A Chaotic start to a new year

Okay, so… Christmas.

Christmas was incredibly busy. I started a new job at a motorcycle shop back in October and handed in my notice to my old employer. Then the moto shop owner decided he didn’t need me in full time and told me he’d only have use for me for three days a week. My former employer was very understanding and allowed me to hang on at part time for a while, but that meant I was working six days a week. Six days a week and, somehow, I was taking home less money than I’d been making with just the one job.

Working more and making less meant that Christmas was pretty much cut to the bare minimum. No non trad and no gifts beyond the immediate family. It was a long, cold, and exhausting December. On the plus side I did get several days off around the holiday itself, which meant I had more time to visit with Dianne and the family. The downside of that is that meant I was making even less money. January was, to say the least, fucking poor.

Christmas itself was warm and comforting. I got to play some new games, and some very old games. I gifted the boys with a copy of “Small World” and the adults with a copy of “Pandemic”. We only played Small World once and were working out the rules as we went along, so it was hard to gauge as to whether or not it was fun. There was too much fumbling and thinking about the rules to really enjoy it. I’m hoping the boys give it a few more tries.

Pandemic, on the other hand, was a pretty good hit right from the start. Possibly because I’d already played it once before and there was less fumbling around with the rules. In all honesty, though, I just love the game for it’s own sake. I know I’m late to the table over it as the game was release years ago, but it was still new to everyone else and we all seemed to enjoy it. The game is cooperative with everyone either winning or losing. You either succeed in wiping out the four epidemics threatening the world or the entire world dies. The game inspires a strong sense of collaboration and people (okay, mostly me) can get really excited about it.

I’m going to have to see if there’s a fan group for it. I’m just smitten.

By the time my new boss was able to take me on for “full time” in January I realized he wouldn’t have me for more than seven hours a day for four days and six hours for the fifth. Even at “full time” I was, in fact, working a part time job. My previous employer, trying to be as understanding as they could, honestly didn’t think they could keep me on for just one day a week. So in one swift stroke I was working fewer hours for less money per hour. I could have returned to my former job and resumed making what I was making before, but despite the temptation I set my jaw and resolved to keep moving forward. I’ve spent so much of my life playing it safe and that has taken me to where I am now, and where I am now isn’t terribly happy.

Then opportunity hit with another job I’d applied for earlier. They called me up one morning and asked if I could start in a week. Thinking back, if the motorcycle shop owner had originally hired me on for a real full time job back in October I would have had to have provided him with two weeks’ notice and I would have had to turn the new job offer down. As luck would have it he never did officially hire me on as full time which, while I meant I was earning crap, also meant I could leave at any time. So I did. I handed my notice in the day I got the call and walked out.

I spent the rest of that week visiting with Dianne and the boys in BC. As fate would have it my visit coincided with her graduation ceremony for the photography course she finished last year. Not only was I able to attend but I was also able to help her set up and transport her display. Numerous people commented on her display with great enthusiasm. While most of the other students were content to just put their pictures up Dianne created a presentation that lived and breathed along with her photos. Where other students had frames and easels to hold up their photos Dianne installed her photography amoungst an old typerwriter, a steamer trunk, a black suitcase more than a century old, an artists’s portable work desk complete with pencils and paints. She added accents with an old pair of wire rimmed glasses, a fine fedora hat, a small collection of pocket watches, pens, pencils, brushes… a whole palet of life and art.

I have to say that while the other students had done pretty good at setting up individual photographs, each one illustrating some moment in time, Dianne excelled at setting up an entire novel of memories and storylines. People admired the other photographs. People took pictures of Dianne’s table.

I returned after too short of a visit to start my new job last Monday. The new job is with a large dental supply company with over twenty locations around Canada and a couple in the US. They hired me on for true full time work at more pay and with benefits starting in three months. As an added cherry to the whole package the location I’m working at is a twenty minute walk from my home. Not only will I be earning more money with benefits but I’ll be saving a little on commute costs as well by walking to work. On truly frigid days I also have the option of taking a bus down 17th ave if I just can’t face the walk.

So far I have effectively doubled my daily walking average. The job, while not overly strenuous, is continuous. I’m never idle, and I’m never sitting down. The “never idle” part is good in that it keeps the hours passing relatively quickly, but the “never sitting” part is a bit hard on my feet. I’m hoping the new pair of shoes I invested in this weekend help out with that.

In the last four months I have had a terrible time sleeping. The uncertainty of my world, the constant worrying about having enough work to pay my bills and the ever dwindling supply of my savings had me losing hours of sleep every night. I can honestly say that, since I started my new job last week, I have slept better every night than I have in years. I’m not sure how much of that is due to having less uncertainty in my life and how much is due to my constant physical activity, but I have to say I’m enjoying the restful sleep very much.

