29 March, 2009

Alone is so very much in the mind

For the past 18 months, I have had a housemate. We did not see that much of each other. We did not socialize every day. We rarely did things together. When we were both home, typically, one of us was in our room. Often, one or both of us were not home at all. It was not really that much different from living alone.

This weekend, he moved to a new place. And now, I do not have a housemate anymore. 

Now... I live alone.

And while this is really no different today than it was yesterday, when he lived here, but we didn't see each other, it is somehow, fundamentally different. I feel alone. There's no possibility of someone else coming home. There is no chance for unexpected conversation in passing. When I see a piece of paper on the counter, or a dish in the sink, or a leftover in the refrigerator, I will now know with 100% certainty that the paper was put there by me, the dish was from food that I ate, and that the leftover was from a meal that I purchased. If I don't throw away the paper, it will stay there. If I don't wash the dish, it will stay there. If I don't eat the left over, it will go bad in the fridge. It's besides the point that, to some extent, all three of those issues were true even when my housemate did live here, because those happen to be areas in which he was not exemplary (though he was, most definitely, a good housemate).

Somehow the uncertainty made a difference though. Now, it's just me. I feel alone. I look at the one piece of furniture that is missing - one of the two sofas that was in the living room - and although it's a tiny subtraction from the living space, to me it stands like a crater from a mortar shell, and I look at that spot thinking: "What the hell am I gonna do about that big empty space?"

I put a chair there already. But it's empty. I guess when you live with a particular arrangement of furniture in your home for awhile, the brain needs to remap. Just like when you get a tooth pulled; for days, weeks, months, you will be tonguing the hole where the tooth lived, and recognizing its absence, which feels greater than it actually even is, because of the hyper-awareness to it, and the unchange of the juxtaposed landscape.

I did not find a new housemate. I looked. But it appears that the rental market has become very soft. Even after dropping the asking amount by almost 20% I still received zero calls. And below a certain amount, it really wasn't worth it to me to have to deal with the risks of needing to trust a new person in my home. I got lucky once. Would I be so lucky again.

So. Here I am. 

After a nice long phone call, I feel a little less alone than I did earlier. But these next few months are probably going to be an adjustment. Although 13 out of my 18 respondents to the Myers-Briggs were introverts, sadly, I am not. Solitude is a prison for me.

Fortunately, come May, I will have a couple of small, 4-legged housemates. At least that's something, right?

28 March, 2009

Looking at the masterpiece through the veil of the incomplete

This is the first time I have been involved in the recording of a full-length CD. I have played on a few EP's before. I could go on a tangent about terminology such as EP, LP, etcetera, but that probably would not be fantastically interesting. Suffice it to say, my recording history is as follows:

  1. Played on 2 tracks of an EP for my friends' band back in Boston, because their guitar player had left the band before the disc was finished. That consisted of playing all the guitars on one song, and half the guitars on a second song.

  2. Recorded a 6 song EP with a band in Seattle - my first "real" project - done in a studio, with an engineer - and released in small production numbers (250 discs, I think).

  3. Recorded 4 songs for a CD with another Seattle band - but the band broke up before anything was finished, so I never actually got any finished product from that project.

  4. Recorded either 4 or 5 songs for an EP with yet another Seattle band that I quit before the project was completed. That one was released with most of my tracks still on there.

So I never have done a real CD. Until now.

Fortunately for us, we have the luxury of having a "free" recording studio available to us in our singer's garage. I say "fortunately" because it means that it gave us the ability to take our time with things, and not feel under the gun. There is definitely a lot of stress associated with needing to get something done in just a few hours, or else it will cost you more money. The downside, of course, is that we have been recording since some time in July of 2008, and only now is the CD about to be finished. 

I haven't gotten to my point yet, though. About seeing things coming to fruition. We are recording these tracks, but that's all they are. Tracks. We make all these tracks. Drums (6 tracks?). Bass guitar. Vocals (who knows how many tracks). Lead guitar (1, 2, or 3 tracks... who knows). Rhythm guitar (1 to 4 tracks). Keyboards. Tambourines. Sandpaper. You name it. All these things are separate entities that fit together temporally. But we don't yet know how they will fit together sonically and dynamically. 

All that will be in the hands of Mr. Soundguy, as we refer to him. 

These "tracks" will go to the recording engineer later next month, and he will do the magical process of "mixing" which is far more elaborate than it sounds. For most people who are not musicians, mixing sounds like one of three things: talking with lots of people at a party, combining various alcohols together, or adding flour, butter, and sugar together and making something delicious. But for music, mixing is something that deserves to have a far more sophisticated name: distilling, layering, processing, orchestrating, manipulating, refining, transforming

Our mixing engineer, who is a well-reputed musician and sound engineer, will take all these tracks, and decide lots of things:

  • which ones do we use?
  • how loud are they relative to one another?
  • when are they used or silenced?
  • what types of musical manipulation (echo, tonal adjustment, etc.) will be applied?
  • what do we need to fix or remove?

In addition to this, he might completely shuffle things around to the point that they become almost something different from what we gave him.

So it's a non-linear transfer function. What you put in (the tracks) need not necessarily map obviously to what you get out (a CD).

And that's where the art and beauty lies. When we finish our recording process, we have only a vague idea of what the CD will sound like. There are one or two songs that sound so good from the "rough tracks" that we know they're going to kick ass. The raw materials are already gold, and Mr. Soundguy will hopefully have an easy time of preserving or transcending from there. Many of the other ones are nuggets of potential. Diamonds in rough. Unknown entities. We played them to the best of our abilities. We fixed our playing errors. But when you listen to everything, it's just a series of well-played tracks. Mr. Soundguy has the capacity to take those materials and hone them into masterpieces.

Or not.

But hopefully.

So it's an exciting time. I like the idea that we have no idea what the order of the songs will be. We have no idea what the best song will be. We have no idea what will be played on the radio. We have no idea what people will want to hear at shows. We don't know anything. We have some guesses. But it's TBD.

I was talking about this with an artist friend of mine today, and she said that she felt that way when producing art. But one major difference is that the artist is always the final hand in how it all turns out (except if you include fate). In music, the artist surrenders a certain percentage of that art to the recording engineer. That's neat, and scary, and kind of a beautiful element of the process.

I don't want this blog to be found when people are searching for the name of my band, so I will not refer to the band by name.

Changing names, changing identities

I have not known very many people who changed their names, either legally, formally, or informally. Some people do it, though. And it is interesting to me because people have reasons for doing it, and it clearly has something to do with identity. There are extreme cases of it, where people have gender transformations, and go from being Ralph to being Harriet. Yes, you cannot continue being Ralph, I understand. But there are lots of other, more subtle instances. They could have to do with embracing a different sexual orientation, moving to a new place, joining a new set of acquaintances, leaving a prior family or relationship situation, career, the list goes on. There are a million reasons. But it's interesting that we have such a close relationship between how we identify ourselves internally and externally, and the combination of letters by which we are addressed.

