Why do I fear writing?

I was born to a single mother of a large extended family. For 80 to 90% of my time it was either the two of us or just me. A lot of just me. When we spent time with the extended family I didn’t identify with anyone. Nobody was even a little bit like me. I was soft and emotional and even the women in my family were tougher than me. I cried at the littlest things and nobody knew what the hell to do with me. Things that were common conflicts between my cousins, daily struggles and fights that blew over like flash paper, left me burnt, hurting, and withdrawn.

It quickly became my most common tactic to avoid the family as much as possible. I didn’t hate them, and I never have. I’ve never even been angry with them. They just don’t get me, and I don’t get them. The worst that I can say is that I was constantly aware of what a disappointing puzzle I was. My aunts tried to be sympathetic to a point, and my uncles, near as I can tell, were either disgusted with me or inclined to just write me off.

I never felt I had any chance to prove them wrong. I was disappointing. That part was always clear.

To the best of my recollection I was only ever passionate about two things that I could DO. In my younger years it was programming, and I was good at it. Then I grew disillusioned of programming, burned out on the stress and pace of it, and just confirmed my tendency to disappoint.

The second was learning to ride my motorbike. It was the first thing I ever attempted that was considered universally cool, even by those who felt it was needlessly reckless.

I was working a very physically demanding job at the time, one that frequently had me working ten and eleven hours a day. I would start work at 7:30 and leave at 6:30, regularly. When I signed up for my riding classes I was fortunate that my manager agreed to let me leave work at 5:30 to get to class by 6. It was an incredibly trying and stressful week, working hard all day lifting and delivering, then spending four hours every night learning a terrifying new skill that I invested my entire will into. I pretty much got through it by being angry all day. It was the only energy that would persevere. Anything else was too soft, too ready to give up.

I learned to ride in the dark. I had signed up for the first class of the year, which took place in the second week of March. The sun was down by the time class started and we learned by the minimal light of a stadium parking lot. The temperature was often below freezing, except for one night where it rained. The next evening the puddles froze and we learned to handle, or avoid, ice. My first bike drop was due to an invisible patch of ice in the dark. One evening we had snow. Another we had fog. Short of hail and hard wind I learned to ride in all the worst weather there was.

It paid off. I passed the class and, more importantly, passed my riding test.

Programming came easy to me. It was an enjoyable mental exercise and I rarely had to fight with it to make it work. (programming tools, on the other hand…) I always knew that, if I couldn’t solve a problem today, I could get some rest and get back to it tomorrow. In all likelihood a potential answer would occur to me before I even went to bed and I approached the problem with confidence. Programming, while it was difficult and convoluted, was never a RISK for me. It was a nice safe thing to do to make money. The risk came later with the environment of pressure and stress of deadlines and overtime and changes in mid stride and just shit that I’ve come to term “managing an artistic process with a manufacturing attitude.” While I definitely burned out of the programming environment the actual act of programming itself was just a comfortable mental exercise that entertained and challenged me.

You can always crash a car, but unless you’re moving especially fast, and so long as you’re wearing your seatbelt, you’re more than likely to come out of it just fine. Maybe a sprained neck, perhaps some bruising from your knees hitting the steering wheel, but fine. Even so, learning to drive a car is incredibly stressful.

Learning to ride a motorbike was dangerous. It was dangerous and uncomfortable and tiring and freaking HARD. Your past experience with riding a bicycle actually worked against you and you had to force yourself to unlearn it. I was perched on a piece of machinery that could literally kill me if I didn’t handle it well. We spent one of our earliest hours just memorizing where the clutch and brake are. Given that the two are identical levers under each hand, it’s very easy to get them mixed up in a panic. We learned how to change gears in the middle of a turn. We learned how to make sudden changes in direction and, even though the direction of the change was random, we knew the change was coming and many of us still panicked and made mistakes.

I learned and trained on a little 50 cc engine. The machine could barely bring me up to 80km an hour, given my weight, and I still felt terrified of the power of the engine sitting raw between my legs.

