flirting with nihilism

shouting into the void with questions about 21st century living...

“Daddy, can we buy a ninja?”

My son had asked the question so many times whenever we had gone to Frys, but I didn’t know as we got out of the car on a Saturday afternoon and headed toward the store that this trip may be the last time he would ask. I told him I didn’t have any quarters, which was a truth I would later regret.

Like most kids, my son has a habit of asking for a toy when one catches his eye at a store. A few years ago, I discovered I could satisfy his itch by putting a couple of quarters into one of those gumball-style vending machines near the exit of Frys. His machine of choice dispensed tiny toy ninjas in a variety of colors holding any of a number of weapons.

Insert your coins, turn the knob, and out pops a cheap plastic container. Open the container and find your ninja. White ninjas, black ninjas, yellow ninjas, red ninjas, blue ninjas—with swords, daggers, nunchucks. . .

The possibilities are endless. Gotta catch ‘em all.

When we walked inside, the open part of the store which was normally filled with some sort of seasonal display was empty. Is the store closing? I joked to myself. Then I turned to my right toward the area where the PC builds and components could usually be found but became concerned when I saw nothing PC-related. Instead I saw paper goods and stationery. No big deal, they’re just rearranging, I thought. That also explains why some of the shelves are empty, right?

Rows of empty shelves at Frys

But the explanation could not explain so many empty shelves, and it definitely could not explain why the back corner of the store, usually populated with rows of monitors and laptops, now had only a few measly offerings.

My son standing in the monitor section at FrysLikeness has been altered to protect the innocent

This place is closing.

My fears were all but confirmed when I noticed that the Xbox games aisle was a ghost town.

Xbox games display nearly empty

No one planning to stay in business lets the Xbox game supply get that low. Your local Sears keeps a healthier stock of video games, and we all know it’s only a matter of time before Sears is taken out back like Old Yeller. I pulled out my phone and conducted a quick Google search only to discover that Frys corporate is denying any closures despite customers having similar experiences at stores around the country.

I often read about stores closing and retailers folding but I rarely bat an eye. This is the first instance I recall ever affecting me since I’ve wasted so much money at Frys over the years. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t mourn the chain’s potential demise. I’d have a lot more money lying around if the store had gone under earlier. (Who am I kidding—I would have spent the money elsewhere.)

My wallet aches when I think about all of the needless stuff I bought there: monitor arms, computer risers, PC cases, a NAS. How many cables? How many adapters? How many ninjas?

Yes, there’s that element—the emotional element. When I think of Frys, I think of weekend mornings and afternoons spent with my son browsing the store. I think of his getting bored and begging to go and my bribing him with the promise of a 50-cent toy from a gumball vending machine if he will be good and give me time to look around and daydream and maybe waste some more money.

I had told myself we should return to the store the following day so that I could buy him one last ninja. But that didn’t happen because life happened and I guess I kind of got over it.

It’s eerie exploring massive stores that will soon be empty. Seeing bare shelves and display spaces adds an element of horror to the shopping experience. Like ghost towns, such stores are reminders that the good times don’t automatically last forever. Technology and economics are progressing and shifting every second and what works today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow. So stores are closed and jobs are lost and square foot upon square foot of retail space becomes a concrete wasteland to be abandoned potentially for years or even decades. All that space sits unused and becomes an eyesore to anyone who ventures by.

And any time a retail location closes, we all look to the retail Baba Yaga, Amazon. I understand the arguments against Amazon and I’ve made the case at different points. But damn, they make it so easy and I don’t have the strong convictions that I know I should have. At least I can be honest about it rather than projecting that everyone else is the problem. I own my place in the proper camp.

Maybe my local Frys won’t experience such a dire fate. A few months ago, my local Tom Thumb closed down only to be re-branded into an El Rancho. I remember that same eeriness when I browsed the empty shelves at Tom Thumb and I remember many of the same thoughts about commerce and change and the employees who become casualties. But ultimately the grocery store’s fate wasn’t so grim—it merely adapted to better serve different demographics.

Maybe the explanation from the Frys corporate office is valid. Maybe their shelves are empty because they’re in the process of changing their business and supply model and maybe the transition is taking a bit longer than anyone would like.

It’s silly to lament the possible closing of an electronics store. But it’s another reminder of something I’ve learned during my grief journey: We are unaware of the comforts in our lives we take for granted. We are ignorant to the assumptions we make and the expectations we have about our daily lives. All it takes is one or two fundamental changes to disrupt our lives and our identities. And we’re living in an era of rapid change in nearly every facet of existence.

This is not to say that change is bad. But it is disruptive and it takes time to adapt. There is a cost for change, but even the very best change brings its own share of unintended consequences that negatively impact someone.

We call them “growing pains” for a reason.

#personal #retail #Frys #change #disruption #progress

I spend so much time trying to get out of my head yet I've spent the last few weeks trying to get back in. The holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving disrupted the routine I had spent most of 2019 creating. One of my proudest accomplishments of the year was negated by a few days off work. 2019 was the year I realized the importance of consistency. And 2020 will by the year I focus on regaining and maintaining consistency while preparing for the disruption that will come with the 2020 holiday season.

I'm always looking for my ideal balance—yes, even when I walk because I can be clumsy at times—and part of that quest includes establishing how much time to spend in my own head. Spending too much time in your own mental juggle has negatives. For instance, when you're feeling stress or self-doubt during tense competition, it's probably best to break out of the gauntlet of your mind.

In the long run, listening to your internal negative voices may reveal problems you need to address, but if time is valuable and a deadline is looming, those voices will likely weigh you down and so they should be ignored until a later date. Everything in its right place.

I've grown up living in my own head. Doing so has always felt natural. Perhaps the comfort stems from growing up an only child. As an only child, I have no problem entertaining myself since I'm used to having no one else around to entertain me. In fact, these days when free time is ever more precious, I often prefer to be left to my own devices. I enjoy doing what I want to do and pursuing my interests. I'm self-sufficient that way.