What connotations do this titles have? Going from Bob to Robert, for instance, could be an example of wanting to be taken more seriously, right? Bob is a fun name. Bob is something that you do when you bounce up and down in the water. Bob is a name that will make people think of Bill Murray movies. Bob is a fun, light-hearted guy. Heck, I don't even know how anyone could go by that name, to be honest with you. Unless, of course, you've always been called that. Then it ceases to be all the other Bobs out there, and instead becomes just a monosyllabic utterance to which you've been accustomed to responding. And why not switch to Robert? It's a more serious name. I bet there are plenty of people who would say it's a better name. But for some reason, you can't, because it's not you. There's an identity. When I'm home with family, my relatives call me Bobby. And I am okay with that. So identity is contextual (I realize I am giving away the fact that my name is not Mick - oops - whatever - I could substitute Michael, Mike, Mick, and Micky here, but that's getting silly). 

Sometimes people decide to go by their middle names instead of first names. That's clearly a bigger identity shift, than going from nickname to formal name. 

What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet... but alas, identity, emotion, cognition are all a tad more complex than the scent of a rose.

27 March, 2009

Myers-Briggs, Surveys, and the like

Apparently, if you send out a random survey, you can only expect about a 3-5% response rate. I guess I believe that. But it still surprises me that when I send out a survey to a known audience (i.e. my friends) instead of a random audience, that my response rate is not that much better.

I asked 127 of my Google contacts to tell me their Myers-Briggs personality type. Only 21 people responded to me. That's 16%, which is about 3-5 times more than what you'd expect to get if you sent to complete strangers. But I am not sure that's comforting. It basically means that I am only 3 times as popular with my friends, as I would be with complete strangers! Alternatively, it might be that it has nothing to do with the fact that they're my friends, and they responded to me because they knew the answer, and it took minimal effort.

Anyway, I wanted to know what type people were, because I had some theories, and was also looking to see if there were any obvious patterns. I am not going to tell you who any of the people were who responded. But I am going to tell you what their responses were:

The interpretation of the table above is as follows (for those who are not familiar with the system, and also to explain some of my "code")

E/I = extravert/introvert
N/S = intuitive/sensing
T/F = thinking/feeling
J/P = judging/perceiving

X = person scores equally on a particular measure, and was not able to be categorized

The titles of the first and third pairing (E/I and T/F) are fairly self-explanatory. But the other two groupings require a little explanation. Briefly, "intuitive" classification means that you tend to act based more on abstract ideas, whereas "sensing" classification means that you tend to act based on concrete practical realities in front of you. The "judging" classification tends to be people who are very schedule and plan oriented, whereas "perceiving" people are less schedule and plan oriented.

My list of contacts was split rather evenly between men and women. But I received only 4 responses from males.

The majority of respondents were "N" compared to "S" (13 to 5). There could be many reasons for this. Maybe, being that most of my acquaintances are either scientists, engineers, or musicians, there is a preference for abstract thinking? Not sure if that's a valid hypothesis. Another possibility is that more people test "N" because the questions that that they ask that indicate "N" sound much cooler than the ones that they ask for "S". For example, would you rather say "I am attracted to complex ideas" or "I am most comfortable with everyday things that are right in front of me". It's like saying "I am an intellectual" or "I am a dullard". So there's a possibility that the entire Myers-Briggs is invalid because nobody could possibly want to be an "S"! Of course, perhaps actual dullards would think that abstract ideas are a stupid waste of time. So maybe I'm bleeding my "N" bias into that argument. Another possibility is that it's a sampling bias. Maybe the kind of people who are willing to respond to random surveys about personality type are people who are attracted to abstract ideas, in which case I would be far more likely to receive responses from "N" than from "S" people. Actually, that is my strongest hypothesis, I think.

The majority of respondents were "T" versus "F" (13 to 5, again). This one I may be tempted to attribute more to who my friends are (scientists, engineers) rather than sampling bias, because my informal discussions have never shown there to be any tendency for "T" or "F" to be more or less "bought-in" to the Myers-Briggs subject.

The majority of respondents were "I" versus "E" (13 to 5, again). In this case, I think it likely reflects a fairly accurate representation, in that I do believe that there are probably twice as many introverts out there as there are extraverts.

Other things of note:
There were no people who responded as "SF" and I have actually never met anyone who said that they had that pairing
All of the men who responded were "T" (though I have spoken recently with several "F" males, so this was definitely an artifact of small sample size)
The fact that there were nearly equal number of "J" and "P" also seems about right, given my own experiences with people

Did I get anything useful out of this?

Other than the fact that I now know these people's Myers-Briggs types, no. And given the fact that I probably could have guessed about three-fourths of those peoples' types accurately without asking them, I didn't really get a whole lot at all.

Except for this blog entry.

26 March, 2009


Here is a question that I pose to you: In your relationship, do you feel that you ever, sometimes, often misbehave?

What do I mean by that? Well, it could mean any number of things. I am specifically not referring to "jailable offenses" such as infidelity, lying, abuse, neglect, etc.

What I am talking about is when we do something in a relationship that we know we shouldn't do. And it usually results from some type of need that we have, that we cannot express. Or from a fear. Or from stress in our lives. When we know our partner is tired, but we start a conversation with them late at night because we're feeling upset. When we ask them to do something for us that we know they don't really like to do, but we know they'll say yes, because they want to make us happy. When we hold back our feelings because we're feeling insecure, and that causes our partner to feel insecure, which then, paradoxically, somehow makes us feel more secure. When we communicate our fears, knowing that the result might be that our partner will feel compelled to address them, perhaps even by changing the way they live their own life.

I don't know. There are a million permutations. And I guess it all comes down to figuring out what the balance is between asking for what you need in a relationship, versus being inconsiderate about another person's needs. I worry so much about misbehaving, personally, that I feel like asking for anything is a form of manipulation, or neediness, or being a bad partner. Obviously, since I am referring to the concept of "saying what you need" as "misbehaving".

I'm just curious to know if others have the same anxieties about expressing feelings and needs, knowing the implications it will have on the people who are close to us.

Does love sap all creativity?

This is a valid question, right?

Though, there appear to be points and counterpoints all over the place. The archetype of the tortured artist would suggest that those who suffer are far more prolific. But there certainly are people who create beautiful things as a result of love and happiness in their heart.

Really, I am just trying to come up with a justification for why I haven't written a blog in over a week, or something like that. It has definitely been historically true for me that the best creations were made when I was miserable.

A couple of months ago, one of my blogger friends started a relationship, and just like that, her blog ceased. I asked her why, because I felt that writing was a big thing for her, and that it was a loss to not have her blog to read. She said that she just had other things on her mind, and that the things she was working through in the blog were not front-and-center anymore. I thought that seemed sad to see the writing stop. But now, here I am.


14 March, 2009

You'll never get to meet her

I thought about my mom today.

