Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Traffic as a Metaphor for Life

Now that I've been back in the full-time workforce for almost half a year, driving in rush hour traffic a couple of hours a day five days a week, except on those days when I can blissfully take the train because I don't have to drop Thumper off at school, I find myself thinking about this article almost every day. It uses flowing liquid as a model for how traffic behaves and makes some conclusions on how we can improve our lot in heavy traffic. Actually, it concludes that we can't do anything to help ourselves, but we can help those poor suckers stuck behind us.

It goes on and on and on, and I know none of you are going to actually read it, but the gist is: leave large following distances. Even in slow traffic. Even when that guy is passing on the right and merging left just before the lane closure, the lane closure that you saw signs for 2 miles back and changed lanes to avoid, but he kept right the hell on going and now he wants in front of you after speeding up the right lane, like the rest of us jerks don't matter at all. Even then: large following distances. For each of the problems that heavy traffic presents (spikes of hard acceleration/deceleration, closing lanes, blocked lanes), the solution is the free movement of cars from lane to lane, which in practical application is: large following distances.

I blogged about this article before, and what I like about this philosophy is, regardless of whether its application actually makes things better, it removes the urge to drive competitively, to teach that other guy a lesson by sticking as close to the bumper of the car in front of  as you can and not letting him in. Despite that urge, you and I both know in our hearts that that guy doesn't learn any lesson. No one learns any lessons about cooperative action by having that cooperation withheld. He just calls you names and moves on with his day, probably forgetting all about you long before you've forgotten about him.

So in summary:

Stop worrying about what the other guy is doing, and stop trying to take away his ability to do it. We all benefit.

The end.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


"Tonight, we not only speak to the members of the Greater Jerusalem Baptist Church. We not only speak to Baptist people tonight. We not only speak to the Methodist people tonight. Church of God in Christ, Catholics, or no particular denomination. No particular city. But tonight we speak to the whole nation. Tonight, our message: Drop the hate! Forgive each other!"

I've been thinking about my problems lately, and sometimes feeling sorry for myself for the hurts done to me, and sometimes feeling guilty for the hurts I've done to others.

And then I think, really, things are pretty fuckin' good.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no one actively working to end my existence because of who I am or what I believe.

I'm surrounded by people that I love, who make me smile and laugh out loud almost every single day.

I have such an abundance of clean drinking water, that I expel my bodily wastes into it all the time.

I have such an abundance of food, that I track my consumption with a handheld computer that sends data to and receives data from space just so I don't eat too ridiculously much.

My greatest health concern is trying not to get sick from too much pleasure.

I have a job with health benefits and a salary that allows me not only a nice home and all that food and water, but also the ability to do almost anything I want, almost any time I want.

And virtually everyone I know has all of these things, too.

Clearly, some of these ideas I owe to the incomparable Louis CK:

"You're in a chair in the sky!"

"But, it doesn't lean back very much..."

Ha. Anyway. What was I saying? Oh, yeah.

When I look around, I'm baffled to see so many people so determined to be angry and unhappy. At work and in my private life, there are several people that seem to work very hard at being mad. They look closely for new injustices that have been heaped upon them by cruel circumstance and cruel people.

I hate being mad. I want it to end as soon as possible. I hate lying awake at night going over and over in my mind how angry I am. I'd rather sleep peacefully and wake up rested and refreshed. So I wonder: are there physical differences in our brains such that some people experience anger as a pleasurable sensation? I've always said of some people, "They're not happy unless they're mad," and now I'm wondering if it's literally true. Is anger akin to joy in the brains of some people? Are there studies on this, complete with colorful images of parts of the brain "lighting up" at the opportunity to tell someone else that they said or did the wrong thing, or said or did it the wrong way, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons? And to tell them over and over again, with white-hot rage?

The phrase "righteousness orgasm" popped into my brain the other day to describe the apparently climactic joy in expressing outrage at perceived victimization of a just or innocent person, and we all tend to think of ourselves as at least mostly just and innocent. It can be seen in comments sections all over the internet, and I think it's what Lenore Skenazy noticed in this post on Free-Range Kids. It's an outrage that seems easiest to express in writing, because face-to-face communication allows too much humanization of the offending party, too much explanation of extenuation, too much give and take, to really allow a good orgasmic buildup of righteous indignation.

