of making it from a bar of steel. That pretty much goes like this:

  • Find a pattern online
  • Scale it down or up and print it out.
  • Do that a couple times ’til I get the outline I like.
  • Glue it to the blade stock
  • Rough it out with the angle grinder
  • Do some finer work on the 4×24 grinder, a rough tool, to get the outline right.
  • Put it in my home-made bevel grinding jig (which is roughly made and frankly, kinda sucks)
  • Grind out the bevels on the grinder. Trying to keep them even on both sides, mind the ricasso, and remember to not get too far without cooling the steel off so I don’t just fucking burn the thing (crazy how that happens really.)
  • Drill holes in it where I’m going to pin the scales to it.
  • Take it over to the sandpaper to smooth out the sides
  • Heat it up to cherry red with a mapp torch
  • Douse it in canola oil to harden it (different steels require subtly different hardening processes)
  • Do…erm…something to temper it back down
  • back to the sandpaper to finish up the edge
  • Polish the blade (Or douse it in ferric chloride then sand it. Whatever.)
  • drill holes in the scales
  • epoxy and pin them to the knife, waiting overnight for the epoxy to set.
  • tape up the blade so I don’t ruin it
  • cut the pins roughly flush
  • Shape the scales with files, sandpaper, and the grinder
  • put some kind of finish on there
  • do something about a sheath

I put this whole list down because it’s actually complete. These are all the steps required in taking a bar of reasonable steel and turning it in to a knife. I know this list. I know this list because I’ve watched hundreds (yes literally, not figuratively) hundreds of youtube videos of people doing this exact process. (Go watch Koss Workshop’s videos on youtube for the complete process. They’re short and he makes some truly lovely knives.)

I’ve performed most of the actions on this list a…few times, always with mixed results.

It turns out that knowing the steps means precisely dick and “No plan survivies contact with the enemy.”

Even knowing these things, having watched all these videos and taken a stab at it a couple/few times, I still catch myself assuming “the map is the territory.” Even my thinking about making knives has been stalled by the meager nature of my experience.

I am NOT going to get any better at knife making until I make a bunch of knives. Somehow in my self-obsessed cogitations I’d forgotten this most basic basic lesson.

Of course I’m mad about it. But that’s just another one of those reactions to realizing things I’d forgotten and re-remembered. I swear it’s such a common thread nowadays that I’m starting to roll my eyes when it happens.

But whatever. You forgive yourself your missteps, resolve to figure out how to remember next time, know you’re going to fail, and do better.

Note: ALL of this is also true of literally everything.

Give yourself a fucking break.

But get to fucking work.

WHY Interesting People (or: 10/6)

Look, I really am quite mad. I know people don’t think so. They seem to think I’m moderately well-adjusted. But that’s the result of decades of somewhat disturbing levels of practice. Frankly I consider such a mistaken impression to be a quite explicit compliment to my intelligence, which is arguably NOT something that serves my ego very well.

“No you’re not. You’re selling yourself short.” Or “You’re too hard on yourself.” Which is adorable because I’m nowhere NEAR hard enough on myself.

The amount of energy I spend…that I HAVE to spend literally practicing being normal absolutely defies what most people would think of as logical. MOST of what comes out of my mouth I’ve practiced. And when I say most I mean something on the order of 97-98 percent of the sentences I come out with have been literally rehearsed. I’ve built conversation trees in my head over decades. I’ve listened and eavesdropped and added what I’ve heard and overheard to the giant conversation tree.

“Dude you don’t REALLY do that.”

“…”

“Right?”

So that in those moments I find myself in conversation I don’t have to think overmuch, because in my normal headspace when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of social interaction my brain locks up almost completely.

This way I don’t have to rely on thinking at all. I can just lean back, stress out and let my mouth just go.

I’ve gotten so comfortable with this that I forget it’s even going on. Yesterday I was reminded quite starkly when a conversation took a turn I was simply not ready for. I’d had an erroneous prediction as to the way it was going to go and I got completely fucking blindsided. Now it wasn’t BAD in any way at all. A friend of mine was doing me a solid favor and I just did NOT see it panning out the way it did. I ended up clamming up, just shaking with nerves.

It was a conversation over text message so it wasn’t visibly apparent that my brain was just seizing up. But the disadvantage of that was that I couldn’t really cope with it ad-hoc, reading the conversation and fessing up to what happened to my head.

I responded a bit…perfunctorily and spend the next few hours in a damned tailspin as I tried to figure out how to handle it all.