A couple of times, I wanted to call her. But, as you know, of course, I can't. I haven't had those impulses since the summer, really. I suppose the strong urge might be because of what's going on in my life right now, and the desire to share it with her. One of the things that sucks about losing someone is that you can't tell them things anymore. Often, I would want to talk to my mother for advice, through the years. And, I think I told you already; you never knew what kind of advice you'd get. Could be brilliant, or could be rather unhelpful, depending on her mood. This time, however, I wanted to talk to her about the good stuff. I wanted to let her know that I'm happy. And I guess I also wanted to let her know that there's someone I wanted her to meet. But she won't. She can't. And she never will. And there's a lot to that for me. In many directions, too.

I don't like that the last person my mother met was the product of an ill-advised rebound in which I clearly had become brainwashed for a period of 3-6 months. The family made a huge deal out of it for me too. They were all supportive, and welcoming, but it was a bad idea, that should never have happened... and that's the last one that my mother met. That's the memory she retained of what there would be for my future. Granted, the relationship had ended a year before my mom died. But still, the last thing you retain is the last thing you knew. And I wish it could have been different.

It's not so much the tradition of "I want to take you to meet my mother" thing that people had to do in the old days. Not like that. It's more a deep pride and connection about who I am, and where I came from, and the knowledge that such a meeting would provide irreplaceable insight into my character. That's one side of it. It all makes so much more sense if you met my mother. Meeting my father is useful, of course, too. And still very possible. But because of his nature, I think there's less rich insight to be gained from meeting him than my mother. And there's also the wish that the last person my mother would have met could have been someone that was good for me, and who made sense for who I am and what I want; someone where she could feel "This is good for him... I am happy for him". She was always proud of me, and she always knew I could and would succeed. But she also knew that I never really had "what I wanted". Not in her lifetime, anyway. She died right before (...actually, as...) I joined the band, too. So I never got to share that with her either.

I don't believe in the afterlife, and I don't believe in the spirit, or soul, or that there's any cognitive process of my mother lingering in the universe, except the echoes inside my own mind, or the lives of anyone else she's known, which is not to be ignored, but not the same. I just wish I could have shared a certain kind of happiness with her. My siblings have not had the happiest lives, especially of late, and that must have caused her some sorrow. I am sure that I brought her some joy in this life, but I also brought her stress with my choices, and my ups and downs. Now, here I am, feeling like I am starting to sort it out, at age 40. But she's gone. It's too late to share it with her.

I'm sad that you'll never get to meet her. And I'm sad that she'll never get to meet you... It is impossible to describe a person to someone else in any meaningful way that captures the essence.

13 March, 2009

Sunshine in a cloudy town

Friday, March 13th is probably the best day we've had in 2009. Spring-like, sunny, light atmosphere. It almost makes you forget that Seattle has 3 more months of "Winter", doesn't it? And I think the moral of the story is that attitude is everything. Three months ago, it could have been 80 degrees, sunny, and I could have been walking along the beach on a tropical island, and I might have found a way to wallow in the gloom. My feelings about myself, my job, my life, were all severely dragging. And I did not know how I was going to pull myself out of it. I knew that I really needed to change pretty much everything about the way I was living, and thinking. And that can be a daunting task. Where do you start? You don't want to be radical and set yourself up for a level of performance that you can't possibly achieve. So where to start? I decided that it needed to be the sleeping and exercising, because I felt like those were a) the areas over which I could exert the maximum control, and b) the areas which could potentially have the greatest impact on my ability to sort out the other stuff. When I finally get down to business, and set my mind to something, it is amazing at how disciplined I can be. But that makes me wonder why I ever fall off the wagon of self-maintenance? I'm not sure. I think it has to do with choices that seem harmless, but turn out not to be. Or seem harmful, and prove to be! Take your pick. And then, got to ask why I choose to do these things that might be harmful. Is it boredom? Self-sabotage? Impatience? Short-sightedness? All of the above? I think it's probably all of the above.

I have to say that it feels much better to be living well, than to be falling apart. Duh. It is nice to feel like the things I am doing matter. And to feel like I am working towards a positive future, not a dead end, or a disaster, or unhappiness. 

Back to that old "valuation of self" topic... I wonder if the issue really was a lack of self-worth? Or is it just the laziness, impatience, etcetera? I suppose that the choice not to be patient, or not to think ahead, or not to avoid self-sabotage would all be a form of lacking self-worth. If you value yourself, don't you kind of have to hold yourself to a standard? I don't know. It's all semantics, but I think it matters.

11 March, 2009

Beliefs: Be Different

Q: Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that many people hold, which you do not.

The flip side of the coin. There are many ways in which we can identify ourselves, or stand as unique among our peers, and society. One of the ways is to reject common beliefs. I might argue that people can be just as righteous and proud (and perhaps, stubborn) about what they do not belief, as they are about what they do believe. The problem is, I asked the question wrong. I forgot to even ask the Why? part, so no surprise I got a laundry list of What? and no as much insight as I would like into the real question about how we form beliefs, or conversely, how we reject them.

Nonetheless, this one was interesting because, while people are reluctant to tell you what they do believe, that no one else believes, they're much more willing to tell you what they don't believe, that everyone else does. I guess that makes sense, because there's far less vulnerability in sitting down in a crowd, than in standing up in one.

Here, I am going to give you some verbatims again, because they're anonymous enough that I am not blowing anyone's cover:

"God exists"

"Children make you immortal or somehow bring more love to your life"

"Baby Jesus is going to come down out of a cloud and orchestrate the end of the world"

"Most people swear by Costco and like paying to get in the store, pay the same prices, wait in long lines, and act like they're cool because they shop at Costco"

"The path to happiness lies in material goods"

"That having children is necessary or even a good idea"

Interesting. Three categories:  God, Family, Consumerism

Obviously, the respondents were all very far left of center, in terms of views of typical Americans. But it is a bit ironic that these are supposedly things that "most people believe, that they do not believe" and yet the answers clustered in these rather predictable pairs, on fairly mainstream topics. But I guess it's a valid point. The vast majority of people (in this country) believe in God. The vast majority of people (in all countries) have children. The vast majority of people (in this country) live their lives working to have more stuff, good stuff, new stuff, different stuff, really old stuff that's worth a lot, etc. 

So, people who are far left are the 10% fringe that doesn't subscribe to some of the fundamental things that most people subscribe to.

So, what would people on the far right say? What would my friend, the uber-conservative, say? What things does she not believe that most people believe? Well, recalling the "interview" with her that started this whole thing, I could take some guesses: She probably does not believe that everyone should be entitled to healthcare. I suspect this because she said it. I'm not pulling it out of my ass. She believes strongly that Israel has a fundamental right to exist, and to protect itself. That is probably not a majority in this country. She believes that, by and large, we do things far better here in the United States than in any of the European countries. She might assert that we should not be regulating guns and reducing people's rights to bear arms. Perhaps I should ask her these questions, and give her the opportunity to respond. But I think it's a fair bet I'm right on a few counts.

So the far right talks about: Gun Control, Palestine, Socialism

The nuts on the left hate God, Family, and Consumerism.
The nuts on the right hate Gun Control, Palestine, Socialism.

I realize this is about as non-scientific an analysis as something could possibly be.

