Mr Fixit

So I’m back to trying to develop a writing habit in hopes that I can get myself trained to just sit down and write.  Whatever comes to mind, whatever piques my interest on any given day.

So these days, what am I doing?  I was in a production of Spamalot, did my first role in drag (Dennis’ Mother) and had a really great after project review at work.  Had some family challenges but went back to therapy and got them figured out, or figured out I couldn’t do anything about them, which is what I’m writing about now.

A big part of my identity is tied into my ability to solve problems. That’s what I do for a living. My family problems were something I couldn’t fix, because I wasn’t one of the people directly involved.

It took me a while to accept that I couldn’t fix things, in the process beginning to feel like a real failure.

I think we all pride ourselves on being able to solve our own problems, but we really can’t.  There are a lot of graves full of people who never accepted they couldn’t solve their problems on their own, without anyone’s help.  It’s not that we can’t help ourselves, but we need the help of others on a pretty regular basis in one form or another.  Our doctor helps us get well when we get sick, our friends help us feel less lonely (if they don’t make you feel less lonely, they’re not very good friends, in my opinion, or you need a different sort of friend.)

One of the problems I see constantly among those of the LIbertarian mindset is the denial of this one simple fact.  There isn’t one of us that isn’t dependent upon someone else for something, either for our very existence or at the very least the continued ease of our existence.  The only person truly responsible for themselves is a hermit, living off the land with no resources other than what he creates by his own hand.  I think most people don’t see that as a particularly desirable lifestyle.

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A Bad Case of Humilogance

I work sometimes as a programmer, which has led me to any number of realizations about not only computers but about human nature as well.

Programmers are a lot like writers, in that a great deal of their time is spent staring blankly into space before laying fingers to keyboard, and some of my best solutions and ideas for writing come to me when I’m driving home for work, the highway hypnotizing me into amazing acts of  creativity.

Writers and programmers share another trait.  We secretly doubt the worth of our own work, but will defend it ferociously against crtiicism.  I think this fades with maturity, but at the beginning of my programming career I didn’t have enough experience to know that I had no idea what I was talking about most of the time.

With maturity came humility as I learned how much I didn’t know and how much there was still to learn.  That’s not to say that arrogance doesn’t still raise it’s ugly, swollen head, but now I have enough humility to tamp it down and ask more questions first.  Having a predisposition to premature understanding (I think I understand things before I really do), I’ve struggled with this, but I think I’ve got it down, finally.

I actually created my own word for this feeling: humilogance.  The definition of humilogance is having the overwhelming desire to call someone out for being stupid, but having the humility not to because you know you’re kind of a dumbass at times.

I’ve lost count of the times I should have had humilogance, but as I grow older it’s more a regular occurrence.  I guess it’s true, the more you learn, the more you realize how much there still is to learn.

Small Victories

I suffer from anxiety and depression.  It’s one of the things that I constantly struggle with.  It’s mostly a matter of the following thoughts running through my head over and over again:
* I’m not smart enough.
* I’m not doing a good job
* I’m letting people down.
* Why can’t I get my act together?

Often all it takes is a sideways glance from a supervisor or coworker or a mental shock to my system (being told that something wasn’t good enough when I thought I’d done a good job) and my mind is off to the races, creating no end of troubles that I can ruminate over again and again.

“Gentlemen, start your recriminations!” the voice in my head exclaims, as the obsessiing begins.  The sad thing is that when this happens, not only do I obsess about the present, but every failure, embarrasing gaffe or blunder comes along for the ride.

My therapist, who I am very glad for at times like this, says it all has to do with some kind of childhood trauma that set those patterns.  I think the record that seems to play over and over in my head at times like this is missing side 2.

Why can’t I obsess about good things?  The project that went well, or the time my wife was so excited because I sent her roses twice on our anniversary?  The moment at which I figured something out after a long drawn out effort?  What is it about our brains that won’t let us focus on the positive, at least those of us who suffer from this malady.

I’m proud of myself today though.  I sat down and did my exercise that I’m supposed to do when this happens.  I wrote down what I was feeling, what triggered it, and then started looking at the facts and realized that half of the things I was starting to get upset over weren’t worth it.  I was amplifying a few minor things and discounting the things that went well.

I wrote down the things that were going well, and then I wrote down a rebuttal to all of the feelings that were making me feel bad.  And guess what, I felt better immediately.

That may seem like a small accomplishment, but 3 months ago, I wouldn’t even have the energy to write this.  I would have been in my bed instead, trying to get unconscious so I ddin’t have to deal with it.

So at this point I am going to celebrate small victories.  Tomorrow is another day blah…blah….blah.

I Am Most Definitely Down in the Trumps

Mostly, I consider politics a spectator sport, for people too smart to enjoy football.  (That ought to get some outraged comments) I discuss policy and campaign events like some people talk about the latest NFL draft. I generally have friends of the same persuasion, interested in following what is happening in the halls of Congress and the State House as much for entertainment as for the very definite impact it can have on our lives.