I know I've indulged in the righteousness orgasm now and again, and even recently. I'm trying though, Lord. I'm trying.

Anyway, now I'm going to go turn my Pandora from Rage Against the Machine back to Lyle Lovett. And tomorrow, I'm told, is Aloha Friday. I've never been to Hawaii, but I have no doubt I can only benefit from more ukulele in my life.

Aloha, fuckers! Namaste, bitches!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Yep, Still Me to a T

Yep. I'm still here over proving that truer words were never said of me than, "You never could keep your fuckin' mouth shut." I'm feeling down and out because of my mistakes, but I'll be back on top and whistling a jaunty tune soon because I'm finally getting to accept and like myself and my quirks, and my foibles, and yes, even my utter failings. Not everyone thinks so, but I'm a good man doing good things. If I love you, I'll do anything for you, and there's a bunch of you out there that I love. You keep me going. You keep me from slipping in the pitfalls. I'm still going, y'all. This is just me on the regular.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

It's Different for Me Now

Driving to work this morning, I heard Dr. David Buss on KGSR talking about dating in the modern age. The gist was that modern technology and communications do not make it easier to find a long-term mate.

I'll be completely, officially divorced soon, probably some time in November, so I've been thinking about dating and mating and finding a match that works in the long term. I thought I'd found The One two decades ago. I was sure of it. But The One is now as foreign to me in heart and mind, as inscrutable, as an alien. I'm sure I am to her, as well. We simply do not speak the same language. It's not her fault, and it's not mine, or if there is fault, it belongs to each of us. But I think fault is meaningless in the end of our marriage. There was no infidelity. There was no abuse. There was the long, slow accumulation of resentment and the inevitable separation of what was once, truly if briefly, a close union of souls. Some of that foreignness comes from the pain of The Breakup itself, the cruelty we inflicted on each other while finally, irrevocably snapping that bond between us. But I also think most of our marriage was the desperate attempt to return to what existed for a few years and was lost through the vagaries of time and circumstance, mostly because we were at our cores incompatible in our personalities and desires. We were friends for a long time, even good friends, close friends. But we stopped being mates, I think, probably some time in the 20th century. We fell in love quickly at the age of 20 with the people we had the potential to become, and we fell out of love slowly over the next 20 years with the people we actually became.

Anyway, that's my paragraph-long post mortem on almost 23 years of daily interaction.

All of which begs the question, whether you call what came before a failure or an indispensable life experience, how does one go about making a new match that lasts and uplifts and continues to uplift over the course of years?

I don't think it's on Tinder. Or Match. Or eHarmony. Or OKCupid. Maybe. I don't know. Dr. Buss pointed out that each of these, and especially all of them in combination, give the illusion of infinite choice, infinite possibility, which leads to a paralysis of choice. It's a world where the next possibility is always better than the current reality.

A friend told me I'd have to go through my "divorce crazies," to go crazy and date lots and lots of people over the next couple of years. To step out of my comfort zone and go wild would be the only way to find out who I am in relation to other people, to find out what I liked and what I wanted. While I can see its value, that idea kind of gives me the heebie jeebies. I said in June or July, shortly after I moved out of my marital home and established for the first time in my life a space that was my own: I don't want to date. I wanted to live on my own, making my own choices for my own sake. I wanted to spend at least a year or two discovering who it is I am alone before I try again to discover who it is I am in cooperation with another person. And it was true when I said it. And it's still kind of true now. But I can see that a time will come, and maybe sooner than I thought when I was just beginning to believe that the end was in sight, the end of something that had become destructive, that I will want to find someone. Someone to spend time with. To talk to. To cuddle with. To help and to be helped by. To uplift and to be uplifted by. And yes, to bone. Bonin' is fun, after all. And making love is an expression of, an extension of, and a reinforcement of emotional intimacy. But more than sex: I will want someone to show my intricacies and to discover her intricacies, with all of the joy and fear and frustration and giddiness and fever and love that comes with that openness and discovery.

