Journal Archives - November 1-15, 2001
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November 1, 2001 ... It is now November. Mornings are cold, days are grey, rain is common. The sun, for those of us who live in regions that have adopted Daylight Savings Time because they're sufficiently optimistic about the ability of government to solve all of the world's problems, has jumped back an hour on the clock, and the sky is starting to get dark in Seattle around 5 P.M. -- a fact which depressed me greatly the first winter I lived here, because I had to go home in the dark; and which failed to make a dent during my second Seattle winter, because my typical hours at the office were noon to midnight.
October seemed to come and go in a haze; I dealt with a repetitive stress injury (carpal tunnel? tendonitis? I never got a final diagnosis), hacked out some major updates for the website, and ... uhm ... played video games. A lot. A hell of a lot, actually. What felt like most of the month. It's an easy temptation to succumb to when your schedule gets shot to pieces by something big and unexpected.
Now it's November. Now, it's time to start picking up the pieces. To turn over a new leaf, so to speak -- and there certainly are enough leaves around to turn over; trees are shedding them in a frenzy rivaling that of a dot-com burning through its venture capital and passing on the budget cuts to its employees.
As for me, there are some changes in the works. First of all, I'm getting out of the house. I spent yesterday at work -- a one-week assignment, granted, but it's spending money and a positive shake-up of the ol' routine. Secondly, I'm kicking my sedentary habits -- or at least riding my bike to and from work every day (good weather or bad, so I hope it stays tolerable). Third, I'm going to participate in NaNoWriMo! Okay, actually, that was a bald-faced lie. I don't think I'm ready to turn out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days just yet ... I need to make a very deliberate effort to clean out my schedule first. On the other hand, I do appreciate the idea, and I would like to lend it my moral support; as such, I am formally committing to write a journal update every day throughout the month of November. Something which I haven't actually done since starting the thing.
Well, it's now hideously late at night; there's a purring cat on my lap; and I'm finding it increasingly hard to think of a way to keep this entertaining. So I'll just leave you all with a random quote from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Coffee Cantata":
"Dear Father, be not so unkind; I love my cup of coffee at least three times a day, and if this pleasure you deny me, what else on earth is there to live for?"
No hidden implications there, folks; I'm not even a coffee drinker. Just something to be amused by.
November 2, 2001 ... So. I have decided what phrase to use to describe the job that I am currently doing at my temp agency's assignment. For approximately the next work week, I would be much obliged if you would refer to me as a "Phone Thespian."
So what does a "phone thespian" do, you ask? Well, not telemarketing.
I am spending seven hours a day in the half-cube of a packed office's
phone bank, speaking into a headset's microphone and typing the responses
of the people I cold-call into the computer. But I'm not telemarketing!
(I have to keep telling myself that.) It's
This afternoon, I finished my third day on the job. On the first day, I destroyed the laws of probability in an amusing and personally profitable way (but that's rather a tangential story, and you'll have to ask if you want to hear it). On the second day, I spent the longest seven hours of my life in that cube. On the third day, I was numb enough that the work passed at a tolerable speed. And lo, on the fourth day, Baxil will rest, for it will be Saturday; and they invited him in to work some extra hours over the weekend, but he twitched violently at the prospect. So it is written.
I'm actually surprised at the grace with which I've been holding up and performing my duties. Ater all, I am spending the entire day calling random strangers and interacting with them. Not exactly my forte. I realized somewhere in Day 2 that the reason for my strong performance (I scored just north of 100% on the evaluation form they had me sign yesterday) is that I am, in a very real sense, acting -- there is an invisible, implied audience; I am reciting lines from a script; and it is my job to infuse those lines with emotion in order to hold the audience's attention until the end of the performance. Now, I've never been one for improvisation, but I have been in my share of drama productions, and if I know one thing about myself, it's that I have stage fright in inverse proportion to the certainty with which I know my lines.
And I do know my lines, make no mistake about it. I was halfway through one of the surveys today, and cut off power to my monitor while shuffling my feet around under the desk. After the briefest of stalls, while I tried to figure out what was happening to my computer, I typed in his answer blind, to advance to the next screen, then dove under my desk to plug the cord back in -- and recited the next question verbatim while I was there. By the time I received that answer, I was back in my seat, and continued on with the survey as if nothing had happened.
