My mom made Christmas everything it was. Even well into my twenties and thirties, it continued to be the high point of my year, from her phenomenal decorations, to her elaborate meals, to her thoughtful gifts. She made everyone feel the spirit of the holidays, and made us all so very happy. Sadly, those Christmases ended in 2010 or so as dementia began to strip her nature from her. This year things have progressed to the point that she no longer seems to know who I am, beyond being vaguely familiar. So it is hard not to feel a bit lost during the holiday season. So much that was good is gone. And without her leading the seasonal charge, it's hard to know what to do. I do not feel up to the challenge of replacing her. But this year I did want to try to do something special for her, to try and prove that her legacy continues, that I can take on the responsibility, that I can carry on her traditions. In reality it is too little and too late, but the effort gives me a bit of peace and I am hoping that there might be some flicker of remembrance, or at least some novel joy.
To this end, the first step in my Christmas plans was to erect the biggest Christmas light display I could. I've never decorated the outside of a house for Christmas, but I felt inspired to try and run lights up the large 70' tree in our front yard. I wanted to turn it into a virtual Christmas tree, running the lights up as high as I could. I spent a few weeks planning it and today spent all day today doing it. I strung lights up in the shape of a Christmas tree, 50' height with a twinkling start at the top.
Originally my plan was to use a small drone of mine to fly some fishing line up and over the desired branch. After a few test flights it became clear that approach was going to fail. I would most likely end up with the drone stuck in the tree; the wind up there between the branches is unstable and the fishing easily snags. I then tried simply throwing a baseball, with fishing line attached, over the desired branch. But, throwing vertically is much harder than horizontally, none of my throws went quite where I wanted, and after ten or so the ball became permanently snagged on a branch about 40' up. I finally realized I needed to use a bow and arrow. I ran to the store and bought a "Lil Squaw" $20 children's bow and arrow set. I stuck tennis balls on the ends of the included arrows and attached the fishing line. I nailed it on my fourth shot; technically I got it on my first, but that arrow overshot a bit and joined the baseball as a permanent resident of the tree.
After a few hours of running lights, I was done... The video fails to capture the real beauty of the scene.
I'm not sure how anyone else's brain works, but for me there are a few handfuls of neverending loss that haunt me. Healing and acceptance never seem to come, grieving never seems to end. The best you can do is push away the sadness with other cheerier thoughts (and that is only so effective, read: not very). It's been said that people of a depressive bent look back too often, and not enough forward, and that certainly may be adequate explanation for the general phenomena.
One of these losses, the one that prompts my writing on the topic today, is a friendship that more or less ended 15 years ago. We were friends, college roommates, then strangers once more. The disconnection still hurts. I tried quite a few times over the years to reconnect, but it never seemed to come to anything; he just never seemed much interested. I'm not sure quite what went wrong, but I blame myself. I would have done anything to keep the friendship, but I didn't know enough to know what to do or when to do it; I lack the art of easy friendship. And I know, if the past fifteen years is any guide, that I will never fully recover from the loss of his friendship and from the lack of his presence. I liked the me he teased out, I liked the synergies, and I liked him. I am sad for not knowing him longer, for not knowing who he became, and for not knowing the me I could have become through his friendship.
And so I think of him often enough, though not to any purpose (I know nothing of him now). I just can't find a way to put away the puzzle, to stop imagining that somehow we could get back to some new then; some moment where the years and miles fall away. Even if I could remember to forget, I'm never more than a few weeks away from a dream which tries to set my soul to rest, playing out some natural reunion. But, dreams are all that will ever be, because some things simply are scenes of neverending loss.
Every news story these days has a comment section which erupts into a slug fest between the politically left and politically right. The same arguments are made this time as last time, the same "proof" is offered this time as last time, and no one is convinced, and nothing changes.
What annoys me most is that neither side seems willing to debate their real point of view, they rely instead on dishonestly framing the debate.
On the right I wish they would admit, "Hey, look, if someone could could snap their fingers and get rid of all guns there would be a lot fewer homicides and suicides, but guns are a lot of fun, and people die left and right from driving cars and eating fattening food, so we've decided we're comfortable with the number of deaths from guns. And besides, it might theoretically make our government a little afraid of violating our rights, though admittedly they seem to be violating a lot of rights and we're not doing anything about it."