So that’s pretty much the rule…

UNLESS AND UNTIL I’m comfortable with who I’m speaking with. Now that can happen one of a couple/few ways:

  • I’ve known you long enough and am less worried about how the conversation’s going to go. Said another way: If I think I’ve built up enough good will and social capital with you, I can relax a bit. It’s not always based on time known. But then again, neither is knowing someone. Sometimes you just hit it off with someone and can cut through the bullshit.
  • I’m drucking funk. Nothing chills my brain the hell out like 3 glasses of whiskey or rum, or half a dozen vodka sodas.

I could pretend that’s not true I suppose. But I don’t see the sense in it. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. As such it’s really a minor miracle I drink as rarely as I do, though over the last few days I’ve sure put a hurting on some bottles of great rum at the cigar lounge.

I wondered, as I wrote this, if this meant that I, by my own definition, wouldn’t classify as An Interesting Person until at least one of those criteria is satisfied. I’m willing to take that hit.

But I like to think it’s not true. I’m not ‘a dishonest participant’ in conversation even at what I’ve got to call my “most contrived.” I just keep it bounded until something happens that actually engages my interest and I can actually fucking relax a bit.

Obvious reasons aside (an honest conversation that advances the ball), it is for this one primarily that I seek Interesting People, as previously defined. I can fucking relax around them.

Maybe it’s a matter of trusting myself. Maybe I just need to get back on Ritalin (or some such concoction.)

It’s as though I’m exerting 100% effort (I’m not) and 20% of it is going in the right direction. I’m still shy by a factor of 4.

All in all I’m really quite tired of it. But I’m not sure what to do from here but what I’ve been doing.

So on it goes.

Index: Interesting People

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Interesting People. What makes someone interesting, where you actually FIND interesting people and such. It started off as a mere expression of frustration. But in the couple weeks since my brain has been chugging on it quite seriously. So I figured I’d start gathering the posts on the subject into yet another index:

Interesting People 1: Where are the Interesting People

Interesting People 2: WHO are the Interesting People

Interesting People 3: WHY Interesting People (or 10/6)

That’s it for now. But I can feel some stuff brewing around in my head about it, so I’ll be adding to it before too much longer.

Gratitude and Next Steps

Things are becoming more clear. Now that I’ve been focused on things a little I can feel the results of my subconscious working away at the problems I presented to it. It’s an interesting phenomenon but I’m not sure how I’d get to the bottom of it, assuming that’s even reasonable. To set yourself to working on a problem while you’re not thinking about it sounds like it would be the key to the universe if you could do it reliably.

Let’s take the last 24 hours as a pretty reasonable example:

So I was inspired to come in yesterday and do some writing and it went pretty well. Since I didn’t have bible study (it being a Wednesday) I ended up working here until about 4:30 before heading over to Johnathan’s.

I made a ‘joke’ on twitter about ‘having my table ready’ and when I got there, there a few of the girls were sitting there with my seat open.

Kyle came out a few minutes later and said “Yo I saw your tweet and was actually about to respond but then you showed up in the parking lot.” #FeelsGoodMan.

I ended up hanging out the rest of the night (call it 5-11.) It was an absolutely great night. I met a bunch of cool people and we all had a lot of laughs and some conversation in depth, which never breaks my heart to be sure.

I wonder every once in a while if I don’t just get into these little states of nerdly reverie because that kind of social interaction is really pretty new to me, all things considered. Someone always seems to mention the way I just seem to draw in a crowd and always have a group of people that I likely didn’t know twenty minutes earlier at my table.

But last night there were a couple moments, that didn’t come from me, where someone said “We need to do this, like every month. Just all meet here. I haven’t had this much fun in a while. You. What’s your number? Seriously. You’re awesome.” I swear I about fucking cried. A bunch of conversation about schedules ensued. Who was around when. What days were good for everyone, etc.

Now, will I ever hear from them again? Who’s to fucking say. It matters almost not at all. We were all in this great space. A couple I know drifted in and joined the other six or so of us (though that went from four to eight and back a couple times) and it was just fucking solid. People poked fun at each other, laughed like hell. It was just great.

I don’t know what else really to say about it all. I was a little in my cups, but not as badly as it might have seemed.

It’s just humbling, every time, when people come hang out. Well okay, not EVERY time. There are a couple people I wish would stay the hell away. But there are so few of those people that they’re almost not worth mentioning.

It’s time to find more Interesting People, and they’re fucking everywhere. The PROBLEM is that I’m not.

So it’s time to do a couple things:

  • Pick up some kind of “side-hustle” so I can make some extra cash on the side to fund…

I actually had an idea about that while working on some software today: I’m tired of all these weirdly convoluted framework-based programming classes/courses. A buddy of mine is going through hell in a Programming Boot Camp and it’s driving me fucking bananas by proxy. I half-jokingly (again with that) said “I’m just going to create a series of courses or videos and call them ‘you don’t need all that fucking garbage’.” And…it struck me that it’s a really great idea. There’s no reason at all I couldn’t do that and, moreover there’s no reason I SHOULDN’T do that. Yeah yeah programming courses and youtube videos are a dime a dozen. But hell, they’re worth about that as well.

