2021-01-16: Smokey: Just some notes

I’m here today coding instead of writing. But because I’m sitting in what’s become My Writing Chair both sets of engines in my head are spinning, so I’ve got to get at least the list of topics out into someplace while I work. As such I’m typing this right in to my wordpress “new post” edit window instead of the wiki, which is a mistake. But I can’t set all that up while I’ve got the panels pulled out and the wires all over the floor.

Here’s a list of things I’ve got ripping through my head to write about…you know, when I have time:

  • The Fecklessness of The Right and “gotcha”ism.
  • The “feelings” of creativity and familiarity, as opposed to their actual manifestations.
  • The “wave of cool” of a great soundtrack. (Mirror’s Edge: Kate’s Puzzle) Contrast with “Project Rinzler
  • Write about the Huge Honkin Console work I’m doing today.
  • People who don’t finish games.
  • Shocked that I’m down 28 pounds
  • Text convo with Abbi about watching self destructive people and outsiderism.
  • Orwyn
  • Is the argument against big government best made by equating it with the argument against big business? “Where do you find these angels?” … “What makes people who literally seek power any more virtuous than the people you hate so much for pursuing commercial success?”

2021-01-11: Smokey: Back to your regularly scheduled madness

To say I keep a pad of paper next to me at my desk at home would be silly.

Last night I counted 5 pads. Graph pad, 11×17, a big art pad for drawing mind maps and such on, a couple notebooks, a simple 8.5×11 pad, and I really have to count the 3×4 foot whiteboard that’s within arms reach.

The idea of course is that if any idea strikes me at any time I’ve got someplace to put it.

“Yeah, Total Wilson move” I can hear people saying.

Now, people who REALLY know me know what I’m going to type next.

They’re all completely blank.

There’s very little as intimidating as the blank page. Some day (maybe in a couple paragraphs if my head goes that way) I’ll walk you through the thought process of what that actually looks like. But suffice it to say it’s true.

At the other end of my desk is my long boxes of 3×5 cards that are full of decades of “The Idea Deck” and about 500-700 new cards.

It occurred to me that one of the things that makes the page so daunting (I can’t use the word daunting without thinking of the Princess Diana interview where she uses the word like 6 times with her head lowered in that insufferably practiced English way to try and indicate the gravitas of being hounded by the media, but I digress) is that any single idea can’t really justify a whole page.

Yeah yeah I don’t pretend it makes TOO much sense outside the level to which I understand it.

Suddenly last night all of that occurred to me at once. I realized it was simply unacceptable.

So I grabbed a little stack of 3×5 cards and just started blasting ideas on them. As a goof, here they all are. Not entirely unrelated:

  • Topic: The Idea Deck (Is the post already out there?)
  • Topic: 3×5 cards for ideas: Thread from bite-sized chunks
  • Topic: “Don’t judge your enemy by your morals” isn’t right. It’s closer to “Don’t call out your enemy for invalidation of your morals”
  • Topic: Snack Madness
  • Idea: 3×5 carry-around wallet/case. “Shirt pocket 3×5 card wallets” just suck. Little leather box maybe?
  • Topic: Rebalkanizing The Internet
    Federated Social Media
    Tim Berners Lee (and his SOLID initiative)
    VPNs
    Mastodon
    Hive?
    I blasted those out in… I don’t know 3-4 minutes?

Now, I’ll expand on those in their own time. But removing that weird little barrier to entry for getting shit down on paper is of immeasurable value.

I’m really tiring of being able to feel an absolute tornado of creative energy that feels like has absolutely no outlet. Now “no outlet” is one of those weird emotional-based traps I get myself into, I know. Knowing that doesn’t dispell it outright. It’s not one of those seemingly external emotional gambits I play with myself like survivor guilt was (i.e. something that, once well defined and boxed just sorta ran out of steam on its own.) But it does have some of the virtue of being a containable border, if I’m paying very close attention.

So solutions start suggesting themselves if I force compartmentalization of the issue.

Without that it’s a thing that sits in the background of my mind, ready to pounce on on me like Hobbes waiting around a corner for Calvin with a bucket of snowballs every time I move towards making something.

But if I can sit on the box I can usually get past it. If I define it I can point an accusing finger at it. It’s when it’s not defined and identified that it has the power to be sneaky.

It’s interesting stuff that I’m essentially realizing as I write about it.

It doesn’t immediately reveal the solution, just a way to defend against it. I still get myself tied up in unbelievable fucking knots with the need to create something.

ANYthing….well, no not anything.

I can see something else kicking around in there, malevolent and undefined, that’s doing something similar. But playing the game of trying to turn around fast enough to catch yourself sneaking up on you hasn’t borne the fruit that it usually does with this one.

I end up leaning back on the vast number of pursuits I’ve got as some kind of defense. But the “for any one thing you do, there’s an infinity of things you’re NOT doing” doesn’t seem like it’s the problem. I know that pretty well. And sure, I find it REALLY tough to give up on ancillary pursuits. I mean hell, look up there at that list: Am I going to get some leatherworking tools and a big sheet of veg tan to make myself little box for 3×5 cards? (Trick question: I already have just about everything I need.)

No, there’s a sense of hesitation in crossing the finish line on all kinds of things that has boxed me out to the point where I tend to sorta dick around on projects and not finish all that many. It’s less true of making physical things (out of wood, steel, etc.) since it’s just so much more glaring to walk past an unfinished piece of craft than it is to pass over a directory of unfinished writing or software projects.

It’s still there though, in the “longer term pursuit of the hobby.” Straight up Peter Panism seems a hollow explanation, however well it fits.

But hell, maybe it is that simple. It doesn’t suggest so easy a solution.

“Dude just pick something or…somethings” just rings pretty shallow. I mean yeah, but that’s unsatisfying and unproductive.

I’ve clearly got to figure a way around it. It’s there to be examined if I can find the proper approach to it.

Fuck it. Post it undone.

2021-01-11: Blowing out the lines

I’m sitting here fucking vibrating with disgust and admittedly impotent fury over the events of the left over the last week, most poignantly the last few days with regards to the mass coordinated censorship and deplatforming of the president and his allies.

Last night’s actions of Amazon (Google and Apple) to kick Parler (a twitter alternative) off of their hosting service was the last straw. I woke up this morning and deregistered my 3 kindles, my 2 amazon echoes, and my amazon FireTV box.

I deleted my audible account, my goodreads account, wiped my payment data and addresses from amazon itself before deleting my account there as well.

Fuck ’em.

You have to have a line. Maybe it’s a petty gesture. Don’t care. That’s an easy line.

“But dude, you’re on facebook of all things.”

I have so many ad blockers and anti-tracking measures in place that facehole doesn’t get a dime from me. I use it on one browser dedicated to only facebook on one laptop.

But the amount of money I’ve spent at Amazon over the last 22 years is…well, let’s be honest, it’s multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The only REAL sting I’ll feel (aside from possibly yelling to my kitchen “Alexa, what’s the weather? Oh shit, right.” over the next couple weeks) is the audible exclusive books. But…where there’s a will and a newly minted disregard for legality, there’s a way.

I was at the end of that process (dammit…it already worked. You’ll see what I mean in a couple/few paragraphs) and bouncing back and forth on social media outlets (you know, those that fucking remain) when I realized “dude, you’re too charged up for this shit. Get the laptop and go to Smokey.”

So I started bopping around my house packing my backpack (laptop, glasses, etc.) when my brain went back to a girl I get along with at Johnathan’s who I haven’t seen in a long time. I didn’t quite blow it. But I didn’t strike while the iron was hot either.

I texted one of my friends who works there:

“I caught myself missing Kathy. I wonder what that nutty chick has been up to.” She’s…nutty. But she’s really good. And admittedly I kinda wanna see her naked.

“Where’ve you been? She’s here ALL the time. She’s in this toxic relationship with a womanizing redneck. They break up every time they’re here.”

I was immediately nauseous. I’m not going to air her laundry (or her real name) here. But I get it. I understand why that shit happens. I watch it all the time.

I texted my friend back that it was a strange thing to be the kind of person who watches those things go on and sees the future of it all clear as day. It really reinforces my identity as an outsider.

Her message came in as I was hitting send on that one. “It won’t last.”

I grabbed my bag, walked out the back door and it was quiet. There was no internet. None of the nonsense was happening. Just a few snowflakes starting to fall against the backdrop of my back yard and I smiled.

It lasted for the drive over. Coming in the cigar lounge they had the news on and the usual suspects were glued to fox, watching the Parler CEO talking and my blood pressure immediately tripled.

I set everything up, bought a few cigars and a couple bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper (my preferred cigar accompaniment) and got RIGHT back on to twitter and facehole, you know….to check.

Yeah that didn’t do me any good. At about a half hour in I realized I was just fucking vibrating with fury. The following conversation insued in my brainbox:

“Dude you’ve got to write. You’ve got to open the damned wordprocessor and just type SOMEthing. Even if it’s just how fucking mad you are.”