Just filling in space

I’m at a loss for words as to what to write right now. I can mention the movies I’ve seen recently, even talk about the books I’m reading, but is that what people want to read? Probably not. That’s not what I want to read. What I want to read are some self help articles that will simply and articulately lay out instructions for me to have a good and meaningful life. The few I stumble across on the internet are either so simplistic as to be able to be rendered down to a haiku:

Do no harm to others
Find out what you want to do
Go do that. And Cats.

Or they’re so insanely complex that you need a degree in sociology just to understand the instructions. (Of course I mean sociology. Sociologically based instructions / tests are the only ones you’re going to find shared online for free. Truly intelligent psychiatric tests cost. By the minute.)

Much better if I were to make my own list of instructions on how to have a good and fulfilling life. The only problem with doing that is people will then throw your own words back in your face when you’re having a bad day, and when you’re having a bad day the last thing you need is your own ray of sunshine blown back up your ass.

So if you’re going to provide some life lessons on your blog make sure they’re life lessons that you can listen to on a really bad day and not want to instantly punch the person parroting them back to you. (Oh look, I guess that’s lesson zero)

Lesson 1: Look, sometimes you just need that brownie, okay? Or that small plate of fish fingers. Or that plate of cactus cut fries. Yes, they’re full of fat and carbs. Yes, they’re going to cost you on your diet or just wind up on your thighs, but some shitty days just need that little sugar injected, fat fried lump of tongue joy. If you’re going to suffer a shitty day it might as well fucking taste good.

PS> There was some scientist who proved you can lose weight eating nothing but twinkies. He didn’t get many, and he only lost ten pounds, but he did it. Salads are good. Lean meat is good. But ultimately it comes down to calories in versus calories expended. Including twinkies. Just realize that that one twinkie is going to mean you’re going to have to give up that chicken breast and garden salad for today. Oh darn.

Lesson 2: Sometimes it just feels good to haul off and punch the fucker. Yes, his argument was full of holes you could have driven a bus through. Yes, everybody was already shaking their heads at how stupid he sounded. But some people simply need that neurological readjustment, and that can only be achieved by clocking someone’s reset button hard enough to force them into a hard reboot. Just make sure you either have a good alibi or witnesses who’ll stand by you and swear he swung first. Oh, and make sure your lawyer is better than his.

(No, of course I’m not ACTUALLY promoting violence. Violence never solved anything. Except, y’know, wars and stuff.)

Lesson 3: Finding out what you want to do with your life is going to involve you trying a whole lot of things. Nobody ever figured out what they wanted to do simply by thinking about it. Oh sure, there have been plenty of people who have thought “I’d love to be a dentist!” and have pursued that interest from day one. But not one of them actually found out whether they really wanted to be a dentist until they spent at least one day with their hands wrist deep in someone’s filthy, diseased mouth. If you’re in that mouth so deep you can feel colon and find yourself thinking “Man, I LOVE this!”, congratulations you really did want to be a dentist. Until then you’re just hoping it all works out.

Try stuff. Poke at things. Find out what makes them tick. Sniff it, step in it, and see how it feels.

This one is going to be thrown back in my face some day. I just know it.

Lesson 4: Half the time you’re feeling hungry for that snickers bar/butter tart/brownie/bag of chips what you’re actually feeling is either dehydration or boredom. This one needs to be thrown in my face a few times, and I know it. I just walked here past a Kentucky Fried Chicken place and actually had to talk myself out of going in. I don’t mean a mental struggle where the angel and demon fight it out in your imagination, but rather talking to myself OUT LOUD while people walked past me. Sometimes you have to back your arguments up with a little public humiliation to get them to sink in. Telling yourself, out loud, that “you’re not ACTUALLY hungry! You just finished dinner a little while ago, and you KNOW you’re going to feel ill after you finish that greasy mess”, while people stare at you or cross the street to get away from you, is sometimes the only way you can stop yourself from giving in to the wrong impulses.

That being said, I walked past there on my way to the coffee shop with the deliberate intent of having one single butter tart. And I’ve achieved that. See lesson one above.

Lesson 5: Listen to what your doctor has to say. If it makes sense to you, follow his instructions. If what he says isn’t making any sense to you then ASK QUESTIONS. Look, the doctor is human. He could be wrong. If he seems to be ignoring some symptoms that you think are important then DON’T LET HIM. Of all the people in the world who know things about your body NOBODY knows it better than you do. If something just AIN’T RIGHT then YOU have every right to let that be known to those who are paid to help you. If one won’t listen, talk to another, and another, and another. Don’t just accept what they say at face value and keep all those doubts to yourself. No, speak up, and ASK. Make sure you understand what they’re telling you and then ask “Okay, and after that?”

That being said…

When a doctor has provided you with a reasonable prognosis and has come up with a system of treatment… COMMIT to it. Make sure you do everything to the letter. If it doesn’t work, LET THEM KNOW. If it does work? LET THEM KNOW! Keep talking and pay attention.