Who do I want? The more important question is who do I want to be? I think it's answering the second question that will lead to the answer of the first.

What I will not do is hold on to the past. I have friends who model for me exactly the behavior I refuse to engage in. I will not dwell daily on what I had and lost. I will not dwell daily on what she did that brought about the end, or what she did in ending it. I will not remain mired in the muck of what went before. I can't see anything of value in fighting any longer to keep or regain what is gone. I can't see anything of value in hating her or pitying myself. If you are one of my friends who thinks now that I'm talking to you, then hear this: let it go. It's over. You are only hurting yourself and your kids. Find a therapist. I have a recommendation for you if you want it. She was instrumental for me in seeing things differently. But you have to stop it. There's no point. There's nothing to be gained, only everything to be lost.

That's what I won't do. What will I do instead? I will be honest. Trying to be someone I wasn't didn't work. Pretending to want what I didn't want or to be happy when I wasn't didn't work. That staple of couples counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous, "fake it 'til you make it" only goes so far. Eventually the faking is as destructive to the self as the not faking was to the relationship. So I will tell the truth, even when it's difficult or awkward. I am who I am, and I'm a lot more comfortable with that at 43 than I was at 20.

I will be kind. Bullying someone to make them become someone else is a stupid strategy. It didn't work for her, and it didn't work for me. If I'm dating someone who turns out to have very different priorities than I do, it'll be OK to end things and move on. Better now than later. The ending can be as much of a kindness as anything else.

I thought it would be a long list, but I think that's it. I will be honest and kind. I think everything else is a subcategory of one or the other. Is it possible that the next great love of my life will appear, will draw me to her and be drawn to me, by living my life and endeavoring always to be honest and kind?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Being the Adult

I'm bad with details. And I don't care about money. And I'm kind of like that dog in Up who's easily dis... squirrel!

When I was a lad, I was a scout from Bobcat (they didn't have Tiger back then) to Life. That's one rank short of Eagle. I earned many merit badges. I met many requirements. I camped. I did survival training. I completed leadership training. I was selected for Order of the Arrow. Two things stood between me and earning the rank of Eagle Scout: the service project (coming up with an idea, pitching it for approval, and organizing and leading a team to execute it all seemed like a lot of work to me) and just one more merit badge: Personal Management. In hindsight, it was telling that I never completed the merit badge that would teach me how to balance a check book, to create and stick to a budget, and presumably several other valuable life skills.

Anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, being a responsible adult. This, the Year of Divorce, has been a roller coaster time in my life emotionally, and a time when new experiences are popping up practically every week. When I was 19, I moved out of my parents' house and straight into student housing, which they paid for, while attending my first year of college. Which they also paid for. At new student orientation, I was offered a credit card by the local bank, despite having no job and no demonstrable means of repaying any accumulated debt. Predictably, I immediately began a long campaign of spending money I didn't have.

When that year of college was up, I had to find a job, and an apartment, and a roommate. The next year was the only time in my adult life when I was entirely responsible for myself and my bills, and I continued with vigor my campaign to increase my credit debt.

The following year, I moved in with Aerie, and she, being the person she is, took responsibility for our finances. She swore when she moved out of her parents' home that she would never be dependent on anyone again, and she meant it. She was in charge. For the next 23 years, I paid little attention to things like "income/expenses" or "budget" or anything else related to our financial situation, except for a brief period when, because her stress levels were high, I took over responsibility for paying bills. Unfamiliar with timing bill payments to work in harmony with payroll deposits, I immediately overdrafted the checking account, and she immediately took back responsibility. It wasn't a learning opportunity, it was just more in a growing pile of evidence that I was not capable of being a responsible adult and an equal partner to her in the business of our family life.

Of course, in my defense, there were other ways that I contributed, ways that were uniquely valuable and perhaps would not or could not have been made by anyone other than me, but... Well, bygones, as they say.