“God Dammit NO. I’m furious. I don’t WANT to calm the fuck down.”

“You know better. Open Q10.”

“Fuck you.”

Ten minutes of ragescrolling later.

“God DAMMIT.”

“…”

On my way over I’d been listening to the audio version of The Antidote, which is a great little book for people who are sick of self-help pablum blowing sunshine up your ass. The 20 minute segment I listened to on the way over was the beginning of the author’s interview with Eckhart Tolle, who says that our identity isn’t our thoughts. And since our thoughts exist as a reaction, almost an abrasion against our senses that identifying with our thoughts creates an impossible scenario where that with which we identify at (almost) the most primitive way is fundamentally built on conflict. THAT portion of ourselves can, by definition, never be at peace.

All of that came to mind as I sat here and fumed petulantly at myself, knowing better about being all Kirk in The Final Frontier:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/WLzJAebfEIg

It sounds great, and there’s absolutely an element to it that’s as true as anything ever said. But…it’s also a lie.

“God DAMMIT!

Well there’s only one thing to write about then, isn’t there.

Fuck.”

I tweeted, and opened Q10.

A few paragraphs in….yeah, I felt better. Always. It ALways works. Every time. It’s perfectly reliable. (I marked the moment parenthetically above.)

My attitudes to those things that have my Irish up haven’t changed. But the primary identification with my rage reached its temporal end.

And sure, the triple play of “Did I miss the opportunity?”, “Dude you dodged a bullet”, “You’re just trying to make yourself feel better.” re: Kathy (name changed to protect…me) is still warring in its little warren in the back of my mind, the truth being that it’s a clear combination of all three. Fair enough. But it’s not causing me undue consternation, not at the moment anyway.

But at least I’ve blown out the lines enough to write about what I CAME here today to write about.

2021-1-2: Nostalgia

I got an invitation from an old and current friend to join a Zoom
“party” next Saturday night with a bunch of The Crew from…18 or so
years ago. A few lifetimes by any estimation.

My knee jerk reaction was a weird mix of “oh HELL no” and “God it’d be
nice to see soandso again.” So I stood up and went out to the back
porch to give it a little think. On one hand I’ve been complaining to
myself lately that I haven’t maintained contacts with some of the
worthwhile people in my life, having let friendships atrophe and fall
off a bit too easily.

But I thought about it a bit more and realized that kicking up a get
together (virtual or not) with a bunch of people I used to know,
nearly two decades later isn’t the same thing. It’s nostalgia and I
don’t really have a lot of time for nostalgia, it anchors us in the
past in a way that reminds me a bit too much of the barbed hooks from
Hellraiser.

It also brings to mind Facebook back when it was starting to get
popular. All these people from high school started coming out of the
woodwork. My sisters’ friends and people I worked with in the 80s. I
connected with all of them. But…it only took a month or two to
realize how fake it was. Now that’s certainly all of Facebook. It’s a
saccharine replacement to actual social interaction. I started
cutting people back off and was dealt an interesting case of whiplash
because I didn’t want to play “remember when” with them, reinforcing
my decision.

Connecting with people from your distant past and pretending you can
pick up where you left off is just delusional. Sure, it can be
pleasant if you’re confused about what’s really going on. But it’s
actually poisonous.

You’re not who you were 10, 15, 20, or 30 years ago (and if you are,
that’s a whole different level of problem I’ve not the inclination to
address here.) Neither are they. So meeting people on THAT level
anchors you with an image of yourself (and of them) that’s as old as
that relationship’s original incarnation and in a very real way pulls
you back to those habits, roles, and self-appraisals.

It’s quite the same thing as the yearly trek home to family for the
holidays. Pete Holmes, of all people, hits this in one of his
monologues. Unless you’re really strong, your whole family tends to
snap back into the roles from childhood.

This isn’t to say that you can’t get in touch with people from your
past. It’s just that you have to recreate the relationship almost
from scratch and from your current perspectives; a process that’s
harder, in fact, than meeting new people, since you’ve got to get rid
of all the cruft of expectation then start over.

After all, you can learn an awful lot about a person from how far back
he goes in time when he tells his glory day stories, and fewer and
fewer of mine are from back then.

So I came back in the house, sat down at the laptop and typed my
honest response.

Wasn’t easy. I’m by nature an overly agreeable person, inclined to put
myself out rather than rock the boat. I know it doesn’t seem like
that to a lot of people. But that’s kinda the point. But I realized a
few things in a rapid cascade after I hit enter on the facebook
message.

Immediately afterwards, it not actually having been a cut and dry
decision I had the cool breeze of clarity that indicates it was
absolutely the right thing to do. Okay good. It happens like that an
awful lot of the time, the clarity of a good choice appearing after
the fact, even if before the consequences. It’s frustrating that way
since there’s no more information after the choice is made than
before, like you’re playing a massive trick on yourself by pretending
not to know, being absolutely unable to access the part of you that
DOES know. But it’s an absolutely clear sensation of clarity. It’s
the opposite number to the sinking feeling of regret when an
opportunity passes.

Somewhere between a minute or two afterwards I was thinking about how
the act of making that decision carved a ridge in a previously
nebulous definition of myself. It erased a charcoal line and replaced
it with ink, reminding me that decisions define. My brain, upon
thinking that, cast over big decisions I’d made in the last few years,
moving to Nashville, buying a house, “nominally retiring.” So yeah,
more decisions. More actions. Declaring yourself out loud to the
world has power. But that’s a topic for another time.

So no I’m not interested in reliving the past, fond as a lot of my
memories from those times are. I’ve spent an awful lot of energy
growing and moving on. I’m not him. I’m not there. Engaging in that
kind of weird nostalgia just seems like an act of desperation.

If I’d maintained those friendships over the intervening time, that
would be different. But I haven’t, quite intentionally.

No. No thanks. I’m not interested. But yo tell the cute one I said
wassup. 😉

2020-12-09 Smokey – Personae

This is going to be one of those: “I’m SURE I’ve written about this before” posts. (Apparently I’ve already decided I’m posting this.)

There are two separate pieces of information that go to this idea:

  • Someone posted a tumblr screenshot that I’ve got SOMEwhere around on a server someplace but can never find of a conversation where people described assigning identities to the negative voices in their head and how it helped them box up those impulses quite handily.

“You’re worthless. That art is shit. How could you ever think anyone else would want to see that?”
“Shut up Dave.” etc.

  • Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich talked about how he ran an experiment where he’d imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of famous historical luminaries and talk out problems with them. I don’t recall the list of people, but there was a founding father or two, Lincoln, a scientist IIRC. But it got to the point quickly where they had their own mannerisms and he actually freaked himself out terribly by the practice because of the apparent reality they seemed to have in his own head. He abandoned the practice.

Now…I always thought both of those would be spectacular practices. Not…that they’re actually so different. But I never really got them to stick.

However, I do, with horrifying regularity, have arguments with people who aren’t there in my head. My parents, old bosses, ex girlfriends. They’re not replays of old arguments but me hashing through whatever. Usually something I’m frustrated about in one way or another.

And I realized a couple/few weeks ago that I was doing exactly the same thing. I just hadn’t categorized it the same. So, having not boxed these little phantom (fantasy) conversations and arguments as what they were, somewhere in my head I associated them with the people who were (not) involved.

And because they’re real people I didn’t quite realize what it was that I was doing. I never quite got the benefit of boxing up what it was I’d assigned those people to in my head.

It’s kinda fascinating really. I’ve got to do some more thinking about it. I figured I’d just post it here while I did.

2020-12-09 – Smokey – Dark to Light

Well this is a fine kettle of fucking fish I’ve … what, found myself in? What’s the whole expression? Or is it just “this is a fine kettle of fish?”

I’m sitting here suffering through a headache, a regular doctor pepper and a plugged cigar in a black fucking mood the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years…at least six.

There’s not really much of a reason for it that I can see. NOT, mind you, that I’d be likely able to see it from where I’m sitting in my own head anyway.

I noticed it starting to come on yesterday, which is kinda odd since I kinda kicked ass against the trading bot code base all day. I really got a lot of shit down and done. Of course his code has lots of cough opportunities for improvement.

115 words in and I can feel my brain, the mood itself, rebelling against the tried and true tactic of working to write myself out of it. It WANTS to be angry, put upon, a victim, righteous with fucking rage.

Getting there, ever so slowly. It’s tough to put my finger on why this kind of thing works. Though I expect I’ve written it up elsewhere (see, back to the damn “writing disappears into the past” problem.)

There’s something about the process of writing that forces me to progress through the ideas and find my way out. Though I can’t generally see the path out once I turn around and look back. Small matter, if an interesting data point.

See, normally during a black mood like this (I just felt it pop out, dispelled like a popped balloon) the same thoughts run around and around in tight little circles, just reinforcing with no resolution. They frame themselves as questions unable to be answered. But that’s not the case. It’s actually backwards. What they really are is “unanswerables phrasing themselves as questions” designed to create and sustain an emotional state.