But I am definitely amusing myself, and that's got to count for something, doesn't it?

10 March, 2009

Chase Amazon.com apparently HAPPY to lose good credit customers

We'll see if this shows up on any customer support Google searches.

Today I closed my account with Chase Amazon Visa. I have been a customer of theirs for years. And I appreciated the benefits of the account. But I have a "code" of conduct that I hold to my providers, and today they made zero effort to comply.

This month, I lost my credit card. As a result, I had to have a new card issued. When I had the new card issued, it had a different card number. The result of this was that I did not receive a "Bill Pay" notification in my email about payment being due. And this led to me pay my balance about 2 days after the due date, such that it posted to the account 7 days after the due date. Of course, it is my responsibility to pay attention to these things, but in the past, when I have been a day or two late with payments (which has maybe happened 2 or 3 times in my life) the credit card company was always willing to reverse the fee, so I decided to call Chase, and explain the situation.

The response I was given when I called was that they would not reverse the late fee (a measly $15), because the error was my fault, not a bank error, and that there was no way to remove the late payment from my credit history.

I asked to speak to a supervisor, and I was told "We don't have supervisors who come to the phone. If you want to contact a supervisor, you need to contact us in writing." This is the most asinine thing I have ever heard, and I honestly don't even believe it to be true.

So, instead, I told them that I would like to close my account immediately, and the woman agreed without even trying to dissuade me. I actually questioned her, saying "You are actually willing to lose my business, after I have been a customer for all these years, with good credit, and always paying my balance?" She said, "I'm sorry sir, but there's nothing we can do. I will go ahead and close your account for you now."

Just like that. What kind of business practice is this? The irony here is that my account balance that was paid late was only $52 because I hardly use that card anymore. I didn't even really want to cancel the card, because it was my only true "Visa" card with rewards. My other card is American Express, which is not accepted everywhere. The Amazon card had a decent benefit of credit at the webstore. But I've got some principles. And when you have a good customer, that comes with a valid problem, and you make zero effort to accommodate? End of story.

If you're reading, Chase Bank, shame on you. There are not that many people with > 800 credit scores. You should probably try to hang on to a few of them.

Beliefs: The Unusual

Q: Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you think of as being either unique to you, or not held by many people.

I suspected that there are a lot of things that many people believe. Of course, these would be categorized into buckets according to certain classifications: religious versus non-religious, democrat versus republican, male versus female, etc. So, I thought it might be interesting to find out what beliefs are outside the norm. The goal was to get people challenging themselves to tell you something that they think is unique to them. The problem with such a question is that I pretty much opened myself wide to mockery and silliness.

The responses were, at best, cryptic:

"Economics and romance are intimately related"

"Consciousness moves through the universe like radio waves... if I ever existed, I always exist"

"There are purple slugs on Pluto"

"Costco is the devil"

"Prostitution should be legalized" (written by a woman)

I think the responses may reflect a few things. It might be difficult for some people to identify those beliefs that are unique. They are probably subtle things that govern how people navigate their day-to-day activities, and they might even be things that people are not particularly comfortable discussing. I was hoping to get people to reveal things that they would not normally reveal to others. But it was a bit absurd of me (perhaps one of my unique beliefs!) to think that people are generally happy to talk about their sensitive beliefs and ideas.

The general themes could be whittled down to:  "The taboo", "The surreal", "The absurd".

I don't know that this handful of responses really reflects the population, or that they were particularly deeply thought out (with a couple of exceptions). The thing I wonder is do we all have beliefs that are somewhat unique to us? Or do we need to really scrape to think of something, and probably pick something a little bit silly, and not essential or core to our daily actions? Or am I being judgmental? Maybe these items were core to the day-to-day actions of those who wrote them. Or is my sample just too small?

I am not sure if this was a good question or not, because I don't know that people will tell Mick Feeble what they believe that nobody else believes.

It occurs to me, when this is all done, that I will have to go back and answer all of these questions for you, my readers. Because it only seems fair.

And I believe you will listen...

09 March, 2009

Mixed Signals of Spring

It is March 9th. There is snow on the ground, and in the trees, but it is still light at 7pm. The temperature is 35 degrees, but I feel the energy of Spring. Warm things are heading my way. Though there are probably three more months of clouds to come, I feel sunshine in my heart, and a lightness of being that can only be because of one thing. But lest I place all credit externally, I will take a moment to acknowledge the things I have done, and continue to do, to make this possible. We are the crafters of our own destiny. Though Lady Luck often sprinkles opportunity as she passes by, the grains of fortune stick much more readily to surfaces coated with commitment, self-worth, and responsibility.

I'm looking forward to continued warming trends, both inside and out.

-- Post From My iPhone

08 March, 2009

Beliefs: Evolution of Thought

Q: Tell me an example of a belief, idea, or position that you hold, which has changed at some point during your life. What was going on in your life at that time?

In the quest to understand how beliefs are formed, I thought it would be insightful to ask how people's beliefs altered over time. There are probably many beliefs that we hold that are almost immutable. These are likely to be highly dependent on things such as culture and religion. And they may also be driven by early experiences in life, that imprint on us beliefs that we cannot shake; either about the world or ourselves. I'm sure you can imagine plenty of examples.

So when do beliefs change? And why? Does it require trauma? Does it require change of location? Does it depend on interactions with new people who shape our minds? Universities? A book that we read? Or does Father Time himself have the capacity to shape us, whereby our views shift due to an integration of the circumstances of growing older? 

The answers to this question were very interesting, and sort of all over the map. The subject of religion played a role, in the form of early beliefs that were likely driven through Christian faith, that later, when distancing oneself from the religion, no longer seemed valid or relevant. Changed beliefs in this arena involved things such as attitudes towards homosexuality and toward abortion rights. In both cases, the thing that changed the individuals' beliefs were experiences that served as an education or enlightenment. In one case, learning about biology and development led to a shift in thinking about what it means to be pro-life or pro-choice. In the other case, acceptance of homosexuality was borne out of discovery that someone close to the person was gay. It's interesting to think, in both cases, that the original beliefs were things that had been either adopted by default, or through parenting, or religious upbringing, and that the alteration of belief came from personal experiences, and rational assessment of one's convictions. It is hard for me not to bleed bias into this, because obviously I advocate the latter beliefs, rather than the former beliefs in those two examples. 

It would be interesting to imagine the reverse case of belief switching. Could a person who is strongly pro-choice from upbringing incur a life experience that would swing them in the opposite direction? What would that be? Perhaps being confronted with actually needing to have an abortion, could the guilt or pain over the choice cause someone to change their view? I do not know. And of homosexuality? Are there examples of people who grow up with a spirit of tolerance and acceptance of others' relationship choices, only to later decide that it is a thing deserving scorn? Outside of someone undergoing a radical religious awakening, and subscribing to everything the church has to teach, it would be hard for me to imagine such a scenario.

