3 hours of stalking while I can’t sleep

I find myself unable to sleep again tonight, consumed by fear and doubt, convinced of my imminent demise. Far too upset to sleep I got dressed (in yesterday’s clothes, no point in dirtying another set) and turned to the internet and Radio Paradise.

Radio Paradise is, more often than not, an excellent choice when I’m upset. It seems to know just exactly when I’m at my worst and hits me with a surprise favorite that perks me up. This morning it was Blue Man Group’s “I Feel Love” featuring Venus Hum. The song has many detractors in the Radio Paradise community. You can rate the tunes and comment on them, and they have a graph displaying the distribution of all the ratings from one to ten. “I Feel Love” (featuring Venus Hum) is rated at a 6.7 despite my sincere “9” rating. The distribution shows a lot of ones and twos and threes. There are people out there who clearly dislike the tune.

But I love it. Headphones are best, as with all my favorite tunes. And with all my favorite tunes the music takes me to a place of daydreams.

Tonight I had the urge to share the tune, even though I knew there’d be a lot of my own friends who simply wouldn’t “get it”. That’s the way it is with all my favorite tunes. They’re my favorites for reasons that don’t work for other people.

Digging through Youtube I found a recording of their live performance. I also found an official video, but for once the live version was better. I posted it and then proceeded to trip down the rabbit hole. I had no idea that “Venus Hum” was a band name, I’d always assumed it was the singer’s name. Youtube had a couple of suggestions for Venus Hum and I checked them out. Good music, and I wanted more.

I was cautious in my search, however. I know the “Feel Love” tune is old, I’ve had it for many years myself, and the video date was some time back in 2006. Doing a search on the band I found they’d formed in 1999. Typical. So much of my favorite stuff comes from the nineties and aughts. The wikipedia entry didn’t mention anything about the band, but it did say their last album release was in 2009. That depressed me a bit. Any band that hasn’t published something in over five years is generally defunct by default.

Then I let myself explore a bit of obsession with their singer, Anette Strean. In the BMG video she did not look anything like my imagination, but watching her on stage, and in Venus Hum’s other videos, I found her face incredibly familiar, and very appealing.

Something about the lips and the smile... and the glasses.

Something about the lips and the smile… and the glasses.

I cannot for the life of me figure out where I’ve seen her face before, but I swear I have. Not Anette Strean’s actual face, because I’ve never met her, but someone. My brain kept skipping on a loop of “she looks almost exactly like…” with that aching lack of conclusion. There was a strong connection somewhere up in my synapses but they refused to resolve in any one person.

Perhaps it’s connecting to some dream amalgam. My dreams, the good ones at least, present me with favorable people who, upon waking dissection, turn out to be an amalgam of multiple people. The women in my dreams especially, combining all the best qualities of my past friends, family, and lovers. Any adversaries in my dreams rarely need more than one person to create a suitable villain, but the nice ones are always very complex.

The face Annette presents has a feel like that, along with an old “high school crush” kind of attachment. So it’s quite possible the person she reminds me of is just someone I’ve forgotten, but it feels like it’s someone I would never forget.

With the obsession of a newborn stalker I did some searches on her. The Venus Hum website looks like it hasn’t updated since the release of their last album in 2009. I was briefly excited to discover she had a twitter account but was then crushed that she hadn’t posted since 2010. I regained the excitement when I found her facebook page. The latest update was from May but at least it was from this year. Reading her last post I find that she’s talking about how May is Mental Awareness Month and she talks a bit about her struggles with Bipolar disorder. She talks about how the diagnosis was both freeing and crushing. Crushing because it labeled her as broken (my paraphrasing) and freeing because at least she now had a point from which she could work and move forward.

I read of her struggles and looked at the photos she has of her family, her husband, and her daughter. I confess to feeling a bit uncomfortable seeing so much of her life without actually knowing her, but I reassured myself a bit with the knowledge that her facebook account was a personal one and what I was seeing was the few bits she made public. Which made me feel good because a surprisingly big part of me wanted to believe she was still posting tons of updates to her friends and family. I wanted to know she was still … existing.

And I’d really like to remember whom it is she reminds me so strongly of. Because it feels like that person might be important. Really important.

But that could just be my imagination building up a connection that isn’t even there. I’m feeling crazy enough as it is these days.

Be well, Annette Strean. I sincerely hope you’re going to make more music and I would love to hear it some day. Please continue to exist out there in the real world.

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?

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?