Monday, December 31, 2018

Turning Points & Placeholders


It’s possible that I’m writing this post just so that I will have written seven blog posts in 2018, rather than the even more pathetic six that the count stands at now.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this year. In terms of my own life, I can think of equally convincing narratives in which it’s a turning point, and other’s in which it’s just another placeholder. I guess if you really think about it, every moment is both a turning point and a place holder simultaneously. But I’ve been trying not to think about it.

I think too much. Writing makes it worse. So I’ve been trying to limit how much I do of either. I’ve obviously been successful at limiting the writing part. The thinking part has been more of a struggle.

I need to spend more time with people. I’ve known that for several years, but I’ve been reminded of it again visiting my old friends back up in New York this past week. But it’s difficult. A couple weeks ago, I went out for tea with someone I met on the internet, and she told me she couldn't believe me when I said I was a sort of a loner and spend about 98% of my time alone. But I am, and do. I don't think it's what I want, but it happens somehow. 

I think I need to change my lifestyle, because I’m worried about my health — and become more focused on my goals, because I’m worried about the future. But I also think I need to stop worrying about my health and about the future.

In terms of the world, I don’t know. I just don’t know. And I feel like I know the least I ever have.

I hope you have a happy New Year, wherever you are. Whether 2019 is a turning point or a placeholder for you, may you find what you need in it, be that peace or striving or something in between.   

Sunday, December 02, 2018

I [finally] finished the Harry Potter series

It's funny how things in your mind can change so much without anything really changing at all. Coming to the end of this weekend, my near-term outlook on life is much less hopeful than it was this evening seven days ago. So much has changed, all without anything changing. I just now know a couple of things I'd been hoping for months would come to be most likely never will.

The funny thing is, those outcomes were probably just as certain a week ago as they are now. As all outcomes are probably certain all the time — or at least I've always tended to think they probably are. The difference is knowing, and the way we always hope. Even an incorrigible pessimist like myself hopes.

I finished the final book in the Harry Potter series today. Two years after I started, and about fifteen years late. But that's beside the point. Without giving anything too much away to the handful of other people on the planet who didn't read them in junior high, there's a very thought provoking little discourse in the second-to-last chapter about how we all know we are going to die, but simply the fact we don't know exactly when makes it seem much, much more bearable. I guess that's the same principle. Or maybe its inverse.

Maybe that's where all this is coming from, and I should stop reading the teen literature I wasn't allowed to read as a teenager to try and recapture something long gone. Or maybe it's that just when I was starting to feel like I'd become remarkably better at coping, I'm suddenly having a difficult time again.

I'm really sorry if you thought this was going to be my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and are just now realizing it's probably a trap to try and make you feel as glum as I have the past couple days. You shouldn't, and I shouldn't.

The past year has been amazing and far more than I ever could have dreamed would be December last year when things really seemed to be falling to pieces for me. All the things I've got to do and be part of, and all the people I got to get to know and be with have been amazing. That it hasn't all gone in the next direction I thought and hoped it might doesn't in any way tarnish what it was.

Like Harry realizes, in the grand scheme of things, we all end up dead. But we don't know when, and the fact that we will shouldn't detract or minimize from what was or is. So this much smaller ending shouldn't either.

There, see. I brought it back to Harry Potter. So you can't be that mad at me.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Trending

Sometimes I think we don't appreciate how much society is changing and in how short a time. And I wonder what it will be like for me when I'm old — if I make it that long — to say nothing for my children, in the increasingly unlikely scenario that I have any.

This summer I started listening to music using an app that displays all kinds of information about the song and artist on the screen while the audio plays — including the release date of the album. I’ve been struck by the fact that the release dates on albums I'd listened to in my teens are often two or three years before when I remember listening to them.

What strikes me as odd about this isn't that I started listing to music that was several years old  — I still do this frequently. Rather, it's that I remember feeling at the time like it was the latest and greatest thing. That's where the change is: As far as me and anyone I knew were concerned, it was the latest greatest thing. After all, we had just got it, and there was no reference point from which to say it was dated.

Art and news and trends moved soooooooooo much slower just fifteen years ago than they do now.

When I first played the board game Settlers of Catan in or around 2004, it was because my then karate instructor told my class about it. So I started playing it, and introducing my friends to it, and all the time thought of it as this edgy new German style board game that had just become a thing. And for me, my then karate instructor who introduced me to it, and the guy at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania who's name people still remembered in hushed tones in 2008 when I was a student there (but I have subsequently forgotten) who first brought the game to the school sometime around 2003 when my karate instructor was a student there; for all these people, it was a thing.

Yet, if I look up Settlers of Catan on Wikipedia as I write this post, I see that the game was initially published in Germany in 1995 and introduced in the US a year later. So all of the excitement and newness and edginess that my friends and I felt on discovering the world of Catan in 2004 was nearly a decade after it was released.

Compare that to now, when the whole world knows about everything the hour after it happens and is over it the next day.