And all that being said… I seriously have to wonder at what point you have to just hold up your hand and say “Just a minute. I’m taking 18 different medications every day. Is each and every single one of these truly necessary, or is there some overall lifestyle change I could be making to get rid of a few of these?”

This is all from my own personal experience and is heavily biased by that. Take what you like from it. I’m just throwing words down to fill in space at this point. I promise when I have something more meaningful to say I’ll let you know.

Mmmm… buttertart.

A page a day, day fifty-two: Fantasy Funeral

So I was surfing through the news this morning and came across a report about how the hate filled and ignorance encrusted Westboro Baptist Church had planned to picket the funeral of the man killed by the Boston Marathon bombing, but how hundreds of teamsters organized a counter protest to block them… and the WBC just didn’t show up.

I’m kind of hoping the WBC is running out of funding. I mean there isn’t generally very many of them and it’s not like they actually produce anything gainful, so they’re entirely dependent on the donations of others of like mind, and I suspect that group is slowly diminishing.

However…

It got me to daydreaming, like I do, and also reminded me of a great post I saw on either facebook or pinterest ages ago. It simply said “Life you life in a way that will make the WBC picket your funeral.” At the time I thought it was a great new way to spin the old cliches of “live your life to the fullest” and “seize the day”. Now the inner cynic in me is thinking all you need to do to live your life that way is to die in some nationally covered disaster and they’ll simply show up to blame your death on The Gay.

But I still like the attitude of that post, and if I were reasonably certain that the Westboro Baptist church was going to picket my funeral, I’d leave some very specific instructions on how I want my funeral to be organized. This idea isn’t necessarily original as it also ties in with some wonderful photos I’ve seen on the internet of gay and lesbian couples making out in front of Anti-Gay protesters.

First, IF my funeral were going to be so grand as to elicit media attention, and if that media attention were to inspire the WBC or some other hate group to protest at it, I would send out explicit invitations for every GLBT group to attend my funeral in counter protest. I would do my best to make it absolutely clear that they would all be welcome.

Then, as part of the instructions for my funeral and wake, I would arrange for a DJ, or multiple DJs, and however many dance instructors I could find. I would have my friends and family set up lots of open space for people to dance in, and I would have them encourage all attendees to dance.

I’m not talking about night club dancing, but old fashioned ballroom dancing, full of poise and grace. I would want men waltzing with men, women waltzing with women, just couples of any and all gender specifications. I would love to think of them gracefully dancing by all the evil and bile spilling WBC protesters to show them an explicit example of peace and love, the very opposite of how they’ve chosen to live their lives.

It would be expressed to the crowd that my wishes would be for everyone to dance, and for no-one to be excluded. I think it would be a fantastic opportunity for some WBC member to suddenly realize they’re on the wrong side of the abyss on this idea and for someone from the LGBT crowd to ask them to dance.

I would also want my friends to express to the crowd that I want my ideals celebrated with openly demonstrated affection. I would want everyone and anyone to participate in whatever Public Displays of Affection they felt comfortable doing, to within the limits of the law. I don’t want people arrested, I want people’s perceptions of love to be challenged. While the WBC holds up their signs of hate and death I want people to stand in huge groups before them actively demonstrating love and life.

My only regret would be being unavailable to participate.

A page a day, day fort-six: A dream that helps me sleep

The story of the Ship came about from a common daydream I’ve had for the past couple of years. A daydream I often use to calm my mind and help me get to sleep. If I don’t have a daydream I won’t get to have night dreams. My mind is far too occupied with the daily stress to let me sleep unless I throw it something shiny and smooth to play with.

The daydream is pure escapism in both the literal and cliche sense. I lie in bed, under my covers, sprawled across my pillows as comfortably as I’m able, and imagine that I’m the Ship. My brain is no longer housed in the failing cairn of flesh but rather safely installed in a massive metal box that will last for centuries.

The box replaces all of my standard senses with new, exciting ones. No longer bothered with a sense of smell or touch or taste I instead have dozens and dozens of eyes, each designed to pick out and analyze a particular spectrum of energy. I suppose at times I could trick the sensory input to come across as smell or taste, but that just links back to the flesh I’d long since discarded and it’s much more pure to see it all.

My legs become massive cannons of energy that propel me at insane speeds. My arms become servos and mechanisms that spend most of their time arranging and repairing things. And my brain becomes the central nervous system and pilot.

The real beauty of the fantasy is just imagining my mind pointing at a distant star and launching straight for it. Driving through the depths of space to find new worlds, but more importantly leaving this one safely behind. I would have a very simple and direct mandate: explore and report. I wouldn’t be responsible for finding life or locating newly habitable worlds. I wouldn’t have to make any major decisions at all. I’d just open the senses, record what I see, and beam it back over my shoulder without even looking.