So, my point, really, is that now I'm the only responsible adult in my household, and learning how to do that, how to be that, is a challenge for me. I still don't care about money, and I'm still bad with details. I forget things easily unless I write them down, and I usually forget to write them down. I'm constantly forgetting and resetting the passwords associated with pretty much all of my online accounts, including those that let me do things like check balances, pay debts, transfer funds, and other useful adult activities. The modern world is a wonderful place, with the convenience of autopay and electronic payments and transfers, but Jesus, the passwords. The passwords!

In my work life, I have systems in place to help me keep track of details and schedules, some of which I inherited and some of which I created, but for some reason, it's taking me a little while to learn to create and adhere to systems in my personal business. It's possible, I know, and I already have the skills to make this work. I've just never had to before. At 43, I'm finally learning how to be responsible outside of a work environment. I'm making mistakes, and I'm learning from them, and what's most exciting is: I don't have to answer to anyone, or apologize to anyone for those mistakes. I don't get chastised or criticized. My mistakes are all mine. I am my own boss. It's a little scary, but exhilarating, too.

And yes, I'm aware that the fact that this is how I feel about it is a strong indicator of at least one place where I went very wrong very early in my marriage.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fluctuations in My State of Mind Over the Last Few Weeks, As Illustrated by the Lyrics Searches Found in My Browser History

So you treat your love like a firefly, like it only gets to shine for a little while.
Catch it in a mason jar with holes in the top and run like hell to show it off.
Oh, promises were made when we'd go walking; that's just me and Charlie talking.

Just hoe your own row, and raise your own babies.
Smoke your own smoke, and grow your own daisies.
Mend your own fences, and own your own crazy.
Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.

I’ve been man enough to tell you that I’m sorry when I’m wrong;
You never will admit it when I’m not.
Maybe you will finally forgive me when I’m gone,
But I won’t be there when you apologize.
Heads, you win; tails, I lose.
I can’t get the upper hand no matter what I do.
You’ll always be the winner, and I’ll always be the fool.
Heads, you win; tails, I lose.

You've seen your future from your present state,
And filtered through your past, it may not look too great.
If you could have your future generate your now,
You'd probably sit back, relax, kick off your shoes,
And just allow.

'Cause I can't be anyone but me, anyone but me.
And I can't keep dreaming that I'm free, dreaming that I'm free.
I don't want to fall asleep and watch my life from fifty feet.
My hands are on the wheel so I'm driving to Idaho,
'Cause I hear it's mighty pretty
In Idaho.

So I play my hopes and play my dreams
Just like two coins in a slot machine.
Sing "Glory, Hallelujah!" if everything works out fine.
My life is like a lemon drop;
I'm suckin' on the bitter to get to the sweet part.
I know there are better days ahead.
Lord, I know there are better days ahead.
Thank God!

Imagine your best friend and your worst enemy
Begs you to stay and then wishes you'd leave.
Like Marilyn Monroe, she can be who you want her to be.
You can't change her mind (even if you wanted to).
You can always try (she'll see through to you, she'll see through you).
If you think you're the only one she'll want in this world,
Then you don't know nothin' 'bout girls.

I set my sails for a new direction, but the wind got in my way.
I changed my course, but my definition of change just ain't the same.
I'm gonna sit right here, stay away from there.
I'm gonna make pretend I just don't care.

Motherfucker, I’ll be back from the dead soon.
I’ll be watching from the center of the hollow moon.
Oh my God I think I might’ve made a mistake:
Waiting patiently was waiting taking up space.
We are waiting taking up space.

You’re too mean, I don’t like you, fuck you anyway.
You make me wanna scream at the top of my lungs.
It hurts but I won’t fight you.
You suck anyway.

Never would've seen the trouble that I'm in, if it hadn't been for love.
Would've been gone like a wayward wind, if it hadn't been for love.
Nobody knows it better than me;
I wouldn't be wishing I was free
If it hadn't been, if it hadn't been for love.

I backed my car into a cop car the other day.
Well he just drove off; sometimes life's OK.
I ran my mouth off a bit too much, oh, what did I say?
Well you just laughed it off; it was all OK.
And we'll all float on OK. And we'll all float on anyway.

Sometime, can you feel the pressure does unwind, sometime?
Sometime, through the day and through the night, sometime.
Sometime, you can make the pressure does unwind, sometime.
Sometime, it's for your spirit and your mind, sometime.

