Flirting With Nihilism

shouting into the void about 21st century living

I usually feel like an old man when I remind myself that it's been over 20 years since my mom bought the first family desktop computer in 1998. I don't remember much about the specifications other than the computer was a Compaq with a 3GB hard drive, which the salesman assured my mother was plenty of space, an amount that we would never fill. The computer set my mom back about $1,200. Fast forward to 2019 and my $250 Android phone has 4GB of RAM and an uncompressed 2-hour Blu-Ray movie is over 30GB. The computer salesman obviously didn't foresee the changes in technology when he made his pitch.

The computer came with a 56k dial-up modem, so it made sense to get internet service. The boonies of North Louisiana are not early adopters of the latest technology, so we could subscribe to only 28.8k service. However, in reality, we were excited if we got a 19200 bps connection. At those speeds, we weren't exactly surfing the World Wide Web, but we were able to crawl along it. How spoiled I am now with my 200 Mbps option.

Photo by Leon Seibert from Unsplash

Looking back, it's pretty obvious that I was addicted to the computer and the internet. Actually, I knew it even at the time, but I didn't care. I spent every free moment basking in the glow of the CRT monitor. I did so to escape the village I called home. (Yes, with a population of few than 500 people, my hometown was actually a village.) Napster alone was a godsend, as the local radio stations played the same five bands on repeat every single day. That's why to this day I'm burned out on Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, Van Halen, and Bon Jovi. The computer screen (and eventually the phone screen and the tablet screen) became a means to escape into a far more interesting world.

Ample time away has made me realize that my hometown wasn't that bad; such thinking is too binary. But it was not a place I wanted to stay any longer than necessary. I wanted more than my hometown could offer. I wanted a diversity of personalities and diversity in things that really mattered to me: music, movies, books, and ideas. And all of that was available with a computer and the World Wide Web.

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While I am in some ways intrigued by Gary Vaynerchuk, I am wary of his advice. In particular, I do not like Vaynerchuk's message of working every second of every day in order to achieve success. While I do believe that hard work and sacrifice are important, I do worry about the effects a relentless grind has on one's physical and mental health. Fortunately, it appears that I'm not alone.

However, I do believe in giving credit where it's due. And though I disagree with his overall message, that hardly means Vaynerchuk has no good insights. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Despite my concerns about Vaynerchuk, I have been hearing echoes of one piece of his advice in my own life over the last few weeks:

“Love the process and the grind more than the payoff.”

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All That I've Forgotten

If you follow me on Mastodon, then you know that in the last couple months or so I've fallen in love with bullet journaling. Hard. You also know that I sought bullet journaling when I started trying to unplug from screens in order to get my attention back. And if you don't follow me on Mastodon, well, you know these things now.

Before finally jumping on the hype train, I had looked into bullet journaling a few times over the last couple years. I had been intimidated and discouraged by the beautiful spreads I found during my research. And all I need is a little discourage.

Photo from the official Bullet Journal website

I recently went to my local public library and picked up The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal. I was delighted to see that Carroll keeps his journal minimalist and focuses on functionality rather than aesthetics. After reading Carroll's book, the concept made sense to me. I now steal a few ideas from reddit here and there and change them to fit my needs.

I think I've finally found my perfect weekly spread. One struggle down.

So now I'm a bullet journaling fiend. I've branded myself an evangelist and started spreading the word, like that annoying cousin who suddenly wants to talk to about “the unique opportunity to get in at the ground level and invest in something revolutionary”.

Initially, I was interested in bullet journaling because I wanted to stay organized and productive. Calendars and to-do apps weren't cutting it for me. I imagine one explanation could be that spending too much time in front of screens was zapping my cognition. Another could be the argument that we better retain whatever we write by hand. The bullet journal, like meditating, requires us to slow down and be more intentional, and so in that way, I do consider bullet journaling a practice in mindfulness.

I later realized that the bullet journal is a great way to document things. You know, like what a journal is supposed to do. And so I wonder if I'll ever go back and look at my old journals and entries and reminisce and maybe even marvel at all that I've forgotten.

And so I'm now faced with a new existential regret—I wish I'd been journaling all this time.

I'm not a very sentimental person, and these days I try to look forward rather than backward in time. People's memories are unreliable at best, and specific memories slip away more if we never reflect on them.

