Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stop, before you break something!

I think too much.

Seriously. Too much for my own good. I spend a great deal of time and effort imaging many possible outcomes to a whole variety of possible occurances. Totally theoretical, and usually based off of my own understanding of how the world works. This means they are vulnerable to the same catastrophic errors in reasoning as most of my other thoughts.

I have an extremely ordered, scientific mind. I understand situations best when there is a clear (no matter how convoluted) trail from cause to effect. This leaves me open to a serious flaw, though. Garbage in, garbage out. This is a principle of computer theory that describes the fact that a computer cannot decide if something is appropriate data without being told specifically what to look for. If the calculation data is not in the proper format, then the answers received (if any) can be vastly removed from actuality.

The same seems to be true of me. If my initial premise is not sound, but I don't realize it, I can easily pile good logic on top of a bad premise, creating a mental house of cards built on a weak foundation.

I bring this up only because I was recently worried that I was going to fail for someone besides myself. Failing myself is easy; I know who to blame, I know what happened, and I can immediately go about fixing the problem. Failing other people, though; that's where it becomes unbearable. Other people have no reason to trust me as much as I trust myself; they have no guarantee that I'm acting in their best interests.

In the past, I was so proud that I retained the good friendship of almost everyone I had ever met. This is sadly no longer true. This crystal situation didn't crack in the last year or three, so don't worry about it being some "stink" still active. Here's what I learned from it, though: no matter what, there are some ways to lose a friendship. And the easiest of those is failing somehow.

The rub is that it doesn't even have to be an actual failure on my part: sometimes just a perceived failure is enough. I'll save the "perception vs. reality" argument for another entry, but there are still some situations where everything done right can still be wrong.

I hate these situations. The illogical nature of some of them nearly ripped my sanity in two. (I'm slowly discovering that nothing makes me more mad or frustrated than illogical behavior) I've been fortunate to be able to revisit a couple, and the post-mortum returned satisfying answers. At least one reason was still completely foolish and incredibly insulting to me, but it was a path of reasoning that someone followed. That part means it cannot be denied.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Look at all this stuff!

In one way, it's extremely difficult to come back to blogging after a fair amount of time. Not because it's hard to write again, but because I get overwhelmed with all the stuff I could write about. It's a similar problem to what I feel if I let my journal fall aside for weeks. What can I possibly write about that will feel like a significant topic, to give the illusion that I spent all this time thinking about something really profound.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent most of an afternoon talking in one place with smart people. No, it wasn't a MENSA gathering. Just friends at the local pizza place, killing an afternoon. I, of course, enjoyed myself immensely.

One of the participants was putting herself through the wringer over her relationships; specifically, how crazy they seem to be. The most recent "significant others" had been very intense, and were ready to swear love and marriage very soon after starting the relationship. They had said that they weren't usually like this, but that she (my friend) was the reason.

She's not getting married. And she's rather concerned about this effect she has on people and doesn't seem to know how to "turn off." The more I thought of it, I wondered if we are a little too quick to throw ourselves into relationships. We hear so much nowadays about how hard it is to date (every city I've lived in has always been described by the inhabitants as "the hardest city to be single in"). We hear horror stories about all kinds of people, and what happens to friends of friends. We are told repeatedly how we should hang on to good things as soon as we find them.

Is it right? Is it fair to a relationship? If things go well and smoothly for a while, why should we suddenly up and hurry to try to cement the relationship. Some people move SO fast, you wonder if they saw some sort of expiration date on their beloved's forehead: For best results, marry before 30.

In this particular situation, I'm wondering about guys. Being one myself, I have a pretty easy time placing myself into these other guys' shoes. I'm betting they're just happy to have someone connect with them, and they feel that THAT should be bottled and preserved as soon as possible.

I'm all for letting things go right for a long time. In spite of the fact that some parents REALLY want grandchildren, I don't think there's anything to hurry along. I've heard quickly-married friends say that everything was right, so they didn't feel like waiting. I couldn't be so cavalier about such a decision, and were I a member of a religion for whom divorce is seriously frowned-upon, I'd be even more shy about making a decision.

