Michael Wilson

Spreading Poison

This guy is sitting here for the second Thursday in a row. It’s in his mid to late 70s, short, round.

Same brown pants and houndstooth jacket he wore last week, with the white pocket square and something close to full-on coke bottle glasses.

He’s chugging on the end of a cigar and sitting, bent over the arm of the couch, resting his chin on his neck, watching a video on his phone at full volume while coughing up gobs of something that would give a first level party a run for their money in a newb dungeon.

The video is, near as I can tell, some kind of genre proximate bodice-ripper style soap opera, complete with panting soft core scenes, fit for married, lonely middle-aged women.

I hear tell he’s an English professor at a local college. I can only imagine him falling asleep in the front of the lecture hall.

But if this is his petty indulgence, the thing he does, having cleared Thursday morning of a class load then so be it. I can’t begrudge him overmuch. It seems a pithy watered-down enjoyment. But who am I to say what’s going on in his head.

Perhaps an hour’s respite from slings and arrows does him some good, sitting in the back room of a cigar lounge where no doubt no one would think to look for him, zoning out to poorly written overly emotional tripe.

I play video games and listen to pop music for fuck’s sake. Talk about hack entertainment.

I ran him down in my head a bit last week. It was a weird toss between the prime directive of not disturbing people and being disturbed myself. When push came to shove I just opted to put some techno somethingorother crap on and crank it ’til he left at about noon.

“Nah, I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Why not?”
“It’s a bit uncomfortable and not particularly complimentary.”
“So…”
“Yeah I get it. But it’s not what I had in mind when I drove down the hill.”
“Oh fuck off with your horseshit. Dude you had everything in your mind when you came down the hill, except perhaps this.”
“A point, that.”

So, like I said, I grumbled a bit about him. I did it in my head and, quite a fair bit worse, I did it in public. It was too easy to do. Last week all I saw was an annoyance, a rude old man who was a simple manifestation of a template of obnoxious selfish behavior and I’d given him no more thought than that. So it was easy.

The left has ruined the word “dehumanizing” but…gotta call a spade a spade.

My own frustration, multiplied by his admitted lack of social awareness made for a cocktail of snark at which I am somewhat disturbingly adept.

Of course there’s a vein of cowardice with a pinch of anger at myself for being unable to face the situation head on. But that kind of social interaction runs in absolute violation to some of my most deeply held circuits. Conflict Avoidance, while the lion’s share of the issue, isn’t really the whole deal.

It’s a combination of “who the hell are you to assert your will?” (a no doubt confusing idea to almost anyone who knows me nowadays) and a projection of fear of conflict on to other people. It’s a weird second-order problem, the internal narrative of which being something like “I’d hate it if someone started shit with me, so I’m not going to do that to someone else. I’ll just suck it up instead.”

But what’s funny about it is that the underlying deep identity issues that such behavior is there to protect me from don’t really hold so strongly any more. I’m FAR less “first order conflict avoidant” than I ever have been. BUT I still behave as though I am because those practices have turned into deeply ingrained habits over the last fifty years. So it’s a little cargo cult in its own way. Interesting. I didn’t expect this to go quite this direction. But then, I never do.

No, what I was complaining about not wanting to write is how, with all these constraints in place, the accrued pressure comes out in just the worst possible way: I end up bitching about people’s behavior behind their back.

The worst part about that is when the complains seem at least nominally justified.

I tell myself, and others, that I’m trying to work out my frustration and anger with people to understand it. And that’s not…NOT true. But it’s still nothing short of spreading poison.

One serious problem is that…I can be pretty persuasive, especially when it’s not a goal. So I’ve watched myself twist the social consciousness about situations and people.

“Well, that’s giving yourself an awful lot of credit. Grown ups are perfectly capable of forming their own opinions.”
“True. But providing the near occasion of sin doesn’t make you a hero. I mean, you don’t invite an alcoholic to a bar or do a line of coke in front of a Senator either.”

And…because it’s an argument with myself, it ends there because I’m utterly convinced I’m right. You’re not responsible for what other people think or how they behave. But you’re responsible for being a good influence and the inspiration for people to be better. THAT you CAN control.

The other problem, the dirty little secret that we generally don’t like to admit (and I’ll drag a bunch of humanity along with me on this one) is that…it’s FUN. It shouldn’t be true. But people like talking about people. It’s low brow, sure. And I can talk about ideas with the best of them. But there’s something about it that’s conversationally satisfying, the dark temptation of it is almost impossible to resist.

But I can’t seem to stop myself. If I don’t have anything nice to say about someone…and it’s all too frequently true that I don’t, I just am ready to explode…like a vegan who hasn’t told anyone in five minutes.

I’ve gotten a little better at not responding or not starting the conversation. But holy crap is it a slog.

A part of it is a byproduct of working on curating my social circles. I don’t, of irony of ironies, condescend to friendships with people I don’t like, for whatever reason. And I’ve got no reason, other than social convention, to pretend to like people I don’t.

So I get myself in these social situations where I’m forced to torture myself by not saying anything, never a strong suit of mine.

The right thing of course is measured response to offensive behavior, not to let it bottle up. But unlike most social interactions, that’s a pretty costly thing to get wrong. So it’s pretty tough to practice, to rehearse it. So it’s slower going than I’d like.

“Ya know most people have trouble with…” GOD do I not want to hear it. I’m not evolving against a model of other people. There’s no sanity to be had in that kind of comparative analysis. I’m trying to evolve from where I stand not from an outward perception of other people.

I suppose I’ll get there. Lord knows I’ve got an awful lot to get over on the way.

A Middle Way

I know I know. Third day in a row and the last post was 2 days ago. Also it was complete fucking shyte. I don’t mind it so much though. As I’ve mentioned a dozen dozen times getting back in to the swing of things is like that. Add the contextual sensitivity of not realizing quite what’s going on until after it’s happened and you end up with an eleven hundred word stream of consciousness cruft post.

I wonder about leaving that kind of thing up. Whether to make a concerted effort to cull and edit what I’ve actually put up here, trim the fat and such. And I come down on both sides pretty hard.

