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Monthly Archives: July 2014

When I was a kid I wanted to travel all around the world just visiting places, seeing life lived was the only life to live. I still would like to live for a very long time, just so I won’t miss anything. But that is impossible. When I grew older, I realized that traveling forever was impossible, too. I wanted to hunt rubies in the Ganges River, and live at a Buddhist temple, study each painting in the Louvre, hike across Kilimanjaro, steal food in Morocco, learn calculus in Berlin, and play soccer in Rio de Janeiro. I wanted, I think, to live as much as possible, and the only way was to live not only my own life, but a monk’s life, an artist’s life, a scientist’s life, and a street urchin’s life.

But when I grew older, I realized that traveling forever was not my life. I don’t have the resources of Larry Darrell, the riches to find enlightenment while free of the insecurities of destitution: Without a job, where and how will I sleep, eat, live? What will I do, alone in a strange country. I’m not Bruce Wayne, either. I can’t gently touch the life of crime, careful never to actually steal from someone other than myself, and throw myself into prison touting angst and the absence of a parental hand. Both Bruce Wayne and Larry Darrell can make a withdrawal if they ever get into trouble, and fall into a safety net made of cash.

That is trite of me.

I must learn to travel while standing still, perhaps. I must learn to savor each and every day, and reach enlightenment while working nine-to-five. The stapler and the keyboard are worlds enough, and time. Aristotle himself said that the common folk didn’t have time to lead a good life, but I’ll find it. Maybe it’s in my cigarette break, or in the microwave’s countdown. Three, two, one, I have it, the answer to everything. I know now what I must do- the winged chariot at my back doesn’t frighten me! I can travel the world freely in my mind!

This is what I used to say to myself when I was upset that my life wasn’t going to plan, and that I wasn’t traveling the world. I did not, however, find enlightenment in the stapler, in all seriousness. In fact, retaining simple lessons from experiences still eludes me. It is all confusing. Now I think about traveling, and I think I wouldn’t be living any life but the mute observer’s, unable to really connect with what I was seeing in others. Bruce Wayne’s wisdom is comic-book madness, I am forced to conclude, and Larry Darrell is fiction from Somerset Maugham. I think if I was a traveler I would be seeking enlightenment not in staplers, but in train tickets and tiny soap bars.

This is possibly cynical, as it implies that enlightenment or even eudaimonic happiness or what have you is equally hard for the rich and the poor. Possibly it is but wishful thinking, against Aristotle’s theory that the good life was only accessible by the rich. Now, I am forced by my need for some light at the end of the tunnel, to conclude that there is a problem with the system in America that makes the pursuit of happiness unduly hard for the average American. Whether it be some dark thing within our culture or the mistakes of all-too-human lawmakers, there needs to be a thing in between me and happiness, dammit. I seem to need a reason as to why I can’t be reasonably happy, and you know what, why can’t there be a reason? That would give me a problem to solve, and regardless, I think I would be happiest trying to solve it, even if it is impossible, like making myself live for a very long time.

Today I quit my job. It’s the fourth and best job I’ve had since I took my first job at 17, and I’d be lying if I said I left it easily. I worked as a valet, parking cars for the local Indian Casino in my home town. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was fun and it paid the bills. Getting my job there also helped me through some of the roughest transitions of my life.

Leaving the casino is a strange mixture of freedom and melancholy. In a lot of ways, the year and a half I worked there has shaped who I am and changed my perspective on the world. Of course, I’m glad to be moving on with my life – going to university has been something I’ve looked forward to since I was seven – but at the same time, I’ll be leaving everything, everything, behind to start a new life someplace else. All the friends I’ve made, all the haunts I favorite, all the memories (good and bad) that have shaped me, they’ll soon be hundreds of miles away.

Of course, this latest change in my life is precipitated by a whole host of other changes. My father got a new job. My family is relocating to a different side of the state. My friends are moving on with their lives and entering the work place. At the age of 22, it would be ridiculous and unhealthy for me to expect my life to remain static. But, it is still depressing to realize that the consistency that I once took for granted is now unobtainable to me. To be uprooted from the life I’ve lived for the last decade is… disorienting, to say the least.

In a lot of ways, I owe the casino a great deal. Receiving my job with them provided stability in the rocky and out of focus world around me. It’s difficult to look back from where I am now and realize just how far I’ve come in the last year.

In 2011 my mother was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Illness always seems so distant and irrelevant until its bitter realities come crashing into your life. My mother and father did not hide my mother’s illness from my siblings and me. They explained the risks and changes very forthrightly. We were fortunate; my mother had excellent care. By spring of 2012 she was completely cured of her cancer, but it did not leave us unmarked.