My friend kept coming back to a single question: how do you know it's the right person? There are lots of possible answers to this, and many are lifted straight out of movies and romance novels. I'm not going to hazzard a particular method here; that's a subject for another entry. And besides.... because...well.... physician, heal thyself.

Lest I leave you so unsatisfied, there is one thing I know: there will never be any relationships without the risk of hurt. We have to soldier past the initial discomfort of being vulnerable. Letting our guard down and waiting is essential, at some point. If we expose our vulnerability and the other person respects it, that builds trust (the fabric of all good relationships).

It is a risk, though. The safe route is doing nothing. Saying nothing. Waiting for things to happen to you. But we don't choose inaction because it's safer. We do this because it hurts less, in the short term. In the long term, it may end up hurting more.... but we humans don't do well accepting long-term consequences.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mega Nega Tivity

Never has the attitude letdown after a break been more apparent to me. I guess everyone was riding really high in the end of December, because with the first bells of 2007, everyone is coming down. Bleary-eyed and combative, people are metaphorically working uphill to accomplish their everyday stuff.

And how do I know this? Because I had to fight it off, too. I certainly wasn't ready for school to start already, even though I have an easy semester (on the whole). It took a great deal of effort to shamble into campus this morning (first day) to try to reserve a recital time at 8:00am. And trying to be on campus by 8:00 means waking at 6:00am. And waking at 6:00 means darkness indistinguishable from the previous night. Nothing makes me more frustrated and unmotivated than getting up while it's dark.

But I secured a time in the Art Museum; doesn't that sound cool? Even though it's probably a conference room with a Casio keyboard in the corner, I think the idea sounds cool. 'Cause...you know... when I play music, it's art. I'll be a temporal work of art, as a very short term installation! Or something. Where's my art history friend who works at the Getty Museum and wrote her thesis on the "creative use of negative space"? I need her to run interference and think up smart-sounding pretentious claims.

Anyway, what concerns me more is that I'm getting annoyed at people who had not annoyed me previously. I don't know if that means my fuse is shorter for some reason. Perhaps they're just trying extra hard to get on my nerves? It's hard to tell. I'm going to have to watch it, though, or I might end up being curt.

And I'd like to remain Andy, if at all possible.

*** *** ***

I was shopping at the grocery and looking at the pickle shelf today, when I noticed a person pass behind me. In their wake, they left a descending cloud of a very attractive and feminine perfume. I turned my head, as most men would at such an inducement, only to find a man with a beard stocking the shelves with a couple of jars of olives. No one else in the aisle.

Weird.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Isn't bigotry usually a little more...subtle?

Perhaps you've heard of Keith Ellison, the representative from Michigan who wishes to be sworn into office using the Koran, since he's Muslim. And chances are good that if you've heard of him, you've also heard about Rep. Virgil Goode from Virginia. Here's an article to set the stage: STORY.

Rep. Goode is apparently offended by Mr. Ellison's preference in religion. He has indicated that the upcoming Koran-swearing is an affront to "American values." He circulated a letter to some of his constituents, making sure his views were known. To his credit, he just lays his point right out there; he doesn't bother to sugar coat his beliefs or pawn it off as something more justifiable (such as the Koran killing his mother and setting fire to his puppies).

The text of Rep. Goode's letter is so fascinating, I will take the liberty of publishing it in its entirety.


Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand.

I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.

We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.

I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and "In God We Trust" are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, "As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office." Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.


Source: Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul

In a letter filled with what I consider to be fantastically inappropriate statements (which is notable because the missive is so short), I'm especially drawn to his anecdote about the Muslim student. Instead of explaining why the Koran was not on his wall, he imperiously declares that it never will be, because he's representing his district. I guess his area is Muslim-free? The rest of his letter certainly sounds like he's never had a conversation with a devotee of Islam, and wouldn't ever want to. After all, if he acknowledges them, they may start wanting to use "their" holy book.

He also seems to be on a serious crusade of his own with regards to his plans concerning reduction in illegal and LEGAL immigrants. Strange that he would mention it in the same breath as his future co-worker, considering Mr. Ellison was born in Detroit and is an American citizen. But hey; they all look alike, right? And they're all here to subvert our society, take our jobs, and marry our women.