On one hand I think it would be a tremendously useful exercise for me…I think. What’s the value really? I’ve been kvetching about that for the better part of a year, assuming that there’d be something worth gleaning from that distillation process. In fact that may be the lion’s share of benefit from the exercise. I can’t imagine there’s anything so fucking interesting in these accrued ramblings. But the task of editing and wordsmithing? Well shit, that’s good practice regardless of whether the result is worth a crap.

On the other…who gives a shit? It’s not like there’s anything here worth going back to. I mean even I’VE stopped going back and reading old posts, which is rather saying something.

One of my more indulgent pleasures has always been to go back and reread my old stuff, assuming it’s not too cringy. It’s reassuring to see the kind of continuity that I don’t feel in my personal history reflected in what I’d written at a point in mental/emotional context that I’m divorced from in time and mood.

It may simply be that being the aggregation or the thought process is the outcome. Hell, that conjures a near perfect metaphor.

wavy lines

There are really two philosophical camps in trading the markets (any markets really, underlying security classification abstracted entirely.) And stick with me on this. I can get you to this without going super deep:

  • Fundamental Analysis

This is the school of thought that says “You can determine the actual value of a company by understanding its internals.” So they’ll pour over quarterly reports looking at how much they spend on research, their market position, how much debt they have, their revenue number and margins, competition and supply chain stability. They’ll come up with a number that represents the intrinsic value of the company. Check the market price and it’s either trading above that number (overpriced) or below it (a bargain.)

It’s a LITTLE more complicated in the details. But that’s the Tao of it.

  • Technical Analysis

TA says: That’s cute and all, but people have already done all that work and all of that information is actually baked in to the price already and besides, none of that matters in the face of the actual price. When push comes to shove, price goes up when people buy and down when they sell. You’re not trading against the fundamentals of the market. You’re trading against other traders. It’s a crowd psychology game. So you can watch trends of the price and volume charts and literally see a distillation of what people are thinking and (more importantly) how they feel about the market. Sure, you can SAY Microsoft is worth $345 a share. But something is in fact worth what someone will pay for it, no more, no less. That’s what value IS.

What’s really funny is that the TA guys think the Fundies are just wasting time agonizing over irrelevant details and the Fundamental Analysts think the TA guys might as well be using astrology (which, by the way, is complete fucking horseshit.)

If you’re at all interested in that stuff I’d very highly recommend reading any of Jack Schwager’s “Market Wizards” books. They’re collections of interviews with top traders of all kinds. It’s amazing to discover that they all think each other are full of crap and yet they’re successful. They’re not tough reads and they’ll give you a really interesting glimpse into a world that seems more or less like witchcraft to the world at large.

Now…my point…well shit…what was my point.

Ah. The metaphor.

So that corresponds to those two attitudes of writing and really, thinking. Restated with that in mind:

I could go back and really work through my old thought processes. Distill it down to see what’s there, in the past. There are things there, like the second, third and fourth time you reread a book; things to pick up that I may have missed the first time around. And so the argument to really getting all asses and elbows in the old writings has legs.

On the other hand…

Who and where I am now IS the downstream result of all of that. To use the TA metaphor it’s all already “baked in” to who I am and maybe that’s enough.

So what does it fucking matter really? Go forward. Stop binding myself to the past. Be who I am, damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead.

I LIKE that idea, and over time I find that easier to accept, that, in the insanely (yet decreasingly) cryptic words of my father as he fought for words said “Mikey remember, you’re YOU.”

The relatively astute will have read that trading philosophy comparison and thought “well, those might be Platonic ideals. But what about The Middle Way?” And indeed, that’s absolutely an approach that has legs. There are an awful lot of traders who check some key metrics of a companies “internals” but still “trade the chart” in the TA fashion.

And that’s what I settle on. It makes sense to me. “Why not both?” meme.

It’s interesting. When there are two extreme approaches like that, to take the middle way can be a dangerous lack of commitment, watering down effort. But I think in this case (well ‘these cases’) those philosophies aren’t really in opposition in any real way.

The synthesis is the richer path.

Snap

I busted myself overnight. Had the realization yesterday but it took the overnight mental reindexing to get the idea to crystalize such that I could really get to it.

Yes I was pretty overwhelmed by the amount of things I was trying to change at once.

But I fucked up in my recalibration and tossed a lot of baby out with not so much bathwater.

Yes, the list of crap I had as a part of my morning (heh, typed ‘mourning’) routine was pretty heavyweight. Reading, meditation, three pages of writing.

One the perceived problems with it all was that by the time I was done with all of that it had taken about 2-3 hours and I felt like I was done for the day. I had that stuff on my check list and it was done.

So this is going to end up being a completely different take on the same thing than I had in the previous post which was, oh I don’t know, two weeks agoish (yeah I could just alt-tab over and go look but I ain’t gonna.)

What I tend to refer to as my “ambient stress level” at the idea that I wasn’t getting anything done I think now was ill served by blank acquiescence. But it took me a couple weeks of poking around at my own psyche to realize I’d fucked up quite as bad as I had.

And sure, I should exhibit some patience with myself, to be sure. But my read now is that I handled that exactly wrong. The right thing to do was to amp up to manage that stress.

Because now what’s happened is that I’ve Drifted quite severely. Not only do I not (habitually) write, read, or meditate any more. But my stress level hasn’t dropped one whit. Oh I was relaxing there for a little while as I was taking a bit of a vacation from myself. But that shit can’t stand. And what I ended up doing was getting in to the habit of having no habits.

I hadn’t seen the bottom of my sink in maybe two months. I’d be on my last pair of underwear before doing laundry and then only doing one or possibly two loads.

And the other sneaky little sneakiness was that I’d gotten out of the habit of doing things…period.

I get that I’m a bit on in the game to be having these basic kinds of experiments with my psyche (seriously. I fucking get it. I really really get it.) but I can’t get all wound up about that.

When I did have this big morning routine it may have been stressful (narrator: It was stressing him out terribly) but at least I was in the mode of having a schedule, of doing things.

And it’s not like I’d given everything up in the last three and a half weeks (also when I got my hair chopped off.) I’ve been writing a metric fuckton of code and gaming rather a lot less (though still a bit too much if I’m being honest.) But I’ve also gained the better part of ten pounds and let my house go largely to shit.