I wouldn’t have to worry about provisions or shelter, it would all be self contained. The energy of the stars around me and some fairly complex internal power source would keep me sustained for hundreds and hundreds of years. Direct control over my processing speed would let the years pass like seconds, if I want them to, or let seconds pass like days if I really want to inspect something.

Actually, I never much daydreamed past the point of leaving the solar system. Achieving the hard shell of self sustaining safety and leaving at near the speed of light were the main goals, everything else was just gold farming and bonus points.

I understand the draw of religion. It’s a nice ideal to have, the belief that all this suffering and agony is ultimately going to result in some form of reward, that there is a greater being up above who has a Good Plan that provides for us and our best interests. It would be very reassuring, and I’m sure it helps people sleep at night.

In the morning I always remember that the ship is just a dream and that I still have to go to work to buy food, shelter, and clothing. I am very harshly reminded that I am not in a self sustaining pod and that I still have to haul this aging flesh around, to feed and bathe it, clothe it in something that fits and doesn’t hurt other people’s eyes while at the same time keeping me warm and comfortable. I’m constantly reminded that I have to try and eat the “right” food to keep this rapidly declining textbook example of entropy called a “body” from decaying too fast, but that nothing will ever actually stop the process. I’m painfully aware that I have a million and one worries to face and not one of them can be pawned of on some automated subsystem. I have to handle them myself, directly and personally, every fucking day.

But at night, in my imagination, I leave it all behind for a few precious minutes and fly away in a hard, clean ship that will never come back.

And that helps me sleep.

Quite often, it’s the only thing that does.

A page a day, day forty-four: Sock Ball

My playground was the alley between our apartment and my mother’s shop. There was a ton of things to play with and I rarely got bored. Plus a number of my friends were there too.

We did have other playgrounds in the neighborhood. There was the one at my school as well as another school nearby. They had jungle gyms and swings and all the usual stuff, but they were also quite a few blocks away in either direction. Much simpler to just walk out the back door and play where you were.

I had invented a toy for myself at one point. I’m sure I got the idea from something I saw on TV because I can’t see myself coming up with it on my own. Some medieval show about maces, perhaps, or some aboriginal show in which the tribe being studies made skillful use of a bola. In any case, I got the idea to put one of my super bouncy rubber balls into one of my mother’s stockings. This gave me a good foot or more of material, the “more” coming over time as the stocking stretched, and spinning the ball beside me before letting go had it launching an incredible distance.

It was fantastic. My friends and I played with it all day. We went for distance, of course, and then competed for height. We then began playing a game of catch on opposite sides of our building. I’m flat out amazed we didn’t take out any windows because we didn’t always get the aim right. Once in a while the ball would arc low and we’d bounce it off the side of the building. Quite often we wouldn’t arc it forward enough and it would bounce off the roof. Being a three story walk up built in the sixties our apartment had a perfectly flat roof so bouncing it wasn’t much of a problem.

We were lucky in a lot of ways, thinking back now. We were lucky the street at the front, named the ubiquitous “main” street, hardly ever had any traffic, so when the ball came over the top of the building it would frequently get out into the road but never encountered any traffic. We were also lucky that the return shot to the back lane miraculously avoided hitting any of the cars parked there. I don’t know how we managed that, we certainly weren’t taking it into consideration. Given the force we were generating to get the ball over the building I’m sure if any one of them had landed on a windshield it would have cracked it at least, if not broken it outright.

My mother, you might imagine, was considerably less than impressed with my fantastic invention. She now had one stocking a good two feet longer than it’s former mate. She chewed me out and expressed her exasperation at my lack of forethought. Then she let me keep the stocking because 1) it was already ruined and 2) the damned toy was at least getting me outside to play.

She was much less enthused when, on the following day, we managed to land the sock ball on the roof without it bouncing off. I then replaced the toy with another bouncy ball (one of my friend’s, as I recall) and her other stocking. After all, it was already without it’s mate and therefore useless, wasn’t it? I hadn’t considered at the time that my mother had decided to keep it as a spare in case one of her other stockings got a run.

That was the last I got to play our fantastic game of sock ball.

A page a day, day forty-one: More of the past.

We lived in a small apartment behind the large strip mall where mom had her first studio. She had two studios in that mall, the second one a much larger location more central to the strip.

There was a young book store in that mall, and I loved it. It had a huge selection of books for children. It also had really cool bookmarks available. It always smelled of books and glue, too.

There was also a small convenience store, right next to the drug store. I spent far too many hours in there buying candy, pop, and reading comic books. Too young to understand it was rude to read without buying the owner did his best to inform me. But for the most part he didn’t actually care.

I remember collecting bottles around the neighborhood just so I could turn them in for candy. And there was a lot of candy. Wax pop bottles filled with sugary water, fake cigarettes that briefly blew chalky dust as smoke, mojos, double bubble, garbage patch kids, licorice jaw breakers and jelly pipes… one of my favorites were the huge (to me at the time) sugar pops that were just super condensed balls of sugar on a little stick. I probably started the early ruination of my teeth on those things.