Catan may be an unfair example as the distribution channels for board games have always been slower and less linear than for, say, Hollywood movies. Also, in my case, almost any example is going to be exaggerated: I was a fourteen-year-old in a moderately xenophobic sect of Christian-Reconstructionists living in a socio-economic backwater in a rural part of Pennsylvania that escapes being classified as part of the Rust Belt only because it was never developed enough in the first place to have rusted.

The point is, though, trends today travel so quickly and globally and then become irrelevant so much faster than they did just 15 or 20 years ago. Everyone all over the world is seeing and possibly thinking more or less the same things at almost the same time. And when we try to stop it, our efforts end up sounding like the headlines of online satire: Just this year, dozens of my acquaintances took to Facebook to complain about Facebook, and Steve Bannon went on an international speaking tour to warn against internationalism and was happy to discover that the global community of isolationists has never been more connected.

We can't go back. Like it or not, we live in a world now where a fringe interpretation of a major religion adhered to by a small militia group in a country almost no one cares about can become a global online movement drawing adherents from Australia to Canada to become part of an actual territoriality nation-state, and then vanish back into to the sand and the internet chat rooms from whence it came. And all this in less time than it took the record of a band that had risen to prominence in Brooklyn, New York, in 2001, to travel five hours to influence a kid a kid near Troy, Pennsylvania in 2006.

Certainly, we aren't all confronted by the same trends. If anything, there is more diversity of interest than at any time before. Just spend an afternoon reading through subreddits. And there are dark corners of Discord and 4chan that most of us will never know even exist until they suddenly explode into our real physical lives leaving us only to ask: why? But the speed with which these subcultures and movements develop and move outside the constraints of face-to-face community and geography that used to exist is new.

This isn't all bad. There are positive examples, and I'm sure someone who is more of an optimist than me would have used them. But it is different than it was before, and this week I've been thinking about how different it is, and wondering where it will go from here.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Day 20

Today was day 17 since the 3rd most powerful hurricane to make landfall in US history buzz-sawed through north Florida. And day 20 that the State Emergency Operations Center was activated in response to it.

I've worked 11 to 16 hour shifts 19 of of those 20 days. And the one day that I took off was such a disaster that even though I had the chance to take another one off tomorrow I decided against it. I don't mean the day I took off was a disaster for anyone else — just for me personally. 

I have this weird thing where if I get into a rhythm with something intense, it's really hard for me to stop, even when all apparent evidence would suggest that I need to take a break. As long as I keep going I'm fine. It's the moment I stop that I go to pieces. 

I don't really understand why this is. I usually have no trouble with large amounts of free time. I even seek it out. And I'm not a workaholic. If anything, I tend to generally be more worried that I'm lazy and lack motivation. But there are times when I really can't stop. 

When I was in the Middle East for just shy of two years, I didn't come back to visit the US once during the entire duration — even when one of my grandparents passed away. This wasn't really because it was against my organization's rules, or because I couldn't afford it, as I variously told people. In reality, it was because I knew that once I got back to family, and security and normalcy, I would fall apart. 

That's how I feel now. 

The last 20 days have been one of the most intense experiences of my life. Barring none. I've been stretched personally and professionally, at least a couple times near to the breaking point. I've had to learn to rely on my teammates in ways that I can only remember on one or two other occasions in my life before now. I can also say, for perhaps the first time ever with honesty, that there is really nothing else that I'd rather be doing and nowhere I'd rather be. But I can't shake the feeling that the moment I stop for more than a night, I'll go through windshield. Again. 

So tomorrow morning, before the sun rises, I'll go back. Just like I will the next day and the day after that. Anything to push back that moment when I'm all alone in my living room and everything is quiet and normal and I suddenly have to think about what it all means. Or if it all even means anything. It's all equally terrifying to me. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Religion, Politics and Weather


I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time. I guess that’s partly because I — for the first time in my life —  have a job that consists almost entirely of writing. And while the vast majority of what I write is pretty much soul-crushingly boring, I don’t feel the need to have some sort of outlet for it in the way that I did in the past.

That’s too bad really, because — regardless of what anyone else thought of it — blogging often seemed like a good way to organize my thoughts. I guess that’s another part of it, though: I feel like I know less now about who I am and what I think and believe than at any time previous, and the few things that I do think and believe for sure are far too dark or contrarian for me to want to burden those around me with them. This started several years ago, but it hit some kind of critical mass just this January, and I’ve had a difficult time since. Religion and politics have always been poor subjects for conversation, I suppose. But now it’s worse.

Even the weather is ruined for me now. I spend untold hours writing about the weather and how it’s going to ruin your life and my life and everyone’s dog’s life. It used to be that when I was at a hotel (the only time I ever watch TV) and the news got so bad that I started getting heart-palpitations and having uncontrollable visualizations of myself diving off the balcony, I would change it to the Weather Channel and zone out. Apparently we each get the hell we deserve.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in hotels recently. That’s been fun actually — at least aside from not being able to watch TV in them. I love traveling and learning about new things, and I feel super lucky to be at a place in life where I get paid to do that. I spent most of last week in meetings at Kennedy Space Center. It was crazy and I felt like Forrest Gump the whole time. And then I spent all of this week in Savannah, where among other things I saw the park where Forrest Gump sat on his bench.