What I need to figure out is how to lean in to the stress created by…well…whatever.

In scanning back through my head to times of high stress I, no doubt with rose colored time travel glasses, remember myself thriving on it, in a certain way. I have the effectively genetically inherited trait of not being happy unless I’m not happy. And it’s not like I didn’t feel stress “as such.” But I was able, while in that state, to fuel myself on it, at least to some extent.

Difficult problems, when I had no choice in the matter (more on that in a sec) were things I was able to get myself all wound up by, like a caffeine megadose and while I would still panic about them, I’d have no choice but to get them done so I’d find a damned way.

The problem is that since I’m nominally retired, the source of whatever my stress is tends to be self-induced. Well, okay all stress is really self-induced. But it’s been discretionary, for lack of a better turn of phrase.

Well there’s a really easy way out of self-induced discretionary stress: Remove the impulse, the goal at its source and BAM, no stress!

Seems pithy and stupid primarily because it’s pithy and stupid. But when your sense of purpose isn’t driven by an ostensibly outside force that’s really where you get to. So I end up in this constant battle with what is in a practical sense a kind of moral nihilism. It’s a horribly inaccurate phrase, but I’m not sure how to hang words off of that. Moral nihilism would have to be predicated on an actual nihilism because if you believe there’s some (any) kind of spiritual reality there’s a moral component that follows immediately on its heels.

How do you inculcate yourself with purpose when the idea of Purpose seems arbitrary?

I’ve been fighting this battle for…well…ever, really, and I’m not sure it’s possible. Aside from spiritual reality, which is still something I find pretty nebulous and abstract, I don’t really owe anything to anyone aside from taxes.

So I have to declare the experiment of the last month-ish over. I can’t say it failed because I really have taken some interesting data out of it. Though I’m not at all sure that if I start this all up again (which I plan on doing, though I’m not sure if it’ll be in pieces or all at once) the contextual shift may put me right back in a place where I’m saying to myself “Oh THAT kind of stress. Yeah that’s no good.”

But therein lies the problem of pulling ideas back out of a mental/emotional context. Not that I have half a million words up here about that or anything.

So, like a rubber band I’m going to go back to it all, trying to pay attention to where my head is about it all. Maybe some kind of goofy-ass mood tracker like I used to have might help. Something to help actually measure where my head was at any given time.

What I’d done was write a little program (in java just because) At a random interval between 45 and 115 mintues it would pop up a little window. The window had a little message that said “how are you doing?” and a little text box where I could just write a word, phrase, or sentence. Hit enter and it would disappear for another random time interval. The random nature of it was so that I wouldn’t know it was coming and spend 5-10 minutes bracing myself, waiting.

Then it would add the time and whatever I’d written as a new line in a growing file, one for each day.

I found it less obtrusive than I would have imagined. The funny thing about it is that I didn’t really have to look at the file very often. The fact that I’d taken a quick second to think about it, write something down and hit enter stuck in my head clearly enough that I knew where I was at throughout the day and I was able to see patterns without having to do anything screwy with the data.

Perhaps it’s time to go spelunking in my old source code libraries to find it and redeploy the thing. Might be fun.

But either way tomorrow I’m going to start up the writing again, at least. We’ll see how much I take on and how quickly I do it.

Boing

Listening to some obnoxiously gravelly “Evil Techno” mix. I love it to death. I wasn’t going to come a fourth day this week. But something’s been kicking around in my head and it’s reset a bunch of this year’s rules. So I’m just gonna run with it a bit.

I think it’s at least in part the rubber banding effect of having constrained myself in so many dimensions. It’s really interesting. I knew it was out there. Hell I’ve probably put it down here a couple dozen times over the last couple years.

But I wasn’t quite aware at how bad my ambient stress level was getting.

Finally, last week I just kinda popped. It wasn’t one of those “lose control” rage snaps when you can here the little cotter pin make a ‘ping’ noise as someone finally pushes you over the edge you’re so desperately trying to maintain. But that’s only because I can’t place it to a single point in time.

First the morning bible reading and meditation fell off.

Then it was the morning writing. That’s only gone a few days…I think. I’m not sure. I’d have to check the book to see when the last time was. I’ve got it in my head that maybe it was last Friday. I’m not sure.

Last week I picked up carbs again. Maybe not related. But I fucking doubt it. Everything’s related. I’m not really “high carb” but my digestive system had felt like I’d swallowed a bunch of razor blades for the last couple weeks and carbs helped, as well as cutting the coffee back out (foul swill that it is) and pared down my morning supplements.

Someone online (I know who, but don’t like tagging people from social media on the blog. It feels like crossing the streams.) the other day said Zinc really did a number on her. So I’m bifurcating the problem to see if that’s the culprit. If it is then I’ll start adding things back in to the mix to see what’s really going on.

Then last week (I know I’m getting this sequence out of order. Deal. It’s the sequence in my head) I came here to Smokey six out of seven nights. This is my fourth time this week. I’ll likely be here tomorrow and/or Saturday. My deal with myself had been “No more than 3 times a week at Smokey Cigar and no more than $30 per trip. If a couple cans of soda push me over, then fine.” Well the first half of that went out the window last week, as I said.

The reaction it got was really interesting. I hadn’t been QUITE aware of how aware other people were. “So you’ve just given up on that three day a week thing then?” and “So that was just for Q1?”

It’s really strange. But it’s like there’s some kind of deification of the uninterrupted streak where any failing is an absolute failure rather than a blip on the chart. I found myself quite taken aback by it really. Grown ups. And if I’m telling the truth I detected a certain relish in the perceived failure. Fascinating stuff really. But a tangent or a post for another time to be sure.

A couple days ago I realized I couldn’t remember the last time my sink was empty. I was wearing the same jeans a couple days in a row. The kitchen table/island was piled with stuff and I was mopey and unmotivated and had been for an indeterminate number of days, probably approaching a couple weeks.

I caught it all in time and was able to twist my head around the right corner to see what was going on. The abandonment of those constraints (tough to call them goals) was clawing around at the back of my head and getting into “what’s the point?” territory.