So it runs around and around, gathering steam, making me either angrier or more depressed (though those are just shades of gray of the same thing) largely without end.

Yeah it’ll pass over time if I let it. Usually after a couple remarkably bad decisions. But sometimes not.

I…am I going here? Yeah, fuck it.

I went to a boarding high school (“The Marvelwood School” in Cornwall, Ct.) from my sophomore through senior years. It was a school for people who needed some extra attention. Unfortunately what it did was keep me like a bug under a fucking microsope. There were very few minutes of the week that weren’t scheduled. Up early. Breakfast, then 20 minutes before classes started and went until about 3:00. Sports (fucking hurl though they did have ‘non-team’ sports for those of us who were just NOT team players) for some time, then coat and tie for dinner, 2 hours of tightly supervised study hall (sit in the dining hall quiet as a mouse) then a half hour ’til light’s out. That was five days a week. Saturday classes were shorter and there was a casual dinner, sometimes they’d go get pizza and put on a movie. The whole school had about 125 kids. Sunday there was breakfast and dinner but the day was mostly free. No privacy. No solitude. Years.

So that was the structure of the week. There were “long weekends” you could take one or two of a semester when you could go home. But aside from that and holidays we were packed in these dorms for 3 semesters a year.

I get what my parents were trying to do. They couldn’t handle me so they were doing the absolute best thing they could think to do. In retrospect I probably should’ve stayed in public school, even though I’d have failed out miserably. The power of that crucible would have been better for me. But I’m 51, what am I gonna do, whine about it?

But I didn’t know how to handle myself and there was just nobody I was exposed to who had the faintest idea either. I had a supervisor one year, an Australian guy named Henry Winkler (different one 😉 ) who’d just say “Michael….get ORGANIZED.” Yeah okay asshole. Thirty five years later I don’t know wtf that means.

I think between my junior and senior years I requested the hardest ass faculty member as an advisor. But he ended up just ignoring me wholesale. Thinking about it now I realize I must have had SOME sense of what I needed, but I was too much of a neurotic beta to do much about it (which was largely the point.)

I hated myself bitterly. I knew I was smart. I knew homework was stupid. I could race through tests and absorb material faster than anyone was presenting it to me. I outscored the valedictorian on the SATs significantly. But my grades were for shit. I didn’t know what the fuck was wrong. My head was just a goddamned mess.

I suppose I had friends, thought I don’t really remember them, past a couple names, faces, and events. There were people I was friendly with. Guys I played D&D with. Guys who kinda used my pliable nature to boost their own egos. I’d watch them preen as I hung out with them. Now don’t confuse this with narcissism. I’m no hero of this story. I just wasn’t confused about who they were and that was somewhat reassuring. They were just shamelessly predictable, which made them stable to hang out with. I’ve always found it easy to get along with people like that. Just kinda let them wash over me while I did my own thing. Always an outsider.

It took a very long time for me to realize that I was selling myself short. I wasn’t QUITE the victim of all of this that people seem to think when they witness or hear stories about these relationships.

Most recently….well, it’s 7 years past, so it’s not MOST recently, I let it get out of hand and was being taken advantage of quite badly. I’d gotten myself into a dependency situation and it took me years of string pulling behind the scenes to get me out of it all. And that’s what precipitated my move to Nashville 5 years ago.

But this wasn’t supposed to be about that and frankly I’m not posting that story someplace where parties involved will see it. I’m not willing to deal with the whining headaches it’ll induce. Some people need to stay in the fucking past where they belong.

Back to high school.

I didn’t know what, much less who I was. Combine my prediliction for negative self-talk with god only knows what kind of hormonal nonsense and I got ALmost as low as you can go. Emotionally I was treading water on the best of days and I’d finally had enough.

So I made a move towards the cowards solution. It was a big hubub at the school and they sent me home for a week, calling my parents back from their vacation.

I spent the week with a therapist for the most part. I don’t think that really did much for me other than being able to talk with someone in some depth, which was enough of a breath of fresh air to be transformative in its own right.

It was the notebook that I used to save myself. I’d diddled around with journaling for years but I just cranked down on it.

So I found this weird thing: No matter how bad I was I would write about it and, because I was forced to stare at what I’d written, the self-reinforcing loop of nonsense couldn’t surivie. I literally couldn’t write “all work and no play makes Mikey a dull boy” over and over again. There had to be a NEXT sentence. Combine that with the center of my writing process being one that was fundamentally intellectual and the train of thought HAD to progress. Now, since the state was an emotional one, it held no power here.

It’s not so much that the issue resolves itself on the page. It just lost its hooks. I’d end up writing about something else before too long out of nothing so much as sheer emotional exaustion. So off I went.

Over the following years I found that it ALWAYS worked. I mean perfectly. If I could get myself to the pen, it was over; just a matter of time before I’d lifted myself out of whatever the crap was going on in my head.

Like this. Even going back to these horrible places in my head on the page I don’t end up dwelling on it.

To beat a dead horse: What I would expect, if I didn’t have almost 40 years of evidence to the contrary, is that if I wrote in an emotional state, that the writing would serve to anchor and strengthen that state since it would go through that state, reflecting in the words themselves. But no. It’s literally the opposite.

So I’ve done it. Here I sit. I’ve rescued (and smoked) my plugged cigar, my headache is gone. I’m 1400 words in and my mood is just fine. I’ve listened to “Astronaut in the Ocean” on repeat for about an hour.

And my mind is on to other things and a new cigar.

I don’t know who it’ll work for and who it won’t. I’ve never heard it talked about by anyone else and when I describe this process the reaction I get is usually one of scrunched up face, shading down from there. But if you’re prone to dark moods, give it a shot if you can (being willing to start is the hardest part.) Grab a notebook or open a word processor and just write to yourself about what’s going on in your head and heart. It might just help you lift yourself out of the madness.

Post? Maybe. I’ll reread.

Yeah, fuck it. Have at.

2020/12/01 – Managing Anxiety

I had a thought a couple days ago about anxiety. I’m not sure there’s enough there to warrant a post. But I can never tell with this sort of fucking thing.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I relaxed an awful lot when I heard about Big Five personality theory. Because it made it clear that my neurosis and bouts of anxiety didn’t really have an awful lot to do with whatever it was I was actually anxious about.

So, as I said, it allowed me to put that in a box and not worry so much about it. Now…That’s FAR from a perfect process and while it helped, it was more of a crate than a box and has some leaks along the sides.

But whatever day that was I happened to say something to myself that really resonated with me.

“Anxiety isn’t a reaction.”

It’s a simple little sentence, not unlimited in its applicability. But what it gave me is a tool, hell nothing short of a mantra really, for when I’m getting my boxers all twisted up about something that may or may not actually be an issue.

It FEELS, to the anxious, that anxiety is a reaction to an event with an unknown outcome we should fear for one reason or another. At this point low-neurotics are probably just shaking their heads in wonder at the madness of it all. But anxiety isn’t actually a reaction. It’s a predilection. If I’m “being anxious” then it doesn’t matter even a little what the hell it is I’m thinking about. I’m going to be anxious about whatever the hell is going on in my head.

It serves the same purpose as the initial realization but actually takes it farther and gives me that moment-to-moment tool to help me manage my state of mind in these situations (which happen…several times a day though not constantly as it used to.)

And I’m still getting the hang of this, of course. But on this short time horizon it’s thus far proven to be an extremely useful tool towards separating me from that particular fact of complete fucking madness with which I find myself afflicted. We’ll see how well it works over time.

So hell, maybe it’ll help someone else similarly afflicted.

20/11/28 – Changes

It’s a tough thing to watch people you care about running in to walls, repeating self-defeating patterns over and over again, confused at why they’re not getting the kind of results they think they should be getting, given their actions. The impulse to correct someone else’s behavior and ideas is a pretty tough one to resist.

Fortunately, perhaps, it’s an effectively impossible task to change someone else. They have to do it themselves, or at least be intentionally receptive to the idea, in order for it to work. It’s why, I suspect, Alcoholics Anonymous has such a dismal success rate. Psychiatric treatment is predicated on the patient seeking out the treatment to begin with (compulsory therapy is remarkably unsuccessful.)

Now let’s leave aside the purity of intention with regards to the desire to change someone else, because it’s pretty much always suspect and that gets deep fast and wasn’t really where I was going.

You can’t grab someone and shake them hard enough to force new information into their head. Learning something new and deciding to change who we are as people is a very dangerous prospect. You can’t REALLY learn something new without unlearning something you already know. And the idea of having someone else try to change you intentionally is almost laughable in its naivete.

So we can’t really even talk about changing someone else, since it requires that person to actually do the work of unlocking doors and taking out the trash. Or at least, I can’t. There are smart people out there who I’m sure can address the topic.