I can think of a few specific times in my life I wish I'd been journaling.

Summer camp days

During college, I worked three summers as a counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. My first summer was the summer before my freshman year of college. Each week brought the opportunity to meet kids with a variety of daily challenges, including:

  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Spina bifida
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Sickle cell anemia

Looking back, I can easily recall some important life lessons I learned during my time at camp.

We all want so many of the same things.

I realized that regardless of their challenges, the campers wanted many of the same things that the counselors wanted, most notably to feel acceptance and as if they belong. And then I realized that you can extend that to nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. We're usually better able to accept others when we're able to understand them, so having learned about this shared struggle has gone a long way in developing empathy.

The importance of a good team

So many managers say that their company's greatest asset is its people. When I hear this, I usually roll my eyes because the phrase has become such a cliche. But the saying is in fact true. My last summer at the camp, I was made head counselor, and things ran pretty damn smoothly. I wish I could take all the credit, but the truth is that the directors got incredibly lucky with their hiring that summer. They somehow put together a phenomenal team with unbelievable chemistry.

The teams my previous two summers were good, but the team from that third summer took the prize. Those other counselors made my job ridiculously easy, and that was when I learned that I want to work with the best people whenever I have the opportunity.

The value of shared experience

Soldiers who have fought side by side in the same wars have a bond that needs no explanation. Even if we can't imagine what the two have seen together, we can understand that it's unlike what most of us will ever experience. That's how I feel when I look back at my time at that summer camp. Those counselors and I have a unique shared experience. We have perspectives that don't need to be explained between us. And if another counselor gave a good effort for just one summer, that says a lot about his character.

I wish I'd kept a journal of this time in my life because I know I've forgotten some great stories and funny moments. And I'm sure I could find a few more valuable life lessons if I could flip through the pages again. I also think I could have gotten some great material for a memoir.

College

Ah, college, the greatest four (or seven) years that no one remembers. It's not as if I'm unable to remember my college experience due to a lack of sobriety—I can't remember because it seems so long ago now and my memory has gone down the crapper over the last few years.

College was my first experience away from home...until my stepdad moved to my college town before my sophomore year because he lost his job back home. It was a time in which I was struggling for independence while still holding onto a bit of a safety net. It was an era of increased responsibility, trying to find my future, and getting my heart broken a few times.

I wish I had kept a journal of this time so that I could go back and laugh at myself and what I thought constituted “problems” at the time.

My grief and recovery

My experiences with grief have been documented here and have become the foundation of this blog, so I won't go into too much detail. But I wish I had journaled during this period of my life for a couple reasons.

For one, it could have made things easier for me. Of course, that means that I would have had to find a way to open up, even if only to myself, and be honest with what I was feeling in order to let it flow out. Allowing myself to feel what I was going through was the basis of my struggle, but maybe the process would have been easier if I had already developed a journaling habit. There's no point in wondering too much about “what could have been”, but it is interesting to consider.

I also wonder what other bits of wisdom I let slip into the ether. What else could I learn about my grief if I had some raw text to reflect on? I suppose now I'll never know. I have to stick with the memories I have and see if I can dig up anything new going forward.

My memory sucks now and it's probably not going to get any better. But worst case scenario, at least I now have something else to reference.

#journaling #bulletjournal #bujo #memories

The concept of identity is a significant struggle for nearly everyone. For most, the struggle has begun by adolescence, when we find ourselves juggling hormones and free thought and free will. This struggle evolves and continues or resurfaces throughout various points of a lifetime: the first time we leave the family nest, the mid-life crisis, and then our turn as empty nesters, just to name a few.

In order to satisfy the search for our own identities, we have to answer numerous questions about ourselves. Questions of ideology, ethics, morality, sexuality and perhaps even gender. We have to consider how we present ourselves, whom we associate with, and how we respond to offenses both direct and indirect. Every bit of nuance goes into defining an identity. Or perhaps I should say identities, as most of us do conduct ourselves differently depending on our audience or company. Most of us do not act the same at work vs. at home or among friends vs. among family. We acknowledge and accept that different scenarios call for different behavior norms. Some would call this being two-faced as if it is merely a character flaw, but I'm sure there is some evolutionary benefit to such behavior. Likability does have its perks, after all.