Like any other introvert, I explore the world while in my head. Sometimes I start with a random thought which leads to an hours-long daydream. The origins of my blog posts and fiction exist in the real world outside my head, but the heart of my writing is discovered in my thoughts. If I don't have time alone to consider all that's happening around me, I will never be able to write. And worse, I will feel as I am just bouncing around in life with no direction.

I need to be inside my own head in order to process the world around me and believe me, I have quite a bit to process. Also, I'm not remarkably intelligent, so I need time to repeatedly attack my challenges. But emotions in particular take much effort to sort through and make sense of.

In numerous previous posts I've shared my struggles with processing grief. And as I’ve said on previous posts, grief can be complicated and tricky. But the same can be said about anger. The root of anger is not always obvious and can take some time to discover. Perhaps that's because anger is a reaction more than an emotion. Regardless, anger is an energy, one that should be managed.

When you spend time in your head, it's too easy to see your own perspective. I'm wise enough to know that I am wrong plenty. On the flip side, I have had a habit of ignoring my feelings in order to keep peace with others, a practice which caused me to become angry and unhappy with myself. Ignoring your own emotions is not a great way to keep peace within yourself. Now when I am angry, not only do I search for the origin of my anger, but I then have to judge whether said anger is justified or I have to ask to what extent it is justified. Anger has a way of clouding anyone's vision, so these situations can take a while as I work to determine what I should apologize for and what I should stand firm on.

Few people see the world as I do, and only I see it exactly as I do. That's why I treasure those few people I can connect with about my passions. Those people allow me to share what's in my head—my true self—and in those moments I feel comfortable stepping outside of myself.

The struggle with how much to live inside your head plays into the balance of conformity vs. individuality. To function in society, we all have to conform to some extent. We have to create a sense of familiarity with others to earn the benefits and protections of belonging to a larger group. But we do have to stay true to ourselves about what we value and hold dear. You can run all you want, but you can't hide from yourself—at least not without the assistance of mind-altering drugs. Wherever you go, there you are.

As I now find comfort in settling back into my own head, I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be fighting to get out again as part of my endless labor to find and maintain balance while I ping-pong between the poles. Such is life.

#personal #individuality #conformity #introvert #introversion

Have you ever asked yourself what are your personal covenants for writing? Do you require good grammar and perfect punctuation? Does the protagonist have to be likable? Do you want insight into the background of the characters? Must there be a happy ending? How do you feel about sequences of questions? Fragments and incomplete sentences?

I like to think that I'm flexible on all of the questions above and that I can get on board for almost any adventure as long as it's done well, but my favorite writing is about discovering and sharing truths. These truths may be universal or deeply personal. Existential or mundane. Whatever the specifics, my favorite writing reveals something often overlooked or unspoken.

Perhaps that’s why I count Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, and Hubert Selby, Jr., among my favorite authors. Each author looks at people of different classes and perhaps even generations to address struggles and pleasures alike that many of us may be unaware of.

Bret Easton Ellis's debut novel Less Than Zero showed me that being born into a life of excess can be a privilege and a misfortune. Such lifestyle can give a person access to exclusive places and people, but it can also keep a person from finding connection and sincerity in others. I am not suggesting that everyone of impressive means is shallow and superficial, but there are many reasons most us of never reach the levels of the rich and famous. Unusual accomplishments often require unusual sacrifices, and sometimes that means sacrificing yourself—your soul, your individuality, your humanity. While having money does solve money problems, it does not solve every problem.

Ask fans to describe the works of Hubert Selby, Jr., and you're likely to hear one word repeated: compassion. Selby often writes about the downtrods of society but does so in an effort to make his readers connect with and better understand his characters and subjects. Requiem For A Dream, which focuses on the hopes and struggles of addicts—and which was made into an awesome film with a chilling theme song —reminds us that people are not inherently bad simply because they go down a bad path. Neither of the story's four main characters has malice or ill will in his or her heart, yet they all found themselves going down paths they cannot correct. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

In novels like The Road, the tale of the journey south taken by a young boy and his father after an unnamed catastrophe has struck the world, Cormac McCarthy also shows how little you need in order to tell truths as the father and son are never named at any point in the story. That method of storytelling is its own kind of truth as it focuses on only the essential elements. Such stories focus on the fundamentals and force readers to reflect on what truly matters.

In many ways my blog has become about truth insofar as my own personhood. Searching for and accepting certain truths have gone a long way in my own growth over the last few years. I’m on a constant search for more truths as I continue to examine myself and consider all the pieces that make me who I am and keep me from becoming whom I want to be.

I hope that my fiction contains similar truths. The last few bits of fiction I've written have turned out to be deeply personal in some way, which makes for writing that is both exciting and frightening—exciting because you're peeling back another layer of the onion of your individuality yet frightening for the same reasons.

And if I am ever able to complete a novel, I expect to find truths of a similar sort. The expected subject matter guarantees it. Write what you know, they say.

As far back as I can remember, I have been interested in the truths of the human experience. And I have finally reached a point where I feel I have at least some authority to contribute to the conversation. I now realize that truth is my artistic goal and struggle.

Image from Joel de Vriend on Unsplash.com

But what constitutes truth? The age old question repeats itself.

Journalism was once a discipline dedicated to the truth of facts yet these days it is often reduced to propaganda or clickbait headlines. Anyone who calls him or herself a journalist should define truth in the most conservative manner. The journalist's relationship with truth is one reason I switched out of journalism in college—I didn't want to write only facts for a living. I'm not professional enough to refrain from putting myself in my writing, but I can’t make it as cool as Hunter S. Thompson did. Can anyone?

I have always thought of truth as being mostly relative, which appears to increasingly be the case in 2020 when it seems as if a person can find a source to validate any claim. Perhaps this is why I prefer to focus on truths of the individual because almost anything can be true to someone on a personal level, depending on his experience and his exposure to the world around him and outside him.

Being honest can be difficult and scary. Anytime you're honest about anything you risk offending someone. But when it feels as if you're destined to offend someone no matter what you do, the case can be made that you should just go ahead and speak your truth.