Hence "phone thespian."
There's also a specific reason that I don't simply want to go with the title "market researcher." The problem with it is that I subconsciously link the term to the idea of "telemarketing without the sales" (link is from Absurd Notions), and even with an association that tenuous, the title feels slimy. "Phone thespian" is as good a way as any for me to train myself out of that pattern of thought, so that I don't lose all self-respect while on the job.
Interestingly enough, the other thought pattern that I still have to train myself out of -- at the age of 24, and having been out of college for 3.5 years -- is that of "student"; I keep referring to the survey that I'm giving people as a "quiz", which is profoundly embarrassing, especially after the time I spend stressing that "there are no right or wrong answers."
Incidentally, apropos of nothing, I've come up with a name for the
effort I am making to post daily in my journal this month. Since I am
doing this in moral support of NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing
Month -- I thought it only appropriate that I refer to my post-a-day push
as "BaMoJoEnt," for Bax's Month of Journal Entries. This has the
side effect of making it sound like my journal has something to do with
treants of evil reputation, which is a bonus most any way you look at it.
November 3, 2001 ... It's a weekend. As usual, I'm screwing up my sleep schedule by staying up to all hours of the night with no regard to how much hell I'm in for on Monday morning. That's the price you pay, I guess, for sitting down to catch up on your 'net stuff.
Today has seemed like such a short day, too. I guess that's because I didn't get up until something like 5 PM. *smacks self on wrist* Bad Bax. No biscuit. ... At least, not until I go shopping tomorrow, which I'd better get up earlier than that if I plan to do.
Our household is slowly getting rid of excess Halloween candy; which prompted me to observe this afternoon that jawbreakers are, in a very real way, anti-pearls. Think about it. A pearl is a very small irritant that is placed inside a clam, which then has a coating gradually layered onto it until it has grown to a size sufficient to be dealt with. A jawbreaker, on the other hand, is a very large piece of candy that is placed inside a mouth, which then has its coating gradually removed until it has shrunk to a size sufficient to be dealt with.
That's all for now. I'll provide more jawbreakers of wisdom tomorrow.
November 4, 2001 ... I bought Final Fantasy Tactics today! Yeee!
The saga starts with the destroying of probability that I mentioned in Thursday's post; see, the first day that I went in to work was Halloween, and like all good little corporate hives, they had a Halloween party. Of course, as someone who happened to be in the office at the time, I was invited. Turns out they were handing out tickets at the door for door prizes. Guess what: I won first place.
(On my first day on the job. As a temp. It felt like a Showing Up To Work bonus. I could have walked away from the temp assignment after the party and earned the equivalent of $18 an hour for the four hours I was there, which is admittedly a far better pay scale than what I'm actually getting.)
This prize happened to be a $40 gift certificate to Fred Meyer's, the Pacific Northwest's equivalent of Wal-Mart. So I went shopping there today with Dave, and picked up Final Fantasy Tactics, Bloody Roar 2 (hey, it's prize money; I'm allowed to splurge), and a few pairs of new pants.
I came home with FFT, which has been one of the things I geek out over most strongly for years; I then proceeded to spend most of the night not playing it. (I wrote an e-mail to someone who expressed interest in recording "Over the Horizon", which required recording a song onto my computer from cassette tape and translating it into an mp3; I caught up on my web surfing; I played a little bit of Diablo II; and then I looked at the time and went, "Oh, shit, I have to get up for work in two hours. I'd better write my journal entry and get to sleep.") I think I'll savor the joy of FFT over several weeks -- especially since it's taking me long enough to get re-acquainted with the game. (Especially the mantra of "Save after every fight" -- not doing so put me in a position where I had to restart the game twice, once after a bad stroke of luck in the second fight, and once after accidentally hitting R1+R2+select+start while trying to skip a movie sequence, which soft-resets the console.)
Uhm. I'd better get to bed. G'night, all.