It’d be a great way to build a following, a project portfolio, and get myself out there a bit more. I miss solving people’s problems with technology so very much. My own projects are great. But it’s not the same as saving a company millions of dollars or a functionary dozens of hours a week by understanding their problems and solving them through some kind of automation.

Teaching other people to do so might be a really heady meta-project. Lord knows I’d learn a shit ton doing it.

It’s worth exploring.

  • Going out more. A lot more. I need to be out around people several nights a week and I can’t be super self-conscious about cash when I do. Not that I necessarily SHOULD be self-conscious about it. But I am and I need to solve that problem in the easiest way I know how: Make more money.

“In a perfect world” I’d have a tiny apartment in downtown Nashville, maybe a little studio I could retreat to for a few days a week so I could go out down there and not worry about getting back and forth. Maybe that’s excessive. But it sure hits my head right. A little studio or something with a bed, a desk, a fridge, and not a whole hell of a lot else. I’d probably be able to get a bunch of work done too.

It feels like I’m coming to all of this about 20 years later than I should have. But that’s no one’s fault but mine.

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.

The second best time is today.

A Matter Of Clarity

I’ve taken another hack at the Bullet Journaling thing for June. I always find it really tough to stick with that. The week notebook layouts are just not something I find very helpful. So this time what I did was not set up the whole month all at once, but one week at a time.

I gave myself a couple one-week goals. Little things. Last week was:

  • Finish setting up your match.com profile. That’s pretty self explanatory. Though it was a failure. I waited until Saturday to get it done and, when I tried to finish I found that they’d for some reason locked my account. Add to that the fact that their customer service department has normal Monday to Friday business hours and, well, it was a wash. I’d originally said “Did what I could, but the task couldn’t be completed.” But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is: I dragged ass all week and couldn’t complete the task because of my delaying. So be it.
  • No dishes visible in the kitchen. I can’t…seem to get on top of dishes. I let them pile up and wash some when I need them. Well…that doesn’t really work. But I did get it done.

So what I did was just declare that by the end of last week they all need to be washed and put away such that, as I said, none are visible.

It only took a few hours really, between washing, drying and putting them all away. (I have a LOT of dishes and many of them needed literal industrial degreaser to get them clean enough to actually put away.

When I was done and I looked around my kitchen (still more or less a disaster) I was just struck with this wave of relief and I realized a couple things:

  • My day to day goals are generally pretty damned nebulous: “Code for a few hours.” or “do some laundry/dishes” or “spend some productive time in the shop” or “a half hour cleaning the office” etc.

I’ll get them done and nod to myself that the tasks had been completed. But without real concrete object achievement goals other than “spend time wisely” there’s just not really much to hang on to or take away from the effort. So they’re satisfying in a sense. But I just didn’t really get that concrete sense of accomplishment and after some time of this I’d forgotten how much different it is, which is bad.

  • Clean surfaces are more than just empty spaces.

I had a girlfriend a long time ago, and absolutely gorgeous Polish girl, about 6’1″. Just breathtaking. Her smile would absolutely destroy me. Unfortunately it was a relationship with an end date as she was only in New York for about six months. So after a very short time I suggested that she move in and it was just great. Sure we had our troubles but whatever.

Anyway she’d complain (quite lightly really) “Surfaces dahling, where are my surfaces” as we were both pretty inclined to let things clutter.

I only mention her because she comes to mind every time I clean anything, for which I’m quite thankful as her memory puts a smile on my face quite consistently.

For years after she left I’d find little post-it notes hidden deep in programming books saying things like “Wow you really DO read them <3.” Come on. How fucking adorable is that?

But cleaning a kitchen counter or desk top has a weird side-effect that’s really the primary effect. It absolutely clears my mind. It becomes obvious after it’s done that an external mess has a symbiotic relationship with my mental state. The more cluttered my surfaces are (dahling) the more…infringed upon I feel.

It’s “literally as though” (a nearly contradictory phrase) the mess is creeping around my awareness, boxing me in more and more tightly. Problem is I rarely notice it, as I said, unless it’s clean.

So this week it’s clothes. My dirty clothes are pretty well relegated to the bedroom and bathroom. But I’m wondering how badly that’s actually affecting my head day to day.

In fact, the more I think about it the more sure I am about it.

One of the aspects of that I’ve always been VERY conscious of is that when I have clean kitchen counters I feel a near slavish compulsion to bake a couple loaves of bread. The clean work surface is just too tempting, demanding an act of creation of some kind. It’s the strangest damned thing. But I’ve been more or less conscious of it since I lived back in that apartment.