“HA! You were flirting with depression!” And it’s one of those things that, once realized, could be encapsulated. I know how to handle that. It boxes out really easily. The feedback loop for depression works both ways. Stop doing things and they get out of hand, dragging you down. Get dragged down and you stop doing things. It’s easily fixed once it’s apparent. Start doing things. Then it evaporates like morning mist.

Now I get it and it’s dispelled, like it was literally trying to sneak up on me and, busted, went away to lie in wait for the next time I take my hands off the wheel. Fascinating stuff. But it’s like a split lobe problem, as if one side of my head couldn’t figure out what the other side of my head was doing and had a different set of expectations.

So I’m playing “back to basics” again which in this case means “back to normalcy.” I’m not sure if I just tried to change too much and the growing internal tension just got to me. That’s the working theory. Those things should have been relatively simple habit changes really. But they really never got to the point where they were self-sustaining, even though the “habit stack” was pretty stable. It was always a damned chore, even after a few months.

That blank page every morning was just brutal. Sure, the result was really excellent with something close to perfect consistency. I think there were one or two days where three pages of long hand resulted in “feh.” But the amount of mental energy it took even to sit there and get it done left me a drooling fucking mess for hours.

The big problem was that I counted getting that done as such a success that I ended up feeling nominally absolved of having to be productive for the rest of the day, which really doesn’t work. Project enthusiasm flagged across the board. Just about everything took a back seat as long as I got my morning routine done. I mean hell, just look at my post consistency here.

Then the big one: My weight started going up. Okay that was a problem. That’s a non fucking starter. I gained about ten pounds over the last few months. It just seemed like an impossible slide. My ability to exercise discipline over my eating habits (combine that with having reintroducing carbs to try and counter the above mentioned issue) and it didn’t do wonders for my state of mind.

So…I’m unwinding it all. It’s funny. I’m so acutely aware of the problem with making too many changes at once, and how this is exactly how it goes. But I’m just chronically impatient with myself at being where I am rather than where I want to be (as ill defined as that is.)

It should be interesting at the very least. Yeah, y’all are going to be subject to my meanderings and nonsense for a bit. Because as much as I realized posting here wasn’t the same as having a normal journaling practice, the reverse is also true.

While health has no business negotiating with poison, it is also true that for many things, seeking the center is the only way to move forward. And if I don’t have the mental energy left to do anything else, then the attempt at inculcating those habits simply has to take some kind of back seat to life.

Patience be damned.

CyberFoole

Sometimes you (read: I) find a setting in fiction so unsettlingly compelling that you want to do everything you can to embrace it and get it in to you and you in to it. Some books I could eat in such a way that they lived in me more deeply than reading them repeatedly can possibly…what’s even the word? Transmit? Embody? Infuse? Transport? Parasitize? Immerse? Synthesize? Is there one?

I neither know nor much care how common that is; though I can see people tacking towards the same problem solving in extreme fandoms. That strange obsession of a world, a setting, a mood. I imagine it’s the problem people are trying to reconcile when they try to decide which Hogwarts House they “belong” to or when they go to the Disney Star Wars compound and build their very own light saber, sometimes pretending they’re not pretending they’re Jedi.

Of course some of them have some trouble with boundaries of reality. But then there’s a reason I know that so deeply.

I notice it in all my attempts, tangental to reality, to explain the ideas of Context, a subject upon which no less than half of these examples of intellectual runoff are focused, should you scuff the paint on any of the last couple years of these posts.

It’s in the bible study group, my reading of everyone from Christopher Moore to Taylor, Melville, and most recently, Gibson. It’s there when I listen to music or watch a movie.

To greater and lesser degrees, to be sure. But that chimeric compulsion is quite frequently there.

This week I finished listening to the first trilogy of the “Bobiverse” books, which I always find inspiring to my technical side. Taylor’s not an awesome author and, cultural popularity aside these will be forgotten in a couple decades unless his prose improves. But they are great “reads” and they really hit that sweet spot like a tuning fork. A guy essentially talking to himself trying to solve problems not only technical, but about identity, existence, his place in the (literal) universe.

While I’m reading or listening to those books I’m struck by The Technical Spirit. I code. I dream. I sketch out plans concrete and ephemeral. Some things I actually intend to accomplish, some of them are just me letting my brain just completely explode on to the whiteboard for creativity’s sake. I spend nights listening to droning techno background music in low light at my desk with scrolling tests, data windows, and code on three monitors and I’m really there. It’s not as though I’m “cosplaying a programmer.” Or maybe it is. Could be that I’m just, owing to my background, just particularly excellent at that.

But the Bobiverse trilogy only lasts a few weeks if I’m listening to it in the truck and it’s really quite difficult to maintain that kind of contextually sensitive immersion once it’s over. Once it’s over, it’s gone. Then I’m cast again adrift.

Well, Monday or Tuesday I finished and puttered around, looking to listen to something nonfiction as a break. But since I was paging through the considerable (couple hundred book) library in my truck’s usb stick while I was on the road I figured I’d just listen to a couple chapters of Neuromancer then get back to it when I could focus.

Bad move.

Or, well, I’d thought so. I got about 10 minutes in on my way down the hill to Smokey (presumably. I’ve been here six of the last seven days and will end up making it a nine day stretch before all is said and done) and I realized it had captured me quite completely.

Between the richness of the setting and the quality of the prose, Neuromancer is dark chocolate to Bob’s square of white chocolate melted in hot water. It is the nature of Gibson’s work that it’s almost too much, but not quite.

Taylor (the Bobiverse author) shows and tells you what’s going on. Gibson shows you what’s going on while what’s going on is going on as well. Taylor has characters, Gibson has shown us a world it’s almost impossible to believe he created rather than simply saw through the vector of the zeitgeist in the early 80s.

Now this isn’t a book report. I said all that to say this…

As you might imagine, the net effect of that much richer a work is that much deeper a compulsion to immersion. It’s not just “I want to work on some engineering stuff” that’s imparted by the Bobiverse stuff. It’s closer to “I want to build something that scans networks wherever I go, pick up device IDs and collect information for later digestion and processing.”

So I, a few days in, brought my laptop here to Smokey with the intention of working on some of my grey hat code. We’ll call it that. Low-impact port scanning and network mapping for detection of intrusion sensitivity and information collection.

