Attempting to measure one's own accomplishments is generally a monstrously bad idea. Even the most successful of men may find themselves coming up short when they compare themselves to a yardstick of their own making. Those who succeed generally do so by finding themselves perpetually shy of achieving some newly important and consuming goal. That having been said, taking stock of yourself is a sobering necessity, something which me must do if we are to re-align our compass with an objective, societal true North. It is in this brutally reflective frame of mind that I make the following observations about myself, most easily expressed as a Guide to Leading a Highly Ineffective Life. The objective reality is that I have achieved quite a lot, more than many, less than many, and a reasonable amount given my particular make up and life challenges. Nonetheless, I have observed in myself the following limiting, (at times) crippling characteristics that have kept me from being far more than I am.
20 Things You Can Do To Be Highly Ineffective
- Work on many projects simultaneously.
- Associate with no professional colleagues.
- Cultivate few friends.
- Spend almost all of your time by yourself or with a girlfriend only.
- Work in secret. Share almost none of your ideas or work.
- Do everything from scratch. Build your own rather than modifying existing software/code.
- Believe your mind and/or abilities are failing you over time.
- Be deathly afraid of judgment. Ensure you never finish any task properly.
- Ignore important details.
- Explore periods of intense lassitude.
- Be mildly obsessively interested in many, many generally unrelated things.
- Choose relationships with people that require vastly more energy put in than you get out.
- Secretly believe that those who succeed are magically different from you, possess something you entirely lack (as exemplified by the tone of this list).
- Put off until tomorrow that really hard thing that intimidates you, never try to do it today, never right now.
- If you find yourself not particularly challenged in a situation (job, life, etc.), then maintain the status quo, choose comfortable over challenge.
- Develop as little self-discipline as possible. Go to bed when you want, eat what you want, exercise as little as you feel like.
- Constantly wrestle with existential and philosophical doubts rather than engage in the business of actually living. Wonder about what the point of living is if you die rather than actually focus on getting the most from every minute of life.
- Avoid seeking professional, psychological help for things like depression and anxiety, assume that you alone can surely defeat obstacles which have bedeviled humans for millennia.
- Have tremendous difficulty switching tasks/projects, avoid doing so because it's mentally painful.
- Watch TV.
You know you are getting older when the present differs so greatly from the past... Here are some things that were once quite familiar to me...
I remember rotary dial phones, the days before VCRs (when classrooms used film projectors), when video games in no way resembled real life, when a soda cost $0.25, when a phone call cost $0.10, and when 5 1/4" floppy disks were the new and exciting thing (replacing audio cassettes for loading programs on a home computer). I also remember when our TVs were black and white, 8 track tape players were in cars, when the first portable audio cassette players came out, when the CD-ROM was the new hot thing, when answering machines suddenly became available to the masses, when the fax machine came along, and much more stuff that is now irrelevant or nearly so. Worse yet, this isn't stuff I remember as a 5 year old, this was the way it was when I was 9 ~ 12 years old and older...
And now we've got the Internet, cell phones, GPS, flying cars, hover boards, time travel, and... well, some of those things anyway.
Until I've spent hours around someone, seeing their face contort into many different expressions, seeing them in different clothes and circumstances, their face remains difficult for me to recall or identify. A few years ago I learned that my experience was the exception, not the rule; I always assumed everyone had a similar struggle. I'm sure the condition has had subtle effects in my life, perhaps encouraging a social reticence, discouraging being overly friendly or engaging with people whose identities I'm unsure about, but it's never been quite so blatant as it was last week.