And Macintosh Toffee. Oh, man, was that stuff good. I remember they used to let kids “buy” their way into matinees with bottle caps. I wonder if the creators of Fallout 3 got their idea to use caps as currency from that.

I don’t know what the deal with the theater was, whether they got reimbursed from the soda company or what, but they would occasionally hold promotional days where you could gain entry with enough bottle caps of a particular brand. I think it was for the orange soda. I can’t remember how many, but we had a gold mine in the hallways behind her shop.

Old Soda Machine

Old Soda Machine

There was a pop machine back there that was accessible to all the mall workers. It was an old fashioned one. Really old. It sat on it’s side like a freezer and you had to open the top to get to it. The mechanism held the bottles in rows by their necks and, when you put your money in, you were able to pull one out through a turnstile in the one corner. It was tough for me to move the bottles through with my young hands because you didn’t get a whole lot of bottle top to grip with and the harder you pushed (I eventually learned) the stronger the overall friction of the bottle’s path. There were many times I scraped my fingers just dragging the bottle by it’s cap. They really made you work for your pop in those days.

But the really awesome part of that machine was the bottle opener attached to the side. Everyone used it to open their bottle (no twist tops back then) and the caps dropped into a waste bin beneath. It was super easy to sift through the caps in the bin to gain enough to get me into the movies.

I remember one particular day I went to see one of the many Godzilla films, and I was at the age where the body started replacing teeth. I had a Macintosh Toffee as my movie snack and I managed to pull out three teeth with it during the movie. I probably swallowed some blood as well, but I didn’t notice. I just picked out the teeth, pocketed them for the tooth fairy later, and kept on eating.

Story of my life right there, I think. Don’t think about the damage, just keep eating. Not the brightest kid at times.

A page a day, day twenty-two: Companionship

Being alone leads to feelings of loneliness, but I suffer a paradox in that I am often most comfortable being alone. While Dianne is out of town I grow increasingly lonely and yet never increase in my desire to hang out with others. In truth, it is only Dianne that I miss, and in full honest truth it isn’t so much her that I miss as the role she represents in my life that can’t be fulfilled by anyone else: the companion.

The companion is that person you’re most comfortable with, the one person you can be the most natural with, the person who judges you the least and comforts you with just their presence. More than a lover, more than a friend, they are a talisman of acceptance and support. They represent somewhat objective proof that you are a good person, worthy of love and respect. You trust them like no other.

So while I sit here being lonely I also sit here unwilling, or uninterested, in calling others for solace. They are not what I need. Nobody else in my life knows me as well as she does and I need that far more than I need any socialization.

Being an introvert socialization requires effort, especially in larger groups. There are some people who require less effort than others, and the companion is the one who requires the least. In fact the companion is the one person in an introvert’s life who might, paradoxically, help the introvert recharge. We normally recharge alone, possibly with a book or a game, and almost always have to expend energy to spend time with others. The companion is the one person who could possibly defy that rule.

After eight hours at work dealing with coworkers and strangers I head home with the full intention of talking to no-one. I have already endured eight hours of my time being at the will and service to others. The handful of hours I have left in the day are all mine, and I sorely need them. If I have a social event scheduled during the week there is always the chance I will decide I can’t go simply because my socializing batteries are too low and I just simply can exert the energy anymore.

The companion changes all of this. The companion can turn social events into recharging events just by being there, preferable within touching distance. You are reassured that no matter how trying the event may be they will be there to share it with you, and that makes it all right.

I have tried, in my own slow and fumbling way, to find another companion in town, someone I can wholly be myself with who will recharge me rather than drain me. I have done it for the sake of both myself and Dianne. She cannot be what I need when she’s a thousand kilometers away eight weeks out of nine, and the spiral I take myself on while she’s away worries her to no end. But I am hampered by several factors.

One: It takes energy and courage to put myself out there socially with people I don’t know, and I get low on both throughout the week. Pulling myself up, metaphorically, by my bootstraps to go out takes even more effort than it takes to get me to the gym, and I’m terrible at that as well.

Two: The measure by which I gauge companion ability is incredibly unfair. My standards are not easily met by anyone, and by my age most people who are single are quite often single for some very glaring reasons. This is harsh almost to the point of being mean, but it has also held out to be true in far too many of my encounters. Paradoxically the people most likely to be quasi acceptable companions are divorced people. They have been in some form of committed relationship at least. The downside of this is that they’ll likely have just as harsh a gauge as I do.

Three: I am polyamorous, and I am committed to the relationship I have. I have had several women message me on dating sites that I seem like a wonderful prospect, and they would love to get to know me, but they just can’t handle being poly. Sorry.