It’s as though potential is limited because my mind is as cluttered with crap as my environment, and as soon as I start seeing some latitude my brain opens up a bit.

So…let’s take that and run with it a bit, see where it goes.

It dovetails with (or, well…maybe it’s not even a different thought) a curious little thought that popped up in my head a few days ago: How much can I get rid of in my mind that seems like it has utility but is actually standing in the way of…well…it gets weird here…my own potential down (or up) to even a spiritual level?

Certainly physical mess is psychological mess. But does that miss the point? Is this a visceral intimation of the Buddhist doctrine of attachment? Eh. That’s a bit too abstract a leap. While I suspect it’s precisely accurate, it’s tough to ground that.

IF it’s true that a clean environment represents a clean mind then I am bound to wonder if the boundary of the definition of ‘clean’ isn’t larger than what we think of traditionally as ‘clean.’

I’ve found that ridding myself of people who are loose acquaintances has a similar effect: Dispensing largely with people who aren’t actually ‘friends’ makes those friends that remain absolutely more valuable. Now I’m not NEARLY ruthless enough in that category as I should be, being as I am quite prone to please.

Now I’ve bounced against this idea a few times when it comes to the number of hobbies I’ve got kicking around. After a few aborted attempts at ridding myself of most of them I’ve just ended up gravitating back to just about all of them. I’m still not sure what to do about that.

The trouble I have with focus on a couple projects is pretty frustrating as it goes hand in hand with my moment-to-moment focus. So whether the macro issue is a manifestation of the micro issue or the reverse, I’ve as yet no idea. More frustrating even is that I’m not sure how to figure it out.

I get nine kinds of excited when I have a several-day span that I can dedicate to “getting something significant” accomplished. But in practice I can usually only be on a specific project for a couple/few hours at a time before I feel like a fucking caged animal and need to change context. Unfortunately that frequently ends up meaning going to the kitchen and eating something (I’ve backslid about 5 pounds off my low weight, which is one reason I’m here at the cigar lounge to begin with.) But more frequently it means I’m letting distractions take a hold of me, which can just soak up any amount of time at all.

A the micro-level I recognize most of the time this feels like procrastination, which has more to do with a lack of clarity than anything.

And procrastination/lack of clarity is directly tied in to the kind of mental hygiene I was talking about above. Now…I didn’t think it was THAT bad. But when I start drawing lines between these ideas like this I’m drawn inexorably to the idea that it may simply be so.

Frankly an insight doesn’t have to be a giant epiphany to be useful.

It’s all well and good to be metacognitive and clever; to congratulate yourself smugly for your own insights. Unless you put those insights into practice they aren’t worth shit.

There’s more to this. But I’m going to take the Struthless 70% route and post this as is.

As such, the takeaway is simple: When you’re flummoxed by confusion, clean something and see what happens.

WHO Are The Interesting People?

[Post 2 in the Interesting People series]

I’ve put down a thousand words over the last couple hours, trying to attack a tangentially related issue. Then, as I was in a twitter DM conversation I tripped over the trailhead to the post I “actually” had kicking around in my head.

What makes an interesting person, as in reference to my previous post.

Now at first blush “An Interesting Person” is someone who’s brain or life operates a bit differently, who stands out from the crowd because of some Interesting Aspect of their lives.

But…that’s…not the case.

The truth is much more mundane:

An Interesting Person is someone who:

  • Lives authentically: Their existence isn’t primarily predicated on impressing people.
  • Has some conversational vulnerability: They can be wrong without their ego getting twisted around a post.
  • Has some curiosity: This might be the prior point stated differently.
  • Isn’t constantly second-guessing your motives: There’s a degree of trust which comes from security or comfort, either with their conversational participant or frankly, with themselves.
  • Isn’t trying to sell you: This almost doesn’t bear mentioning. But if you’re trying to bludgeon someone with your point of view…just shut the fuck up. That’s not an honest discussion, much less argument.

Okay, so An Interesting Person is someone who’s personal baggage has been either dispensed with (I’m not sure there IS anyone in this category) or well-handled in that it’s integrated into their personality to the point where, while they’re not necessarily forthcoming about it, they’re not embarrassed about it either.

An Interesting Person is someone you can have a fucking conversation with who’s ego doesn’t get in the damned way. They don’t need to get deep and they’re not trying constantly to prove how awesome they are. But if the conversation goes that way, so be it. They’re not trying to cover for their own insecurities. Which, again, isn’t to say they’re not THERE. Just that they’re not a cause of constant damage control. People seem to do that either by masking it with a bunch of posturing or, thinking they’re being ‘extra authentic’ broadcasting a withering amount of self-deprecation.

You can sit down with An Interesting Person (yes I’m determined to use capitals and make this a proper title) and talk about anything or nothing and there’s a nontrivial chance that you and or they will actually take the conversation in an unexpected direction, to the edification of both participants.