And so in 2020, I find myself struggling to tell as much truth as I can afford to tell. I’m dipping my toes ever farther into the deep end, seeing just how far I’m willing to go. But I remain careful not to go too much further out at any point. I never was a great swimmer.

#personal #writing #truth

Last week I closed out 2019 with a bit of reflection. Now is the time to look ahead to 2020 and identify goals for the 366 days (Don't forget about Leap Year) that await.

Lose 20 pounds in 2020

As I've already stated on this blog, I lost 15 pounds in the second half of 2019. That's a good primer for losing 20 extra pounds in 2020. I don't expect to do anything drastic. I just need to keep on keeping on, and with a long enough timeline, I should be able to reach my goal.

This is the only of my goals that might be worthy of its own hashtag: #20for2020

Weekly posts on Flirting With Nihilism

I have been working on making writing a consistent habit, and I started publishing blog posts on a weekly basis with some small hiccups here and there. I would like to ride that momentum into solidifying a regular schedule for my original write.as blog.

## Monthly posts on Truth & Hyperbole

Here is where I announce the launch of my flash fiction blog, Truth & Hyperbole. I hope that my fiction will be more refined than my posts on Flirting With Nihilism, and so I would like to take some extra time between posts for edits and revisions.

In 2019 my writing goals revolved around practice and frequency, and I’m keeping that theme going in 2020.

I have since killed this blog and decided to consolidate my personal essays and fiction into Flirting With Nihilism. I will separate my posts via the tags blog and fiction.

Prep for a novel

I’ve had an idea for a novel floating around in my head for a few years, but I’ve had difficulty writing it because I still haven’t answered questions about fundamental aspects of my story such as character details, the location(s), and specific events. I’m not too great at improvising as I go in my writing, so I would like to take 2020 to outline my project. It would be great if I were able to start writing my novel in 2020, but at worst I would like to be ready to go by January 1, 2021.

Use fewer commas in my writing

I have a problem with commas in that I use them too often. I'm confident in my usage and feel that said usage is correct, but using too many commas bogs writing down. Even if I do reach my goal of reducing unnecessary commas, I'll always be Team Oxford Comma. Because sometimes commas are necessary.

Use a custom domain for my email

I'm cheating on this one since I've already transitioned my email to a custom domain, which is one of the best digital investments a person can make as Steven Ovadia mentioned on his blog Linux Rig. An unclaimed domain can be had for about $10 (recurring on an annual basis so long as you keep the domain) and can be used with email hosts both free and paid. If you decide to change email providers and leave certain digital ecosystems, there's no need to notify anyone because your contacts can continue reaching you at the same email address. You switch providers, but no one has reason to know or care. It's a great setup.

Lately I've been struggling with what to do with my unwanted books. I buy many of my books at sales hosted by the local chapter of the Friends of the Library, so it feels pointless to donate the same books to the library only to have them back in rotation at another sale.

Recently I stumbled upon a reddit post in which someone recommended donating books to prisoners. After a little Google-fu, I found a local group dedicated to getting books into the hands of prisoners.

Over the last couple of years I've been looking for ways to be more generous, so giving unwanted books to prisoners makes for a double win.

Keep a list of books read

I more or less started doing this in the 3rd quarter of 2019 when I started bullet journaling. I keep a couple of lists—one for fiction and one for non-fiction—for books I would like to read and then I mark them off the list whenever I've completed them. But I would like to have a list only of books I've read, rather than a list of the books on my wishlist that have been read. This may be a good opportunity to utilize my goodreads account.

Play more disc golf

All work, no play... Sometimes you just gotta let loose and let the discs fly. Disc golf is cheaper than regular golf but a player can become as obsessive over his throw as he can his swing. However, disc golf does not make for great small talk at the water cooler. There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Getting back into a routine

The holiday season is great if you’re lucky enough to work in a career that affords time off. You will never hear me complain about extra vacation or holiday time, but the holiday season makes maintaining routines and habits difficult. I’m looking forward to the return to normalcy but once I’m back in a routine it won't be long before I'm complaining that I would like some extra time off again.

The new year is upon us

I don’t take resolutions too seriously. I don’t expect my life to suddenly and dramatically change on January 1st of any year, but the changing of the year is a good time to think about some of the things you wish you did differently. We should feel free to make positive changes on any date, so I’m sure my goals will shift throughout 2020.

And so...

Onward to 2020.

#personal #newyear #resolutions #goals #writing

I have a habit of underselling my life story. At first glance, I usually say that my life has been boring, which is fine with me because boring means no drama. But when I take a look beyond one of my preferred defense mechanisms, I see that I have been hit with plenty of drama and therefore also with plenty of excitement. This conclusion also aptly describes my 2019 in review.

2019 brought its fair share of challenges, but it also brought some rewards. In those ways, 2019 was a typical year.

Now, let’s get to the highlights.

Hello, baby girl

The LaCaze family closed out the first quarter of 2019 with the addition of a baby girl. She has given us an abundance of joy, but a new child does bring stress, as even the best child brings about change.

Bringing another life into this world was a great opportunity to revisit certain existential questions and to flirt with nihilism—shoutout to the brand! After learning of my daughter's pending arrival, I pondered life and death and the meaning or meaninglessness of it all. Ultimately, the arrival of my daughter was another reminder that life goes on. That we have no choice but to face whatever lies ahead, no matter our fears.

Thank you for the lessons, baby girl. And thank you in advance for the lessons that lie ahead.

2019 was the year I got my grief in check

I can’t be so bold as to say that 2019 was the year I got over my grief because grief is a long, tricky process. I would argue that real grief is never ending. Just when you think you’re over the trauma, you will be caught off guard by something that re-opens your wound. Maybe you stumble upon one of your loved one’s favorite songs. You know, the one the departed played on an endless loop that nearly drove you into a homicidal rage. But every time you hear the song these days you can’t help thinking about the person who’s left a giant hole in your heart. And now, here you are—a terrible emotional mess—and everyone around you is wondering why you’re crying to “Thong Song”.