Thing is I’ve never REALLY had much interest in black hat hacking. I just don’t feel the need to steal people’s shit or screw with other people’s stuff. Poke around? Sure. Disturb? Nah. Not for me. So there’s a limit to how far my moral bearing will let me take this. But if there wasn’t…oh dear I do believe I would take quite well to it.

But I came in here, bought a couple cigars, sat down and opened the laptop then thought “what’s with the sudden compulsion?” And opened Q10 (the cool little distraction-free full screen word processor with the amber fixed-width font and typewriter-clicky sounds I use to write) instead.

It’s funny because I have all my project notes and (literal manila) folders from the last time I was in this headspace all freeze dried (NOT literally) and ready to continue. Because my brain has been snapped RIGHT back into the same contextual framework I don’t have to go looking for the code and notes to remember where I was or what I was doing.

But the books come out. My “idle” time is spent in reading fiction of a similar bent or playing, you guessed it, Cyberpunk 2077 (which does a reasonable but not excellent job of capturing the spirit of the thing.)

My brain puts everything in those kinds of terms. I spin off little vignettes of fiction in a similar setting without being fanfic, and time spent outside of that immersive context is at best a fucking annoyance, keeping me from what I “should” be doing.

It’s as though the contextual compartmentalization of memory is just THAT complete. I’m “in state” now so it’s all right there on the tip of my fingers as if I was working on it before lunch instead of…let’s see…when was that…AH yes, about 5 months ago when I was listening to the Neuromancer trilogy for the third time back-to-back.

Now there’s other stuff that comes as a series of adjuncts to the “currently reading cyberpunk” context, in the form of hardware projects, music preferences, aesthetic preferences, etc. It really is a complete immersion in my head.

But with all these things, the other side of the context sensitivy is its necessarily ephemeral nature. So once I stop immersing myself in Gibson’s work it will fade. The neon will dull and the grit will end up smoothing out.

The books will go back in their library shelves. Molly, Wintermute, Neuromancer, 3Jane, and the Panther Moderns will revert to their statued forms in their climate controlled museum storage vault where I left them, like some Harryhausen exhibit, to be thought of casually and fondly, but not excitedly. Until next time.

Much like the Bible.

…one year

(What? Really? You thought I was going to do that? Truth of the matter is I intended to. But then I started thinking and typing and, well, here we are. After all, I’m a little too impressed by my own cleverness to have stopped myself.)

It’s been a year and I think a year is all it’ll be.

For me, the Thursday night bible study has had just about all the life wrung out of it. In pretty stark contrast to my early and mid experiences with it, it’s now something that just takes more than it gives.

It’s a tedium, a bore, a necessary morning meeting to sit through before getting to the real work of the day; the evening festivities, where the real interesting conversations actually happen. It’s not always that, to be sure. But I think I’ve reached the tipping point. I keep trying. But the color has really drained out of it for me. My part in that is almost certainly nontrivial. But having better conversations outside the group than I have in them makes it really tough to see the forest for the trees, if that’s indeed the case.

Could be that after the abomination that was the Revelation conversation, I never fully re-engaged once we started getting in to Romans.

The size of the group is bigger than ever. When I started we were less than a dozen. Now we’re upwards of two. And while that’s something like “objectively encouraging” it’s quite degraded the group dynamic.

There’s a reason the perfect dinner party size is eight people. You can have one or two conversations with eight people. If you go larger than that a strange thing happens to the social impulse: People start shutting down and leaning back to watch the proceedings. People who otherwise would’ve been leaning forward in their chairs.

And so it is with us. With nine people we’d have five or six going back and forth. With fifteen it’s down to three or four.

Now that’s not to say that I think the subject itself has wrung dry. That’s an entirely different prospect. But I get more value out of sitting and just bullshitting with the guys about theology, its underpinnings and implications, for a couple hours over a cigar or a few on Frank’s back porch than I will in a month of Sundays at bible study.

Maybe it’s the book.

Maybe it’s the size of the crowd.

Maybe it’s the systemic antagonism that’s started infecting the proceeding.

Maybe it’s…well, nevermind about that.

And maybe it’s just that I’ve embraced my inner asshole and have checked out. This may be my experience alone.

When push comes to shove, I don’t much care what it is. In this journey over the last year (by which I mean last 52) I’ve been exposed to a lot and spent a tremendous amount of energy dialing in what makes sense and what doesn’t and more than a little time on what “makes sense” even means.

There are some things I know that I can’t conceived of having known a scarce 12 weeks ago.

I remember well, as I’ve oft quoted myself since, my initial reaction to the first study: “The absolute WORST case scenario is: Here’s a bunch of guys sitting together week after week working on their lives using the best example we have at our disposal. Even if it’s complete and utter crap, I win that one.”

And in typing that out again I realize what’s happened, at least in part: It’s not that anymore. I imagine it’s part of the size. But the conversation is just too damned clinical and persnickety too much of the time.

So I’m not interested in abandoning the journey. What I’m not saying is “I’ve been in bible study for a year and come to the conclusion that it’s horseshit.”

What I’m saying is (As much as I know people will overread it): I’ve been in bible study for a year and come to the conclusion that it’s not.

It’s been…

It’s been one year to the day since I was sitting in this very chair, kibitzing at a group of guys sitting around holding bibles.

A year since I made SUCH a smart ass of myself that I was invited into the group.

It’s been a year.

And I have…some thoughts.

And you’re not entitled to any of them.

Chili 4.0

Alright, listen. I’ve been doing this a decade now and I’m getting to the point where I’m pretty happy with my chili recipe. Thing is it changes every time I make it and I’ve been leaning on my ability to wing it so long that there’s really no master copy anyplace.

“Wait…is this going to be one of those blog-post recipes?” Suck it.

That’s all well and good. But when I go to the StupidMarket to go chili stuff shopping I look at myoriginal recipe that’s older than…well, it’s probably 12 years old I’ve gotta do some calculations in my head before, you guessed it, winging it.

So here it is, near as I can put it together.

Now, if you’re a chili snob, fuck off. Seriously. There’s a special place in hell for people who gate-keep chili for “authenticity.” You know where this shit came from, right?

And no. There’s no chocolate in this. There’s no fucking coffee in it. There are a couple bottles of guinness though.

So, here ‘goes.