The thing of it is, at their core, everyone is An Interesting Person. It’s just that most people have too much shit in the way to actually relax and BE Interesting. That’s what makes it all so damned frustrating. Not that people aren’t interesting, but that they, on the whole, won’t fucking relax enough and BE interesting.

And sure, bonus points if someone actually has interesting things going on. But “doing interesting things” is almost orthogonal. After all programmers, categorically speaking, do interesting things but are almost wholly uninteresting. They’re brainy, sure. But they’re simply not confident or vulnerable enough to engage in an open conversation. “Now come on man, that’s not fair.” Yeah it fucking is. I’ve known hundreds and hundreds of those fuckers and they’re, for all their cleverness, dull as shit.

So what do I want out of An Interesting Person?

Well, that’s a little selfish. I’m looking for conversational stimulation. I’m looking for excuses to think things I’ve never thought before or think things I have thought before in a new light (which can arguably be more interesting.)

I find it fascinating how, in the course of a normal conversation about nigh on nothing I can be struck with something that seems new, something I never would have come up with on my own. Perhaps I’m addicted to conversational novelty as a source of cheap dopamine hits. Hell, I don’t know. Worst case scenario that’s a pretty good way to get them.

For years I tried getting in to things like Writing Prompts. But I always find them so hopelessly stale and contrived. If the same questions or ideas come up in normal discussion then the normal conversational flow is stimulating.

Monday night, for instance, I got involved in three conversations of substance. Related poignantly out of order:

The second was with someone who presumed a seat at my table (a different discussion.) We started talking about interesting technical topics, peculiarities of certain types of cnc machining and such. I asked a bunch of questions, finding it fascinating, offered what I had on the topic (which wasn’t all that much, admittedly.) But within ten minutes it degenerated to “well I’M their BEST at this and such and so” and I tuned the hell out after an aborted attempt to get the conversation back on track.

The third one seemed more mundane of a topic, whether drug use induces creativity or just helps deal with the psychological obstacles to creative accessibility. I’ve spent days thinking about that conversation. The barriers to art and such. I’ve got little notes scribbled on post-it notes all over the inside of my skull about that. I’ll no doubt not be able to stop myself from writing about that for much longer. But I want to organize my thought about it all first. (wait what? What’s the occasion? yeah yeah.)

The first was about the effects of hallucinogens on the workings of the brain. Aside from personal experience I had very little to add to that one aside from some questions. We segued back and forth around the topic a bunch.

The outstanding question then is…am I An Interesting Person. I like to think so. I certainly aspire to be. I want to contribute to the conversation at least what I get out of it. I suppose it varies from one day to the next.

But at the risk of ending on a more cynical note than I’d like: Just because you may find me An Interesting Person doesn’t mean I find you one.

WHERE ARE THE INTERESTING PEOPLE?

[Post 1 in the Interesting People series]

I’ve false started this about a half dozen times over the last month or so.

I’m becoming more and more intolerant lately of vapid conversation. I don’t mean small talk. Small talk has its place. It’s a social carrier wave we use to communicate non-verbally across, to just “be social.”

No I’m talking about conversations that are ostensibly interesting but just end up being back and forth declarations of obviousness with a declarative rather than an exploratory spirit. They’re assertions rather than conversations usually consisting of someone ranting and people nodding or declaraing their assent. Sometimes they’ve got a bit more to them. But it usually falls in the same category more or less.

I’ve avoided sportsball talk almost entirely, which is good. The guys I know generally know I have no interest at all in fandom or stat obsession.

The next tier down though is “Did you see?/You’ve gotta watch” madness, which is almost as bad. I just can’t spend my time watching season upon season of Random Show just to be able to have something to talk about that’ll consist of little more than “wasn’t it cool when soandso…?”

Politics is no good generally because people just seem to want to bitch about it. At best it’s a “didjahear?” if you’re on the same page. If you’re not then just forget it, fingers stabbing and raised voices.

I get why people do it. But it just seems like there are few people who are interested in exploring real issues of any kind.

There are a few people who’ve stood out in as many years. People who have something interesting going on that they’re excited in sharing or diving deep into.

I FIND it, and this will “cause some discomfort”, to be correlated with socioeconomic strata. When I lived in downtown Nashville I could head into Blend and, depending on what trade conferences were going on, get in to some of the most wild conversations. And even on slow nights the bartenders (for the most part), regulars and I would predictably get in to something. Material sciences involved in working with steel or wood or philosophical questions that someone would lob. Discussions about human nature, the mechanics of music production, leather working, brewing, mycology for fuck’s sake. Whatever.