Some of the other responses had to do with beliefs or expectations that people had which were clearly altered by negative experiences. One respondent suffered an injury that resulted from making assumptions about what their capabilities were in a particular sport. The result of the injury was that they no longer made such assumptions about "Skill A" translating into "Skill B" (e.g. snowboarding and skiing). Another somewhat glib example of belief switching due to negative experience: "I believed that women are reliable. But they left." This reflects a hardening, or loss of innocence or trust, based on having taken a risk, and been disappointed. 

Sometimes our beliefs change because we learn.

Sometimes our beliefs change because we get burned.

Maybe that sums it up pretty well?

Karma + A-Rod = ?

I don't really give a rat's ass, but this made me smile:


Years ago, you had a dream
We gave it wings, unlikely team
Between us, always, dotted lines
You made your choices, I made mine

I trusted you to wisely lead
Gave namesake too, lest egos feed
The future, it was predefined
You made your choices, I made mine

We suffered through the ebb and flow
We watched the others come and go
The planets they did not align
You made your choices, I made mine

Once you're gone you can't come back
Somewhere the magic faded black
I'm not sure if it's worth our time
You made your choices, I made mine

I do not want to cease to try
I do not want to let it die
An exit ramp... a posted sign...
You made your choices, I made mine

The ethical considerations around filtering of internet content in public libraries

I've been challenged to try to write an amusing blog on this topic. I am not sure I can meet that challenge, but can certainly write a blog, albeit not amusing, on the subject.

I have not been to a public library (other than the UW Health Sciences Library, which could scarcely be called a "Library"), to the best of my knowledge, since the Spring of 2004. The last time I went to a public city or town library was to attend a political focus group that was being hosted by PBS at Seattle Public Library, running up to the 2004 Presidential Election. I was feeling very active and energized that year, because I felt that we had been royally shafted in 2000, of course, and I wanted to do anything I could to participate in the process, and "be informed".

I did not look at any of the books in the library. I have not owned a library card since high school, when it was actually a library card that was made of paper, and did not get scanned in any way, and the returning and releasing of books was still done through stamping an ink date stamp inside the back cover on a little slip of manila thick stock that told you how many days you could keep the book before you started accruing $0.10 per day late fees.

I still have in my possession a library book from the Boston Public Library called "Death of a President" about the JFK assassination. I skipped school the day the report was due, and went downtown with my classmate, and we both worked on our reports. We did not have library cards, and I did not finish my report. So I "checked out" the book, without a library card, i.e. stole the book. Given that this was in 1986, I now owe the Boston Public Library approximately $840, assuming they've not increased their late fees. And it wasn't a very good book. And I got a C+ on the report, because my history teacher knew we'd cut school, and he marked me down a grade for handing in the B+ quality report a day late. I seem to remember we also ended up at Ruggles Pizza that day, which no longer exists, or maybe I am mixing this up with another time.

The Seattle Public Library is a remarkable building from the outside. But I remember very little of the inside. I did not explore the library at all after the session was over. The only noteworthy aspect of that, most recent visit to a public library was that I had a chance encounter that turned out to be of rather great consequence on the road of life. Kerry ultimately lost that election, even though I was energized and activist. But my enthusiasm for the process sparked other good things.

But I digress, cryptic though I may be.

So, I am probably not the best person to talk about the goings-on inside our lye-berries.

But let me say a word or two anyway.

The question of internet filtering immediately crosses the topic of censorship. That has to make the freedom-minded individual prickle at least a little bit at censorship happening in a library, which is supposed to represent the very notion of freedom of thought and expression, with its millions of books on millions of topics. How can the institution that stood up for things like "Brave New World" and "1984" and "Catcher in the Rye" then say "No!" to internet porn? One man's smut is another man's morning news, right?

But alas, it's never that simple. Is there a moral absolute? Are there some things that just fall below the line? Well, I am not sure, but I suspect that Seattle Public Library does not stock a full collection of "Anal Fantasies" magazine. I may be wrong. But I suspect. So is it inconsistent to lock down on the internets the same types of material that are deemed below the level of acceptability for a public institution's printed materials? Maybe we can all agree that pornography doesn't need to be freely browsable in a public place where anyone, young or old, could be viewing it.

But, is pornography the only thing being filtered from the internet in public libraries? Hm... I don't know the answer to that one. I know at least one person who probably does know the answer to that one. But since they're asleep right now, I am going to try Google.

After 30 seconds of Googling, I have learned that gambling is also often blocked. File sharing sites are often blocked. There are software systems sold specifically for libraries to implement these filters. Custom filters can be applied. Systems can send alerts, block completely, or merely log users' activity. There are sites that decry all of this as First Amendment violations. There are sites that advocate it from the standpoint of protecting laws (e.g. underage pornography, or illegal file-sharing), as well as protecting public computers from virus contamination.

Reading a little further, 21 states have laws requiring filtering in libraries or public schools.

There have been Supreme Court decisions on internet filtering, and the court deemed the laws to not violate First Amendment rights, even if some legitimate sites are blocked, because adult patrons can apparently request permission to have access to the blocked sites. 

A majority of the states that have laws about this subject are "Red States" (with exceptions, such as Michigan, California, Pennsylvania).

Some of the blocked sites, that are not pornographic, or gambling, or file-sharing, included sites related to topics such as: 

Rock Music
Medical Supplies
Sex Education
Fly Fishing
Armenian Food
Organic Farming
Planned Parenthood
Libertarian Party

So, the issue here is that when we think about internet filtering, as laypersons, we probably think "Of course, we don't want our children seeing porn, or downloading illegal materials. And anyway, do we want people abusing the privileges of computer use at public locations? Let the libraries make the right decisions. I am sure we can trust them!"

But when you look at the list of examples of blocked site topics above, what you see is that, given the freedom to censor, a library may deem any number of topics to be not of the variety they wish to have available at their establishment. And that's a bit scary.

I do not know what the rules are about public libraries with respect to the printed materials they carry. If you walk into a public library in rural Christian towns, and ask them for a copy of a racy sex or murder novel, can they tell you that they are unable to obtain such a book? Or must a public library procure for a patron any printed material that is available anywhere?

I understand we do not want our children going to the library to browse porn or download music. And we also don't want a dirty old homeless man stashing away in a back corner of the library, masturbating, because he can get sex for free online. But how do we balance those obvious societal norms with protecting against a library, or community, or government imposing censorship and deciding what is or is not acceptable for people to know?

Very interesting questions, these are.

07 March, 2009

Beliefs: Generation Gaps

Q: Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you hold that was not held by your parents.

Many things change from generation to generation. As a collective, we seem to drive toward opposing our parents. The pro-America, straight-laced 40s and 50s gave way to the counter-culture, free-love 60s and 70s, which gave way to the corporate 80s, which gave way to the retro-movement of the 90s, while not strictly along generational time scales. Some of these changes are surely driven by events of the world, but others are surely the result of the desire of youth to rebel against authority, namely the parent, in whatever form that happens to take.