My mother’s treatment was hard on everybody. For me, it meant more chores and responsibilities in a life that had been succinctly devoid of these before. It was also hard to see my mother struggle with the throes of cancer treatment. I wish I could say that I rose to these challenges admirably, but people have a nasty habit of not responding well to change. And so, rather than shoulder the burden like an adult, I took the opposite route.

I dropped out of every single one of my classes at the local community college I was attending. I began to withdraw from friends and social interaction. I spent increasingly large amounts of time in my room playing video games. I’m not proud of the person I became then.

By the end of 2012 my parents had had enough. I was out of work, out of school, and out of shape. They gave me an ultimatum – ‘pack your things, or get your shit together’ – and I was just stupid enough to take them up on it.

I was thrown out of my house. I had no job, and was living off the charity of one of my few remaining friends. My budget for food each week was $20, which I obtained by selling off what I had left of my possessions (an Ipad, some gift cards, my tools). For four months, I slept on a broken old couch and survived off of ramen and bulk chicken. I’m not proud of that time in my life either.

But I will say one thing about it. It did make me get my shit together. Entirely out of necessity, I was forced to look for work. I had to stop being so irresponsible because I had to find a job and I needed to present myself well to do so.

When I say that I owe the casino a lot, I mean just that. A job parking cars is not a glamorous job, but to me, it was godsend. When I got my job at the casino, I was desperate. I was living off of fumes. Having a real paycheck that I could care for myself with meant the world to me.

I have been as far down the path of self-destruction as I really ever care to go. As I sit here and type all of this out, warm and well fed, it is easy to lose touch with the humility that comes of sleeping in a freezing house on an empty stomach. It’s hard to connect myself now, confident and competent, to the pitiable character I was then. I never could have transitioned – would not be making this next great leap into the unknown – had it not been for the compassion shown to me then.

So to help bridge the mental gap between here and there, and to help give me closure, I would like to offer the reader the following truths taught to me by the last year and a half of my life:

1.)    You are never alone. Everywhere around you are people and resources willing to help you. The hardest part is swallowing your pride to accept them. Realize that people do not look down on those who ask for assistance. Heros arise not from those who can do by themselves, but from those who can collaborate with those around them.

2.)    Maturity comes in many shapes and sizes. One of the most important is called consistency. Be fair to people, show up on time, make good on your promises, and be honest. Not just sometimes, but all the time. People will respect you more and feel as though you do too.

3.)    Burning bridges is much, much easier than fixing them and fixing bridges is crucially important. Baggage ways down everything you do and strive to do. You owe it to yourself not to allow your problems to have free rent in your head. While it’s easy to advise someone to “get over it” it’s much harder to do in practice. Mend conflicts whenever possible.

4.)    Teamwork and leadership go hand and hand. You cannot be a good leader without being a good team player. Being the person in charge is not a dominance race. Good leaders understand and respect the people they lead. The other intricacies of management are smoke and mirrors.

5.)    You can make friends with anyone. People are just people. There are mean people, creepy people, rough people, and weird people. Getting along with someone doesn’t mean the same thing as agreeing with them. Deep down, most people just want to be appreciated for who they are.

6.)    If your boss every asks you to fill in for graveyard “just for a week”, politely decline unless you have a particularly strong desire to not see the sun for the next 6 months.

In a little less than three weeks, I’ll be headed off to university. It’s exciting and incredibly nerve wracking. But, I’m confident in my ability to pull through. If my time at the casino has given me one thing, it’s the drive I need to continue onward. I’ll never forget my roots or my experiences. The goods and bads of the small town I grew up in have shaped me into the person I am today. The lessons I learned here will carry me on well through the rest of my life. Though I might have wished for more glamour or more adventure. I wouldn’t trade it away. Any of it.

Awesome! It’s my weekend. I get to do whatever I want to all day, and the next day, and I want to write a blog post, play some games, peg away at a script, edit some photos, edit a short film, watch a Richard Linklater movie, do this, do that- If I had my way, I would never get up from my computer.

This is a bloody dagger of a realization to me, especially since I actually spend eight hours of my working day sitting at another desk, pretty much surfing the internet and reading. Really, I spend a sum total of sixteen hours a day between two desks. I work graveyard, and have not seen more than two hours of daylight chained together in a month! I am Jack’s bewildered lazy ass, I am Jackie Chan’s wrinkled forehead. I shudder to think what it would be like to watch at high speed my life these past few months. It would only convince me that I am totally irresponsible.