I do draw the line at Donald Trump. Politics should be at least somewhat cerebral, at least in my opinion, and Trump brings the level of political discourse down another 30 feet from where it was when Sarah Palin tried to run it into the ground in 2008.

What bothers me is that there are so many people who up until now, were proud of their ignorance and apathy who are falling for this guy’s line of nonsense. To a man (Trump seems to be determined to push women out of his core constituency by being a sexist pig on steroids), they seem to think politics should involve the same kind of trash talk that is usually seen in professional wrestling or Mixed Martial Arts arenas.

“He’s honest and tells it like it is!” they exclaim, not realizing that nothing Trump says is truly like it is. He is the ultimate televangelist, promising a heavenly destination where the dirty immigrants know their place and America is again the school yard bully, rubbing everyone else’s face in our greatness, which is a lie we tell ourselves to cover up for the fact that some of us go to bed hungry or are being forced to give our lunch money to the bullies to keep them from moving our jobs somewhere else.

Some may want to call him a fascist, or the next incarnation of Mussolini, or other overwrought implementations of Godwin’s law, but I am not as dismayed by that aspect of his candidacy. What dismays me is that there are people who actually think he might be competent to hold the nuclear codes and actually try to govern. I can only think they are so disgusted and so disappointed in the government that they put into office, that they just don’t think it matters anymore.

I still have hopes for this country.  I still hope that we will again be a country of ideas and ideals.  I still think we have it in ourselves to be a country that is looked up to rather than feared, or worse ridiculed.

We can do better than this buffoon.

Happy Whatever

I don’t wish to be disrespectful to those that celebrate the various holidays that happen around this time of year, but until we require people to wear armbands identifying their religious affiliation, I’ll continue to say “Happy Holidays “or, since I’m a curmudgeon and Scrooge of the highest order, “Happy Whatever”

But I’m generally not fond of the seasons greetings cycle we go through this time of year.  I’d rather see people be nice to each other year round.  I’d rather people took time out to think about the less fortunate all the time, rather than forget about them except for a few weeks.

I’m probably guilty of not having the requisite Christmas spirit, because the day stopped being special to me a long time ago.  The first year I didn’t make it home for Christmas broke me, I guess.  I was working in radio at the time, and part time radio personalities got to spent Christmas working, not going home to their families.  My family being a long way away a the time, and me not having a working car, I pretty much resigned myself to spending the day alone.

Then later, I worked retail over the season for several years.  There’s nothing like dealing with stressed out, often upset and angry people to make you wonder if the whole thing is worth it at all.  I am trying to get it back, really.  Having grandchildren has helped me rediscover the joy of Christmas to a certain extent.  The other thing I’ve done in the last few years is helping to serve at our Community Dinner, which is an event that happens every year so that people in the same situation that I was all that time ago, don’t have to spend the day alone.

I think sometimes that was what perhaps made Christmas just another day, was the overwhelming sense of loneliness it brought.  There were years, I didn’t even get a phone call from my family, and I sometimes wonder if I would have heard from them at all if I hadn’t called myself.  Things like that will have an effect on you long after the fact.

Eventually I started being able to go home for Christmas again, after my first wife and I divorced, and going home for Christmas was a way to make sure my parents got to see the grandkids.  Unfortunately, I never quite regained the sense of excitement that Christmas gives so many other people.

My wife is frequently upset by my unwillingness to get “In the Christmas mood.” as she calls it.  She loves Christmas and everything about it.  Immediately after Thanksgiving she is ready to put up the tree, the lights, and start getting ready.  I’m usually ready for a nap.

Oddly enough, my one steady Christmas habit is watching every adaptation of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” I can find.  I think I’m hoping watching Scrooge’s redemption will rub off on me somehow.  I haven’t been visited by any spirits, unless you count Barney jumping up on the bed to be let out to go pee at 3 am.

But I’m starting to come around.  I still keep to my usual bad habits, poking at the wingnuts on the opinion page, grousing about the dogs wanting in and out every five minutes, sitting on my fat backside and writing.  My son calls me a Grinch, but I had to remind him that would make him a son of a Grinch, which he didn’t think was funny.

I think the way I’m changing is that I’m finally starting to realize that my grouchiness isn’t fair to everyone else, and that I can’t let my bad attitude ruin everything.  So I’ll try to give up my accustomed grouchiness and think happy thoughts.

Cheese and Crackers

One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that for me, food is very much a means of memory.  Of course anyone who has seen me in person probably already knows this by the prodigious size of my midsection.  It’s shrunk some this year, but there’s plenty left to go.  The new job I just got will require me to walk around a lot which will help quite a bit.

I was making myself a plate of cheese and crackers and remembered it was one of my Dad’s favorite snacks.  He was a bit of a cheese connis-, a cheese connes, well he liked cheese a lot.  He especially liked sharp cheddars, the sort of thing that would practically reach off the plate and force you to eat it.  There were a lot of other things he was fond of, sardines, pickled pigs feet, pork brains (one of the things I’ve sworn never to knowingly eat again.)  I still like sardines and I still like pickled pigs feet, though I haven’t had them in a long time.