So I thought it would be a good question to start with, asking people how their beliefs differ from their parents. But as you'll see with all of my questions, it's really hard to get the "why" instead of the "what". As for the what? Well, I sampled a set of friends who, by and large, have similar viewpoints to myself: liberal, educated, choosing to live in the Pacific Northwest. The ways in which people's beliefs differed from their parents ranged from the amusing ("Costco is evil"), to the abrupt ("There is no god"), to the quirky ("It's easy to repair cars"). There were a couple of people who mentioned the topic of expressing oneself through body art or piercings, and about how their parents tended to judge people in certain stereotypical ways based on these superficial features.

What I was hoping to understand was something about how we define ourselves as a result of our upbringing. And that can go both ways. For every case of someone who rebels and is the opposite of their parents, there's someone else who follows in the family footsteps. And this can be for better, or for worse. There are families of doctors, who play golf every Wednesday for generations. And there are families of abusers who witness atrocities, and then sadly, repeat them in adulthood. There doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern, at least not to me.

So, how do we get to the "Why?"

Why do you not believe in God, even though your family, by and large, did?

Why do you hate Costco, even though your parents have shopped there faithfully for years?

Why did you decide to start working on cars yourself, even though your father would never?

How do we get at the "Why?" Was it the associations we had? Did we interact with influential people who taught us something that our parents never had the chance to learn? Was it the absence of a dogma? Or the presence of a more powerful one? Was it random experimentation that resulted in new viewpoints, or was it the burning urge to be somehow better or more evolved than our creators? Is it a quest for individuality, or is it simply that there's new information that wasn't available to our parents, and yet they cling to their old beliefs?

If we were all given the same information would we all come to hold the same beliefs and positions in this world? Or do we each, individually, have the capacity to synthesize ideas?

Lots of butterflies, and lots of wings. Or maybe it's less Chaos Theory, and more Freud.

Sacrificial Calves

I was born in 1968.

And when I was born, I had a minor birth defect: a very subtle form of "Clubfoot". The example below is far more severe than what I had.

Although it was not severe, it still required treatment. That consisted of my feet being put in casts for some period of time as a baby. I do not really recall how long this lasted. The only remaining visual evidence that I ever had this problem is that my feet do want to fold inward, instead of straight, when they are relaxed.

As far as I knew, there was no lasting biomechanical deficit, but that turns out to probably not have been the case. The first time that I sprained my ankle, I was under ten years of age. I was jumping down the steps of the bus, coming home from camp at the end of a hot summer day. And when I landed on the sidewalk, my ankle turned, and it was sprained. Pretty badly. I had some trouble walking for awhile. That is not a very typical injury for a 9 year old, I don't think.

However, that was it, for awhile. So maybe it was just an isolated incident.

Then, in high school I joined the track team. And it was there that sprained ankles became a rather routine occurrence. Almost every couple of months, I would turn an ankle while running. The ankles would get very swollen, and I would miss several days of running. But it never was debilitating. Pretty much just a nuisance.

Senior year of high school, I was in a car accident, where I severely sprained my right ankle, while crashing into a telephone pole (and I'll save that story for another blog, when I'm really desperate for material). That time, the sprain was so severe that they told me I would have been better off if it had been broken. I couldn't walk for almost 3 weeks, and couldn't even bear any weight on it for over a week. Really bad.

After that, I kept running, and kept turning my ankles. It got to the point that my ankles had become "rubbery". I could literally snap my ankle over to the point that I occasionally had scratches or cuts on the outside of my ankle bone, and I would just keep running, and it didn't even swell anymore. There was nothing left to sprain! And though the right foot was worse, there were plenty of times I sprained the left ankle too.

So, nothing left to sprain... problem solved, right?

Unfortunately no. When I was about 25 years old, I was back into running pretty seriously again, and one day I was running 4 or 5 miles, out along some railroad tracks. And I must have stepped on a railroad tie just the wrong way, and I felt my calf muscle "Pop!" and had to immediately stop running. It was a severe muscle pull. I could not run back. I could barely walk. And I ended up having to ask a person in their yard if I could borrow their phone to call my roommate to come pick me up. It was that bad. And that was my first calf strain.

Since that first injury, I have never been able to run regularly, for any period of time. I will run for a few days, weeks, or sometimes months, and then, as soon as I feel like everything is "in the clear", there goes the calf pull again. And it's not always one side. Pretty much random. I have tried stretching. I have tried anti-inflammatories. I have tried strengthening exercises. I have tried ice. I have tried drinking lots of water. I have tried physical therapy. I have tried taking vitamins to avoid cramps. I have tried resting. I have tried alternative means of exercise. All to no avail.

At one point I went to an orthopedist who, of course, wanted to do surgery on my ankles to rebuild the damaged ligaments. I opted not to do so, because it seemed there was a chance I would end up worse off than I was already.

So, consistently, for the last 15 years, I have gone from running, to not running, to running, to injured, and back. I've repeatedly sworn that I would never bother trying to run again. But the problem is that I really love it. It's my favorite form of exercise. It is extremely frustrating to have the cardiovascular capacity, and strength to run forever, but not have the calf muscles to deliver me there. 

I have a theory about the cause. And, of course, no doctor is interested in my theory, because most doctors are not particularly curious about much of anything. But the theory goes like this, and I'll tell you here, because it's my blog, and I can write whatever I want: 

I think that when I finally damaged both of my ankles to the point that the ligaments were no longer capable of stabilizing my feet, which was already a predisposition due to the clubfeet, that my body began compensating by using calf muscle flexion to hold my feet in the proper position while running. And it's not something I can control, because it's about basic posture and stability. So, when I run, I am constantly applying much greater forces to my calves than someone who has good ankles. And thus, the low endurance, and tendency toward calf pulls.

It gets really old hearing people ask the question "Do you stretch?" or "Are you drinking enough water?", because I've been dealing with this for fifteen years now, and I know what works and doesn't work. The only thing that works is not running. Everything else doesn't work.

This past week, I guess I'd pushed it too far again, and both of my calves are on the verge of strain. So I'm doing kooky exercises like jogging in place. Maybe I should have done the surgery when I was 27. But I think it's a little late for it now. Better to just work around the problem and enjoy what I can do, instead of worrying about what I cannot do.

06 March, 2009

Turning Red

I am pretty sure I told you about the Insights Discovery thing a long time ago. You don't remember? Let me refresh your memory.

It's a personality test, a la Myers-Briggs, with an emphasis on how people interact with one another in business, as well as social situations. In case you don't want to go back and read the old blog entry, the summary is as follows. Everyone is a differing combination of 4 personality "colors" (borrowed from their website):
Cool Blue - People with a preference for Cool Blue energy are introverted
and have a desire to know and understand the world around them. They
prefer written communication in order to maintain clarity and precision,
radiating a desire for analysis.

Earth Green - People with a preference for Earth Green energy focus on
values and depth in relationships. They want others to be able to rely on
them. They prefer democratic relations that value the individual and are
personal in style, radiating a desire for understanding.

Sunshine Yellow - People with a preference for Sunshine Yellow energy
are strongly extraverted, radiant, and friendly. They are usually positive
and concerned with good human relations. They will approach others in a
persuasive, democratic manner, radiating a desire for sociability.