A couple notes before we start: I make my chili over about a 24 hour period, the primary instrument of destruction is a 7 quart crock pot that has “keep warm”, “low”, and “high” settings. On low, my crock pot gets well over boiling. I don’t know if it’s supposed to do that or not. Seems stupidly hot. Perhaps it’s a new generation of slow-cooker, made after some dubious lawsuit, not having realized hot meant hot. Put the crock pot on a cookie sheet. It’ll fit. Just…trust me.

First: Kill all the lawyers.

So… almost 2 gallons of crock pot. Also I need a couple burners with big pans. Personally I use a big cast iron pan (15″ big) and a large cast iron wok.

Ingredients:

  • 8-12 pounds of ground beef no leaner than 80/20.
  • 6 large white onions (or…you know, whatever “lots of onions” you
    like.)
  • 2 “normal sized” cans of refried beans
  • Large can of diced or crushed tomatoes (use chunkier ones if you
    like. I don’t like.)
  • 2 bottles of guinness extra stout.
  • 5 (or so) bell peppers. I’ll frequently use 2 each yellow, red, and
    green. I’m colorful that way.
  • 3 of those small cans of chipotles in adobo sauce.
  • A couple handfuls of fresh jalapenos (they don’t really add as much
    heat as some expect.)
  • 4-6 tbsp Honey
  • Chili Powder
  • Garlic Powder (I prefer fresh, but…I didn’t do that this time.)
  • Cumin (just…SO much cumin.)
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt “to taste”

Second (first having been “kill all the lawyers”): (Or, in whatever order. I’m not your fucking boss.)

  • Dice the onions and toss them on the stove in one of the pans WITH A TOP on medium or medium low. We want to sweat these down a bunch but not end up with a dry carmelized blop of onions. If you DON’T do this then your onions will be chunky and weird. This can take hours. If you don’t have a top on the pan while they cook they’ll dry out and turn in to a carmelized glop. We’re looking to break them down a bit.
  • Dice up the bell peppers and toss them in with the onions. They’re all gonna end up together anyway. If you like chunky stuff then don’t. Again, not your boss.

While the onions and peppers are going, cook the beef.

NOW…When you’re cooking THAT much beef you need to do it in pretty small batches so it’s actually browned. Otherwise you’re just going to end up with boiled meat. If that doesn’t bother you then don’t bother browning it, just flop it all in the crock pot and start it on low.

Brown it batch by batch and just put it in the crock pot directly.

Third…ish:

Take the chipotles out of the cans, about half the jalapenos and any other chunky spices you want to disappear into the chili (like if you’re using fresh garlic) and blend them together. If you’re bored you can just do this on a large cutting board with a chef’s knife. I’ve done it a couple times. More work, less to clean. Or you can use a blender and put off the dishes for a few days.

Slice up the rest of the jalapenos and toss ’em in. I like some to be in there floating around to remind me they’re there. You can just blend them all or blend none of them. Whatevs yo.

Dump that all in the crock pot.

Intermission: A word about crock pots and spices: It took me a LONG time to learn out what the shit was going on. But when you cook something for a long time in a crock pot, the spices really tend to mellow out and bleed into the background. So a can of chipotles on the front end just do not have the same effect as a can of chipotles on the back end of the process.

You can take advantage of this process by OVERspicing on the front end with things you like “a touch of.”

Fourthish: Add all the not-spice stuff. At this point it’s really “dump everything in.” Once the onions and peppers are cooked to textural preference, add ’em. Any cans of whatever, dump ’em in.

I’d add only one of the beers. As strong as it smells, it disappears almost completely. So for the aforementioned reason I like to hold one in reserve until the next day.

Spices:

Aside from that the quantities are a little screwy I like to do something like this:

  • 4-5 tbsp Chili Powder.
  • 4-5 tbsp cumin (I’ve been known to double-triple the cumin. No one QUITE knows what that flavor is, but I find it to be something close to critical.)
  • 3-4 tbsp cayenne pepper (I find cayenne to be the “ooh that sneaks up on you” spice.)

Just put those in.

Now, a word about tasting: Don’t bother tasting it. There’s no point. None. You’re not going to be able to get everything to mix well enough that you’ll get a good read on things.

KEEP THE HONEY AND SALT OUT ‘TIL TOMORROW.

I like to cook it on low while I’m awake and put it on “keep warm” when I go to bed. As I said, my crock pot’s “keep warm” is PLENTY hot enough to cook it. If yours is really just “warm” you might want to go no lower than low.

If you feel the need to stir it every once in a while, knock yourself out. I know I can’t stop myself.

The next day you’ll be met with the 3rd or 4th best kitchen smell in all of everdom (being beaten out by cooking onions and mushrooms and definitely by baking bread and anything made with cinnamon.)

Chili Day Two:

Clean up the overflow from the cookie sheet.

Here it gets a little witchy. Give it a good mix. Really get to the bottom and dredge out the stuff down there. Take a spoonful out and give it a taste or two. Do it on a clean palate and give it a minute. Flavors take a bit to develop over time. There’s an initial impression then the lingering 20-30 seconds.

Pour the 2nd guinness in. Just trust me. Do it.

Now from here (as in everything above) it’s all “to taste.” So here’s the vague list of rules and tweaks I perform on mine:

When making these adjustments you’ve got to give it some time. Maybe 20 minutes or so to integrate after you put the stuff in. At least an hour after the 2nd beer for it to get around in there. Mix it a bunch. Plus it’s fun. You can pretend it’s a cauldron.

  • Not hot enough (it’s never hot enough.) A few tablespoons of cayenne.
  • REALLY not hot enough: Grab another can of chipotles, blend ’em and toss them in…and some cayenne.
  • Too hot! (I’ve…done it.) A couple tablespoons of lime juice is supposed to fix this.
  • “It’s spicy enough, it’s just a little flat somehow.” Add 4-6 tablespoons of honey. But be careful. Too much I don’t know how to undo. Alternatively one of those 6 ounce cans of tomato paste works pretty well. What that usually means is it needs something a little sweet.

Now give it an hour or two on low.

aaannnd you’re done.

The Laws Of Hospitality: A first cut

This, dear reader (because there’s like…what…one of you?) is an experiment. So give me some rope. Or, you know, don’t. I’m not your mom.