I could take the fact that I’m poly down from my profile and give these women the chance to get to know me before deciding they can’t handle being poly, but that seems explicitly dishonest to me, a glaring lie of omission, and I can’t do it. Besides, it’s much more comfortable to shrug and say “Ah well, that’s that” than it is to face recriminations of a person you’ve determined you like who suddenly feels you’ve lead them on when you reveal you’re in a committed, albeit secondary, relationship.

So, in order to overcome these obstacles I have to 1) pull my shit together and just dig down for the energy and courage to go out, 2) cut people a lot more slack and go with things for a while, do my best to try and not judge them by unfair standards, and 3)… well, not much to change about that one.

And then there’s sex. I kind of miss sex too, when I’m not able to get it on a regular basis. But that really is rather secondary.

A page a day, day fifteen: questions I don’t like to answer

So I was looking for inspiration on what to write about today. Not really having a topic in mind I went to Google and typed in “what questions should you ask yourself?” The pages that came back were incredibly daunting. The questions they asked were questions I didn’t have answers for, or didn’t want to answer.

Which I think says a lot about where I am in my life right now: adrift.

No solid direction, no plans, no concrete ideas on what to do let alone how to achieve it. I’ve been spending my days going to work, coming home, passing some idle time with television shows or video games, going to sleep, and starting all over again. The only difference with weekends is that I get to nap a lot and do laundry.

Which kind of brings me back to why I’m doing this “one page a day” challenge. I started this as an attempt to break out of that rut and perhaps it’s still to early to tell if it’s having any beneficial effect. What I ultimately wanted to do, though, was give myself at least one achievement a day, even if that was just putting 300 words together in a line with some appropriate punctuation.

So… what questions am I finding difficult to answer?

1. Who are you?

The easiest question to answer and yet also the most difficult. I can tell you my name, my age, where I’ve been, and what I’ve done, but to tell you who I am… I have not idea. I’m a guy who tries to get along with other people who has discovered that getting along with other people is not only difficult but can also become quite debilitating if it becomes the focus of your life. The really important goal is to get along with yourself first and let the other people make their own decisions.

To those who know me this may sound like nothing new, but it was to me. Believe me, as honest and rude as I may have been in the past, that was the agreeable me. I’ve become considerably more defensive, aggressive, and self serving since.

And I’m still struggling with getting along with myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever manage it.

A year or so ago, when I was struggling really hard with a lot of difficult things in my life, Dianne suggested I turn to someone who had always managed to give her excellent advice in the past. I asked her who that was. Since we were chatting over gtalk she sent me a link to an image. I opened it up and found myself looking at myself, an image from back in 2004.

My response was to instantly become enraged. I wrote endless lines of angry rhetoric and vitriol that stunned Dianne to silence. I wrote about how that guy was a fucking idiot and a moron. If I ever met him again I would beat him within an inch of his life. I went on and on for many minutes, and it didn’t get better. I didn’t run out of things to say, I only stopped because my hands were shaking too hard to keep typing. Plus, I was at work. You can’t express that kind of rage openly at work, people would be calling the police.

I’ve been trying to forgive him ever since. Yes, he’s the reason I am where I am right now, but he didn’t know any better. He operated under what he thought were the right decisions at the time. The fact that they were mindlessly stupid decisions … isn’t necessarily his fault.

Dianne suggested I see a counselor for this. The violence and anger in my reaction really shook her and she feared for me. People are always taken back when they encounter my true, open, unfiltered anger. It always surprises and scares the shit out of them. I don’t blame them. I don’t normally let it out.

I laughed at her suggestion, though. First of all, I can’t afford a real counselor, and the free to cheap ones I’ve tried in the past only work from rote. For example, one of the common lessons I’ve read in a number of self help books is to identify the inner voices in your head that criticize you. Figure out who they are and where they came from. Apparently for other people the negative voices in their heads are frequently linked to people out of their past. They sound like their mother, an uncle, a teacher, or a past boss or someone like that.

When a very young and green counselor asked me what my inner critical voices sounded like, reading off of counseling 101, page 2, “get the subject to identify their inner voices”, I laughed at her.

“Me,” I said, “They always sound like me. Who else would they sound like?”

That stumped her completely and I was reduced to creating personalities for my inner voices just to satisfy the parameters of my assignment. I picked a former boss, an old teacher, a cousin… and some other random characters. I don’t even remember now. Of course they didn’t stick, because even after I created them and fleshed them out and assigned them to their respective roles, they always spoke as if they were just … me. It doesn’t matter how many coats of paint you slap on them, all of the inner voices that criticize me are mine, and that’s all they’ll ever sound like.

A page a day, day three

A couple of weekends ago I had an interesting conversation with Tracy over a late lunch about relationships, siblings, and the different ways we each grew up. As I’ve aged I’ve identified many of the personality traits I’ve developed, or failed to develop, having grown up as an only child.