But this is something Peterson hits pretty hard. If you realize you’re wrong about something, you have to unmake a part of your identity in order to internalize the new information. Otherwise…well there is no “otherwise.” In fact, once you’ve realized you’re wrong about something you’ve already taken a step in fragmenting your identity, if not the fundamental reality of who you are.

There are of course people who hold on to ideas they know to be wrong with both hands, creating a schism in their own mind. I’ve watched this happen with people and it’s really quite frightening to behold. When someone knows they’re wrong but have SO much invested in a particular idea that they can’t let go of it. I suppose it overlaps with cognitive dissonance.

But to really complete that progression you’ve got to let yourself go. You HAVE to stop identifying with your identity. The amount of yourself that you identify with has to necessarily shrink. It’s a strange process “Oh, that’s not ME. That’s just something I think now.”

I’ve gone through that cycle enough that I know what it feels like. I get angry in direct proportion to the strength with which I hold an idea to be true because I literally consider said idea as a part of who I am. I remembered this starkly and recently a few years ago when I read both Mike Cernovich’s “Gorilla Mindset” and Robert Glover’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” They made me angry as hell. I sulked and grumbled and whined to myself. Then I sat with those ideas fuming around in my skull for…shit it was probably months.

I realize now that I was cutting off what I thought was a mental limb from my body. But when I realized they were right about at least most of what they were talking about.

I’ve had a lot of hard lessons in my life that have resulted in sharp direction and identity reassessments. But I think this was the moment where I learned the meta-lesson, which I’d been exposed to a hundred hundred times before, that I’m not my thoughts, that I’m something much smaller in diameter yet much larger in scope than I could possibly have imagined.

I know I learned it because upon internalizing it, the lesson was a peaceful and reassuring one. And it’s not an inexorable step forward. I backslide into the convenience of resting my soul on the hatrack of interesting sounding ideas from time to time. But it’s with much less strength each time.

So now when I talk with my mother, as a poignant example, about not watching the news and she says “But how do you know what to believe?” I can look at her and say “Why believe any of it? Why would you pay any attention to people who are paid to make you think and feel something?”

I had a friend, who seems to have retreated entirely who, at the depth of a bender sat me down at my side of the bar and after some conversational foreplay said “Hey man, I have a question.”

“Sure dude, what’s up?”

“You seem to be…” He wobbled drunkenly as he groped for the word “…a discerning person.”

“I like to think so.”

“Well…how do you know you’re right?” It was really out of left field and at first I wasn’t at all sure what he meant.

But he went on to try and sell Socialism and some of his favorite thinkers on the topic, pointing me to some website I wrote down in a notebook someplace, quite dishonestly, crowing about their elocution and how they handled every argument against socialism with aplomb. He claimed they’d thought of and countered every objection. Except, apparently, reality.

“Man, ever heard of The Marquis de Sade?”

“Wasn’t he that sadist?”

“Yeah that’s where the word comes from. Anyway in a former life I read a LOT of de Sade’s work.” He looked a little shocked. Fair enough. I don’t seem the type who knows much about ‘The Divine Marquis’. “He wrote a piece that was a refutation of the existence of Christian God.” He nodded, wide eyed. Superficially familiar territory for a 28 year old socialist wannabe.

“So it’s an argument between a hedonist and a priest in prison and it ends with the priest abdicating his beliefs and almost certainly diving face first into a babble of young girls. At the time I thought it was brilliant. But here’s the thing…he wrote both sides of the argument. Of course it was going to go the way he wanted it to go. He planned the whole thing that way and made himself look smart in the process.”

He teetered in his chair as he sank another glass of whiskey.

“You can’t go to one source of information for anything. And even if you do, you have to consider strong arguments outside of their contrived context. Do they hold together in day to day life? Are they USEFUL arguments? Do they have exceptions? What kind? Does that invalidate the truth of them? You have to be able to do this with all the information you hear. So beware the temptation to become enamored of a thinker or a speaker, owing to his elegance and erudition. Even…ESPECIALLY if their arguments seem to hold true across the board. And if you have access to them as people, watch them. Watch them closely to see if they behave in concert with their espoused beliefs.”

Well, who the hell knows if I said all of that. But I ranted thus on the topic for some time. I was half in the bag myself.

“But how do you know you’re RIGHT?” He said with some pleading in his voice. And I had a V8 moment as I realized quite suddenly he hadn’t been arguing with me this whole time, but looking for help in his ongoing argument with himself. He’d taken half a step off the cliff.

“I’ve been exactly where you are, philosophically and developmentally, and I know there isn’t anything I can say that can help bring you out of it or through it. The best I can do is tell you to be courageous with yourself and be a complete bastard when it comes to your safe ideas. Invite Kali into your life. You have to sacrifice yourself. IF you’re right you’ll come out all the stronger for it. If you aren’t, well… you’re pretty damned smart and you can break through it.”

Well, he liked the implicit compliment but was otherwise unsatisfied. He’s a good person with a refreshing mind among a world of dullards. But I haven’t heard from him since.

I can’t save you man. I can’t even save myself.

I don’t know where I heard this. I can’t imagine for a moment it’s original. But I’ve no recollection of having ever heard anyone else say it and I don’t remember having read it anyplace. Probably just a selective self-serving failing of my memory. But there’s a way you can help people IF they’re poised to receive help (that includes yourself of course.)

“Ask yourself this question: If you were wrong, how would you know? Don’t answer me, because that’s fraught with social difficulties, egos and such. People are inclined to tell you what they think you want to hear. But in your heart of hearts ask yourself what would have to be true for you to be wrong. There’s only one wrong answer: But I’m not. Because if you ask, and you have to really ask, you’ll come up with something. That starts you on the path to discovery.”

It’s one of only two gateways to the underlying wiring of my head I’ve been able to successfully employ with any consistency (the other being journaling.) Watch your mind. Are there things about yourself and what you think that you won’t even ask about, where you can’t even form the question? Ah…begin there. Well…okay, maybe don’t begin there. That’s pretty rough on the ego. Begin with something innocuous so you can get used to the process.

We treasure our identities. We love who we think we are. It’s the closest thing to a real home we have for ourselves. The thing is, even when you put that at risk and abandon some of those thoughts and facets, you still HAVE an identity. You still HAVE a home in your mind that is you. Sure, it’s not what you thought it was. But that doesn’t make it less you. It doesn’t make it less of a home. Hell, it makes it more of one because you’ve cut away some of the dead weight of what you thought you were.

It’s quite like dispensing with friends who drag you down; the bucket crabs and narcissists. Get rid of 80% of your “friends” who serve your life ill and the other 20% do more than take up the rest of that space. Those friendships improve, have more value and you gain some pride in having standards, really being who you are. All this entirely independent of the benefit from cutting away the draw down on your life.

There’s so much coming at us all the damned time from all quarters: People, ideas, marketing, products. And we unthinkingly take on so much that we become mired in this horseshit, literally unable to recognize ourselves in the media and mimetic soup. And I’m not convinced, not at all convinced that the only defense to it isn’t to add to yourself by subtraction of the superfluous and dangerous, but I repeat myself.

2020/11/18 – Smokey – Water Under the Bridge Continued [HHC N+1 of M]

I just took that previous post, collected the HHC posts and built an HhcIndex post (out of an older intro post) and added it to the Index Posts post then, having posted and updated all of that, I posted it to twitter.

While I was there I saw a “like” notification of one of my tweets from a few days ago about a topic that keeps coming up and it struck me all over again.

These platforms are so fucking ephemeral that we’re losing our minds trying to keep track of things.

When I tell people I’m a heavy twitter user they almost always have the same question: “How do you keep track of conversations?”

And the response is a simple one: “The same way you walk in to a bar and keep track of what’s going on there. You don’t. You don’t walk into a bar and say ‘everybody hold up. Can we replay the last couple hours?'” People’d think you were insane. You catch what you can, jump in where you can and keep it going from there.

It’s everywhere. All of the short attention span social media platforms, instagram, facebook, snapchat, twitter, telegram, slack, discord, etc. They all suffer from this horrid design deficiency.

Even newsletters just kinda…drift off in to the past, rather than build on a body of work. And yeah yeah “you COULD go back and archive them” yadda yadda, fuck the bisque.

There are a lot of people out there who have something fascinating to say, and have said it. But if you missed it…oh well, it’s gone in all practical ways.

27 years later, we’ve missed the point of hypermedia, using it to build fucking apps and other assorted horseshit.

Jordan Peterson makes a fascinating point about The Bible being the first hyperlinked document, what with its massive amount of cross-referencing. Somewhere he posted, or displayed in a lecture of his, a diagram of the interrelationships and cross-referencing in the bible and it’s absolutely startling. As a body of knowledge it’s really quite singular.

What if what we were able to bring together the things we post online into a cohesive whole, treating these forums less like an ongoing casual conversation and more like a single crafted…thing?