Is it the 50's and 60's again? Because it sure seems like Rep. Goode is trying to hang a sign on the clubhouse that says "No Brown People." And hastily written at the bottom: "And 'specially no A-rabs."

Don't miss the fact that the copy of the Koran dates from 1765, and was Thomas Jefferson's personal copy, on loan from the Library of Congress. I suppose "TJ" is to blame for all this, since he encouraged people to go around readin' and broadnin' their horizons. Didn't he know it would cause September 11th?

Enough histrionics: believing that the Constitution (which guarantees freedom of religion) can somehow be used to only apply to one specific God (the god of the Bible, not Allah) is such an anti-American thought that I don't have any words to describe it. Instead, I'll leave final words to Thomas Jefferson, from his Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom, written in 1779, (not-coincidentally applying to Rep. Goode's home state):

[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened [sic] in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

We just passed a life marker: did you see it?

This is my first entry of the new year. 2007 has arrived and we have passed out of 2006. We all know that time moves in one direction; the saints and philosophers of the ages have instructed us. In every single moment, we're writing our own immutable history. I cannot change what I did one minute ago; it is impossible. And not just the "climb Mount Everest in a t-shirt" impossible. The inability to alter our own past is fundamentally important to being human. If we don't accept that, we make life more difficult.

I just moved my glass of water from one side of my monitor to the other. It's a simple task, and I can do it without even stopping my composition (assuming I abandon the "home row" and type creatively). On a scale of effort, I may have expended a single calorie to direct my muscles to this action. It was easily and thoughtlessly done.

And no one can now interfere with what I just did. The glass is moved -- it is now history. Unchangable. On January second, I moved the glass. This statement is true. It will remain true to the end of time. It simply "is".

It would be just as easy to move the glass back in this minute. I could "undo" my glass movement and make it so that no one would ever suspect I moved the glass. Armies could come and move the glass for me. They can prevent me from moving the glass again by locking me in a cell. They can announce to everyone that I never moved the glass, burying the truth in a campaign of misinformation. None of this can change the fact that I moved the glass.

As human beings, we're awfully tied up in the notion of trying to change the past. People spend their entire lives trying to bury early scandals. People spend millions of dollars trying to return to previous points in their life when things were good, by using chemicals and surgery and balms and animal extracts. Perhaps the assumption is that if you can return to what you looked like in the past, you can actually return to the past.

In part, this connects to the idea of resolutions. People often make New Year's Resolutions, but they have such a historically low success rate that the concept of making a resolution now comes with an air of self-mockery. I could resolve to exorcise more, but in the months to come, the idea of exorcising because of a past statement probably won't hold much value when compared to having a piece of cheesecake. We make resolutions and then look backwards on them for a year. We let the "us" of the past control what we do in the future.

I propose a different tradition: make a New Year's Goal. Flip the axis of focus around. Instead of being reminded about that thing you promised you'd do, make a open-ended forward goal. In this way, every step you make in progress is not towards a bar that has already been set, as in a resolution. "I've been smoking too much, so I resolved to cut back. But I've already smoked two packs this week, so I might as well stop the whole thing."

With a goal, you are already firmly on ground, and everything from that moment on is motion towards the goal. "I have a goal to quit smoking. I've had a stressful week and smoked in excess, but next week I won't need to smoke as much since the reports will be over."

I, too, have made a goal. It's the same one I've been working towards for several years. Earlier this evening, I made a step towards it. I didn't do it because I had resolved to. I did it because it moves me along the path towards my aspiration. Events in my past cannot change, but the degree to which I dwell on them is under my control. The actions in my past "are", but they need not control who I am.

I am able to do this also because the span of years lessens pain. It removes the immediacy of unfortunate things from my attention. It doesn't remove the memories, though! Those are the record. I use them to steer by, trying to move in the direction of what I think is best for me.

So, do what needs to be done! Remember that the past cannot be changed, and that this unchangeability is a good thing. It cannot be changed, but it IS the past. The present (and by extension, the future) can be changed.

All we need to do is decide to move the glass back to the other side.