Tracy’s perspective is that of the youngest of a long line, so young that by the time she arrived her eldest siblings had already moved out on their own. I’ve had a number of similar conversations with Dianne, but her perspective comes as the eldest, so much the elder that by the time her next nearest sibling was born she was nearly in high school and was often responsible for raising her younger siblings as they were babies and toddlers.

And me, raised as an only child of a single mother who ran her own business. Three startlingly different perspectives.

I can really only speak from mine, but watching Dianne’s kids grow up and hearing her talk about their struggles, while at the same time listening to her, Tracy, and others talk about struggles they’ve had with their own siblings, has made me realize some of the major influences in life I’ve definitely missed out on.

Primary among these is the spirit of competition. I’ve never been overtly competitive. When I was young I never had to be. Or, to be more precise, the one thing I was in direct competition with wasn’t something I could beat: my mother’s business. I imagine I could try to be better at something than my older sibling, or perhaps serve as an example to a younger, but when it came to being between me and my mother’s business we simply had to bow to practicality. If we wanted to eat and stay housed, the business had to come first.

Don’t think that didn’t set me up with some resentment, though.

But outside of that I didn’t have anyone I had to compete with on the same level. I didn’t wear any hand-me-down clothes, and I didn’t have to stay home to take care of a little brother. My grades were not in comparison with anyone else’s, and I always had my own room.

I never had to fight, and I strongly suspect that made me much less of a fighter as an adult. Not so much avoiding of conflict as not seeing the point of it. If there was a disagreement that couldn’t be reasoned out then there wasn’t any real point in following it. When the fight gets passionate I inevitably give in because… there isn’t going to be a win anyway.

But siblings fight, and they fight passionately, even if they know they’re wrong. And they learn by doing, learn the rules and responsibilities of an argument. They learn that arguments are sometimes inevitable and, rather than avoid them, they engage with passion and intent.

I can’t help but feel that could benefit a person later in life. And I can’t help but feel I missed out. As much as I hate to fight, and really do wish everyone could get along, I’m realistic enough to recognize that that’s impossible, and if you don’t know how to fight, whether it be socially or intellectually, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.

And by “know how to fight” I don’t just mean knowing how to swing, metaphorically, and make it count, but also what the rules of fighting are, where those unspoken boundaries are, and what is or is not expected.

I learned early in my “adult” life that walking away from an argument was something people generally did not expect, and it became my trump card. But it also meant I never expected to win, and that has only served to increase my bitterness.

I also missed out on learning how to recover from a fight, how to forgive and let things go. I could never understand how my cousins could fight with each other violently one day and then be playing together happily the next. To me, if there was a violent disagreement, you just avoided that person in the future. Period. After all, if you touch a hot stove and it burns you, you don’t go back to touching that hot stove again and again expecting a different result.

Except, of course, people aren’t stoves. They’re a hell of a lot more complicated, and a fight isn’t always the end of a relationship, even if it’s a violent one. Sometimes it just sets a new line of boundaries, or sometimes it just clears the air. Sometimes it takes the elephant in the room and cuts it up into disposable pieces.

I feel not growing up with conflict has left me vulnerable to it and less capable of handling it effectively. I’m not adverse to it, but I do tend to handle it crudely. Like using an eight bit pickax in a 32 bit world. I may make my point, but I can wind up taking out a whole cliff-side doing it.

Dianne’s visit

Just had Dianne visiting for about ten days. It was … good. Reconnecting is becoming increasingly important.

We had much to inspire us on this trip. Dianne discovered a book I am now highly recommending to anyone: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.

picture of the book "Steal like an artist" on a table beside some coffee and a cookie

Reading requires appropriate fuel.

It’s short but brilliant, an excellent spark for any endeavor. His advice is the sort that seems so simple and obvious shortly after someone else thinks of it.

One of my favorites quotes was: “Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.”

A close second was: “In the beginning we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.” Another: “Remember: Even the Beatles started as a cover band.”

We combined this inspiration with a desire to create things together, to actually spend time interacting on something rather than just sitting side by side watching TV or a movie.

My first idea was to create my own t-shirts.

Well, to be honest, this isn’t a new idea. Dianne creates custom shirts for her boys all the time. I often envied her ability to draw stuff and wished I could do the same.

Well, I can’t draw, but I can trace.

A picture of my table with my projector suspended precariously above it.

It’s a lot sturdier than it looks. Honest.

And I have a projector.

So, with the combination of one slightly broken laundry basket frame, a scarf, two bungee cords, and an oven rack, I managed to set my projector over my table to project an image onto a t-shirt.

It took me over an hour to set it up, and the t-shirt took me about fifteen minutes to trace. The shirt is crude and definitely not original, the marker I used was too thick and the image kept shifting ever so slightly so that the result, rough as it is, is somewhat skewed…

But it was fun. I can’t draw, I know I can’t, so I wasn’t expecting an excellent image. What I got was recognizable enough, and since it’s an undershirt very few people are ever going to actually see it, so I didn’t care. I had fun. We had fun. Together.