Hell one time I sat next to a guy who’s hobby was rocketry. I figured he meant those little estes rocket kits you can get at hobby lobby and such. But no, he and his buddies built large scale solid-fuel rockets that were fucking space worthy. They had machinists, propellant guys, physicists and electronics guys building the sensor packages from scratch. They had a launch event every year someplace in the high desert in the Southwest where they’d put it all together and send them up. I was just awestruck. We talked for hours and I never saw him again. Well fair enough. He was only in town for whatever.

Online conversations with people on reddit or twitter or various chat rooms just doesn’t quite cut it. There’s just not enough actual nonverbal communication to be able to get more than words across. Even when it’s “in depth” it’s an exceedingly shallow affair.

Hell maybe the new generation of live video conversation is the closest modern equivalent.

Like I said there have been a few people who I’ve actually been able to sit down and “get in to it” with. But as thirsty as we all were for those conversations, those people have for the most part gone their separate ways.

I’ve been wondering if it’s not just a product of the location I’ve settled down, an admittedly blue-collar area of the country. But I’m not at all sure it’s not so much that the density of interesting people is greater in major metropolitan areas as it is the simple numbers game.

Even creative people seem to be in relatively short supply. OR, which I suppose might be the case, they’re around but holding their cards close to their chest since the unwashed masses just don’t give a crap about creative endeavors. Tough to tell.

The other option that comes to mind is that I’m just arms-length from these people. But that doesn’t scan because I’ve had enough experiences to disprove that. The aforementioned random bar encounters with Interesting People.

But I’m absolutely fucking starving for it.

And it’s something I have to do something about, but really have no idea how to attack.

Increase the size of my social pool? I definitely need to do that. Just force myself into ever widening circles until I find exceptional people in other groups.

Roll the dice more and be MORE outgoing about Interesting Topics? I have a real hard time thinking I can amp up on that without being completely fucking obnoxious.

Am I one of the small people in other people’s perceptions? Seems inconceivable. But so much that does is not.

It’s something as I said that I’ve been dwelling on for some time without any particular conclusions as yet.

We’ll have to see what I come up with.

The Mead Bug

My post-post refractory period led me all over the place which, as usual means twitter and reddit.

This post gave me some ideas:
https://old.reddit.com/r/mead/comments/nktpp9/some_shorts_into_secondary/

I don’t know why the hell I never thought of doing this before.

One of the reasons I don’t screw around much with mead anymore is because I just couldn’t be bothered with feeding schedules, keeping an eye on specific gravity and such. It’s all a pain in the ass…BECAUSE the amount of overhead on each batch that may end up crappy is just too high. Yeah I can play the 70% game of just throwing some crap in a jar, letting it ferment and clear, then seeing if it’s any good. But that just tends to produce “huh. Neat. This isn’t awful” mead.

Now one of the other things I’m known to do that’s pretty damned lazy with melomels (mead with fruit) is to put the fruit in primary fermentation (the first fermentation.)

But something happens with fruit when it’s a part of the original fermentation. The digestion of the sugars in fruit does NOT produce the fruit flavor you’d expect. I find this most notable with something like a strawberry mead. Now, Strawberry Mead sounds amazing. Just…amazing. As do any of the berry meads. But putting those fruits in the primary fermentation ends up with something tasting…suggestive of the fruit in question. But the flavor is really not strong enough to make it worth it. This is ESPECIALLY true with strawberry as they don’t really have much in the way of flavor density. So you end up having to have a tremendous amount of strawberries blended and cooked down into a near syrup just to get enough flavor to tell what the hell is going on.

BUT if I put them in the secondary fermentation I’d be much better off.

Now…take that bit of information then look at the picture on the reddit post.

There’s no reason not to put a plain mead (honey + water) in a primary fermentation then split it into smaller secondary batches with differing flavor additives.

That way it would actually be worth doing all the work on the front end to get the ending alcohol and sweetness level just right, since that work multiplies to 5 or 6 smaller batches of interesting meads (probably a control + 4 more.)

Now that amount of work I could see being well worth the effort. Previously I would have made at least a gallon of each permutation I wanted to try and frankly I just can’t face that.

This way if I come up with something I really love I can then dedicate another full gallon to the task at will.

So I’m gonna do some poking around and order a bunch of wine yeast and put a gallon or two down and try to pay attention to the finer details, like the aforementioned feeding schedule and such.

Mead takes a LONG time, especially compared with every other fermentation I’ve ever looked in to. So it should be fun.

Of course what I’ll end up doing is starting 2 batches of 1 gallon each, then after a couple months getting impatient and starting a 5g primary.

Feels good to have the bug again though. Especially now that I’ve got a house and can set up a full mead station in the basement where things can just ferment along happily in large racks.

I’ll keep you updated.

You’re Better Than That

So I asked out this girl of whom I’m somewhat fond out the other night.