I just moved into a new place in a new town, and have only met 3 or 4 locals who were introduced by having been acquaintances of my parents. The other day there's a knock on the door and it's a kind looking, slightly nervous, middle-aged woman, with gray-ish hair. She exuded the sort of familiarity in greeting and manner that strongly suggested I knew her, and I felt I knew her, though who exactly she was I could only guesstimate. She had come to ask me to a small wine and cheese gathering "down the hill" a few nights hence. I graciously accepted. With that, she was off. And I was left to try and reason out who exactly had invited me. Of the few people I know here only two are middle-aged women, so it really shouldn't have been much of a challenge to work out which one; but I couldn't. In theory the right approach would have been to immediately acknowledge my problem and ask her to identify herself, but social graces don't really allow that approach. Prosopagnosia (face blindness) sounds like such a curious and made up disorder, and I'd rather not invite a lot of misunderstanding or belabor an explanation so as to avoid any. Thus, I was reduced to post-event logic and sleuthing. My girlfriend had observed the car she was driving, but not the woman. The car was black. I checked Google satellite maps of the two women in question and the one I was most strongly suspecting did have a dark colored car. Bingo! Just to be extra careful I found a picture of her online, covered the brown hair in the photo with my hand, and tried to tell if the face looked recently familiar. It did, somewhat; and perhaps she'd just stopped dying her hair. The only odd thing was that the location of the event was ambiguous. She had said "down the hill" as though I knew exactly what that meant. The woman I imagined her to be had shown me a vacation rental house she owned (which I had been contemplating renting when I first arrived) which was, arguably, closer to sea level. Alternatively, the home in which she lived was in a town that was (I assumed) below the town in which I lived. She had never given me that address, so that discouraged that as a possible location. Comfortable with my conclusions I went about my life until the evening of the gathering. Francine and I set off on time and arrived at the suspected location only to find it entirely dark; only a deer was in evidence, grazing on the lawn. Not to worry, I had plan B ready to go, and we went off to check her primary residence for activity. After a long drive down the big hill I discovered the Googled directions took me worryingly right back up another side of the same hill. As her house came into view it was clear there were no parties going on there tonight. Thus we had to invoke Plan C, the residence of the only other middle-aged woman I knew in these parts. Another little drive ensued with the same result. No activity, no party. And I now had absolutely no idea who might have invited me, leaving me unable to even retroactively proffer an apology.
In the days that followed I still suspected the Plan A/B woman had in fact been my visitor, and that perhaps I had misread the house's activity that night. But a few days later I bumped into her on a walk and offered a tentative apology only for her to announce it had not been she. My best guess at this point is that it was some neighbor I'd never actually met was kindly welcoming me to the neighborhood but that my overly familiar response to her invitation (a response to what I thought was hers) caused her to assume I knew who she was and where she lived. Ah well... Such is the complicated life of a prosopagnosiast; I just can't believe I thought *this* was normal!
I was eleven years old on summer vacation with my mom and another family on Green Turtle Quay island in the Little Abaco chain of islands in the Bahamas when I came up with this joke... the only one I've ever created (or attempted):
Question: What did the one polyp say to the other polyp?
Answer: We haven't had a quarrel in years.
Bah dum bum ching! Now, if you didn't get it don't feel badly, that's either because your sense of humor is far too sophisticated or because you didn't know that coral (that makes up the ocean's reefs) is constructed by and of little creatures called polyps. And in truth, though I remember being proud of the construction of the joke I'm not sure I ever really thought it was that funny.
Francine and I went to the 2nd annual Edwardian Ball here in Los Angeles. The event is supposed to be a celebration of Edward Gorey (most known for his macabre alphabet book), but it's really just an excuse for people to get dressed up in Edwardian, Victorian, and "Steam Punk" clothing and watch musical acts, aerialists, peculiar little plays, and stare at all the other people in the audience. It was good fun, but I must confess I had expected something a little larger and more interactive. The photos I'd seen online were dominated by the events they've been doing for 11 years in San Francisco, and it just looks bigger and better up there. Ah well.
Being that it was my first year attending and I wasn't quite sure what to expect I decided to attempt to make and wear just one costume element, a top hat welded out of metal rods. I wanted to explore partially wrapping the frame with material as though the frame was much of what remained as the fabric deteriorated from years of neglect, or fire. Unfortunately I waited until the afternoon before the event to start making the hat and I only had one small scrap of fabric that vaguely fit the bill. I was pleased with how much I got done in relatively little time, but the vision is still very much incomplete.