Something I expected when I moved down here six and a half years ago (holy fuck, it really is) was that Nashville and the surrounding area hadn’t been quite so polluted by the melting pot of modernity that has utterly poisoned my homeland in the county of Kings.

The neo-victorianism of cultural formalities has something of a romantic quality in my head, always has. Of course the fact that I’m a borderline autistic lunatic would take solace in the fantasy of the stricture of social rules of conduct.

Alas, it was not to be found, at least not at the level of pervasiveness we Northerners perceive to exist down here. But after all, my understanding of Southern Culture had mostly come from “The Southern Women Channel” (full of a dozen or so “Shit Southern Women Say” videos that are just straight up fucking hilarious) and a bunch of Georgian-set Bugs Bunny episodes. So maybe my perception was, well, perhaps somewhat askew.

So one of the things that’s been inculcated in me, presumably by my father, though I couldn’t really nail it down to specific lessons, is the Laws of Hospitality. It seems unreasonable to assume that I’ve discovered these things for myself. I can’t even reasonably theorize the degree to which that might be true.

Regardless, I’ve got what I’m surprised to find (especially in The South) is a very strict code of ethics for dealing with Hospitality.

Now, before I continue and to head off as much horseshit as I reasonably can: These are ideals. My ability to keep myself clamped to these things tightly wavers significantly in some ways. But in others, most people are simply not equipped with enough information to believe how tightly I do constrain my behavior. (I can hear it now: THAT’S constrained behavior? Holy shit dude. A fair point to be sure. But yes, yes it is.)

It shocks me to discover over time that while there are a couple people who seem to have an intuitive understanding of these things, the lion’s share simply have no intuition about it and seem shocked if you should mention the notion that there’s any kind of rules of conduct.

So I figured…fuck it. Let’s enumerate The Laws of Hospitality.

This thus introduced I’ll say also that I’ve gone out of my way to not look up anyone else’s attempt, classic or otherwise, to do this. I just figure it’s more fun that way.

[I realize, having written most of this, that it’s going to require more formalism. But that I’m really on the right track as far as expressing what it was that was going on in my head about this topic.]

Enough foreplay.

The Laws of Hospitality:

First, some definitions:

A host: Someone who is providing a service or opening their home to a person or group of people. As I think of it this includes a giver of a gift.

A guest: Someone who is availing themselves of said service, hospitality, or the receiver of said gift.

The optimal state of hospitality: All parties are engaged in gracious, peaceful entertainment or engagement with each other.

There can be multiple hosts or guests in any particular scenario.

The goal in a situation of hospitality is to strive to, maintain and encourage the state of optimal hospitality; minimally: To not pollute this state by violating the Laws of Hospitality. Maximally: to encourage participation, and engender further invitations or attendance.

In short: Be someone people want around.

Under no circumstances do you embarrass or inconvenience your host past the capacity in which you’re being hosted.

All of the following rules and examples serve to elucidate that primary point.

To Be Avoided:

  • Don’t call out or otherwise put a host or fellow guest in an uncomfortable position. This includes highlighting deficiencies in public. The dignity of all participants is to be preserved at the least and vaunted at best.

Example: If the host has a piece of broccoli in their teeth, to say “dude, get that shit out of your teeth” is to compound the public embarrassment beyond the unfortunate circumstance. BUT to point out the same subtly, so as to be private allows them to preserve their dignity and save them from embarrassment.

  • Argumentative discourse is to be avoided. It is more useful to swallow one’s pride and allow someone to “blow out the lines” than to create a situation of overt conflict which becomes a social disturbance with the potential to embarrass the host. This is as true when the aforementioned discourse is with the host as with the guests, since a conflict among guests disturbs social harmony and is a disruption in kind though perhaps less in degree to one with the host.

Example: Polarizing arguments rarely have any motivation to edify opponents. This is whence the “religion and politics” rule of bar talk is derived. An argument is something that must be disrupted and quelled. This is a necessarily disruptive procedure and rarely serves to do anything but inflame. Allow people to be vociferously wrong. Let not their violation become yours.

  • Excessive intoxication is to be avoided: Even when someone’s behavior is fundamentally benevolent and their ability to hold to the strict mores of culture are compromised, the imposition of such behavior and attitudes requires a response which may embarrass or otherwise emotionally inconvenience the recipient or onlookers. It is in this way a social violation utterly indistinguishable from a conflict situation, explicit or implicit.

  • Do not engage in overly personal discussion: When in such a scenario, to divulge or to take part in the divulgence of deep personal details puts someone on one side at a point of deep vulnerability which is nigh impossible to navigate. On the other side of the equation it puts everyone else in the conversation in a position beyond the ability of the laws of hospitality to navigate. This creates friction, perhaps in the form of proxied embarrassment.

  • Do not allow yourself to be trodden upon: Violations of one’s dignity can not be permitted. However, such situations must be handled delicately. A polite raised hand accompanied by a reminder of the setting ought to suffice. In exceptional circumstances a firm word. In extreme ones, a removal from the setting. There are several tricks that can be used to defuse such a situation.

Example: If someone’s making a joke at your expense you can scarcely do better than to plainly ask them to explain the “joke.” It forces them to concede that they were trying to make you feel bad without fig leaf of humor they were using as a mask for their scorn.

Example: If you’re being barked at by someone who’s in stark violation of the laws of hospitality it is worth reminding that person that either you are both guests or that you are a guest in their home. Should the offending behavior persist it is not inappropriate to take your leave of the situation. It IS a violation to escalate to the offender’s (likely desired) level of conflict.

To Be Encouraged:

I find these more obvious. But nonetheless worth including, at least in brief.

  • Humility, especially with regard to others: To put yourself down overmuch is obviously not beneficial, especially since it puts the focus on you. But to avoid peacocking is encouraging of conversation and interaction.
  • Be solicitous of the ideas, opinions and thoughts of others: This is really a corollary to the prior. To invite meaning from others elevates them.
  • Be Kind: Kindness is rarely wasted. However, obsequiousness should be avoided as it’s easily parsed as being disingenuous.
  • Implicit subcontracts of well-associated friends may be in place that stretch these boundaries if they are very careful about it. But never with regard to the host.