Good story made short for public consumption I saw her a few minutes later and she said yes then it all just kinda fell off.

I am…SHOCKED (no no, stay with me) at my reaction to this.

shrug Okay.

I don’t have 20s or 30s Mikey “oneitis” or any such horseshit like that.

I’m not in “yeah I’m better off alone” mode.

There’s no self-pity or other such crap. It’s just a thing that happened (or, well…didn’t.)

Part of me wishes it had gone another way. Part of me doesn’t. But I’m just not that in to wishing reality was different to assuage my own ego at the expense of the good sense the universe tends to have when acting on my behalf.

If you’d asked me how I’d react a week ago to an event like that, the full honest response (which…you quite likely wouldn’t have gotten because it would have been just too embarrassing to face) would have been a bunch of depressed whining.

But it just doesn’t matter all that much. I didn’t have so much energy front-loaded on the potential as I expected I did and THAT is absolutely shocking to me.

It got me to wonder a bit: How much about the internal mechanations of my personal psychology to I take for granted as working the way they used to only because they haven’t been recently tested?

How much of that goofy ass fear and anxiety has been digested as I’ve evolved over the past decade or two?

How poorly DO I know myself after all?

I’m actually a little pissed off about THAT aspect of it really. Because I’ve acted (or not acted in this case) in anticipation of those well-worn tracks in my head and just straight up not wanting to deal with them.

Tough to know where to take this. Because I don’t know how I could have caught myself to see if that particular aspect of my personality had evolved past my expectation as a side effect of me pushing forward the way I have.

I don’t really have any basis for answering that question at all. Let’s see if I can work it out…

How do you force yourself to reexamine and aspects of your identity that you absolutely take for granted?

An endless survey of the guts of your head just seems like a life of circle-jerking navel-gazing crap (he says on a blog full of such relentless self-absorption.) And there’s really no reason to have any expectation that you’d trip over the right things as being worthy of notice and consideration at all. I mean, can YOU literally iterate all of those different little (and not so little) sub-personalities and circuits? I sure as hell can’t.

I suppose, and this is by definition so far beyond my expertise that it’s just spitballing by definition, it’s really a matter of not acting in accordance with your notions of yourself. But what the fuck does that even MEAN?

To even have the thought “ugh. I just don’t want to deal with my own anxiety about all of that” presupposes that such thoughts are a part of my motivation, which is really the upstream problem entirely.

Who cares “who you are?” When you know what it is you want to do, dealing with your own mental and emotional fallout should just be a downstream effect of those actions, not something to be feared in its own right. It shouldn’t be something that can stop you from acting. Now, that is absolutely NOT to suggest there’s more virtue in taking your hands off the wheel and flying by the seat of your pants. That brings you back to the beginning, where you don’t examine your motivations at all. No. Bad. Already covered. That way be dragons.

It’s the neurotic’s lot to be afraid of themselves and to project that fear onto the outside world. That’s why anxiety isn’t really a reaction to external events, but a predilection of the spirit, for lack of a better phrase.

There’s really nowhere to go with it. This is one of those things that’s up there with the cosmic “I wish I’d said THAT” moments. The best you can do is try to train yourself to be in the moment and catch yourself when you’re about to do or not do something, and over time hopefully get better enough at it that you can finally do it IN the moment instead of soon after the moment.

Perhaps there’s some kind of intentional journaling practice that will help me focus my mind to the task.

I’m quite impatient for understanding on the topic, especially since it blindsided me quite so badly. But in this case, as in so many others, there’s no understanding that’s going to come from anything but practice and just…failure upon failure. But that’s okay. I can handle that.

Apparently far better than I thought.

The Maze of Subjectivity

This is probably 1 of 234,227:

I tweeted something this morning in response to one of Adam Lane Smith’s tweets in his absolutely epic “1 rt = 1 uncomfortable psychological truth” thread.

The tweet itself was one about understanding depression. The substance isn’t particularly relevant here, but here’s the tweet for reference:

My response was as follows:

As true as that is, it's "advice from the outside."  

Someone in the throes of depression has no idea what that means.  They can't abstract their mind from the moment well enough to actually get a handle on the needed perspective.

Nothing earth shattering of course. But it brought to mind something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

I’m really quite shocked at the general blindness people have to the walls around their own and other people’s headspace or mental contexts.

The reducto ad absurdam of it is telling someone who’s an addict to “just stop.”

People know, generally, that saying that is a cultural taboo. But I suspect that taboo has just sublimated the problem. And it may very well be the case that “thinking beyond your context” is something that people are generally not willing or able to do.

It’s a self-referential problem for me as my reaction is “just stop not doing that.” The difference I think is that I’m aware that I’m not in a box of self-denial to the notion that I probably don’t understand what’s going on. Fair enough. But that’s a bit too meta for me to talk about without spinning my head in tight little circles.