I walk and cry while my heartbeat keeps time with the drag of my shoes.
The sun never shines through this window of mine; it's dark at the home of the blues.
Oh, but the place is filled with the sweetest memories, memories so sweet that I cry.
Dreams that I've had left me feeling so bad, I just want to give up and lay down and die.
So if you've just lost your sweetheart, and it seems there's no good way to choose,
Come along with me. Misery loves company. You're welcome at the home of the blues.

She loves to tell me she hates the things I do.

Sometimes you've got to bleed to know that you're alive and have a soul.

Just remember to fall in love. There's nothing else. There's nothing else.

And they’ll be quick to point out our shortcomings,
And how the experts all have had their doubts.
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different.
We love to talk on things we don’t know about.

It's been so long since I've seen her face.
You say she's doin' fine.
I still recall a sad café,
How it hurt so bad to see her cry.
I didn't want to say goodbye.
Send her my love; memories remain.

How 'bout me not blaming you for everything?
How 'bout me enjoying the moment for once?
How 'bout how good it feels to finally forgive you?
How 'bout grieving it all one at a time?
Thank you, India.
Thank you, terror.
Thank you, disillusionment.
Thank you, frailty.
Thank you, consequence.
Thank you, thank you, silence.

Friday, August 7, 2015

High Brow Literary Allusions

So Thumper was watching Cartoon Network the other day, joyfully. We dropped digital cable awhile back because the content is generally awful and the cost is ridiculously high. But somehow, when I moved into the new apartment and I was activating internet service, I lost my mind and allowed myself to be lead by the nose into the land of "we're a bundling company, so it'll be a better value for you if you get all of our services rather than just one!" What can I say; I wasn't thinking clearly then. I'll rectify it soon, but in the meantime, the boy gets spectacularly awful Cartoon Network and Disney Channel and Disney XD shows.

Speaking of which, if Disney is a premium American entertainment company, producing, especially with their acquisition of Pixar and the Muppets, high quality works of contemporary pop culture art and children's programming, how on earth can they wake up in the morning and look themselves in the collective face knowing that they are cranking out an incredible volume of the lowest quality schlock and feeding it directly into the brains of millions of children worldwide? Have you watched any of those "sitcoms" on Disney Channel or Disney XD? The writing is awful. The premises are ridiculously half-formed ideas. The humor is so formulaic that you could mix and match virtually any of the characters and settings and the storylines would be indistinguishable. And they use the laugh track like a sledgehammer. The number of those shows that the same stable of child laborers, er, actors, appear on would lead one to believe that Disney Studios is a sweatshop, and those same kids are probably the ones writing and producing this awful canal of sludge that's flowing steadily into my home.

So, anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. How I see metaphors for my life everywhere I look. I realize I hadn't gotten there quite yet, but that's where I was going with this.

Cartoon Network, which does produce some of my favorite kids' television programming, including "Adventure Time with Finn and Jake" and "The Amazing World of Gumball" (both of which, incidentally, may be less "kid's television programming" and more "programming for dope-smoking teens and young adults") has apparently completely given up and decided just to air "Teen Titans Go!" 24 hours a day. It's so bad, this is video Thumper took of me one of the times that he asked, "Can I put on Cartoon Network?" and I said, "Sure," and it was frigging "Teen Titans Go!" again:

So in this episode, which shockingly I had not seen before, Beast Boy gets frustrated that he's not as smart as the other Teen Titans, and he steals Raven's spell book to cast a spell to make himself smarter. I'm not sure why every spell she utters is the same: "Azarath... Metrion... Zinthos!" But anyway, he steals the book, casts the spell, screws it up, then tests his results with "The Ultimate Test of Smartness," a box with various shaped pegs and holes. As he's doing his best to jam the round peg into the square hole, Thumper says, "Everybody knows you can't fit the round one in the square one. Everybody knows that!"

And it hit me in that moment that I, like Beast Boy, spent a lot of time and energy thinking that if I just! Shoved! Hard! Enough! that fucker would finally slide right in there. Ha. Everybody knows that.
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