Fiery Red - People with a preference for Fiery Red energy are
extraverted and have high energy. They are action oriented and always in
motion. They will approach others in a direct, authoritative manner,
radiating a desire for power and control.

If you can get around the cheesiness, which you probably can't, it's clear that these actually map pretty well to a portion of the Myers-Briggs segmentation. I tested as Blue and Yellow, with the Red and Green very low. I noted in previous blog that this is odd, because Blue and Yellow are opposites, so to have both is fairly unusual. The other consequence of having my "conscious" type be strong on Blue/Yellow was that my "less conscious" type (which might be thought of as the basic nature, when not "managing" affect) is the exact opposite: Red/Green (there's some complicated analysis regarding balance between the colors, that you'll have to read elsewhere). The most interesting thing (to me) is that only a tiny fraction of population is like this.

So I told you a lot of this before, why am I telling you again?

Because I decided that I need to be more red at work.

I thought a lot about how I deal with situations, and what I have come to realize is that when I really, really care about something, I am actually quite red. And quite green as well. In band situations, I have often taken on leadership role. In relationships, I am always the planner, who coordinates and wants to take care, and make sure everything is fair and balanced and in good working order. But in work, for some reason, I have always found it easier to sit back and provide data (blue) or stir up enthusiasm (yellow), without spearheading processes (red), or bringing people together and helping others to be their best (green).

I am not sure if it is fear, or if it is laziness, or perhaps it's that my work has never been my inherent passion. But recently, due to both economic uncertainty, and the general sense that I was not progressing as quickly as I should in my career, I decided that it is time to be red and green. But not just at the expense of the other colors...

I am going to be all colors!!

Why? Because I can.

For some reason, I have the ability to shift from one channel to another, and pull out whatever energy is required for a situation. And all that it takes is the will, and the choice. One does not necessarily have to be indecisive, in order to be detail oriented. Just as one does not necessarily need to be lacking in firmness, in order to be sensitive to others feelings and needs. I want to challenge myself to "do it all" and see where it takes me.

In the workplace right now, it is taking a conscious effort to "drive the process," but I assume that after some period of doing this, I will become better at it.

2009 is the year to make all things happen.


Beliefs: The Questions

I sent an email, on August 15, 2008, to a large number of people. I did not get many responses. Maybe 8 or 10 actual responses. Maybe another 5-8 people wrote back either telling me that they might try to get around to responding, or that they were explicitly not going to respond. Others told me that they'd answer them in person, but not in writing. And still the majority, probably two-thirds, ignored the message, which I cannot really say I blame them, and I am not even sure my odds were particularly bad for a survey response rate.

The questions I asked, which again, I add the caveat, were "pilot" questions, were as follows:
Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you hold that was not held by your parents.

Tell me an example of a belief, idea, or position that you hold, which has changed at some point during your life.  What was going on in your life at that time?

Tell me about a person, or people who have shaped some of your beliefs, ideas, or positions (may be someone you know personally, or not - either is fine).

Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you think of as being either unique to you, or not held by many people.

Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that many people hold, which you do not.

Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you hold, and that you consider very important to you. What role does this play in your day-to-day life?

Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you have not shared or expressed to your friends and/or family. Why haven't you shared this?

Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that is held by someone close to you, about which you are skeptical.

Has there ever been a situation where differences in beliefs, ideas, or positions caused you conflict with someone close?  What was the issue?  How was it handled or resolved?
As I said, the goal is to learn something about how people come to hold their beliefs, but it's hard to ask that question directly. I was hoping that by asking people about their beliefs, it might give me a window into the "how". But I really don't think it did.

Beliefs: Why Am I Even Thinking About This?

The impetus for this project came about as a result of some cognitive dissonance that I experienced. This summer, I went to lunch with a colleague. I did not know this colleague well prior to the lunch. I only knew her through a mutual connection, and this lunch was loosely business, but mostly just a social engagement. It was *not* a date. I was dating, and she is married, and there were no doubts about that.

We went to lunch in Redmond, at Spazzo, I believe. And what I discovered at this lunch was that this woman might be the most polar opposite to me in every imaginable way, of any human being I have ever spoken with for any duration. Going right down the list, she was neo-conservative, gun owner, Israel supporter, anti-taxation, hated Clinton, loved Reagan, pro-life, drove a giant SUV, had a live-in nanny, plans for as many children as she could possibly have, materialistic, pro-death penalty, anti-Islam, anti-France, anti-Canada (!), opposed to national healthcare, and anything else vaguely socialistic, and basically considers Europe to be a bunch of failed systems. So, you name it, and we disagree on it.

And the thing that was dissonant for me was this:  I really like her, and find her (still) to be an incredibly compelling person. She is energetic, positive, caring, funny, generous, thoughtful, engaging. And above all, she seems intelligent, and measured in her views. Many extreme right-wing people that I have known have been unwilling to tell me *why* they feel a certain way, when pressed. They would fall back on excuses, or generalities, or just say that it's just how they feel. This woman had reasons. The fact that I disagree with her conclusions is another story. But the fact that she had reasons made me have to stop and think: 

Is there an absolute right and wrong in this world? Or is everything just a matter of point of view?

And that was a rather disturbing thought, because I like thinking I am right. I like thinking that we liberals are the ones who really "get it". But there was nothing about this woman that made me able to dismiss her as an idiot, or selfish, or crazy. 

And there was born the seed of the question: Why do we believe what we believe? How do we come to believe it? What is a belief, even? 

And it's not an easy question to ask, or to answer. People are so used to talking about their beliefs, but it's a completely different story to throw away the content, and merely try to understand the container that holds the content. I'll tell you up front that I don't have any answers. Like I said in the last entry, I learned a lot of intriguing things, but not about how people form beliefs. Nonetheless, I ask you to read onward...

Beliefs: A Research Project

The best way, perhaps, to get out of writer's block, is to go back through your archives and find the stories you never wrote. Revisit the passions that fell by the wayside. Or, if that fails, to recycle old material. Fortunately, I don't need to resort to the latter, because I had a fairly ripe project just waiting to be truly attended.

Back in the summer - August, to be precise - I had become inspired to start a research project. The project involved the following: Trying to understand something about what people believe, and why, and what holds them to those beliefs. It was a big undertaking, and I really had no idea how to pursue it. The questions that I had in my mind had a lot to do with asking people about the "what", but I think I was really more interested in the "why". I had a million ideas, and enlisted a blogger friend to talk about it with me. The grand scheme would be to interview total strangers, and ask them questions. But that would take effort, and planning. Much cheaper, in the research world, is the good, old-fashioned survey. So I decided to just send a big fishing line out to anyone I knew who was willing to answer.

I didn't do a very good job. But I learned something anyway. It just wasn't what I was trying to learn, or even expecting to learn.

Before I tell you anything that I learned, I want to tell you something up front: I will not, in any way, divulge anything personal that anyone told me. No names, or even details specific enough to be pinned to any person will be stated whatsoever. What I want to do is give "flavors" and that does not require any, or many verbatims, unless they're so obscure as to be completely anonymous.