I hate when that happens.

With a lot of hard work and a bit of time, I was able to move my grief from the front of my mind to somewhere in the back. It’s still there, ready to pounce when I least expect it, but it no longer dominates my day-to-day life. And that’s progress.

Got laid off

Layoffs are not fun because that usually means you’ve lost your primary income source. But for me, the event may bring a sense of relief because usually I know it’s coming long before it happens. And once the axe has dropped, the anxiety of waiting for the inevitable and the tug-of-war of the “Should I stay or should I go” exercise are gone. At least when you get the notice that your services won’t be needed anymore, you know where your future lies—or rather, where it doesn’t lie—and so you have no choice but to move forward into that great unknown.

It also helps when the layoff isn’t your first and you’re at a point in your career where you’ve been forced to accept that it won’t be the last. So you prepare for such events. And on to the next one.

Got a new job

I was fortunate to be able to do some contract work for an old boss after a week-and-a-half post-layoff staycation. And in less than two months I had a new full-time job. I’ve enjoyed the last few months with my new employer and I’m excited to see what we do in 2020.

Established a healthy sleep/wakeup routine

For the first 34 years of life, I let my FOMO ruin my sleep schedule. I stayed up way too late engaging in unproductive activities, only to suffer the next morning when I had difficulty waking up at a decent hour. I wouldn’t get up and get moving until the last minute, which meant I started my day in a rush. This made the rest of the day exhausting. Every. Single. Day. Rinse and repeat.

These days, I’m often showered and in bed by 8PM. I may spend a couple of hours writing, journaling, or reading, but I’m usually on my way to Dreamland by 10PM. And then I wake up at 5:30AM to have my coffee and hopefully get some writing in before work.

Revealing this schedule isn’t likely to impress anyone. It’s the antithesis to the party animal routine. But it’s healthy, and I love it.

Started writing again

Because I established a better routine, I was able to find time to start writing again, which has made me feel more nearly whole as a person. Writing is something I need for myself as it is a selfish activity. Maybe one day I can make some money as a writer and then I can tell people that I do it for the fam, but for now, writing is something I do for me. It’s a vital part of my self care package.

Started taking better care of myself physically

I’ve already documented how exercising nearly killed me. After a few months, I’ve moved past that. Losing 15 pounds helps.

In addition to workouts with my employer’s personal trainer, I’ve also started going on more walks. While I don’t count calories, I do try to be mindful of my physical health goals and resist the urge to have that extra cheese danish. Every little bit helps.

Lost a dog

A couple of months ago, our family dog passed away unexpectedly. She appeared perfectly healthy until she vomited a couple of times and then her breathing became labored and then she was gone. While the vet threw out a few possibilities, ultimately she couldn’t verify anything without expensive tests, so we will never know why the dog died suddenly.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Got a new dog

After a few weeks, my wife decided she was ready to adopt another dog, so she searched online for our next mutt. I did my part by becoming irrationally attached to a certain dog way too fast and hijacking her process and making it all about me.

One day I hope I can be the person my dog thinks I am.

Fell in love with Sturgill Simpson

I’ve known of Sturgill Simpson and have enjoyed his music for a few years now, but for some reason, 2019 was the year I fell in love with his music. My daughter seems to enjoy karaoke time with Daddy—or maybe she doesn’t have the ability to protest yet—and even though the song is written for a son, “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)” was one of her early favorite tunes.

In September, Sturgill blew everyone’s mind when he abandoned his country roots and released a dubstep rock album called Sound & Fury. The album feels like a much-needed middle finger to the country music establishment, and I love it. Sound & Fury is a reminder of why fans fell in love with Sturgill in the first place—the man is not afraid to take a chance and to push boundaries.

Also, data has confirmed my love of Sturgill Simpson as Spotify revealed that he was my top music artist of 2019. Spotify also reported that “Call To Arms” was my song of the year, so Sturgill cleaned up some hardware at the 2019 Jakey Awards.

But wait, there's more

This post hardly includes all that happened in 2019, but it's a nice snapshot of a few highs and lows. This time of year has always been interesting to me because we find ourselves in limbo, saying goodbye to one year while anticipating (or dreading) the new year just around the corner. I hope you have a great holiday season and I hope you'll join me next week when I share what I'm looking forward to in 2020.

#personal

Perform a quick Google search for the criteria for calling yourself a writer, and you're likely to find any number of requirements. Do you have to be published before you can call yourself a writer? Are you a writer if you pump out genre fiction, or are you a writer only if your works are shelved in literary fiction? Are you a writer only if you obsess over your craft to the point that you neglect everything else in your life—your relationships, employment, and health and hygiene? Are you a writer only if you get paid for your work?

So many possibilities.

Let's keep it simple since you know that's how we roll at Flirting With Nihilism. For the sake of this post, a writer is someone who writes. It's as simple as that.

The next natural question would be, What counts as writing? Obviously, writing requires the act of writing itself. Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Writers write, after all.

The act of writing is undoubtedly the most important part of writing, but there are a number of other writerly activities that contribute to the craft.

Editing

Some people will roll their eyes at this one and let out a big Duh. But editing is one of the most hated writerly activities. Everyone wants to believe his first draft will be a masterpiece, but deep down we all know that every work needs at least one run of revisions. If nothing else, we need to take the opportunity to sniff out any sneaky typos.

I know I need more practice in editing. Perhaps I should turn that into a goal/resolution for 2020.

Reading

This one is pretty obvious. If Rule #1 of Writer Club is that you must write, then Rule #2 is that you must read. Why you would read works similar to your own writing is straight forward: doing so gives proper influence to your writing. But it's also good to read outside your genre, for diversity's sake.

You can also read books about writing or style. Nerd alert! While I have my own opinions about writing, I almost always take something away when I read a style guide. If nothing else, I may discover that I don't agree with certain writing “rules” in style guides, which makes me feel like a bit of a rebel.