Later on we reviewed some instructions on the internet about how to create your own Tardis themed notebook. You can easily buy one online, if you like, but it’s much more personal and meaningful if you make your own.

Again… I’m not a visual artist. I don’t draw, I don’t sculpt. So I don’t care. The end product looks more or less how I wanted it to look, and it was a lot of fun just doing it. I personally love the result.

We started with blank journals. We keep buying them for ourselves and each other so we had a good dozen or so to choose from just on my shelf alone. We even managed to find two that were exactly the same make. Dianne then rinsed the books’ pages in some left over tea (I love my tea British strong, so it didn’t take much to add color) and let them dry, giving them an aged look and feel.

Dianne worked with corrugated cardboard cut from a box of dishes she had bought to contribute to my kitchen. I kind of thought that cardboard would be a bit too thick for what I had in mind and searched around for an alternative.

picture of a table with crafting supplies dispersed

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

My grade school art class came to mind and I suddenly realized I had two egg cartons to work with. I set the eggs up in a bowl in the fridge and set down to cutting pieces for my book.

The base of the cartons produced natural squares, but after some comparison with the size of the book I determined they were too small for my purpose. I wound up making all the parts from the two lids.

I didn’t bother to measure anything other than by placing it against the book and setting the scissors somewhere around the point where I figured I should cut. I did strips first, just cut the lids into strips as long as I could make them. My cuts were vaguely straight, they didn’t bulge or thin in any appreciable way.

From there I placed the diagram next to my book and brushed glue across the whole of the surface. Then I took strips and placed them in position one at a time, cutting them short enough to fit before firmly pressing them into position. It probably took me about five minutes.

partially completed tardis book with cardboard scraps glued in place.

Accuracy and detail are overrated.

The squares came next, for which I had to turn to the other egg carton lid. I cut the cardboard into wide strips, measuring them against the gaps between the strips on my book and quickly cutting them into approximate squares. With some minor trimming I managed to fit them into the eight spots before the glue was even starting to dry.

It was crude and chunky and I loved it instantly. I turned the book over and repeated the process with the other side. I had to make additional strips off the edges of the cartons’ bottom halves as I began to run out of the thin pieces. One of the squares came from a completely different part of the carton, I can’t even remember where, but it turned out to be much smoother than all the other pieces. I decided it would help me remember which was the front of the book.

Letting the glue dry we played a few hands of magic, something we haven’t done in many, many months. The first game quickly reminded Dianne why I should never be allowed to play a denial deck. It wasn’t black and blue, as denial decks usually are, but instead black, blue, and white from the Guildpact release, back when multi-colored cards were still fairly new. I kind of remember having made the deck a couple of years ago, and if I recall correctly I dubbed it my “Bureaucracy” or “Red Tape” deck. I think the second name is the better precisely because there isn’t a single red card in it.

It’s not so much “denial” as it is “lockdown”. With such cards as “Arrest” and “Overrule” it’s a deck designed to make you feel like you just can’t get anything done. Just like in a bureaucracy.

two decks of magic cards spread on the table across from each other

Play to have fun, not to piss off your opponent

It’s also not a good deck to play if you want to your opponent to actually like you at the end of the game. I played it once and immediately put it away. From now on I will only play it against opponents who already dislike me. Which means I may never play it again. After all why would be be playing games with people who don’t like me?

With the glue on the books dry we set to painting them Tardis blue. The paint dried quickly and we didn’t have to wait long to add texture to the blue, lightly dry-brushing black paint over the blue to bring out the natural texture of the cardboard.

My egg cartons were made out of recycled paper and pressed into very rough approximations of their shape to start with so my book has a lot of texture to highlight.

corner of the finished Tardis book

Crude and simple but still bigger on the inside.

The finished product is crude and amateur-ish and I love it. Part of me worried I might have a hard time bringing myself to write in it precisely because I like it so much, but as it turns out my modification of it broke the “seal” as it were, took away the book’s virgin look, and freed me from any apprehension. Now I look forward to adding to it almost daily.

So now we’ve set up internet based “dates” in which we do some form of crafts together. With the considerable physical distance between us, when she’s not actually visiting, it gets difficult to maintain a connection. Spending time on cam, working on artful projects, gives us interactive time together that isn’t just us staring at our screens saying “so, how was Your Day?”

two paper monsters set side by side. One has a cupcake sticker attached to it's face.

Let’s meet up and eat cake. I’ll wear a cupcake on my face so you’ll recognize me.

Dianne also bought me a book of paper toy monsters to work on, so even if I don’t have a specific project to work on I have something to build with just scissors and glue. We can spend many minutes together online without saying a word, just quietly working on our own thing.