But at the same time I think it rather funny that I am languishing in this cycle now, and furthermore if I am honest with myself I will admit that I’m very lazy, and I learned to be at a very early age, be it through easy homework or a cushy middle class life. And to give myself full credit I’ve done some pretty cool things that I am proud of, but it’s too true that most of my time is spent doing very little.

What am I doing very little of? In a metaphysical sense, I spend a small percentage of my time on Earth doing things that I think make my life worth living: e.g. very Aristotelian things, like learning discipline, knowledge, and perhaps wisdom, or teaching, making the world a better place, being heroic. In short, living up to classical ideals of what a human being should be. In addition, or rather at the same time, I am also spending time actively making the human race more adaptable and flexible, by making myself more suited to success in a myriad of conditions. It seems implicit in the Singularitarian ideology that it is my ethical imperative to spend my time doing certain things, in order to better humanity, the race, and life itself; to serve a modern vision of life thriving in every conceivable medium.

There are a lot of philosophical reasons why we do things but I do think the Greeks are the foremost influence on what we think is an activity that will make our lives better. I have a vision of myself as a successful individual, with valuable knowledge and inner peace that approaches eudaimonia. It’s not a hedonistic vision, to say the least. But this is in contrast to the future myths of what the Singularity supposedly makes possible. Vast dyson spheres of life, planet ships and space trees. Nano-colonies and asteroid webs, you name it. The possibilities of the future do not include visions of the individual, and rightly so. There is no way to become famous, no way to measure yourself against others in a universe not even of billions, but trillions of life forms, where time is measured geologically, societies come and go in the blink of a god’s eye, where Life has found success, as Life measures it- in immortality.

In fifty years, when we’ve solved AI and have successfully replaced, say, fifty percent of the jobs that are worked to day with robots, as Vinod Khosla suggested to the Google co-founders, we will be facing not only furious changes in economic structures and whatnot, but also wide disconnects between what our dreams are, and what our possible futures are. You, with the dream of opening up your autobody shop- you’re going to have to accept that you can’t continue the family business. I am going to have to accept that I can’t get paid to sit around eight hours every night. If we want to be happy, it seems, Jack and I are going to have to accept that we are organs in a larger body reaching for the stars.

But what are we going to spend those sixteen hours a day doing? Sitting around, surfing the internet, occasionally doing something productive? As Sergey Brin notes, the real problem is boredom- “We need to feel like (we’re) needed, wanted and have something productive to do,” especially if we realize our potential to create a post-scarcity, ideas economy in a single lifetime. In a way, my laziness gives me a perverse hope- that’s why I find it funny, I suppose. The human race will survive because on the one hand it’s highly creative and endurant, and on the other hand it is lackadaisical and dilatory. However, I really don’t want to sit around eight hours a night getting paid. I want eudaimonia, well-being, and I have a hard time believing that I am going to go quietly into a future of abundance.

Well, here I am. Typing this article. I’m not really sure, what I’m supposed to be writing about. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that I know why I’m even doing this.

Oh sure, I’ve had lots of ideas for what to write my first blog post about. I thought about writing about my favorite web tools or delving into the depths of a personal existential crisis. I thought about writing a piece concerning the non-meaning of hierarchical art interpretation. I considered, mildly humorously, that I might describe in depth for you the subtle complexities of the game of GO.

Quite possibly any of those topics might have made for a great post.

I have a tendency towards avoiding things I perceive as pretentious. Somewhat paradoxically, I also wish for all of my work to be expertly designed and perfected. And so the reason I did not pursue any of the above mentioned topics is because I feel neither qualified nor narcissistic enough to assume that any of them would have been a desirable addition to our anthology.

Despite all of these mental machinations, however, I still do not know what the subject of this post will be. I haven’t even made a title yet (and will probably add one, posthumously, right before I post this). Yet – despite having no clear resolution or direction – I have decided to soldier on and write this blog post. Let’s see where it takes us.

I suppose the real reason I’m typing this has less to do with my desire to express something profound and more to do with a sense of personal stagnation. You see, much like how my friend Connor expressed his struggles with procrastination, I too have often felt that I think more often than I do. It has become a recurring frustration resulting in the evolution of what I like to think of as my “Do, Don’t think” philosophy. While it’s tempting to view this as an exercise in impulsiveness more than anything else, “Do. Don’t think” approaches the wall of inactivity that I have fallen into and seems to surpass it.

To give an example, today I went for a run. I ran 3.5 miles up and down the steep hills of my hometown which just about killed me. It’s the first time I have run in a little over four months. When I decided to go for a run today, I did not weigh the pros and cons. I did not let the knowledge that I have no running shoes stop me. I did not allow myself to stop and consider how hard it is to run up a fifteen degree slope. I simply ran.