A silhouette of a woman raising her fist into the air Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash.com

Journaling

I find journaling to be meditative and reflective. The practice helps me to clear my mind, which clears the path for writing. I've recently concluded that in the past I was unable to write because my head was a mess. I had too much stuff—mostly anxiety—bouncing around up there with no healthy outlet. These days I try to get all that bother out on paper.

Journaling helps to give me structure. I tend to lean on my journal for keeping track of events and appointments while my digital calendar is more of a backup. Also, a journal is a great place for retaining working material. A journal is easy to flip through, which simplifies the process of rediscovering old ideas. Digital solutions are fantastic for archiving complete works, but I do not find them ideal for browsing and rediscovering ideas. Digital solutions can be too organized for some uses.

Over the last few years, I've heard many claims that writing by hand helps with memory and also with uncovering deep thoughts and feelings. While I understand and appreciate the value of working with technology, I often find myself going back to the old ways.

Observing

Where do your ideas come from? I'm not a very original person, so I get my ideas from what I observe in my day-to-day life. My mind is almost always taking events in and processing them. I'm always looking for little tidbits wherever I can find them.

I especially enjoy observing people and their reactions to events and situations. People are usually my favorite part of my favorite stories. I'm convinced that if a story has great characters and style, I'm in for almost any adventure or misadventure. I'm further convinced that, at least for my writing, these characters are not created but found, observed in the wild and brought to life for others via words on the page.

Writer's groups and events

Over the last few months I have been to a few writer's groups and happy hours. I'm embarrassed to say I've yet to share any work as my ego isn't ready for the hit, but I've always left these events inspired after hanging out with others with the same interest, whether they pursue that interest as a hobby or as a profession. Writing is usually a solitary act, so it's nice to be among others facing similar struggles. And sometimes it's nice to simply be among other people, as even the most hardcore introverts need social interaction from time to time, no matter how much they may try to avoid leaving the house unnecessarily.

Going to a writer's group or event would fall under the category of “inspiration”, something which writers could always use.

Most days I don't write as much as I know I should. Sometimes it's because of poor planning on my part, and sometimes it's because life simply gets in the way. In order to compensate, I try to refine my other writerly skills so that I'm getting better in some way every day.

#personal #writing #journaling #journal

If we talk about any celebrity for a long enough period, we will almost certainly comment on his or her ego or humility, terms that we seem to recognize only in extremes. We treat the terms ego and humility as if they are mutually exclusive, as if a person has to have one or the other and as if any combination of the two is impossible.

On one end—or extreme—we have supreme humility represented by Steve Carell. On the other end, we have supreme ego represented by Kanye West.

For the humility representative, we could have chosen Keanu Reeves, but he just got a new ladyfriend, so his ego must be boosted in the short-term. And he has been killing it in the John Wick movie franchise.

In case you haven't heard, Steve Carell is the nicest guy in showbiz. Mindy Kaling confirmed this in her 2011 memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?:

It has been said many times, but it is true: Steve Carell is a very nice guy. His niceness manifests itself mostly in the fact that he never complains. You could screw up a handful of takes outside in 104-degree smog-choked Panorama City heat, and Steve Carell’s final words before collapsing of heat stroke would be a friendly and hopeful “Hey, you think you have that shot yet?” . . . Getting Steve to talk shit was one of the most difficult seven-year challenges, but I was determined to do it. A circle of actors could be in a fun, excoriating conversation about, say, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and you’d shoot Steve an encouraging look that said, “Hey, come over here; we’ve made a space for you! We’re trashing Dominique Strauss-Kahn to build cast rapport!” and the best he might offer is “Wow. If all they say about him is true, that is nuts,” and then politely excuse himself to go to his trailer. That’s it. That’s all you’d get. Can you believe that? He just would not engage. That is some willpower there.

Let fans of Steve Carell discuss their love of the man for longer than one minute and 23 seconds, and they'll slide in the fact that he's just so humble. No hint of ego in that man, they'll say. Not. One. Bit.

Contrast that to Kanye West, our representative of ego. Kanye West is all ego all the time. Ego is the man's life source. Word on the street is that Kanye actually died in that 2002 car accident, but his ego has kept him going all these years later. If this is true, I estimate that Kanye's ego can sustain him until at least 2047 before his body has to accept the reality of his injuries.

If you need proof of Kanye West's ego, take a look at his discography. The man released eight albums of hippity hop full of profanities and sexual content and then turned around a released a gospel album, God Is King, and then went on Joel Osteen's show and called himself “the greatest artist that God has ever created”. If that ain't ego, I don't know what is.

In these extreme examples, it's so easy to fall in love with Steve Carell, Humility, and to be disgusted by Kanye West, Ego. Call me crazy, but I love Kanye West's ego. I love a guy who's not afraid to shake things up. I don't know why I'm like this. Mama tried.

Why does ego seem a word used only in extremes? Often, the presence of ego is seen as a negative while the absence of ego is celebrated. Extreme stances often miss the mark, and the usual feelings about ego are no exception. Ego should not be so binary, so either/or. Ego is a motivator, a driver, a call to action. Ego does need to be kept in check—this is where humility comes into the mix—but everyone should have a healthy dose and should work to identify his or her own flavor of ego.

Do you really think our beloved Steve Carell has no ego? I would argue that he simply chooses not to show it.

Can anyone hope to accomplish anything remarkable without ego? Can an artist exist without ego? Should an artist try?

Ego says I can do something better than you. Ego says I have something to say, and I have the audacity to interrupt your day to bring you my message. Ego says to hit Publish or Send, to share your work. Or at least put it out there so that people have the opportunity to find it.

A poet's ego allows him to charge for his work. Humility lets him acknowledge he can't set his own price. Photo by Leonardo Baldissara on Unsplash.

I do not think myself egotistical, but make no mistake—I have ego.