And on the left I wish they would admit, "Hey, guns are really scary. We're not hunter gatherers any more, and people who collect and shoot guns, especially at cute little woodland creatures, seem a little mentally disturbed to us. And if you want to carry them all the time, everywhere, and buy your kids Hello Kitty themed shotguns we really think you have a problem. We know there are so many guns in the country that banning them won't really do a lot, but it'll do something, and more important it'll feel like we're doing something. And maybe if we can damage the gun market now in a hundred years there will be less of them around, and maybe then society will be safer. And the sort of guns people have now haven't kept up with the hardware the government has, so give up on the argument that it'll keep us free from tyranny."
If both sides lead with that it would feel more honest to me, and at least make the debate potentially more productive.
The only states left to go are:
- North Dakota
I've lived (for at least 3 months) in 7 states:
- Washington, D.C.
- New York
- North Carolina
And I've spent at least a week in:
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
Image via MapLoco.
I'm a bad vegetarian. My diet is somewhat limited by peculiarly specific taste/texture dislikes which exclude most vegetables.
The only ones I can eat are:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Green Beans
- Black beans
- Brown beans
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Soy beans (not a huge fan, but I can eat them)
- Chick peas (not a huge fan, but I can eat them)
- Squash (only in soups with lots of bread available)
- Onions (in small pieces and in certain situations)
- Peppers (in small pieces and in certain situations)
- Tomatoes (in small pieces and in certain situations)
- Celery (only in soup)
- Mushrooms (only tiny dried pieces in Stroganoff/etc.)
- Avocado (only in very small amounts in burritos/etc.)
- Spinach (only in very small amounts in certain situations)
- Chives (in small pieces and in certain situations)
- Parsley (in small pieces and in certain situations)
That being said, I can eat other vegetables in very limited/special situations, generally involving minute amounts in some foreign food. For example, I can eat a vegetable fried egg roll as long as I don't dwell on the contents (if I were to open up the egg roll and try to eat it from the plate that would be a great challenge).
I wonder how common peculiar food issues are.
How quickly life can remind you that a day can be a truly miserable thing. Today mine started with a major fight with my girlfriend, Francine. In an attempt to escape the poisoned atmosphere of the house we set off on a pleasant but utilitarian outing. Any facade of pleasantness was instantly destroyed about 45 minutes later when I saw a huge, lovely turtle run over by a truck.
It died because I failed to save it. I saw the turtle emerging from the tall grass by the side of the road and stopped as quickly as I could, about 80 feet down the road (the speed limit was 45 mph, there was no shoulder, lots of cars behind me, I pulled off into a side road). I got out and began to go back towards the turtle but in those few moments it had moved far faster than I ever could have imagined and was already a third of the way into the traffic lane. A large passenger bus saw it but only drifted over the line to avoid running it over directly. The under draft knocked it along the lane and into the tires of a following pick up.
Life sometimes seems like a collection of utterly meaningless, pointless, forgettable moments punctuated by a few occasionally horrible and some wonderful moments. I envy the folk who see it as a more uniformly joyous procession.
I'd never seen a turtle so large on the East coast, it was at least 1.5 feet long, surely had lived a long time to get that size, and surely would have lived a longer time still. I'm not sure what I could have done differently, tried to step into traffic to flag people down, stopped my car in traffic and tried to alert people, I just had no idea there was so little time. We often imagine there's plenty of time left, to see relatives, to see friends, to be happy, to accomplish great things... Often there is not.
I cried like a baby on the drive home. I cried for the turtle. I cried for the horrendously capricious nature of life and death. I cried for my impotence; my life these days seems nothing but trying to help others only to witness their fruitless suffering. And I cried for the fact that I was crying, unable to accept life on its cruelly unacceptable terms.
We humans are sick, sadistic creatures, selectively choosing what and who we care about. Today I mourned the death of a turtle I didn't know, and cursed the driver of the killing vehicle, but I thought and cared little about the hundreds of mosquitoes, ants, and other bugs I likely killed in the remaining portion of the car ride home; I strongly suspect I killed or wounded two butterflies. But for some reason that turtle mattered most, that poor, beautiful, stupid, wonderful, turtle. I am so sorry I failed you.
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.
- [Removed by request.]
- 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.