I now ride a massive 1500 cc cruiser. The engine on my motorbike is literally more powerful than the engine of my car. I’m constantly aware of the amount of power I’m guiding down the road, and I’m comfortable with it. I ride it daily, when I can find a reason to. My bike is my summer vehicle. I ride it to work and back, to the grocery store and back (if I don’t need more than a backpack and two saddle bags can carry) and pretty much any where I need to go. Rain or shine. Even through hail.

And my ideal vacation is spending days and days on my bike guiding it down the road.

My question now is why can’t I be that dedicated to my writing? Why I can’t write in the dark, through snow, rain, and fog? Why I can’t accept dropping the pen on the ice and just get back up and start a new page? Why I don’t write the way I ride? My writing has the potential to take me to worlds beyond where my bike can go. So why do I find it so easy to distract myself with something else to do?

Maximum Effort means Maximum Anger

While the declaration is instructive, I’m not sure I’ve put out Maximum Effort in a long time. The last time it might have happened was on my 2012 road trip where I rode my motorbike down to Portland and back. That was a great trip, and it definitely took some effort. Not sure if it was Maximum or not.

The one time I am certain I put out Maximum Effort was back when I took my motorcycle riding course. I was working very long days at Purolator, physically exhausting days, and racing from work to get to class on time. Then I was learning to ride the bike in the dark cold March evenings where we contended with fog, snow, and patches of very dark ice.

My entire week consisted of waking up at 5am to get to work by 730 so I could inspect my truck and plan my route. Then I spent the day hauling boxes on and off my truck. I had two hours between my last delivery and my first pickup, so I inevitably found some way to get in a nap somewhere, but it was never more than an hour and it was never enough.

Right?

It sums me up so well

I would get back to the depot at around 530, having put in 10 hours, and would then have to race to McMahon stadium to start my class. The only reason I was off work that early was because I’d made special arrangements with my manager to have someone make my last few pickups. Normally I wouldn’t be back at the depot until 6 at the earliest, but my class started at 6.

The class was a total of 20 hours, 6 to 10 every night of the work week, and we needed ever minute of it. Riding a motorcycle is actually fairly easy. Riding it slow on an obstacle course with fewer than three mistakes is fucking hard. Harder when it’s dark.
I’d get home at about 1030 with just enough time to make my lunch for the following day before crashing into bed.

That was a challenging week, but I managed it. I think the only way I managed it, however, was with anger. Anger brought me to determination. I’m not sure I’m capable of any other path. Years ago when I was working out regularly the only thing that kept me going was anger. Anger at my body for wanting to quit, anger at my lungs for burning, anger at myself for being so weak.

And now I’m reluctant to be that angry with myself ever again. After this hard relationship deterioration that left me angry nearly every day I’m now weary of it.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been feeling ill, some kind of incredibly brief flu virus. One day of intense all-body joint pain with zero appetite, and a second day only half as bad. The one thing I noticed through those days was how easy it was for me to get angry at the slightest things. I was angry with sudden noises, I was angry with slow lines, I was angry with people being too happy nearby. I was angry at some of my favorite music. Clearly, I was not in my best frame of mind. Luckily for me I noticed the disproportion and managed to not act on any of it. Given I stayed home through most of it this was relatively easy.

But anger is important and appropriate at times. And I need to be able to focus it properly again. I need to be able to dedicate myself to required writing without having to resort to anger and I’m not sure that’s possible.

We are what we do. Excellence, therefore, is not a goal but a habit.
Be excellent to each other. Be excellent to yourself.
Write the good stuff. Write the bad stuff. Write the stuff.
This is the stuff.

251 plus words

Went to my writing group tonight and had a great time. The writer we were critiquing had developed her character enough that we could see her maturing in the text. She was extremely please we all “got it”.
I always leave the group charged and ready to get back into writing. By the time I get home, however, I’m ready to just roll into bed and go to sleep. By morning all momentum is lost and I’m back where I started, wallowing in indecision and regret.

Today I have all but given up. I stand for pro-choice, equality, feminism (redundant, perhaps, but worth mentioning on its own), rational responses to climate change, and freedom from religion. Every day I express my support I’m faced with passionate, verbose individuals who feel I have it “all wrong” and am giving in to some crazy sub cult that’s set on destroying their religion, their jobs, or their desire to control others.