I try to keep my multiple selves as consistent as possible, but there's no denying that I'm different people in different contexts. My opinions are quite different if a microphone is in my face as opposed to what I will say among trusted friends or under the guise of anonymity or a pseudonym.

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I don't consider myself a remarkably intelligent person. I see intelligence as one's ability to figure things out and to solve problems on his own. At best, I might be slightly above average—emphasis on slightly—intelligence, but nothing extraordinary. Perhaps my view of my own intelligence is skewed by my absent-mindedness, which often leads to embarrassment, something I've learned to take in stride. On the other hand, that same view is likely inflated by one's tendency to think himself special. There's a good chance I'm more average than I want to admit.

I'm more confident when it comes to gauging my wisdom. If I can be completely honest, I do consider myself fairly wise. I define wisdom as one's ability to learn from his own experiences as well as the experiences of others. The greatest gift from my most painful experiences has been the lessons. The accompanying pain is a reminder of what I've overcome, of all the monsters I've killed, and also a reminder not to repeat certain actions, whether those actions are my own or someone else's. The real torture comes when one doesn't learn and instead keeps making the same mistakes again and again.

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We have all at some point said those words: I don't have time. We usually say them after we've revealed a desire to do something different, such as exercise, learn a new language, or try our hand at standup comedy. I often said the phrase after I talked about wanting to write again.

When you say I don't have time for something in your personal life, most people will never challenge you. They'll nod their heads and give the sympathy you seek and then you both continue eating your third helping of chocolate chip cookie sundae and complain that you can't lose weight. But it's not your fault because you don't eat unhealthy—your mother had thyroid issues, so you should get yours checked. But you never do it. You don't have time, after all.

Are you seeing a pattern?

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I'm usually happy to save money, but September 14 was a bit of a sad day for me, as it signified the end of my subscription to The Economist. A few months ago, I'd decided I needed to keep up with what's going on in the world. I'd already taken a chance on The Washington Post during a particular promotion, but the publication has always felt biased on one end of the political spectrum. And the same felt true of The New York Times, so I wasn't sure of where else to go.

I'm not foolish enough to believe that I don't have my own biases, but I do try to challenge my biases once I am aware of them. Doing so seems to me to be the best strategy for finding objective truth or something like it. After a bit of research, I settled on The Economist because, with its concise yet informative articles, the publication seemed to be the most nearly center source of news. I hoped that a smaller word count would mean fewer opportunities for fluff and ideological fodder. And I can't say that my expectations weren't met. That's not why I cancelled. I started considering it because I simply did not have time to read one edition before next week's edition came in.

A couple months ago, I made the decision to consciously unplug. I started by deleting my mainstream social media accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and disabled most notifications on my phone. I worked on clearing a path to reading and writing on a regular basis. I eventually got into bullet journaling. These small changes gradually helped me to reach my goal. And so here I am now, enlightened and wiser and better than everyone else. Err, I mean, better than I was before.

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When we sit around and think about our own versions of lives well-lived, we most likely envision ourselves elderly and passing away peacefully in our sleep. There's something about leaving this world as an octogenerian that adds a layer of accomplishment to our struggle. I'm guilty of this romanticization on a couple fronts. When I hear that someone over the age of 80 has taken his last breath, I usually respond with something along the lines of That's a good run. Also, when I think of my own end, I hope I will have made the eight-decade club, though the odds may not be ever in my favor based on my family history.


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Though I'm too lazy to look up the data to support my claim, I'd wager that it's natural for people to desire to be seen as the Good Guy rather than the Bad Guy. Sure, maybe we enjoyed playing the Bad Guy role at the playground as we forcechoked our friends in our best Darth Vader impressions. Or maybe we watched the world burn as we played our own version of The Joker. But when it comes to real life, most of us want to be the Good Guy. The Hero. We want to be Luke Skywalker or Batman, at least until we get older and wiser and realize that the Caped Crusader might not be completely good himself.

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I'm a bit of a recovered nice guy. At first glance, nice guy doesn't sound so bad. What can be wrong about being nice, right? But it helps if you say nice guy the way you'd say it if you used air quotations when saying it to your friend.

Like this: “Nice guy”.

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