The thing is, all of those things are a part of my memories of my father.  When I open a can of sardines or eat cheese and crackers, or drink a beer, they all bring back memories of the times I spent with my dad, talking with him when I was very young, drinking beer with him as I got older.

My mom on the other hand, introduced me to lots of different foods.  My parents had the attitude that no matter whether you had tried it before and hated it, you had to try a little bit every time it was served at the table.  As a result, I learned to eat all sorts of things that I would have probably passed on if I’d had a choice.  Liver and onions, brussel sprouts, sweetbreads (thymus gland), beef heart, head cheese etc.  And oddly enough, even now I get a craving for liver and onions when I’m feeling a little homesick and wish I was closer to where my Mom lives so I could get her to make it for me.

My wife laughs at me, because there have been times when we’ve gone to places I have lived in the past and all my memories are tied to restaurants.  I think that’s probably mostly due to being single and a little lonesome.  Restaurants were a place to go to just be around people, even if I didn’t talk to any of them.  Nowadays, I have a wife and family, so my excursions to restaurants tend to be more about going to eat and enjoy a good meal.  I am a big fan of Vietnamese and Thai food especially.  It took a while before I could build up to eating the really spicy stuff, but I really love the flavors.  Pad Thai and Pho are my favorite, but I also like Tom Yum and there’s a fish stew I’ve had a couple of times that is just fantastic.

There is also a downside to this though, there are certain dishes that remind me of pain.  I started hating goulash because my ex wife would fix nothing but goulash the last year we were married.

My wife, Anne, sometimes gets into a rut, but she has never resorted to fixing the same thing night after night.  She makes chili a lot, but I love her chili, so it’s not really a problem.  She’s become a much better cook in the 15 years we’ve been married.  When we first got married, her cooking palette consisted of two colors, brown and white, and two food groups, which pretty much amounted to the Midwest holy duo of starch and protein.  She made a lot of chicken breast with rice covered in cream of mushroom soup.

Again, going back to my mom’s cooking, it was often unusual, but it was usually very tasty and with lots of things that most people wouldn’t consider traditional Midwest cuisine.  This sometimes caused some difficulty with my father as he was not excited about trying anything that did not have at least a little protein.  I remember his reaction the first time my mom cooked a tofu stir fry.  “Where’s the meat?”

He mellowed over time, but my mother’s tendency to try new things, even when the rest of us find them unpalatable, hasn’t changed any.  She still inflicts minted peas, which taste like turpentine, and eggplant, which wouldn’t be bad, except she has a seeming inability to identify the eggplants that aren’t long past their prime.

My son’s tastes run to chicken strips and french fries, though he does like broccoli, so there’s that.

I got the job.

I just found out that I got the job I interviewed for earlier.  Having been a contract IT guy for the last 15 years or so, it’s a neccesary evil to look for work every so often.  Thankfully, I seem to have a set of marketable skills that I can sell to prospective employers.

I think the reason I’ve cleaved to contracting (if you’ll pardon the alliteration) is not because I fear commitment, but because I am ADD.

Most contracting jobs I’ve had have allowed me to do a lot of different tasks, and interact with a lot of different people, which fits my personality better than doing the same thing everyday.

I have not done as well at full time gigs, merely because I didn’t really enjoy the sustained, constricted effort it required to deal with the bureaucracy and administrative nonsense that goes along with being a permanent staff member.

You may be wondering, why does he say he is ADD, instead of saying he has ADD?  Because I’ve learned over a long period that it isn’t so much a disorder as a way of being wired.  If I had my way, it would be renamed to reflect that many of us with ADD appreciate some of the things it does for us, though we have to learn to manage some of the effects. 

I tell people that ADD is like having a little guy in your head with a remote control who is constantly channel surfing.  Only he surfs not only the exterior environment, but the internal environment as well.  This is probably why anxiety is a co-morbid condition for a lot of ADDers, you never know when your psyche is going to dredge up something unpleasant from the internal side.

Every once in a while, the channel surfer finds something he really likes, and then he locks on, to the point of getting upset if pulled away.  This is called hyperfocus, and it can be both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that once you get there you can be incredibly productive, and get lots accomplished. The curse is that people approach you at their peril. I’ve gone so far as to put up warning signs. “I’ve only bitten three people today, don’t press your luck.” “Trespassers will be violated.” (my personal favorite, though it got me hauled into HR once.) I also like “I’m Grumpy, dammit!” but it’s been too long and none of my coworkers get the SNL reference because they need to get off my lawn.

https://screen.yahoo.com/eddie-murphy-snl-skits/gumby-story-000000758.html

Mostly what I find that works for me is music, preferrably Mozart, as it seems to put the little channel surfing prick to sleep so I can get something done.