And I’m near to giving up. I just don’t have the energy to point out the obvious every single day to people who have set up very deliberate blinders to ignore even the most hard core facts. I just can’t argue anymore. I don’t have enough ammunition to get through their calcified skulls. I don’t think anybody does.

The answer is, of course, more guns. We must give out guns at church and in every bar and restaurant. We must provide them as a bonus to every car, motorcycle, boat, quad, and bicycle purchase. Because, honestly, who could possible survive on our roads and rivers if they’re not sufficiently armed? And could you possibly eat or drink in comfort knowing you might be the only person in the bar or restaurant who isn’t packing?

Bullets should be available in schools like pencils and erasers. How else are children ever going to learn to make, and eradicate, those really BIG mistakes?

A gun should be provided with every new driver’s license so those new drivers can properly defend themselves against the road rage tyrants in their beefed up trucks. Little Timmy isn’t going to make it prom unless he can shoot back at that oil exec who’s tired of Timmy hogging his lane.

Guns should be provided to every new mother to help her properly protect her children in this dangerous world. What could possibly be better to convince little Janie that there isn’t a monster under the bed than the ability to empty a clip under the frame and let little Janie know that, if there were any monsters (or family pets, for that matter) under the bed, there sure as heck aren’t any now.

Big guns should be part of every property deal. Nothing says “I own this!” like the ability to murder anyone who comes within spitting distance of your land.

A gun should be given to every released convict to ensure their ongoing survival. After all, nobody is going to hire them, so they’re going to have to get their food somehow. And how are you possibly going to keep those prisons full if you don’t give them every chance to re-offend? Besides, they’ll get a gun themselves anyway. Let’s just streamline that process.

Teachers should be packing at all times to help protect our children, and to keep those degenerates in line. Little Johnny isn’t going to be talking back after you’ve put one through his foot, now is he?

I could go on for days…

New Year

Okay, so here I am at the coffee shop on my first day off of my vacation. So far my laptop has been fighting me every step of the way. I have my touch pad set to turn itself “off” by default IF THERE IS ANOTHER POINTING DEVICE ATTACHED. I have unplugged my mouse but my touch pad will not activate. I’ve tried using the button specified for activating the touch pad (FN + F3) and it does nothing. I can’t get to the control panel to adjust the setting because any time I attempt to use the Windows menu my session crashes and I have to log back in.

So far Windows 10 has been a huge disappointment. Actually, disappointment is too light a word. Aggravation might be a better word.

And the coffee shop environment on a Saturday afternoon is very nearly combative. The noise is incredible. I’ve actually dug through my backpack to find a set of earplugs, the kind I use to help me sleep, and shoved them in my ears as deep as I can. That cuts most of the noise but also serves to highlight the more annoying sounds, like the one idiot’s forced laughter in the corner and the constant high pitched whine of steam from the coffee maker. Still, the earplugs do dull the impact a bit.

Obviously I’ve become that old guy who’s hyper sensitive to noise. All the more joy to me.

It is the second day of the new year and the more logical day to sit down and set some goals for the rest of the year. New year’s eve and day are both too full of themselves to allow for quiet, sensible contemplation. That’s why people make grand plans impossible to achieve on New Year’s Day. They’re pumped with the adrenaline and dopamine of the holiday and convinced they can lose fifty pounds while learning Russian and Portuguese while simultaneously saving up for that world wide cruise.

Brace Yourself, New Year Resolutionists are coming to a gym near you.The second day is considerably more subdued. We’ve gone through the rush of partying (well, some of you have) and we’ve survived the following hangover. Now we can sit down with a bagel and coffee and take a realistic look back and a sensible look forward.

“I never look back, dahling, it detracts from the Now.” Edna Mode has some excellent philosophies to think about. However, while that’s an excellent sound byte it really isn’t practical. If we don’t keep mindful of the past then we will keep making the same mistakes in the future… like having capes on our costumes.

Looking back at 2015 I can honestly say it was a year of some significant change, and quite a bit for the better. It wasn’t a “good” year in the sense of having lots of pleasant memories and grand achievements, but there were definitive improvements and achievements to be proud of. And a lot of lessons. NO Capes!