And what of my own flavor of ego? What does my ego say? My ego says that I'm someone with life experience and perspective that others should listen to. I obsess over nuance, so I dissect unpleasant and mundane events alike and find life lessons along the journey. My ego says that I'm a poor man's Mark Manson, doing my part to combat the feelgood industrial complex and to promote healthier perspectives while limiting my use of F bombs and other profanities so as not to ruffle too many feathers. I can't be as bold as you, Mark Manson. I still have a day job.

On the flipside, I have humility and plenty reason to be humble.

What does my humility say? My humility says I've collected dust by neglecting writing over the years. I have a lot of writing ahead of me before I'll be as refined as I would like. My humility says it won't happen overnight. My humility says I have to start somewhere.

Humility properly manages my expectations. Ego says that where I am today is not where I will be tomorrow.

For further proof of how wrong we as a whole have our concepts of ego and humility, look at one of my biggest pet peeves: the horrible misuse of “being humbled”. You are not humbled when you are granted an award and recognized for an achievement. You are humbled when you give your best effort yet are still bested by someone else. Maybe the other person was better prepared, or maybe the other person is more of a natural talent than you are. Either way, humility accepts the defeat. Ego says I'll get y'all next year.

If an artist wanted to do something only for the sake of it, then he would keep it private. But he puts it out there for a reason, if only to feed his ego, the fuel that keeps him going.

And let's not pretend that bookish writers are immune to ego.

Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going. – On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Done, William Zinsser. Done.

#personal #ego #humility #artists #writing #writers #humble

These days Thanksgiving, once my undisputed favorite holiday, is a bittersweet experience. But this holiday will likely have extra bitterness as the day marks the eighth anniversary of my mother's death.

Before November 28, 2011, Thanksgiving was simple, and simplicity was what I loved about it. Thanksgiving was a day spent with family as we stuffed our faces with food all day. Maybe we turned on the football game or maybe my aunt insisted that we watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We would give in on my aunt's demand because refusal meant she was going to suggest for the umpteen thousandth time that we watch The Last Of The Mohicans, a request which became the subject of jokes at our family gatherings.

My family's Thanksgiving affairs were small, usually ranging somewhere between four and eight attendees, depending on where family feuds stood and which cousins could attend on any given year.

My grandmother prepared the bulk of our Thanksgiving meals. She was a cook on a tugboat, so she was what you might call a professional. She took her craft seriously, which I realized when one day she snapped at me for teasing that her mashed potatoes were a little too lumpy. I was too young and ignorant to understand how deeply I had cut her as I questioned her competence in her life's work.

Our meals were traditional Southern Thanksgiving cuisine: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, steamed broccoli, creamed corn, dinner rolls—all of it amazing but undoubtedly unhealthy due to my grandmother's liberal use of butter and lard whenever possible.

Lunch was just the beginning. My grandmother would make an abundance of desserts, usually an assortment of pies. Pumpkin pie. Apple pie. Pecan pie. But the winner was always my mother's cherry cream cheese pies. No one else could make these pies like my mother could. I know because one year my grandmother tried, only to take a hit to her ego as my cousins and I ate her pies without our usual enthuasism for my mother's offerings. We didn't want to hurt our grandmother's feelings, but we could not deny that my mother made the superior pie.

Ali G - Respek

We couldn't put our fingers on why, but my grandmother's attempt tasted different. A subtle difference elevated my mother's pies to a higher plain. After a brief discusission between the two culinary wizards, we solved the mystery. For years my mother had forgotten to include vanilla extract in her pies' ingredients. The recipe would argue that she had been making these pies wrong all this time, but the rest of the family would argue that she had been making them just right.

We would spend the rest of the day picking on leftovers, having second lunch around 3PM and then having dinner at 6. And when we left, we would argue with my grandmother over how much food we were going to take home. My grandmother always wanted to send us off with way too much, but I can't blame her because she was the only one at her home around to eat anything left behind. Her best chance for getting rid of her leftovers was to invite us over for lunch over the next few days and we would sit around and reminisce about Thanksgiving and tell my grandmother once again how good the whole meal was.

Except for the cherry cream cheese pies. We maneuvered around the topic, as if the event never happened. In every category outside of desserts, my grandmother had won Thanksgiving, but her sole defeat overshadowed her numerous victories.

Thanksgiving 2011 was the last holiday I spent with my mother. Unfortunately, it wasn't as joyful a time as Thanksgivings past. At that point, my mother was confined to a hospice bed in the living room. I don't remember much from the holiday other than her condition. I have no idea what we ate. Did we even have a Thanksgiving meal?

An aunt—my dad's sister who lived an hour or so away—was having an after-Thanksgiving get together at her house the following Saturday. It seeemed appropriate to go since my dad had passed away six weeks before.

When I left for my aunt's house, I didn't know that I would never see my mother conscious again. But I can't help wondering if she knew because in hindsight, I can't help thinking that she didn't want me to go.

My mother didn't seem enthuasistic about my leaving, but she might have been exhausted as her seven-month battle with lung cancer was coming to a close. The cancer had widdled her down to a figure of little more than flesh and bone, unable to walk to the front door without making multiple stops to catch her breath. Chemotherapy no longer an option, a steady IV drip of morphine had become her only relief. Maybe she was just tired. It can't all be about me, after all.

My aunt's get together was fine until I received a call from my stepfather saying that my mother's condition appeared to be going downhill fast and that I should come home. Once I had returned, my mother had lost consciousness, and we spent the rest of the day watching her, hanging on every labored breath, silently wondering if each one would be her last.

The next day I left to go back to Texas. Part of me said that this was the end and that I should stay, but so many times I had left convinced I had seen her for the last time. Just four months before, my mother had had an incident in which she was pronounced dead in the hosptial before somehow coming back to life without resucitation. After my mother's resurrection, everyone was convinced that she wouldn't survive the weekend. Yet after a couple of months she started looking better, almost as if the cancer was reversing. But these bouncebacks happen with cancer, and the optimism was short-lived.

Back in Texas, sometime in the early morning of November 28, 2011, I received the phone call from my stepdad telling me that my mother had passed away.

