Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Hope is…

“Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.”

— Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson (Project Gutenberg edition).

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Needs versus wants

On the one hand, I own enough already to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, I still want everything on my Amazon wishlist.

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I’ve come to think of commitments as the structure of life.

Make the right commitments, and I have a platform to stand on.

Make the wrong commitments, and I have a prison to live in.

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Out of action

Home sick again today. My fifth illness in the last two months. I’m glad I have a couple of weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s—I clearly need it.

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I have had an Inspector Maigret mystery checked out but unread, in case I needed something to read while sick in bed.

Coming in handy today…

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How I know I’m stressed

Aside from the more obvious indicators, there seem to be two reliable indicators that I’m feeling stressed:

  1. I don’t blog.
  2. I don’t read.

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20 years ago

It was 20 years ago last night that I spent my first night in the dorms at Ohio State.

Last night, I dreamed that I was checking in to Morrill Tower all over again, but this time I was 38.

(The number of people who know me who would be surprised to see me moving into Morrill Tower at age 38? Smaller than you might think.)

My one enduring memory of that day had been caused the night prior, when my best friend and I celebrated my last night in California by spending five hours at the 24-hour bowling alley where we used to go. We bowled about 15 games, after which I didn’t sleep until I arrived in Columbus. So I woke up my first morning of college with absolutely no feeling in my right hand. (It did eventually come back.)

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A splash of determination

If there is a better motivator to clean a messy desk than spilling a half a glass of water across it, I do not know what it is.

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In Book II (369a-372d) of the Republic, Socrates reasons step-by-step through what would be required to create a simple and harmonious city, one in which the citizens “will live in peace and good health, and when they die at a ripe old age, they will bequeath a similar life to their children” (372c-d).

Socrates then continues with his steps, changing his simple city into a luxurious city (372e-374a) and discussing how this change ruins the harmony and leads to “the origins of war” (373e).

George Carlin has a classic routine about “stuff”, which I have taken to heart. “That’s all your house is: It’s a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” I have never wanted either a house or a lot of stuff because I realized early on that house and stuff are a vicious cycle: You have too much stuff, so you buy a bigger house; your bigger house looks empty until you buy more stuff for it; and so on.

Luxury is having more than you can ever use. What is the point of that?

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The Great Vacation ends

I’m back to work in less than 12 hours. It’s been a good time off. Mostly relaxing.

Of the seven things I had hoped to do during the vacation, I finished two and made serious headway on a third. Round about Tuesday, my will to get anything done just died for four or five days. Got a lot of sleep, drank a little beer, watched some football. But I was out in the yard for three hours yesterday (in the rain, no less) and am happy with how much better the front yard looks—I think that if I just consistently tend to the grass and the mint next year, I can have it looking good.

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One down, six to go

I have a list of seven things I want to accomplish while I am on vacation.

I finished one this morning: Cleaning out the cul-de-sac of my L-shaped bedroom. I had had a big, wobbly desk back there for as long as I had lived here, and I have finally cleaned everything off it, dismantled it, and hauled it out to the curb. I have not yet decided what to do with the space yet, but I will probably move my other desk over there, then talk with my uncle (who is a carpenter) about building some shelving for the space where that other desk now is.

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During the summers when I was a kid, I would watch two old television shows every weekday: Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone. The first one would have been no surprise: I loved mysteries and puzzles, and had an unhealthy fascination with Los Angeles. The latter one, though…I have always steered clear of things (roller coasters, horror movies) that I thought would scare the hell out me, and The Twilight Zone gave me nightmares for years and years and years.

The Twilight Zone appealed to me, though, because it made me think. It taught me irony. It taught me tolerance. It taught me how to see events from multiple perspectives. It taught me to be so careful for what I wish, lest I get it good and hard.

But above all, I liked Rod Serling. I used to imitate his mannerisms and his clipped way of speaking. When in a certain mood, I still love to write the way he spoke—in bitten-off phrases punctuated with semi-colons. In retrospect, it’s a miracle I didn’t take up smoking.

Here’s Rod Serling just before his prime, introducing a new television series called The Twilight Zone to the people who would sell ads for it.

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The Great Vacation begins

My next day at work will be September 2, the day after Labor Day.

I will be staying in town, working on projects around the house and starting to get ready for Portland-to-Coast 2009.

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When I was in 1st and 2nd grade, I would look at the kids who had allergies—struggling to breathe, wrestling with their inhalers—and think, “I’m so glad I don’t have allergies.” It seemed like the most miserable fate in the world.

Somewhere along the line, “I’m so glad I don’t have allergies” turned into “I don’t have allergies,” and that was the story I stuck to.

When I lived in Austin, I had so much trouble sleeping my first winter that I had to go on medication for whatever it was that I was allergic to. But I didn’t really have allergies.

In Houston, I missed the occasional day of work after waking up with bloated sinuses. But I didn’t really have allergies.

My first four months in Portland were a waste. I thought I was just tired from the move and the life change. I didn’t really have allergies.

Earlier this summer, with the weeds in the yard out of control and my sinuses keeping me on the porch, I finally had to admit that…yeah, I have allergies.

So from now on, during the sunny months (May to October), I will be taking Zyrtec every morning, and being thankful that the science of allergy control has improved so much in the last 30 years.

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The Magician (Card 1)

There seems to be a hierarchy in the computer world, with the elite programmers as the superstars and the help desk and documentation folks as the untouchables. The principle seems to be that those who can make the machines do their will are those most worthy of our applause.

In politics, charisma gets awed admiration—the ability of a Bill Clinton to charm others into doing what he wants done. Parliamentarians also get respect, as people whose knowledge of the rules allows them to control that which the rules govern.

These are forms of magic; variations on the theme that to know the right words is to have power over others. I believe a longing for that power is why teenagers are so interested in magic—it’s a fantasy of control treasured by those who control so little.

Before I went to graduate school, I rarely wanted to control anything outside of my immediate surroundings (when I was a teenager, I never understood the appeal of magic). I was happy to be left with my books and my dreams and my pen and paper.

As I progressed through my professional training and began to think of what I would do with it…well, there’s that word: do. What would I do? If I were to want to do anything, then I would have to know how to do it.

And that is the thought that led me to The Magician, which in the tarot deck symbolizes good thoughts transformed into good deeds through the power of knowledge, insight, skill, and disciplined application (spells and enchantments unnecessary).

If I were to want to do a task, then being able to control the machine that does that task is essential. If I were to want to do something more complicated than a task, then being able to appeal to people so that they would do that work with me is essential. Neither skill comes naturally to me—I’d still rather curl up with my books and my thoughts—but if the price of living naturally is to spend the rest of my life being as useless to the world as I was in my 20s, then I will put “living naturally” back on the shelf and continue my shopping elsewhere.

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