Here are some photos from other people's experience of the Edwardian Balls of the past. I didn't feel like fighting the poor lighting all night...
Sometimes a collection of words elevate themselves from the mundane blather of a day, and approach forgotten beauty. Once in too long a while I find myself in a mental state where my words coalesce in ways I like. Tonight was such a night. To a friend I wrote:
sorry i didn't see your text until now. i was fast asleeping when it came in. and if i don't see it right away it gets lost in the other bings, whirs, rings, and overlapping prompts of my phone... at least until i stumble upon it while investigating some other more recent vibration.
i can't do friday, sorry. I've been meaning to check out that first friday thing, too. I tried to go a few months ago, walked down there, went about a block into the teeming sea only to lose my will and head back to safe harbor. it just wasn't a night when i felt like pushing, and instead preferred to pull. too many people and things trying to be seen, making the ordinarily pleasurable act of observation taxing. but there are other nights when the challenge is part of the fun. sadly this friday can't be one. if you go, hope you have fun, it looks like good sport.
hope you're well, and that you continue to enjoy the love of jesus, buddha, allah, and all the heavenly voyeurs.
They are not the greatest words ever written, but they are enjoyably forgettable, and that is sometimes, monstrously the most we can hope to achieve.
I watched this guy a week or so ago drive down a major local street, Lincoln Blvd., right in front of me and he was clearly having trouble in some sense. He couldn't seem to stay in his lane, instead gradually meandered back and forth, drifting as much as a foot or two outside of his lane. And he couldn't seem to keep up with the rest of the traffic, or comprehend what the transition from red light to green light meant. His car was reasonably stuffed with things which no longer seemed worthy of transport, resembling papers and bags. He may have been a hoarder, someone living out of their car, or perhaps just someone whose messiness had gotten way out of hand. I tried to get safely along side (one extra lane over) to see if he looked compos mentis or perhaps had reaction times slowed with age. He was no older than 50. His face and demeanor didn't betray raving lunacy or too obvious to miss drug/alcohol impairment (but how much can you really tell glimpsing a person in a side view 15 feet away). There was always the possibility that he was just a rotten driver, a little slow with his reflexes, driving a vehicle whose reflexes have slowed with age. I contemplated calling the police but with the traffic as awful as it was, with him potentially taking any turning, and with me not actually observing him do anything so egregiously wrong, I ended up just taking a turning myself and heading home via the backstreets. I had this awful thought, though... a flash back from Spiderman... I had been planning to head a sidecar ride with the dog as soon as I got home, and I suddenly if I'd meet up with this guy again, as a victim of his driving and my inaction, a la Uncle Owen. Fortunately, that did not happen, or at least not yet. I am ever watchful for that mature tan Jeep Cherokee, just in case...
This happened quite a while ago but something recently reminded me of it.
I was set up on a date with a friend of a friend. We'd exchanged a few emails and seemed to enjoy a similar turn of phrase. I picked her up at her place, and the descent into lunacy began.
A few miles down the road we were at a light and this car pulls up next to us, some relatively ordinary car that had clearly been suped (sp?) up because it was louder than hell and the guy kept revving it as though inviting me to a race I would ultimately decline. My date says, "I think fast cars are really sexy." I laughed, thinking she was being facetious. She was not, and she was now angry at me for laughing at her not with her. I tried to apologize and explain my laughter was meant in support of what I thought her position was, but she was not mollified. Oops.