And so now, regardless of the specific date of Thanksgiving, I will always associate the holiday with her death. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. As I said earlier, the holiday is now bittersweet for me, and now I would like to move on from the bitter and focus on the sweet.

A common practice among bloggers on Thanksgiving is to write a post about what one is thankful or grateful for. I want to put my spin on it and talk about what I'm thankful for as related to the loss of my mother.

So let's get to the point. This Thanksgiving I'm thankful for:

26 years with my mother

I was 26 years old when my mother died. Not only was my mother taken far too early for her sake—she was only 51 years old—but she was taken far too early for my sake. I wasn't prepared to lose my mother. Is anyone really ever prepared for such an event? While I can mope and pity myself endlessly, I have to acknowledge that some people lose their parents much earlier. As tough as it was to become motherless at 26 years old, I shudder when I imagine what might have happened if I had lost her any sooner.

My mother's support of my independence

If I could give my mother credit for only one thing that contributed to my success, I would give her credit for pushing me forward and never holding me back. I can think of a couple of conversations to illustrate my point.

The first conversation went something like this:

Mother: You don't like it here, do you? Me: No. Mother: You want out, don't you? Me: Yes. Mother: Then you need to go to college. Me: Okay.

Such conversations pushed me out into the world and ensured that I would embrace the uncertainty of new opportunities.

The second conversation took place over the phone shortly after I had gotten laid off from my first real job during the Great Recession. At some point, my mom said, “You know you can't come home, right?” 10-4, Mother. No safety net from you. Gotcha. But her line was deeper than that. She and I agreed there was no opportunity in my hometown, so coming home would have been the dumbest thing I could have done.

Or maybe Mom was enjoying having an empty nest. Who knows. Either way, she always insisted that I move forward and she never guilted me into staying put. I'm so much more thankful for the encouragement now that she's gone. What if I had stayed behind for her, only to have her leave me so soon?

We often hear that dying people will share their biggest regrets with others. One day my mother shared with me her regret she hadn't left my hometown when she had had chances. But she had gotten comfortable in her discontent. I'm thankful my mother did not allow me to fall into the same trap.

My mother never told me what to think

I can't remember a time when my mother ever shut me down whenever I shared an opinion. If my mother disagreed or was unfamiliar with my stance, she asked questions and allowed me to elaborate my points. Maybe that's why I now speak as if anyone would ever give a damn about my thoughts. Or maybe it's why I've started blogging again—maybe I'm seeking to replace the lost maternal audience.

I try to pay forward my mother's courtesy while also being true to myself by being honest about my disagreements. If the masses would adopt this habit from my mother, the world would be a much better place.

For the lessons from the grief

When something traumatic happens to you, you have to find a way to see the positives. Is doing so desperate? Are you deluding yourself into feeling better about the situation? One could make these arguments, but I would argue that finding the positives is crucial to allowing trauma to become a catalyst of growth rather than a consistent harbinger of pain and despair.

I am a better person because of my experiences with loss, grief, and depression. I am better able to assist others because I have navigated my way through my own personal hell. Does that mean I'm glad my mother and others have passed away? Of course not. But finding a positive spin has allowed me to find fulfillment after the chaos, and so my grief doesn't own me anymore. I own my grief. I can't control it, but I have learned to flow with it, how to enjoy the ride. And I am still learning how to make my experiences a tool that can help others.

For showing me I can be critical while continuing to accept someone I love

To this point, I've painted only the rosiest picture of my mother, but as is usually the case with those we love, she wasn't perfect. Below are a couple of shortcomings:

Reclusiveness

If my mother wasn't at work, she was likely at home. The only person she visited on a regular basis was her own mother. My mother's reclusiveness was partially justified by the fact that before my stepfather came along, she was a single working mother. She was often tired, so staying home was the easy thing to do. But in reality, my mother also did not want to be a burden to others, so she robbed others of the chance of ever becoming closer to her. And I missed out on some important social skills, but don't worry, Ma—I'm improving every day.

Stubbornness

At times my mother could dig her heels in to make someone else's life hell. My mother is the only person I know to be written up at work for refusing to take vacation. At one time, my mother's employer compensated employees for any unused vacation time. My mother looked forward to these unofficial bonus checks at the end of the year when she would effectively cash in her vacation time. As a cost-cutting measure, the company required employees to take their vacation and no longer allowed employees to be paid for the unused time. My mother decided to keep it real and show them that she was going to get her money for her unused vacation time. The company kept it realer and slapped her with an offense.

I could find plenty of other things to criticize my mother about, but that's not the point. Instead, the point is that criticism is not always rejection. And I'm not sure if you can ever truly love someone if you can't acknowledge the person's flaws. But my mother's good certainly outweighed her bad, and for that I am also thankful.

My mother won't be present this Thanksgiving, just as she hasn't been present for the last seven holidays and as she won't be present for any number of holidays that follow. Her absence haunts me daily and I'll never get over the loss. But the good news is that other peope will be present on November 28, 2019. Maybe too many people. Last I heard, the headcount is expected to be 25 people. My anxiety is kicking in already.

I'm expecting a day full of love and good food. I'm lucky to have this opportunity, and for that I am thankful. I hope everyone reading this is able to spend Thanksgiving (and every day for that manner) with those they love. I hope you're able to make great memories that will stay with you after your loved ones are gone. Not just gone in the sense of death. Maybe a sibling goes off to college. Or a child moves away and starts a new life in some exciting new city in a different time zone and neglects to check in as often as you would like.

Whatever the specifics, the point remains: These comforts won't last forever, which is why we should enjoy them as much as we can whenever we can.

And if you have stuck around and have read this far, I'm thankful to you and for you.

Happy Thanksgiving

#personal #HappyThanksgiving #grief #loss

What do we mean when we use the word deserve? Dictionary.com defines the word as follows:

deserve VERB – to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities or situation: to deserve exile; to deserve charity; a theory that deserves consideration

I've been pondering our usage of deserve and asking myself whether it is a word we overuse. I even have a problem with one of the examples of the word usage listed on Dictionary.com: to deserve charity. How does one deserve charity when charity is given out of the kindness the giver's heart? No one is entitled to such kindness—it is a voluntary act.