Example: A group of friends who love going hammer and tong about politics may do so so long as that discussion exists entirely within the bounds of that friend group and within agreed upon boundaries. The addition of other people, especially the host invalidate that subcontract as it’s got the likely potential to create undercurrents of conflict that can not be resolved while adhering to the laws of hospitality.

A couple interesting things popped up in my head as I was writing this out:

  • Deep interpersonal conversations are as subject to these rules, but with several others, usually implicitly agreed upon by the participants.
  • There aren’t nearly as many rules as I expected.
  • Family members are by NO means exempt.
  • Any gathering of people in any venue is subject to these rules. Rare are the exceptions where absolute parity is achievable and even those I suspect still apply.
  • One of the weaknesses of social media in specific and the internet in general is that there’s no tempering influence of a well-defined host, so there’s no one who’s propriety demands preserving. We, in that understanding, forget ourselves as first class participants.

And, perhaps most importantly:

We are hosts to ourselves.

Progress and the lack thereof

I wasn’t going to come here. But I said to myself I said “Self? If you’re not going to go to smokey then you’ve got to march your ass in there and pick up your fountain pen.”

So I got my socks and here I am.

But then I said “Okay, you don’t actually have to write anything. But you can do some coding.”

Well a couple/few hours in and THAT’S not really working either. I’ve tried dicking around with the todoist api and, well, there are a couple separate libraries. The one I do have installed is the “sync” api. That’s all well and good for getting a copy of the data. But for executing verbs it’s really just not.

They do have a “todoist-api-python” but it doesn’t pull with pip.

I found a git repo that purports to be the official code base. So I pulled that code base down and put it in the site-packages. But that didn’t work for shit. There were a couple dependencies I tried to manually install, but they weren’t QUITE right. So I had to punt on that.

I opened the HHC project and the Config project. But frankly I couldn’t figure out where the fuck I’d left off with either of those last time. So after some dicking around and making a bunch of tests pass I closed those up as well.

Frustrating as shit. It occurred to me to write a little script that did things like grab the contents of a readme file and grep the TODO entries off of all the source in a directory so I could actually use it to parse out “next steps” so I could switch back into project context something close to “at will.”

It’s one of the things I’m learning [and off we go apparently] about this “one day per project” idea.

It doesn’t fucking work. I’ve got to actually commit to working on a project for a couple/few days at a time. The context switching is just too damned cumbersome to undertake every time I want to go back and work on something else.

So this has been the layout for the last couple weeks:

  • Monday: Baking. This works pretty well because it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower.
  • Tuesday: Woodworking.
  • Wednesday: Humidifer project
  • Thursday: Cigar lounge/bible study.
  • Friday: New hardware hobby day (currently stained glass)
  • Saturday: Learning, experimentation and reading.
  • Sunday: Fuck all.

Now, because I’ve been writing a few pages every morning and that’s been taking between a little over an hour to almost three full hours I drag ass getting started.

The problem, as I mentioned, is it takes so long to get “in gear” that most of the time I’d spend working on whatever I’m supposed to be working on is instead spent preparing for actually getting something done.

Take woodworking for instance: My dominant project is really a bookshelf. NOT rocket surgery. But there’s a lot that has to happen before I can get started. I need to build a router jig for dadoes. I need to have it all dimensioned out. The lumber needs to be milled and organized. I need a backing piece. Still not sure what I’m going to do about that. I’ll probably pick up a piece of half inch ply. I want it to be really stout once it’s built.

So I go downstairs and the shop is a godawful mess. I don’t really have a workbench.

This Tuesday I ordered the bushings and pattern bits for the router and, after hitting the cigar lounge for a couple, went to Home Depot and bought a couple solid-core doors to use as a benchtop.

As I go through this I see the problem. It’s not that I’m dragging ass, not really. It’s that I’m not clear for each project on what the next actual steps are, just as I mentioned above.

Doing the work of removing barriers from switching contexts is an underrated activity. And, since I’ve been looking for some way to spend the evening other than getting sucked in to something like Fallout 4 or Skyrim, a solution seems to present itself quite readily.

If I spent the evening getting ready for the next day’s tasks they’re going to go an awful lot smoother. It may in fact BE a reasonable expectation to get all those different things done if I’m actually spending the energy required to prepare for what they are.

My experience today was frustrating as all fuck because I wanted to do a bunch of work but I really had no idea what the fuck that meant. So I flailed around looking for something to do and ended up having half of what I had to do end up being a task of wading through a shitton of “wires on the floor” rather than actually being able to get to work.

This is one of the reasons I dove at my todoist integration with the HHC project as the thing I was going to work on today. But I ran into a wall there.

On one hand I should probably give myself a break, given the level of progress I’ve made in my day to day habits over the last couple weeks. But, as is my wont I see mostly my shortfallings.

I’m living with such greater clarity and intentionality than I have in a very long time. Somewhere at the back of my mind I’m afraid I’m moving too fast, that the pendulum will swing back the other way, and hard. But aside from not being happy with the amount of tactile progress I’m making in these various pursuits it’s not really causing me nearly as much stress as “large changes to lifestyle” tend to.

The difference seems to be that what I’m doing is pulling myself forward rather than trying to push from behind. Sure, I had a couple “what the FUCK. Get GOING” moments over the last few days. But that’s fine. I don’t really begrudge myself that much at all.

The practice stems from writing those three pages long-hand every morning. It’s a grueling fucking slog even when it’s going well. But again, that’s okay.

Last Sunday I decided I was going to give myself a day “completely off.” And rather than relax and enjoy it, I just felt myself wasting away doing not much of anything. It was absolutely awful.

So while I’ll keep it technically uncommitted I’m not going to call it “a day off from personal responsibility” the way I treated it. After all, it DID serve as a great bit of contrast to highlight how much different the rest of the week had really been.

There are a couple other things I’ve wanted to get done in the last week/few days. But most of those have run up against things I need from other people. So those queries are out and I’m waiting on responses. The responses themselves will be the tickler I need to continue on those things.

I wasn’t going to post anything. But I hit a wall with all that stuff and figured I’d open up a doc and start typing. So I might as well hit post, especially now since everyone’s pretty much here.

o7