I know that’s not going to appeal to everyone or perhaps even to a lot of people. But it sure as fuck appeals to me. If I could easily harness the interrelated nature of my accumulated thoughts over time I’d sure as fuck get an awful lot better at thinking itself. I’d refine my ideas, my ideals, and the ways I expressed them. It would take me places and I daresay it would be interesting to at least some other people as well.

There’s something here and maybe it starts with a simple software project like the blog/wiki hybrid. It’s tough to see where something like this would really GO. But I’ve got the sense that taking the steps to get there is fundamentally required in order to actually see around the next bend. Then, a few iterations past, perhaps there would be sufficient data to plot an actual trajectory and extrapolate a bit.

After all, the tech required to do this is utterly trivial.

If I built it, would people use it? Who the fuck knows. I certainly would. Hell I’ve got pieces of this kind of thing all over my servers. A common format, some creative conventions and managing the impedence mismatch between a couple/few different platforms would be all it would take to have the full body of functionality together.

I’d have to let go of the idea of the static post in favor of “evolving documents.” But I don’t have much of an issue with that. SOME documents should be “living.”

The document of someone’s life especially so.

2020/11/18-Water Under The Bridge [HHC: N of M]


Nah. Not that kind of water under the bridge. I’m not the forgiving type. Well…that’s not strictly true. I just don’t make the same fucking mistake of trusting the same person twice after I get fucked. But that’s still not what this is about.


Since the original days of my first blog: The Universal Church of Cosmic Uncertainty (Radio Userland blog 0108194) I’ve been endlessly frustrated by the blog format, the way posts are just chronological. That’s fine if you’re just journaling….no, even that’s not okay.


The problem is that it’s really tough to find things that you’ve posted after they’ve disappeared off the front page. I suppose if you had the right keywords it would be easy. But you’d still have to know to go look.


I like to go back and reread my writing. I don’t know if that’s weird or not. But it brings me back to familiar places in my head, visiting old rooms and thinking “oh shit! I forgot all this was back here!”


That’s why I’ve done things like create the index posts for ongoing multi-post topics.


But it’s not really enough.


The original WikiWikiWeb, by Ward Cunningham (not that piece of trash people think of when the word Wiki comes up) was a great little platform, truly elegant in its simplicity.


All you did was, when you were creating or editing an entry was create a WikiWord, which was 2 or more words jammed together like that. The engine would assume that was a link to a page with that title. If it existed, it would automatically turn that WikiWord into a link. If it didn’t, it would render it with a little hyperlink question mark next to it. If you clicked on that question mark it brought you to the “new page” form to create an entry with that title.


So what you ended up with was an authoring system that would let you link to pre-existing pages or new ones ad hoc. Then you or someone else (the original wiki was open to editing by all) could create that page and automatically, any reference to that page title would be subsequently rendered with a link to that page. It was fucking magical.


Imagine then, writing a long entry about a topic with a bunch of things that needed clarification or extended references. You could just pepper the document with WikiWords and hit save. Lo and behold, if you were generally on topic (the WikiWeb was centered around object oriented software development, complete with the predictable level of tangentry) then when you hit publish, those links would just light up.


More than once I’d put a bunch of WikiWords in a post, thinking I’d have to go back and create the pages only to find out that a lot of the topics I was referencing already had pages dedicated to them out there.


Then there was a “RecentChanges” page that was different in that it just showed a timeline of pages that had been created or edited recently. So you could use that as a FrontPage if you were just looking to see where currently active conversations were going.


Fascinating stuff. I’m not sure if it’s still up. It’s certainly not still editable.
But it made it easy to build a body of knowledge that would let you jump around in an extremely powerful and intuitive way, unlike the current mess we have, which represents a conceptual and semantic, if not technological, backslide.


There were two other very important and simple properties the wiki had, one by design, one as a side effect.


If you were on a page and you clicked on that page’s title, it would return a search of every page that had a link to it. So it was easy to see who was talking about a particular topic and scan back references and such.


As a result of that people would tag posts with category names. So this would, for instance, have “CategoryWiki CategoryBlog” at the bottom. Then, as long as people had added Category tags to pages, you could get a category index.


The CategoryWiki post would have a little blurb about what a wiki was, etc. At the bottom of THAT there was usually a “CategoryCategory” tag. Click on CategoryCategory and you’d get a top-level list of all categories/topics where people had obeyed the convention. Great stuff.


But that’s all gone in the dated blog format, which has more the “river of news” format that current social media sites have, where things just disappear into the past as soon as enough new content was posted to push it off the chronological front page.


Sure it’s still there. But how the hell to get to it?


So one of my software projects that keeps getting pushed to the back burner (in a self-referential bit of irony) has been to take the blog format and build a hybrid, either through a wordpress plug-in or by building something new from scratch that would mix the approaches.


That way I’d be able to navigate the map of things I’ve already written about easily.


I do most of my writing on a desktop wiki system that I’ve wrtten that’s…kinda there. I’ve got to make some changes and add some more interesting handling of titles (more on that later.)


But now that I’m doing an awful lot more writing (lately about 30x what I had been at the beginning of the spring) it’s becoming more and more important to me that I’m able to skip along the wavecaps of these topics. It’ll help me go back and develop “older” content, bringing it up to date and stop me from writing posts that, most of the way through them, seem….hauntingly familiar.


I can’t imagine it would do anything less than sharpen my thinking.


Because right now I’m finding myself going over old topics and rehashing them from scratch, knowing that somewhere out there I’ve already hit these points.
Hell, I can do THAT just by talking to myself. The trick is to reaccess the old rooms in my head where projects are half built and continue them, after some familiarizing, from where they were, rather than form the first half of the thought every eighteen months.


Once I get that nailed down the format of this site will be changing quite a lot. I may end up just generating a static site offline and re-uploading a re-render of changed entries


Like this. I’m absolutely positive that something close to EXACTLY this post exists both on this blog in at least two places and in prior incarnations and other platforms.

—–

CategoryProject CategoryWiki CategoryBlog CategoryProgramming CategoryHhc

2020/11/18 – Smokey – Who knows

So I was tooling around online today at about 2:00, having just finished the dishes, the laundry, and my big bowl of chili lunch (no hot dogs), setting up my development tools for a day of coding and the music in the kitchen stopped, the UPS started screaming.


Ah well. Power’s out. Grabbed my jacket, my laptop bag, stuffed my pockets with knives and such, grabbed my glasses, hitched up the horse and buggy and headed into town to sit at the cigar lounge. This was tomorrow’s plan. But no plan survives contact with the enemy.


So I get here, drop my laptop down at my table (I have a table and a seat pretty much wherever I go.) I hit the humidor and picked up 4 cigars and two Diet Dr. Peppers. It’s more than I’ll smoke in one sitting. But I’m trying to build up my reserves and I don’t mind paying these guys the brick & mortar premium on good sticks. The Diet Dr. Pepper is a nice happy medium between cola and something fruity that goes great with cigars. In a perfect world I think maybe a good Diet Root Beer would be best. But they don’t have that. It’s not much of a concession.


I set up the power cable, got my bits and bobs in place (glasses, headphones, phone, microfiber cloth for the screen and my glasses,) moved the ash tray to it’s final position (as a southpaw it’s always in the wrong place) and got to work.


Logging in to the damned electric company website (after two failed password attempts and an initial delve into the wrong password file) I saw what I pretty much expected:

Service terminated due to lack of payment.

OY

The great thing about having everying being automatically paid is that you don’t have to think about shit like this, which is my Achilles’ heel. It’s never a money issue (anymore) but I can NOT keep on top of shit like that. Before this weird age of man I was constantly worrying about (among everything else) what was paid and what wasn’t. When this or that was due. It felt like a damned near full time job just to stay on top of my fucking utilities. Now I can take all the bills and just stick them in a box for never.


The biggest problem with having everything being automatically paid is that when your primary debit card expires, things just…stop. I thought I’d had everything under control. But without any other notification, there wasn’t really any way to tell. Yeah yeah I should have a fucking checklist.


So I updated the damned thing, checked “$35 reconnection fee” (which I read as “$35 stupid tax”) and hit “Pay Now.”


Now I know the power’s back on at the house. God only knows what the clocks are gonna say when I get home. But what kind of geek would I be if I had accurate clocks?


But I’m here. So blathering into a word processor over a couple great cigars seems like the thing to do.

Had a funny little interlude yesterday I probably should’ve folded into yesterday’s post.


I’d been dragging my ass on changing the address on my driver’s license and the registration of the truck. So I got all my ducks together and made a couple calls yesterday to plan on doing all of that today.


But by the time I was done with that it was only about 2:30 so I figured “fuck it. I can probably bang that out.”


I went to the emissions inspection station (which is a drive-through thing down here in Tennessee, like a jiffy-lube. They do it in 2 minutes and it costs $9. Fine.)


The guy made me stand outside the building (rather than just stay in my truck) presumably because I wasn’t wearing a mask.