With that, I am going to move on to the next chapter of this story, which will be titled: "Beliefs: Why Am I Even Thinking About This?"

03 March, 2009

How to get out of writer's block

I am not sure. But I need to jump start with something. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to jump into the past. I can't even compose these 4 sentences...

02 March, 2009

Keeping secrets

I'm not one to keep many secrets. 

As I think I told you last week, there are very few things I don't share. I've written a lot of things in my blog that many people would never discuss. I have talked about my history. I have talked about other people's histories. I have talked about beliefs. I have talked about anger, pain, regret, amusement, anxiety, disgust. I've written about relationships. I almost always find a way to write about what I'm feeling or what's on my mind, whether it be veiled, or completely blunt.

That's why it surprises me a bit that I am having a bit of writer's block. '

And I know why it is. It's because the thing that is presently dwelling at all levels of my consciousness is something that I don't want to share. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. It's not that I don't want you to know about it. In fact, I am dying to have it be known. I just don't want to share it here. I am protecting it. For some reason, I don't even want to tell you what it is that I don't want to tell you about. And the absurd irony of this is that probably all of you who read this blog already know what I'm talking about anyway.

This is shaping up to be a really thrilling blog entry. So much dirt!  So much scandal! Secrets! Thrills!  

But no. None of that. At least for now, these thoughts are my own. They are precious to me. 

And I want the beauty of it all to remain something special and private.

01 March, 2009

Determinism, fate, randomness, or free will... who the hell knows?

I've told you about how tiny strips of paper with phone numbers at bus stops can lead to cross-country treks, PhDs, life-long friendships, and rock-and-roll stardom. The butterfly flaps its wings in China, and it rains in New York City. And if you look carefully, you can always find these types of seemingly disjointed, yet causal connections. Everything leads to everything else. Unless it leads to nothing, of course. But then I don't write a blog about it.

I was talking about this subject with a friend of mine the other day, and they said they couldn't really think of any examples of such things happening to them. Makes me wonder if I am more perceptive, seeing these causal connections all going back to single points in time? Or am I delusional, and always trying to see interrelationships when there are none? 

You know, if you look for something, you will always find it. 

I remember in Psychology class in 12th grade, with Mr. Something (damn, I can't even remember his name - ah yes - Mr. McCormick), we were talking about advertising, and subminal messages. And one of the things they said in that class was that in printed ads, there would often be sexually suggestive imagery hidden in an ice cube. Or that sometimes something like the word "sex" would be hidden in the fabric of a woman's blouse, looking like nothing more than a squiggly pattern. So, of course, being teenagers, we started looking for sex everywhere. And of course, we found it. Written in the magazines, in the TV Guide, in our text books, on the concrete walls of the building, on the bath towel. You name it. And eventually, one day, my friend Rich found sex on the back of his hand. It was difficult to make it out, but upon careful inspection, there it was. Etched into the 18 years of creases in the skin of his hand. "Sex". It really was everywhere. And that is when I should have realized that you can find anything if you look for it hard enough. End aside.

That brings me back to connections and causality.

Are things really connected? I don't know. Chaos theory obviously applies to countless physical systems. It's the reason that weather is so hard to predict. It's the reason that a waterfall doesn't produce the same exact visual pattern from one second to the next. Tiny perturbations accumulate to yield massive changes in outcome. But does chaos, the theory, apply to human behavior? Or does our free will, conscious or otherwise, general take precedence over the tiny perturbations. 

One day you go to a different coffee shop because you needed to drop off your car to get some work done, and you bump into a beautiful girl who is buying a muffin, and you make a mental note that she likes the same kind of muffins as you. She smiles at you. You smile back, and then look away quickly, because you feel like you were staring. Three months later, you're at a Sheryl Crow concert at The Gorge, and you're waiting in line to buy a $9 Rolling Rock, and the coffee-shop girl is standing in line right in front of you. Sixteen months later, you're married to the coffee-shop girl. 

Chaos theory? Free will? Fate? Randomness? Who the fuck knows? 

We like to call attention to the positives, but I am sure there are many who are sadly forced to call attention to the similar negatives. Losing a loved one, it can be easy to spend the rest of your lonely life revisiting every step of the day or days that led up to the tragedy, trying to figure out what could have been different to explain why things happened the way they did. And it's interesting to note that while it's the same process: feel, experience, observe, collect, evaluate, revise, explain, connect, etc. It is clearly not the same feeling surrounding it. Whereas the negative is a painful sore in our minds that we always reopen, unable to just walk away and accept that "Shit Happens" as the saying goes, when it's a positive thing, we cling to it dearly, revisiting it like a favorite old movie, replaying the scenes in our mind, because it makes it more special to be able to rationalize how fortunate and unlikely such things actually are.

The human brain, and all of its hundreds of billions of neurons and their trillions (?) of synapses, is specialized for precisely that type of processing. Making connections between information we collect in our environment. 

So which is it?

If one ever utters the words "meant to be" it starts to become a religion. I don't want to believe things are meant to be because of an external force that governs. I would rather say that things come to be because of explainable scientific phenomena, or because of the act of choice - whether it be conscious, or unconscious. Coffee-shop guy wasn't led by the hand of Shiva into Fuel, instead of Essential. And the fact that he went there on that day is only relevant because it happened. The fact that there was a connection with coffee-shop girl was a function of a choice that guy and girl both made. The situation occurs, randomly, but then humans choose to make something of it. It is romantic to say that if his car mechanic had not rescheduled him for Wednesday instead of Tuesday, that he would not be married to coffee-shop girl today. And that is true. But it is also irrelevant. He did go. They did meet. And they did marry. 

All of our situations are always based on conditional probabilities: What is the probability of "A" given that "B" has occurred? That is the only question that matters. If I said to you, "What is the probability of me dying in a plane crash?", all you can do is cite statistics from websites, agencies, or news reels. But if I say to you, "What is the probability of me dying in a plane crash, given that I am in a plane that just ran out of fuel at 35,000 feet?" then the number changes a bit, and probably gets very close to 100%.

And that's how we need to think of things. The winds of randomness, which we can attribute to butterfly wings, or whatever, are always blowing situations into our laps. Those are the "conditions" that govern the probabilities that we then face.

There is a flip side to this, of course.

Another thing humans are really good at is telling stories. And it makes a much better story to say that our coffee-shop couple has Rick's Chevron to thank for their life of happiness, than to blame it on random chance. 

That, my friends, is called "romance".

Wicker Baskets

She took the wicker baskets back
It really makes no sense
It seems a little spiteful
Though, I'll say in her defense...

It cannot have been easy
Collecting all those things
Belongings tied to memories
And all the pain they bring

She took the wicker baskets back
What use could they have had?
For Easter eggs? Or balls of yarn?
More likely she was mad

Perhaps they were a symbol
Of nurturing or care
And she took them 'cause she could not find
The box of snorkeling gear

She took the wicker baskets
That organized our mail
Now postcards, bills, and envelopes
Are strewn across the table

Don't know what she was thinking
And expect I never will...