Flirting With Nihilism

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

I was just a boy when I found my mother dying. I had spent the day playing alone, as I often did. At an age when friends were easy to make, none of the other kids in the village wanted me as a playmate. When I asked my mother why, she told me that children were cruel. I now understand this to be an eternal truth.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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I've fallen in love with bullet journaling. Hard. I sought bullet journaling when I started trying to unplug from screens in order to get my attention back.

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.

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