I asked for directions to the County Clerk’s office and it was about 2 miles away, right past the Walmart.


Realizing that if anyplace was gonna be strict about the mask mandate it was going to be the county clerk’s office I stopped in to walmart and picked up a few $1.97 bandanas. I keep my hair up in them in the workshop anyway so I can always use a couple more.
That way if I was actually forced…I could wear one.


GPS had me drive around in a circle twice before I figured out it was lying to me. I pulled in to the right building the third time around, realizing what was going on, and went to walk in to the building.
A woman stopped me…


“s’cuse me. I gotta take your temperature.”


“O…kay” I said, making as if I was gonna pull down my pants. Got a laugh out of her as she aimed some laser thing at my head.
I started to walk in.


“Excuse me sir?”


“Hmm?”


“Do you have a mask?”


I pulled out one of my new bandanas, snapped the tag off of it and held it up.


“Okay good. Go ahead.”


I put it back in my pocket and walked in.


She made a vowel movement of some kind as I walked in.


Nobody in the building gave me a second glance.


The whole exchange ended up taking about 4 minutes, with smalltalk.
I walked out past her, my documentation in tow, smiled and winked as I walked by.


She just shook her head and chuckled a bit.


Still have a perfect record.

Don’t wear the masks kids. They’re more of a lie than the cake.

2020/11/17: And now, a word from our sponsor [1 of ?]

So… Cigargoyle’s been reading my stuff on his nightcaps AND I’ve been posting more regularly, so the number of hits on this sight has gone up..well, technically infinitely from none to not none.

Having had a particularly productive day I got myself a head of steam and thought to myself “Self? What ELSE can you get done today?”

Well…I use statcounter.com to track web site hits. It puts a little one pixel invisible image on the page so that, when you hit the site it goes to statcounter to load that image, and statcounter registers the visit. No biggie. I can’t see anything personal or detailed.

The problem is that in this day and age, web browsers and consumer routers have ad blocking plugins that look for things like statcounter (which is admittedly pretty innocuous) and filters them out. So if you have that kind of tech engaged, it stops your browser from grabbing that little image. Thus, the visit doesn’t register.

I know this is causing most page views to go unregistered because I’m getting FAR more direct response and interaction with people from my posts than I’m getting hits. So I have an engagement rate of approximately 430%.

Stay on the line and I’ll sell you my SEO techniques.

So I realized that to really see the actual logs, I’d need to upgrade from this goofy little “managed wordpress” site to something that actually let me see the native web server logs.

No biggie.

I call up GoDaddy and go through the Shibboleth tree.

After some serious confusion about which of two nominally separate accounts I was talking about (more on that never) I talked with a “tech” who wasn’t a tech.

“Aannd who am I speaking with?”

“Michael Wilson”

“Ooh from Nassshhviillle.”

“Actually no. From Brooklyn, living outside of Nashville.” Fuck your IP logs.

“Okay Mr. Wilson, how can I help?”

“Hey man, got a problem I expect is going to result in an upsell conversation.”

I went through and explained to him that statcounter doesn’t really work well anymore because of all the DNS filtering and COULD I, with my CURRENT level of service, get to the native web server logs. (Note: I know I can’t. But there’s a chance, so I figured I’d serve it up.)

“Well what you CAN do is use a WordPress plug in that will help you see traffic patterns.”

“That’s not gonna work for me Brooke.”

*insert half a dozen rounds before he gets it*

“Okay so in that case I’d recommend going up to our superdeluxe wordpress hosting level, that gives you cpanel access AND an ssl certificate for free!”

“I don’t give a shit about that.”

“I know you THINK you don’t. But they really can man in the middle your wordpress site.”

“Yeah I really don’t give a shit about that.”

“Well, your login. They could…”

“Yeah I really don’t give a shit. If they want to read my 20 year old bar stories and shit they can. I’m not going through the bother.”

“Ohh…” he paused “I was just scanning over your site. You’re a friend of Bill!”

I just laughed in the poor guy’s ear.

“Me? No. I’m no fucking quitter!”

*uncomfortable silence*

Ruhroh Raggy.

For those of you who don’t know. Alcoholics Anonymous was formed by “Bill Wilson” (ironically my father’s name as well.) And AA members sort of use “Friend of Bill” or “Friend of Bill W” as a code to identify each other.

I’d put together the first part, but…not the obvious implication. Not for a couple seconds anyway.

The fact that the guy scanned my blog, this blog, and with a couple additional words decided it was a perfectly safe bet that I was a “Recovering Alcoholic” is just one of the most unintentionally hilarious fucking moments of the last few months. He was SO sure that he outed himself, which is just fucking gravy. Delicious delicious gravy.

Once my brain backtracked over the poor kid’s unspoken train of thought it was too late. I was just chuckling to myself like a fucking maniac.

Getting back on track I reconfirmed with double platinum diamond level of service would give me cpanel access and checked the prices, which end up working out in my favor.

“Plus, you get that free SSL certificate.”

“Yeah I don’t care about that.”

2020/11/13 – Gratitude: Addendum


Let me give a shot at what I was talking about in the C&C 5 post.
Like so many realizations I’ve had about the cogworks of my head, this one was precipitated by a Jordan Peterson video, long lost among his amazing library of content, where he talks about honesty. But I’ll get back to that.

For decades I had a remarkably low self-appraisal. But as I’ve been emerging from that particular nightmare I’ve started to put together the whys of it all. Now, digging around in my childhood is an ancillary concern to fixing my damned head. It’s got to be.

If you try to spend your life tracing your motivations for every attitude you have and every action you take and word you speak, either to yourself or out loud, you’re DOOMED to madness.

You only remember what your brain filters about what you remember through the weird subjective lens of the kind of thought patterns you’re trying to get to the bottom of.

But SOMEtimes someone says something and it reframes a piece of the past and you get a glimpse from a different direction.

Without going THERE, it’s like when I learned about “Survivor Guilt” a few months after 9/11. All of a sudden my brain reindexed what I was going through and I was able to say “Oh, THAT’S what that is. Okay I can put that in that box and just ride it out.” and while it wasn’t overnight, it eventually worked its way out of my system.

Well what Peterson said, and I’m going to fuck this up beyond all recognition was “There are people who grow up in a home where no one ever tells the truth. Everything is a lie.” A lie to knit the fabric of the family environment into a facade.

Now…mine wasn’t THAT bad…I don’t think. I mean how the fuck would I know? We (my sisters and I) knew something was truly fucked up. But we thought we had a bead on it.

But that line, about that even being a possibility, unlocked some puzzle pieces in my head. Of course I don’t ever believe anybody when they say something nice. History has taught me that people who are saying something nice are either doing it because they feel they have a familial obligation to do so or because they want something.

The worst job I ever had was at Credit Suisse First Boston, back before the fucking ’08 madness (I think it was 03-06 or so. I’m fuzzy on 15 year old job details.)

One thing about bad jobs is that they inevitably have the greatest esprit de corps.

We hung out together. Hell we were there so damned many hours in a week that it was inevitable.

I don’t remember what precipitated it. But a girl I should’ve married once dressed me down for dressing myself down. She talked for a few minutes and frankly I don’t remember much of what she said. But one line shines through 15 years:

“Mike you don’t get it, YOU’RE the guy everybody wants to hang out with. YOU’RE the one people are hoping will be going out when they decide to get together after work.”

It was a few months later that one of my five favorite people on the planet, “my bartender” at the time went outside for a smoke break and called me to come out and sit with her.

Not knowing what Meghan had said, she opened with “You’re not allowed to say a word until I’m done.” I started to make a snide comment and she held up a finger “not a word!” She proceeded to (admittedly a bit more forcefully) rip me a new asshole about much the same thing. Having been tired of listening to me run myself down she just wasn’t fucking having it anymore.

I’m sad to say I don’t remember much about what she said. But the why of her doing it. The gesture of putting herself out there, dragging me outside (away from my blergh Original Sin cider) because someone needed to hammer this shit into this idiot’s head was far more important.

The gesture itself was the communication because it necessarily spoke to her fundamental honesty.

So, technically speaking, EVEN if she was wrong about my actual value (I really don’t remember what I thought about it at the time, other than a kind of social shock) the DOING of it meant something that I didn’t have room for in my head. It gave me something to contend with that I simply had to make room for.

I was wrong about something.

It took years to internalize what they both told me, as far as I have.
Like Amy Alkon says in her spectacularly underrated book “Unfuckology”:

“You have the right to take up space.”

Since then I’ve been collecting data about the way people react to me and, while I think I’ve gotten severely lazy and backslid a bit, the conclusion is an inevitable one: I’m FAR better than I give myself credit for.

Still, friends of mind chuckle and shake their head about how hard I am on myself. I play it off with “Yeah SOMEone has to be” or “If I’m not, I’m not going to get any better.”