Some people believe they deserve a good job because they have earned a college degree. These feelings are sometimes intensified if the job seeker racked up a significant amount of debt in order to obtain the degree. No one deserves a job simply because he has a degree, and no one deserves a higher-paying job simply because he carries a six-figure debt load after college. Instead, he must consider the possibility he made a bad investment and at least one regrettable life decision.

Does anyone ever deserve a promotion? Maybe you're capable of performing at the higher position, but maybe another candidate is simply a better fit. The higher up the chain you go, the less those positions come open. Therefore, these positions become more competitive, and at some point, someone is bound to feel as if he or she got shafted. If you are undoubtedly the best candidate and you are passed up for a promotion, then your employer doesn't deserve to have you on their team, so you should feel no guilt when looking to carry your talents elsewhere.

Does anyone deserve a happy life or a happy childhood? To argue such implies a certain sense of justice, as if there is a universal concept of fair distribution. Life is full of chaos and randomness and can attack anyone at any moment. Conducting oneself “the right way” does not guarantee reward or success. It merely betters your odds.

Does a person deserve a good relationship? What if said person continually chooses bad partners? Healthy relationships usually do not happen on accident, after all. And in this situation, the person who habitually finds himself or herself in bad relationships is the one constant.

There are times and situations in which someone does deserve something. In the case of a court settlement or ruling, you deserve whatever the judge or jury awards. If you are subject to a certain contract or employment agreement, then you deserve compensation for hours worked or certain outputs or other measures of production.

Minimizing the notion of deserving helps when dealing with the pain and feelings of being wronged which accompany loss. Leaning on the concept of deserving leads to questions like Why me?, and as I've argued in another post, we're sometimes better asking Why not me?, instead asking why we do not deserve such rotten luck. Doing so can give a healthier perspective.

I can say I have earned my good fortunes to some degree. If nothing else, I've taken certain risks which have paid off to get me where I am. But there's no denying I've had my fair share of luck, a touch of right place/right time magic. On the flip side, I've been hit with my fair share of setbacks and roadblocks. I can't say I deserved my bad luck any more than my good luck.

I've tried to remove the language of deserving from my vocabulary, but it is more difficult that one may imagine. Deserve, in its various forms, is a fundamental word in the English language.

What do I deserve if I am able to create and maintain a consistent writing practice? Do I deserve awards? To gain a following? Do I deserve any measure of success? No. At best I deserve the chance for such pleasantries.

That and nothing more.

#personal

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.

Internet cafe 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.

Internet 1.0

At the approach of the new millennium, the internet was a new digital frontier in the infant stages of realizing its potential. Before we were always connected via our cell phones and IoT devices, we had to throw ourselves into a mess of really bad personal webpages with autoplaying MIDI files courtesy of GeoCities and Angelfire. In the absence of social media, we met new people in various chat rooms and programs. If we made a new friend, we shared our AIM usernames or ICQ numbers. You weren't really sure who was on the others side of the computer screen, but often that wasn't what really mattered. It was more about the personality lost with you in cyberspace.

A new internet

That seemed to change with the mass adoption of Facebook. The early days of Facebook were cool if you were a college kid. The model of exclusivity that made Facebook interesting ultimately was not very profitable, so Facebook understandably shifted to a strategy focused on inclusion. Eventually everyone jumped on board. Your parents. Your grandparents. Your co-workers. That weird kid who moved after second grade you'd have forgotten about if not for that rumor that he ate boogers and drank puddle water. You were now connected online to people you were already connected with offline. Instead of finding interesting strangers, we're following brands and celebrities that we have little chance of truly connecting with.

The funny thing about the tools of Internet 2.0 that are meant to connect us is that they often leave us feeling isolated. It's the digital equivalent of feeling alone in a room full of people.

The sense of community of Internet 1.0 is gone. The mainstream social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are so full of noise that it's difficult to extract anything of value. The fun of Internet 1.0 was stumbling onto something cool and worth sharing. Even though the world is at our fingertips or in a rectangle in our pockets, it's hard to identify harmony in all the noise.

A new hope

This is one reason I fled to Mastodon and more specifically to writing.exchange, an instance that allows for only 1,000 users. I enjoy that feeling of being in with the out crowd. I want to be on platforms that people want to be part of, not networks that people feel an obligation to join in order to satisfy their FOMO.

I also enjoy the sense of community that write.as has created with read.write.as, a feed of the latest public blog posts published on its platform. And even though reddit is hardly obscure to the mainstream, I do appreciate that each subreddit is its own community.

To be clear, it's not as if I want anyone to be excluded from a platform. I want everyone to have the opportunity to join. I just have little desire to be where everyone is. At some point, the increase in users stops adding value and at another point, an increase in users actually starts subtracting value. And the platform becomes more of a distraction than anything else.

From time to time, I will hear old hipsters say that modern day New York is too commercial, too corporate. I have to take their word for it as I've never been to the Big Apple, but their complaints about New York sound incredibly similar to my complaints about the modern internet: hip localities ruined by globalization, old hotbeds of creativity and artistry now look like anywhere else, and places once intensified by uncertainty and the chance for adventure now feel sterile in comparison. I am not an anti-capitalist, so I don't fault anyone for maximizing his own profits. I just don't want my options to be only color-by-number copies of each other.

I am not advocating that we should return to an Internet 1.0 or pre-internet world. I do not wish that the internet's capabilities had stalled. I benefit from the advances and do not seek to limit anyone's options. I just want to recapture the sense of community that I fell in love with 20+ years ago. I'm not concerned about sharing the digital space with the masses because I don't need another reminder that we don't naturally mesh. We often do not share similar interests, so I prefer to find personalities with which I have some things in common.

I want an internet that inspires me again. But maybe the problem isn't the internet. Maybe I am in fact an old man, destined to one day receive the Millennial equivalent of the “OK boomer” treatment.

#personal #internet #socialmedia

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