Now this might get a little weird and a lot of it is conjecture:

Through my adult life I’ve always had a sense of where people were coming from when they’d say something in conversation. This led to a few decades of sitting in meetings and at bars saying “Wait…that’s not what he meant” and “She heard that as this, but what you meant was that, right?” then having to explain myself, usually to the nods and sometimes even gratitude of the participants.

A sense of our own subjectivity is something that’s rarely open to us. But we ARE capable of seeing it ALmost first-hand. Though somewhat ironically, we’re not really able of doing anything about it other than “being mindful.” You can’t actually free yourself from subjectivity in its entirety. But any particular subjective bias you may be able to wrangle. The thing is, it’s perhaps literally bottomless.

Here are some of the things that will absolutely change the way you think almost immediately:

  • Eat when very hungry (not “because I feel like it”)
  • Exercise: Seriously, do 5 push-ups, even if you have to “cheat” and do them from your knees. Or walk around the block. Whatever. It has to just be enough to be “not nothing.”
  • Change your location/context: Go for a walk, a drive, outside, something.
  • Anything else that’s outside your current experience. Don’t draw? Draw. That kind of thing.

It sounds trite but it’s absolutely so. IF you’re paying attention you’ll see your whole mental state shift. The way you think will absolutely shift a little bit if you do any of those things, assuming it’s been several hours to a day since the last time you’ve done it.

That helps us see the differences in the little sub-personalities we’ve got in our heads, all striving and fighting for dominance, seeking to be satisfied.

A deep understanding of what they are and how they work is absolutely critical to any kind of self-mastery at all. Otherwise you’re just a slave to your lower aspects. For instance I still have an awful problem with social fear of external judgement, etc. The more someone’s opinion of me matters the more tongue tied I’ll be. So I’ve taken on a rough program of noticing that and going out of my way to do something about it.

The result of engaging in behavior that violates your comfort zones or reality tunnels (a really useful term coined by Timothy Leary, of all people) is that you HAVE to manage the cognitive dissonance of your subjective view of the world not jiving with your FIRST HAND experimental evidence. You’re left with the understanding that your understanding is limited and can be tweaked and possibly, though far from assuredly, altered by changing how you look at the world.

I personally find this so ubiquitous an experience that I (somewhat entertainingly) find it completely unfathomable that people don’t think about what they think in this way. But I suppose it’s simply so.

Now, take all that and put it in a box, more or less as follows: Our perceptions, reactions, thoughts, and opinions of ourself, the world around us, and how to interact with it all is subject at any given moment in time on our internal mental and emotional states. So our ability to assess what is “true” is vague and subjective at best, and more likely a self-fulfilling presumption.

HOW poorly then are we able to understand what’s going on in the mind of someone else at any given time?

In some ways and at some times we have the advantage of distance in dealing with other people: Imagine the friend who you’re watching engage in self-destructive behavior. They may or may not even be aware of what’s going on. But you can see it plain as day.

But that’s not to say we can see and understand what’s going on underneath. Behavior is an effect, sometimes an effect many times removed from the cause, which is occulted from understanding by layers of prejudiced interpretation in ourselves and the other person.

As an example I’ll take a conversation we had one night at (well, after) Bible Study group about a month ago. It was on suicide. Sure, it started off with the theological implications of suicide, which, unless you’re Catholic, is a pretty short conversation. But it quickly got to the two stock phrases people deploy:

  • Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    and
  • Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do.

Now…those depths of depression are something I know something about. There are a lot of reasons people end up in those places, but one of the things that typifies that state is as far from “pride” as you can possibly get. Now, I’m not going to get in to it here, that’s not my point.

My point is that you have to be careful (well, you don’t HAVE to be, but I’m tired of language-lawyering with myself) when you’re inclined to give advice, even if it comes from the best of motives. People aren’t going to hear what it is you think they’re going to hear when you address something deep inside their own souls. They’re going to filter it in an entirely different way. They’re going to wonder what your motivation is, first of all. Then what you’re saying (and, at least as important, how you’re saying it) is going to be filtered down to their consciousness through the dark filter of their mood. It’s going to sound like a whisper in a hurricane and immediately assailed with the self-reinforcing assumptions, logical or not, of their mental state.

Knowing that, if you’re able, you’re honor bound to try and navigate that. But it’s like shooting a laser into a black box full of prisms you can’t see, hoping you hit them all in exactly the right place for it to shoot out the other side. You don’t really have any hope of succeeding. So the best you can do is “as little damage as possible.”

So be mindful, when you seek to help. Ask yourself if you’re trying to serve the other person or serve your own ego, the discomfort at another’s discomfort or what have you.

The life you save….well, you know.