And now, rather than trying to come up to a level of acceptability, I think I’m really embracing that kind of Neurosis as a tool for self improvement and advancement. Sure it’s misguided as fuck now and again. But it’s working.

And yes, I have a lot of areas of my life where I need to employ that kind of ruthlessness. It’d be a bit too embarrassing to say where, aside from things like weight loss and such.

The trick, I think, is to figure out how to balance these things. How to take a deep breath and let go of the anxiety and just fucking run with…whatever and when to aim that fucking lens on myself.

Dammit…this follow-up was supposed to be about the value of honesty. Hell, maybe it still is.

In reference to my previous post: Is it too much to ask of my family, who’s never really expressed ANY positive emotion, to express some gratitude? It may be.

This might be an indication that I’ve moved beyond those familial role-playing modes.

Huh. That’s an interesting, if self-congratulatory notion. But to paraphrase the immortal words of Ronaldus Maximus “There I go again.”

Yeah, that’s okay.

I’m gonna post these, close up and go across the street to Johnathans and sit at the bar, maybe just for one. Maybe…not.

But this is going to end up being a series wherein I work this shit out.

o7

2020/11/13: Gratitude

I was musing online about Christmas Shopping, something that I would ostensibly enjoy were it not for my brain being the fucking way it is.

I place some significant importance on getting people something they actually like, maybe do my part to bring some Christmas wide-eye to the people in my life.

But I don’t live near any of them. In fact I’m a good 900 miles away from my family. That shouldn’t be SO much of a problem. But I just don’t get enough of a picture of their day to day lives to see between the cracks of what they say they want for Christmas into what they’d actually be delightfully surprised by.

So when I talk with them on the phone (rare as that is), or pass facebook messages back and forth I’m hypervigilant for opportunities.

After the panicked madness that was 2018 I resolved that in 2019 I was going to make gifts instead of just buying them. Give them a personal touch.

Now we’re pretty much all foodies of one form or another.
For the last couple years I’d been experimenting with making home made hot sauces and, by experimenting on my officemates I’d really dialed in an intuition of what works and what doesn’t.

So last May or June I set a shitton of peppers to a several month fermentation. I know a lot of people ferment veges for a couple/few weeks, but a byproduct of procrastination was me finding out that an extended ferment worked really well.

It was a couple weeks before Christmas before I had them all ready to go. Then I started experimenting. Jalapenos, Chilis, Habaneros, Poblanos, etc. I blended them, cooked them down then ran them through the saucer (which is like a hand-crank meat grinder that separates liquid from solid components.

So, with those four pureed pepper ingredients (saving the solid remains for another experiment) and a bunch of other ingredients including pureed fruits of different kinds, sugars and honeys, vinegars, lemon and lime juices for acidity (to keep them shelf stable) coconut milk, yadda yadda, I set out on my alchemical journey.
I take little plastic (ostensibly disposable) pipettes and ingredient bowls to make little mixtures of combinations and taste test them without drawing overmuch on my ingredient stock. BASICALLY it comes down to: A pepper, a fruit, and an acid for shelf stability (also acids balance out the sweetness.) There are other treatments I apply to some of the ingredients.

Anyway I work too damned hard for these little secrets to just hand them over in a blog post.

I came up with 4 hot sauces. One was really hot. One was really sweet, and the others were interesting, if nothing else.

Then I took the dried component from the peppers and ran them through a food processor to really just wreck them before laying them out on a cookie sheet and popping them in the oven at 200 degrees for a couple/few hours. Then back into the food processor.

I went through that a couple times then spread the result on the trays in my dehydrator and let THAT go for 18 hours or so. Back into the food processor then back into the dehydrator.

Sounds like a lot of work, and I suppose it was. But getting the size down to where I wanted them and keeping them as dry as I wanted took a lot of iterations.

But I ended up with some great chili flakes. I went to Hobby Lobby and got these little cork bottles with a little wooden spoon that fit in the side of the glass. Cute and held a bunch, probably a little shy of a cup.

Okay, 4 hot sauces, pepper flakes, and a chili lime beef jerky (because what the hell, I had my dehydrator in rotation, why not?)
I had little gift bags and little trays, decorative bottles, etc. I made these little gift bags for all of the adults, put them in the back of my truck and treked up to my sister’s place for Christmas.

At the moment of truth I brought out my little gift bags and handed them out to the adults in the room and sat back while they went through it all, read the labels on the hot sauce bottles, looked at the cute little jars.

“Huh. These jars are so cute. Where’d you get these?”
“Oh I bought the jars at Hobby Lobby.”
“Seriously those are adorable.”


They looked at the bottles of hot sauce and put them back in the bags and put them aside.

By the time the madness of Christmas morning was over I saw a couple bags overturned amidst the mess. They’d been instantly and utterly forgotten.


The rest of my couple days was mostly overshadowed by the ring of what might as well have been my tinnitus as voices seemed quiet and I just hung out in my own mind.

Okay maybe it’s me. It’s certainly at least a BIT me, right? A gift with expectation of a reward isn’t really a gift. But the reward I expect was that they would at least enjoy them. Or…shit.

Look, I don’t need people to like the things that I make. God no. That would be…I don’t even KNOW what that would be. Narcissistic? Nah, that’s not even right.

Well, I figured I’d test it out. I’d made a lot more than I needed to give away as Christmas presents.

So I did what I do. I took them to bars and handed them to friends.
First it was: “Holy shit you MADE this?” almost uniformly.

Then: “Hold on, let’s get some chips and try them.”
Then, after 15 minutes of people tasting this with that and going through combinations: “Yeah I don’t like these, but THIS one I love” discussions of what people liked about which one, questions about how I made them all.

Yeah. See, it was like when I brought my experiments in to the office. Hell, one day I brought I think 14 combinations I was testing out, adding the caveat that “I’m not sure if these are any good. But these are the ones that held together enough for me to bring them in and see if anyone liked them.”

Months later I went in to one of my bars, after some time away and the bartender said “DUDE THERE YOU ARE! We need to know what the hell is in that hot sauce you brought us. We’ve been putting that shit on everything!” With a nod and a wink to the Frank’s commercials.

“Dude, which one? That was months ago. I might not have any idea what was in there.”

The other bartender went into the kitchen and came out with the big, almost entirely empty mason jar of brown sludge that was one of my attempts.

“Man, I don’t know what to tell you. I have NO idea what that one was. Okay give me the bottle, a glass of ice water and a couple drink stirs.” I sat there taking a little dab at a time on my tongue, of course it was one of the hot ones (Confession: I’m a bit of a scoville bitch.) I tried to put it together but I had no damned idea. It was nice and smokey, a little fruity and just smacked you like a fucking dominatrix on a rough night.

“I don’t know what to say guys. I’m just not sure. I’ll tell you what I generally do and maybe we can put it together.” and I went through the process I described above, albeit in more detail.

I also make rice wine. It’s the one brewing thing that I’m going to keep doing. It’s as easy to make as it is to drink.

When I make a batch, I put a mason jar in my bag along with a bunch of those little shot glasses I buy at Walmart that look like little red solo cups. They’re like a buck eighty for ten. Then when I’m at the bar I’ll say “psst…” to the regular suspects and flash them the jar.

“Ooh, is that the rice wine?” and we drink some.

And if I end up talking with a bunch of people at the next table over I’ll offer them some. Sometimes they accept, sometimes they don’t. Usually they like it, rarely they don’t. It’s all good. Rarely they’ll say

“Yo can I buy a bottle of this?”

Now, I’d be inclined to doubt their sincerity if it weren’t for the absolute preponderance of positive results I get from people. If I didn’t show up weeks later and people didn’t introduce me as “Oh this is the guy I was telling you about, that makes that rice wine! OMG it’s so good.”

I don’t need people to fucking gush over me. I don’t believe it when they do.

But SOMEthing. Maybe I’m reading this whole thing wrong somehow.

But the data just lines up in a very particular way.

It quickly becomes a matter of casting pearls before swine.

This year I started by asking everyone for their amazon wish list. But they’re even recalcitrant about that. My sister sent me hers. It’s full of vacuum cleaners and other assorted stuff.

I love it when people get me stuff off my wish list. There’s a common complaint that it lacks thoughtfulness. But I use my amazon wish list for myself. So there’s not really a more pure indication of what I want than…well…things I actually want.

There are a couple people I have ideas for. But usually if I think of something that someone needs I just send it to them.

I know what I’m going to get my niece and a nephew or two.

But the rest of them? Yeah they’re getting amazon gift cards.

Fuck ’em.

I’ll unlearn this lesson next year I know, after I’ve spent a few months at the forge and in the shop, dialing in my skill set.

2010/8/07: Blast from the past: Russian Lunch

[I’m going through a lot of my old writing, buffing some of it up and posting it here. There’s a LOT of it. Aside from grammatical editing and spelling, the only changes I generally make to these are the addition of notes in square brackets like this one. Those are ‘Notes from the future’. All names have been changed to protect the smoking hot…and everyone else.]