I endured six months without a kitchen. It sucked hugely, and I hated it, but I managed. I admit I managed better with some help and advice, but I managed. I’m so very glad it’s over, and you’d be amazed how important something as simple as a kitchen sink can be. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at that simple water tap and marvel at what a convenience it is. Water, cleaned and purified, delivered directly to my home in temperatures ranging from nearly freezing to nearly boiling. Miraculous. Incredibly miraculous.

I switched from a job where one person actively and aggressively hated me to another job where I deal with customers who are justifiably angry at how their services are being performed. This is an improvement in two significant ways: 1) the people I work with at my new job are all, without exception, fantastically wonderful people. No backstabbing or negative attitudes, a general willingness to help and get the work done, and support, support, support from every direction, even and perhaps ESPECIALLY from the top. 2) I have the potential to do something about those angry customers that will make them happy again. And I have. Repeatedly. I am constantly thrilled at the satisfaction I get from turning a angry, helpless feeling customer into a happy, satisfied, and GRATEFUL customer.

The previous job I had at the beginning of the year had good people in it too, and there were chances for achievement an reward, but that one poisonous viper intent on very deliberately ruining my day made it impossible to enjoy anything between the hours of 8 and 5. A few months after I left my former co-worker texted me and asked if there were any chance they could hire me back. The venom woman had caused two other shippers to quit in as many months. I replied that I would need more money and the assurance that I wouldn’t have to work with that woman again. He said he could work on one of those requirements. I asked if that meant he could keep that vile woman away from me. He said no. So I told him there was no way they could ever afford me.

And you have to wonder at a company that can keep a person on staff that makes every single subordinate quit within a year or less. From all accounts I lasted the longest of any of them. And I have to wonder how horrible that woman’s life must be for her to be so gleefully willing to ruin someone else’s day, every single day. I shudder to think of it.

But I digress.

I had also entered into therapy for depression and began trying out medication to modify my moods. My emotions had been out of control and led me to self harm and seriously suicidal thoughts. The medication helped keep the worst of these thoughts at bay and I was able to wake up in the morning without crying through my entire shower. The therapy sessions that went along with it served to highlight that, while I was going through some stressful points in my life (like not having a kitchen for six months) there really wasn’t anything worth dying over.

I ended a ten year long relationship in a fit of anger and spite. She suggested that my emotional reactions were ruining her days and that perhaps we should take a break. I agreed with vehemence, cutting her off from all forms of communication save e-mail. I feared I would regret such a rash action but, as it turns out, not only have I NOT regretted it, but everything in my life has since improved.

Gradually, my therapy sessions got brighter and my general demeanor lightened. I wasn’t happy with the weight gain I was fighting due to my medication and decided to try something else. All the other medications my doctor suggested, however, had the same potential side effects with a few worse tacked on: seizures, vertigo, blackout, and potential death. Since things had been going so much better I decided to find out if I still needed the medication at all. With my doctor’s instructions and my therapist’s support I reduced my dosage to half for two weeks, then a quarter for two weeks, just as Christmas was in full swing.

I have had a few moments of loneliness and tears, but nothing even approaching the self loathing that had me punching my own head and contemplating whether it would be more considerate to cut my wrists in the tub so that there would be a much easier way to clean up the blood.

In short, I’m doing much better and feel much more positive about the future. Without the drugs. Which is a significant improvement over not feeling I had any kind of possible future at all.

I’ve even gone so far as to clear off all my debts save my mortgage. A vast improvement in itself.

So, the second day of January and a calm, rational look at the year ahead.

It couldn’t get much worse, could it? And there’s every chance it could be so, so much better. If all I manage is to keep myself from going back into debt and get some weekends of riding in I’ll already be much ahead of the year before. Everything on top of that will be gravy.

Walking. This will not be a goal of weight loss, although it would be a nice side effect if it happens, but I do need to become more physically active. I’m not talking about working out at the gym. I’m talking about walking around my neighborhood.

Writing. Daily. Something, anything, to a minimum of 250 words. 250 would be rock bottom but would at least be more than a Facebook status update.