I still don’t really know anyone in Tallahassee aside from my coworkers, but a few of them have become friends now. Aside from that, not too much has changed since I last wrote. At least nothing that isn’t on the list of things I now refuse to write about. Despite that, I will try to post some things on here a bit more often than I have.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

19 things that people from the American South and the Middle East have in common


More than half a decade ago, while I was studying at a small college in south-east Tennessee, I spent the summer doing an internship in Beirut, Lebanon. And it occurred to me either then, or shortly after, that there are quite a number of odd parallels between Arab and American Southern culture. I actually considered writing a blog post about it then, but since at that point I’d really only spent a year in Tennessee—and less than two months in the Middle East—I figured I would be criticized for making generalizations about things I had very little experience with. So I put it out of my mind, until in 2014, I moved back to Lebanon for what was to become nearly two years of life there, abridged only by stints of travel throughout the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. At that point though, I felt pretty far removed from the five semesters I’d spent in Tennessee, so a post comparing Arab and Southern idiosyncrasies felt neither-here-nor-there. But now, having just moved to north Florida for the foreseeable future, I think it’s time at last that I put pen to paper about it.

As to my qualm about generalizations, I can only qualify this by saying that am talking about societies in general, not people specifically. Indeed, I know many people from the Arabic speaking world to whom none of these things would apply, and many people from the American South for whom the same could be said. That said, I still feel qualms about it. In the end though, my excitement about making this list outweighs the qualms. Really, these are two parts of the world that I think terribly misunderstand each other. I think this is almost certainly due to the fact that their only interaction has been when they were conscripted by their national governments to fight each other, when in reality, they have so many things in common. So without further ado, Southerners and Arabs:

  1. Put alarming, tooth obliterating, diabetic-coma-inducing amounts of sugar in their tea
  2. Just can’t get enough of shows in which people phone in to ask a religious authority for advice on issues that have no apparently obvious connection to religion
  3. Are paradoxically ultra-patriotic AND…
  4. …deeply suspicious of their own governments
  5. Love guns
  6. Think the blinkers on the corners of automobiles have no other utility than expressing celebration
  7. Are Young-Earth Creationists
  8. Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooove fried chicken. Particularly in a sandwich
  9. Would like to see prayer back in schools
  10. Drive huge trucks/SUVs
  11. Express public, vocal, and often political opposition to things that they themselves frequently do in private
  12. Fried chicken again for emphasis
  13. Would probably feel they were being persecuted if less than 2/3 of the radio stations were playing sermons at any given time
  14. Like to have strong leaders
  15. Share a concept of Honor that is lost on people from almost anywhere else in the world and that isn’t worth even trying to explain short of a dissertation, but safe to say is in the background of almost every aspect of life. Perhaps because of this….
  16. …are exceptionally friendly, BUT…
  17. …things can go sideways horrifyingly fast if you break the rules
  18. Have an amazingly strong concept of Heritage and connectedness to an idyllic past
  19. Believe that keeping that connectedness alive is vital and worth fighting for, even when it’s challenging to contextualize it in a global and post-modern world

***

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed it, and if I die suspiciously tomorrow, you may as well just call it an accident, because the list of suspects will be hopelessly long.

In all seriousness though, I do think these are real. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that everything is the same. There are several notable areas where there is a 180-degree difference (etiquette in line for the grocery checkout is a major one that comes to mind). Still, as major world cultures go, I think the similarities are very interesting, and I almost wonder if somewhere down the road it would be possible to do some sort of exchange program. Then again, that might be a bad idea. But who really knows?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Moving

So I've just moved to Florida.

After two years in upstate New York, I'm trading the subzero windchill for humidity, the road-rage-in-the-shopping-aisle rudeness for the almost-stiflingly polite, and the bomb-cyclone for the hurricane.

Lest you think I went soft and moved south to escape the cold and the speed and the malice like so many retired snowbirds, I did not. This was a career-motivated move.

Okay, well at least mostly.

But reasons aside, I have moved. And I find that anytime I move, I begin having strange and unwelcome thoughts. The first of these is that I should get married; the second that I should buy a truck.

But for realz, moving by yourself is hard. There's like a bazillion things that you need to do all at the same time. Like go to the city utilities building that is really only open while you're supposed to be at work or find a time for the cable guy to come.

And then there's decisions, Decisions, DECISIONS — that you have to make and no one can really help you, because ultimately they only really affect you.

I should qualify this by saying that any of the places I've moved — even overseas — I've always had friends or family there who were awesome and more than willing to assist in anyway they could. But it's still tough.

Normally I really prefer being alone, but moving pretty much always makes me wish I wasn't.

And then there's the truck. If I bought a truck, it would be much easier to move furniture.

That's all I have to say about the truck.

So I'm here for the fourth time in as many years, having these strange thoughts. But I'm sure it will pass. It always does. And I'll continue to blissfully drive my subcompact on into my solitary and misanthropic future.

Which is not to say that if you're passing through Tallahassee at any point in the next couple years you shouldn't swing by for a visit. You absolutely should.