While this may seem like a small victory, it is a victory nonetheless.

The same technique can be applied to many other facets of my life. When I need to clean the kitchen, I clean the kitchen. When think it would be good to exercise, I exercise. In this way I do not allow procrastination to take hold and I defeat my stagnation one step at a time.

I think that all too often we, as humans, are victims of inaction. In an animistic sense, it is more energy efficient to not take action than to do so. In this way, it is easy for me to talk myself out of action when my basic needs have already been provided for.

I have a job. I have a place to live. I have warmth and food and personal comforts in excessive quantities. It is easy to allow myself to lapse into stagnation and easy to rationalize that decision. But one thing I have discovered about myself is that I feel more satisfied and generally happier about my life when I have actually done or accomplished something. It is for this reason that I developed my “Do, Don’t think” strategy.

Make no mistake; I am not saying that ruminating on my choices is wrong. There are many important life decisions that need to be carefully deliberated. But for the everyday choice: “to do or not to do”, I have found that allowing myself the time to think about not acting is a slippery slope towards procrastination.

So why am I writing this post?

I am writing this because I am worried that if I do not write it now, I never will. If I allow myself the time to worry over the details or think of all the reasons not to publish, than there is the chance that I may never have anything to add to this blog.

And just like that we have come to the end of our journey. I now have the topic of this post, the reason I posted it, and a solid takeaway. When I began writing this post, I had no idea where to take it. But, by following my “Do, Don’t think” philosophy, I have a completed piece ready to send off into the world. Now if I could just think of a title…

Okay. Uh, I have to write an article. Why do I have to write an article? Because me and my friend Ben got really motivated one night and decided that we were going to put voices to our thoughts and work on making those thoughts more coherent, focused, and palatable to a general audience. We got all excited, as usual, and set some deadlines and made some notes, and we each went home, I have no doubt, and thought with broad strokes and imagined our figures on the latest talk show, expounding fantastic and revolutionary opinions and everyone will certainly love us in the future, will love me and my magnanimous philosophies I am sure, as soon as I go through the work of writing them down, and learning to get better as such.
I don’t really have to write an article, but I’m forcing myself to do so anyways. You see, I’ve done this before. I have a long history of working myself up to do some great thing, sitting down to do it, and then chickening out. Is it a matter of courage? I don’t actually know- I don’t know what it is that perhaps prevents me from carrying out the schemes I set out to do all the way, down to the letter. I used to think I was a perfectionist, but then I’ve never finished a project to call perfect, so I can’t really say. What I do know is that I must power through now, through whatever it is that holds me back, until I think whatever I’m doing loses whatever magical future quality that made it worth doing, and becomes the garbage of the real.
As I’m writing this I’m eating a hamburger. A juicy, salty, charbroiled hamburger between fluffy, pillowy buns, dripping with ketchup and mustard and glazed with melted cheddar and I love hamburgers. Fast food is my vice. I seek it out, creating a fantastic narrative where I haven’t had any in so long it’s alright. It’s alright to be bad here, and give yourself what you want Connor, you deserve it. You live in a hard world. So I go and get these things and smell them and at that point staring at the waxy yellow paper surrounding it is like staring at a joint being passed to you, a syringe about to be expunged, a line being gently cut out upon glass- it’s like standing on a cliff, preparing to fall, knowing that after this moment, everything will be different. The wide blue vista encompasses your every sense. There is nothing but you and the hamburger.
But it’s suddenly so hard to chew it. The moment is gone, and the future has arrived. The hamburger is gritty, dry, dense, having been handled by a sweaty, pimply teen and tossed in a paper bag to come to you. All the realities of the world resolve upon acquiescing to your desire. And suddenly what you desire most is to be rid of it. It’s alright, though, it’s alright to toss it away, I mean, you’ve had your fun. You’re full, and you weren’t really hungry to begin with. You don’t need to finish it. You don’t need resolution, you’ve already had it.
It’s a curse of being a fourth-dimensional being, it seems, that I can’t eat my hamburger and have it too. I can’t have a delicious present, only the dream of it, and the disappointment of the past. I am literally trapped in the now, wondering about the future, wondering if the past ever existed, wondering how it is that thoughts even have a through-line. Is there a point at which a thought is not divisible, like a frame of a movie? Do emotions run at sixty frames per second or thirty? Is there ever a point- can you measure it- at which something ends, or begins? How long exactly is now? And will I ever feel sat-
Okay. All good questions. All good thoughts, Connor. You’ve done well. It’s alright, I think that’s enough for now. I mean, you’ve done so many things right. Some questions don’t have answers. Go, maybe have another hamburger. Go on. There