Getting out of the house. Daily. And not just for work. If I can get into a routine of walking this could solve itself.

Reading. I’ve immersed myself in the Internet far too much over the past few years and have forgotten the wonderful escape of a good, or adequate, book. I’ve rediscovered some of that literary joy over the past few months and I fully plan on continuing. Walking to the local used book shop should solve three criteria at once.

Budget. I have a working budget in place and I need to stick to it. The budget managed to dredge me out of a significant hole last year and I ful

Wonton rests her head on a pillow

Wonton getting comfortable in her new home.

l intend on staying above water from now on.

Pet. I have a cat now and her name is Wonton. She is demanding and loving and always there. She has given me someone to talk to when I need to talk out loud but not necessarily to myself. She’s also a lot of fun.

Friends. Combined with the insistence that I get out of my house more this is another goal that will effectively contribute to a few others along the way.

There, reasonable goals firmly set. If I manage to fit in a motorcycle ride down the coast this summer, that will be the massive cherry on top of it all. If I manage new relationships as well, even more cherry and chocolate sauce. But those aren’t goals. They’re opportunities I’m open to.

Happy New Year everyone.

Crank it!

I had an epiphany this morning at work as I waited and waited for a simple query to return some intelligible answer from the server: what if network priority was dynamic, and could be set by a hardware device on each computer. And what if that device was a crank handle that generated electricity as you turned it?

Kind of like this, which is a cool product I found when doing an image search.

Kind of like this, which is a cool product I found when doing an image search.

Not to power the computer, though, but rather to express a very simple emotion: urgency.

As you turn the crank a simple current is generated and measured. The more current generated, the higher your priority on the network. If you don’t turn it at all you could be stuck sitting for minutes waiting for your query to return from the server. If you turn it quickly, your priority gets higher and you get your answers more quickly.

I can see benefits and detriments to this idea.

First, the benefits:

1) You get some physical exercise at work. Heck, if you hook it up to a treadmill or bicycle pedals you could get a full workout.

2) You get to relieve some stress at work. Working out is the best way to relieve stress. Well, other than sex, but I think HR would be more comfortable with exercise.

3) You could communicate a sense of URGENCY to the system. If you needed something NOW you could physically push for the results to come faster. This would have the beneficial effect of both allowing you to vent your stressful moment productively at the same time as providing priority to those people who clearly need it the most.

Now, the downsides:

mesmerizing

mesmerizing

1) Work is already exhausting on bad days. Making you physically work for priority as well as having to politically jockey for it would just add to the exhaustion.

2) The smell. Gyms smell bad for a reason. Now add that gym smell into enclosed cubicles with half the people wearing polyester and not nearly enough deodorant.

3) The upper crust would starting assigning people “crank duty” to make sure their spreadsheets come out sooner than your TPS reports. It starts to evoke the image of Egyptian slaves.

But, still, if only there were some way to automate priority to those urgently need it.

Answering a few more questions before bed

‘5. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?’

 

Probably about 21. That’s about as mature as I feel, and as about as responsible as I want to be. I’m not sure what this question is meant to teach me other than to point out how immature I feel I am.

 

I can just imagine the horror if I were to wake up tomorrow morning with amnesia and see how old I look in the mirror. It would be as if I’d been in a coma for thirty years and was force fed a dozen donuts every day.

 

Yes that’s a self depreciating fat joke.

 

‘6. When do you stop calculating risk and rewards, and just do it?’

 

When I stop thinking. If you can figure out how I can manage that on a regular basis without the assistance of medication or crude brain surgery please feel free to let me know.

 

I’m not ‘hyper-vigilant’ as friends of mine have identified themselves to be, but if I were to borrow the genre of descriptive terminology I would probably describe myself as ‘hyper-cautious’. The only reason I’ve ever been able to be courageous or adventurous in the past has been as a direct conflict with my natural tendency, and the mood has never stuck for very long. The rare exceptions to that hyper-caution have been when I learned to ride a motorbike, debated the exploration of polyamory, and grudgingly admitted an interest in D/s. Even then all three adventurous explorations have been taken on with extreme caution and as much preparation and/or research as possible.