Yesterday:

A little bit of background (I’ll post these as needed.):

I work in BigFinance a couple blocks off Wall Street with 4 Russian women (one of whom is my boss, one of whom is her boss), a Russian guy, 3 Chinese guys, a Pakistani, one Croatian and an Indian. For my part, I’m the whitest motherfucker who’s ever drawn a breath.

Needless to say, I’m a programmer.

Now, I generally don’t refer to people by ethnicity but I’m not going to spend three days trying to come up with fake names for everybody.

Well we get an email on Tuesday from fearless leader, Mika with an hour and a half lunch meeting on Friday. Me, being me, wonders what the big announcement is going to be.

During a subsequent status meeting we find out that there’s a bad bit of planning and our Pakistani team member wasn’t going to be with us.

“Cool! Then we can go out for pulled pork!” I cheerfully blurted. He and I laughed, everybody else turned nearly as white as me… but not quite.

A few days go by and on Friday at about 12:00 Mika comes around and asks if we’ve ever had Russian food.

“I wouldn’t even know what Russian food was.”
“That’s the point.”
“Well then I’m in.” I smile to myself as familiar triple entendres involving Mika rip around through my twisted little mind.

There’s some corporate headcount type stuff, the usual litany of “who’s a vegetarian today” as we have a lot of that. Apparently, not only can some people not eat beef, they can’t eat chicken on Fridays..but not all Fridays, just this one. Sounds to me like someone’s religion lost a bet.

So there’s some back and forth and I noticed Mika sort of rocking back and forth on her feet.

“What?” I ask with an eyebrow raised.
“Well, this place. It’s…mmm…It should be ok.”
“What?”
Grigori, the Russian guy pipes in “Is good.”
“It’s in a bath house.” Mika blurts, unable to contain her secret surprise (or perhaps a crawling suspicion that she might be held accountable if it all goes awry. I’m not sure which.) “But it should be ok. It’s not IN the bath house.”
“Where…hmm… Where is there a bath house?” I asked.
“Oh, right on Fulton Street; across from where Strand book store used to be.” Grigori pointed in the air.
“Been there?”
“Is good dinner spot. I go for lunch. Is not bad.”
“Date spot?” I asked.
Grigori nodded, grinning broadly from behind his newly donned sunglasses.

I’ve walked back and forth on Fulton street for 20 years and never noticed. But that’s NYC for you.

Xiao comes back from fetching his tea and Vladik, the Croatian guy, asked if he remembered his towel.
“Eh?”
“Your towel. The restaurant is in a sauna.”
“Seriously? You’re going to call that a sauna?” I asked Vladik, who waves at me to shut the hell up.
“No, I uhh.. I don… I don don don have a a a towel.” Xiao stutters. He’s a good sport and knows we’re just fucking with him, so it’s not like we’re picking on the retarded kid…much.

Eventually we assemble for the 5 minute walk and descend in the elevators. We’re all there. Immediately upon exiting the elevator there’s a passive ego war. Mika tries to herd us to follow her. Grigori and I know where we’re going. Mika’s boss, Alena, totally oblivious to the fact that her authority ends at the elevators, doesn’t understand why people aren’t just lining up behind her. Katarina, the one who makes me walk in to walls, decides at first to set off with Mika and mob, but quickly changes her mind and comes with Grigori and I. I’ll take it. Yes, she’s married with two kids, but a boy can fantasize.

“She just wants to go, can’t maintain a conversation while walking.” Katarina complains, referring to Mika’s single-mindedness. We talk about nothing I remember on the way there. Her perfume smells like someone from my past I should’ve married. Between that and looking like someone I’d like in my future, I have an awfully hard time focusing on a word she’s saying, coated richly it is in that accent. Eventually this leads to me segueing into how defenseless I find myself against Russian women. Real smooth, jackass.

We start coalescing in front of the place which sure enough is right there with a big sign out front, plain as day. Russian and Turkish bath house. “Spa 88.”

In the narrow doorway. Down the steep flight of stairs, around the corner and there sits, behind a ‘front desk’ is a predictably sexy brunette with conspicuous after-market endowments (not a fan), propping her head up on her hand. A little discussion and a wave with Grigori and we turn, go through a narrow hallway, into another room that’s acting like a catwalk. We can see tables and other rooms below. It’s like a maze in there.

All told it looks like it’s set up for a video game firefight. Coming up half a flight of narrow stairs into a twenty foot square room with a couple long tables. One of which is full. The eleven of us sit down, filling up the other one after some squunching and negotiation.

I’ve got the gunfighter’s seat. The Chinese guys (who I’d taken to calling The Triads) sit to my right and across from me. Katarina to my left, Mika to the left of her, and everybody else down the left half of the table.

We pick up our menus and immediately the “what’s authentic” conversation starts. It’s a $12 lunch menu. I’m not SO interested in a midday adventure in culinary anthropology as everyone else seems to be.

Quarters are tight. There’s one increasingly flustered waitress.

One peek at the menu and I’m done. Katarina immediately leans over the front of me, entirely, to talk to the Chinese guys about their selections. I can’t move back, I can’t lean to the side. I just have to sit there and endure ambrosia smelling married Russian hotness rubbing up against me quite indiscreetly. Now, I fantasize she knows what she was doing. But it’s not necessarily true. [Note from the future: She did. Boy did she.]

So I’m sitting there with my hands between my knees (because ANYplace else I try to put them, by my sides, anything, gets me a slap along the way [another note from the future: No it wouldn’t.]) and I look up at the TV on the wall for distractions. It’s tuned to CNBC which is having a special called “American Greed” which is profiling some insider trader who was put in prison a couple years ago. I can’t hear what they’re talking about but they spend 10 minutes going through a lifestyles of the rich “and therefore corrupt.” Fuck those fucking fucks.

All of a sudden I see, flash across the screen, on CNBC the sign that says “Wall Street Bath” that I walked past on my way here. In fact, I walked under it to get in here. They did a five minutes on the decadent life of the bathhouse frequenting big finance insider trader featuring the rooms we’d passed not twenty minutes earlier. I pointed it out to the assembled crowd (vocally, my hands still tied to the chair by cords of discretion) and nobody seemed to pay attention. It was my own kind of synchronicity anyway.

Ordering was a scream. Russians took care of themselves. Mika ordered for all non-Russians on the left half of the table (whether they needed help or not.) Katarina ordered for the triads (leaning all over me, hair in my face, sending me into silent convulsions. [Damn my rules about married women.]) I ordered for myself.

The harried waitress came around and Mika leaned over and tells me I should have a glass of Kvass. “It’s like coke.” Grigori adds that it’s not. Katarina looks at her quizzically. (It turns out I’m not such an illiterate slob as they think. I’ve never had it, but I know full well what kvass is.) So I say sure and they nod at the waitress, point at me and say “Kvass” as though I somehow couldn’t have managed that.

[Reflecting now, they were so happy to “get me” to try it. I didn’t realize how well I was liked back then.]

The three course lunch deal was, fair. The food was mediocre at best (I had a generic salad, mushroom soup and chicken strogonov.)

People are eating away and I notice the strange energy that is Mika’s attention. Chick’s got a psychic blast radius of about a hundred yards. I realize I haven’t touched my Kvass yet. Looking up, I realize that the entire Russian contingent is starting at me. I survey the table and realize everybody but me has this red sangria looking thing.

I take a sip and let me tell you, kvass is… foul. It tastes remarkably like what you’d expect the by-product of beer making to be. It’s as though they took some kind of waste product from the process then filtered it (a little) before serving it. I was assured it was better when cold.

“I’m sure we can get you something else if you can’t HANDLE it.” Mika smiled at her own entendre, nearly bouncing in her chair.

Forgetting for a moment that she’s my boss and who I’m there with, I said “Sweetie, you’d be surprised what I could handle.” Laughs around.

“I pick word exactly right.” It’s nice to see her smiling.
“I wasn’t aware I was quite that transparent.” I said, playing along. “But yes, you pick word exactly right.” Sigh. Russian girls.

The stroganov needed a bed of noodles or something. Generally the food wasn’t spectacular and I wouldn’t really go out of my way to go back there, but for a cultural experience I generally am not looking for.

Settling up was a nightmare. Apparently a “lunch meeting” does not mean “being taken out to lunch” and I’m glad I had cash on hand.

Fortunately the walk back to the office, while distracting, was uneventful. I ducked in to the half-assed bodega in the office basement and picked up a red bull to get the taste of the kvass out of my mouth (which somehow had lingered over the top of decent stroganov and mushroom soup.)

A fun time. I work with a good bunch of folk, as long as they don’t splinter off and start talking shit about each other, something I’m able to bear less and less as time goes on.

Yeah, there should be a punch line here or something. But I’m sick of writing, so fucking deal with it. Besides, I’ve still got Wednesday night’s notes to get through tonight.