We headed to Quincy Market in Boston, I'd never been. As we approached an older woman approaches selling flowers. I very politely declined. We looked around, and in the course of wandering see several other similarly attired older ladies at some distance selling flowers. We ended up heading a few blocks away to get some dinner. A few minutes into dinner she pauses, looks directly at me indicating she was about to say something significant, and says to me, "I thought you were a jerk for not buying a flower from that woman. Don't you care about old people?" Ouch. I was pretty stunned. I remember some weak attempts to provide sudden proof that I did care about old people, and people in general, and that that incident really didn't seem like a fair way to judge my character. The conversation limped along and eventually the check came. She now announced her brand new philosophy, which I was apparently the first to experience... She said, "I've been treated really badly by guys in the past, so from now on I'm requiring that anyone I date pay for all our dates." Wow. I don't mind paying for others, I'm a bit of a communist when it comes to mealtimes, from each according to his means, to each according to his needs. I'll pay for friends, coworkers, dates, pets, whatever. Different people often offer at different times, and I figure it all evens out in the end (monetarily or karmic-ly). And I would have gladly paid for her portion out of kindness, need, chivalry, simplicity, whatever. I usually make the attempt and if someone stops me (as usually happens) then we figure it out from there. But the notion that I was being required to make up the debt (in cash) created by her previous poor choices in men hardly seemed a fair or inviting situation. I kindly explained that I didn't mind paying tonight, but in general I really couldn't go along with the idea that I who had never wronged her was somehow supposed to compensate for those who had. She took in the argument and seemed to see it had some merit.
At this point I was pretty well tired, it just seemed we were very poorly matched despite some initial clever email banter and mutual admiration of stories we'd each written. We began the 15 minute walk back to the car, and I mentioned a camping trip I was going on. She spent the next 10 minutes telling me far too much information about how she can't go camping because there can be swarms of bugs and the bugs remind her of all these bad LSD trips she's had as well as reminding her of the horrible withdrawal symptoms she's experienced detoxing from heroin. I, who have never done any drugs, let along hard core ones, was really ready for the night to be over. While I am certainly sympathetic to her discomfort with swarms of bugs and all they mean to her, it was just way too soon and too contextless to be sharing that sort of information. (I've dated people who've used drugs, seems like most people have used or tried them, and it's not been a problem, but that's probably because they didn't insist I know so much graphic detail about their experiences, and certainly not on date one.)
The date ended a few minutes later, but not before she explained to me that she was obsessed (literally) with Mel Gibson, that her recovery from the drugs involved watching all of Mel Gibson's movies over and over again and that now she was in a very real way obsessed with him, because he was there for her when no one else was. She said the walls of her room were covered in Mel Gibson posters, she watched at least parts his movies every day, and that if she ever met him she would have sex with him, even if she was already in a relationship, that the other person (I felt implied) would just have to deal with that absolute and unarguable reality.
I dropped her off at her place, we had a little hug (no kiss), and I went on my way with no small amount of relief. I felt quite comfortable that the date was as awful for me as it was for her, since I couldn't relate to and didn't resemble much of what she wanted or liked. Being a nice guy and not fond of ambiguity, I planned to write her the next day and very politely make it clear that I enjoyed her friendship and would be happy to see where that went while acknowledging that dating was really not in our best interests.
Before I had a chance, however, I was shown just how wrong my perception of events had apparently been... she wrote me the next morning to let me know how great a time she had had and how much she looked forward to another date. Ugh.
It took me quite a few hours to come up with just the right way to thank her while politely declining additional dating. She seemed to take it well. We did hang out a couple of times as friends before she found distraction in someone with a far larger engine than mine.
She was actually quite a nice girl, the original connection we had was simply not viable for anything more than friendship, and on that level it worked quite well (however briefly). She was not quite so intense as a friend, seemed less intent on requiring me to be anything other than who I was. Still, doesn't change the fact that it was the worst first date I ever had.
My day. Yin. Yang. The first half saw my better self, triumphantly in command of my life, amidst noble activities, pressed by people who variously care for, respect, and seek me out. The latter half saw my worser self, a soul periodically lost in self-analysis, striving for someone and something different (yet doing little more than cowardly navel gazing). We are the happily resigned marriage of our perfections and our flaws. Humans. Meh. If the aliens come I won't be overly upset if they make hamburgers of us all. (I don't really mean that, it just seemed a marvelous thing to say, would that I had the time to craft the sentence better and work the word 'ketchup' in there.) Sometimes I say things which are more beautiful than true, but I always indicate as much (even if not everyone realizes).