 

I have never been spontaneous in any significant way. At least not on my own. When I have participated in spontaneous activities it has always been with someone else’s initiative.

What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

“2. What risk would you take if you knew you could not fail?”

I’d try to learn to fly. No, I don’t mean earning a pilot’s license, I mean jumping off the ground and flying. If I was somehow assured that I could not possibly fail then I’d leap off a cliff and begin soaring.

Oh, you mean real world stuff? Well, see, that’s where there’s a problem: in the real world failure is ALWAYS a possibility. So while this question is a nice little mental exercise it doesn’t do much to help with actual reality. I know it’s supposed to help you figure out what you would actually like to do with your life, but I already know what I want to do with my life: I want to travel, read books, and play video games. I want to eat pub food and chat with friends in pubs. I want to go swimming in my own private pool.

I already know how to do these things and I have already minimized my failure rate. The problem with doing them is that none of them will pay me a living wage, or worse would actually cost me money, so I’d eventually starve.

What risk would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d buy a lottery ticket. Maybe enter a pro poker circuit. Not because I’d be any good at playing poker (I utterly suck at playing poker… can’t keep a poker face to save my life) but the guaranteed win would have me rolling in money.

What other risks would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d invest all my money in the stock market. I’d perform brain surgery. I’d play a perfect cover of Purple Haze on a violin. I’d write out the cure for cancer in terms any layman could understand. I’d write a entire book on solving every world problem from poverty to disease to figuring out how to keep entropy from destroying everything.

If there was a guarantee of success then you might as well have a ring of unlimited wishes.

In the real world things are never that simple.

What would you try out if you had a trust fund that meant you wouldn’t have to worry about rent, food, or clothing for the rest of your life? I’d travel. Endlessly. Ride my motorbike all over the world. I’d return to school and take classes I was mildly curious about. I would spend weeks and weeks holed up in my apartment reading books and watching movies and playing video games. I would go out for coffee every single day.

None of this helps me come up with what I want and/or need to do to improve my life. It just lets me know what I’d do if I didn’t have any responsibilities.

Next question?

“3. What is your greatest strength? Have any of your recent actions demonstrated this strength?”

Two questions in one. That’s cheating, isn’t it? I want to talk to whomever wrote this quiz. You don’t get to ask two questions and label them as one. It just isn’t fair.

My greatest strength? Ugh, I hate trying to come up with that. Anything I answer with is going to sound like ego stroking.

I guess it depends on the situation. Figuring out the central cause of a problem used to be a big strength of mine. I could use it to debug some of the most confounding code bugs. Until I hit Java, then the error reporting system turned from a linear stream of events to a massive, incoherent blob of nested errors that had little or nothing to do with the actual problem. God I hate java with a passion.

I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Greatest strength. Or strengths.

I can say “problem identification”. I can’t say “problem solving” because I don’t often have the answer. But I can’ often point at a small point in a series of events and say “There. That’s where it started to go wrong.”

Empathy and understanding is a strength I’ve always tried to develop, but it’s one of those things where the more you know the more you realize just how little you know. It’s an ever widening spiral and I honestly don’t think it has a limit.

Communication is a strength I’m often complemented on, and one I’m often confused by other people’s struggles. Why is it so difficult to communicate? It shouldn’t be, and yet I’ve seen people argue with each other for hours before suddenly realizing they’re both trying to make the same point. I’ve seen people map out a process in exacting detail, point by point, and then turn around and do completely random things while confident that they’re doing as they’re supposed to. I’ve seen people take genuine compliments as mortal insults, and visa versa. I’ve seen people debate endlessly over the shades and depth of a colour only to have the artist walk up and declare “It’s BLACK”.

But then, I also spend endless spare minutes rewriting individual sentences in my head until I feel I have the best, clearest expression of intent… for conversations that ended years ago. If there’s one thing I work at the most in my idle hours it’s figuring out how to communicate.

So… have I used my Problem Identification, Empathy, and Communication skills recently? Yes. At work, and home, I’m always thinking, feeling, and communicating. Even when I’m alone. Especially when I’m alone, I guess. Because what else is there to do?