November 5, 2001 ... I remember being taught Maslow's hierarchy of needs in high school. The teachers didn't make much of it; it was presented as a sort of common-sense behavioral philosophy foundation. In short, your body has physical and emotional needs that need to be taken care of before you can really focus on the things you want to do; you can't, say, do a stellar job writing that essay if you're starving, or if you're feeling physically threatened, or if your relationship is breaking up around you. Maslow organized these needs into a pyramid, as it was explained to me, with the most immediate needs at the bottom and the most lofty at the top. (Go read the link for more detail.)
What they never really mentioned in high school -- or, at any rate, what I didn't get drilled into my head while I was scrawling Klutz Man cartoons in the margin of my Psych classroom notes -- was what happens at the top of the pyramid, so to speak: what exactly one can do when all of one's physical and emotional needs are fulfilled. Maslow described someone in that position as "self-actualized"; in essence, someone who can find and pursue their calling.
I bring this up because I want to talk about magic -- change-reality-with-willpower magic -- and it seems to me that the act of magic has a very specific place on that pyramid. Namely, right at the apex. Not simply because it's a lot easier to do magic when your other needs are all fulfilled (which is true, but equally true for any intellectual pursuit) ... but because the use to which magic is put determines its nature, and selfish magic (that cast to fulfill one's needs) is not a pretty thing.
The self-actualized person pursues their ideals. They work to further the things that they believe in. And that, distilled into metaphorical wine, is what magic is about. Not bending probability to win the lottery, or casting love spells on that chick down the hall, or even warding one's house against unwanted strangers. Magic, in its purest form, is belief in pursuit of an ideal, and to detach it from that ideal is to lose sight of what it is that makes it so important.
Once, some years ago, I worked magic to save the world. I don't generally talk about this for any number of reasons, the most important two of which are that (A) I'm never going to be certain how much of a measurable effect I had on Earth; and (B) it wasn't, and isn't, an ego trip. I did what I did because I was there, and I could, and it was right. Even now, I'm reluctant to provide any details, because I don't want it blown out of proportion. It was something I did. It's part of who I am, who I was. It was my ideal ... and still is, I think, except that at some point along the way I started losing my idealism.
There's always the rose-tint of nostalgia, looking back on those days, on running with the pack of the dearest friends I ever met on the Internet, on our adventures and shared worries and learning experiences, and even at the resolutions that tore us apart. I do miss those times (and I've been given quite a bit of opportunity to dwell on them lately, with one of the old group dropping by the T-lands Forums to muse about the past). But, all nostalgia aside, I want my ideals back. I've been magically active for the last four years, but I haven't been doing magic, except sporadically. I haven't had a goal to pursue. Every once in a while, something in the spirit world will shove itself under my nose, and I'll focus for just long enough to bring it to an unsteady resolution before my fire burns out again.
Magic doesn't lend itself well to half-measures. Like poetry that you can't just "kind of" rhyme, or a song that you can't just "almost" hit the melody to, magic isn't something that you can just have there -- it has to be applied, and applied in the service of a higher ideal. It needs a firm foundation of faith -- but, equally importantly, it needs a cause. The question sometimes comes up why more people aren't mages, if the principles are so simple; certainly, a lack of belief stops many, but a lack of drive, I think, stops many more. I can't count the number of dragons I've talked to who were interested in learning magic and who dropped away from it within a month or two of their initial exposure -- people who very genuinely, very earnestly, wanted to know how to do magic, and whose only problem was that they merely wanted to know magic.
One can't know magic -- you live it, or you don't.
(This is why nearly all magic reference books out there are pure crap; they attempt to teach you how to do something with willpower -- how to achieve Effect A by putting Karmic Slot B into Ethereal Tab C. Certainly, they talk about things you can do with magic, but that's not the point of it.)
When I first started learning magic, I wanted to be a dragon. It was all about shapeshifting. Again, I've lost count of the number of otherkin who get lured into magic by the promise of that Holy Grail -- and then discard the whole endeavour when they fail to get any results within a month or two of earnest searching. I dare say I would have done the same, if I hadn't stumbled upon a teacher who turned me on to the sheer joy and wonder of the world around us: the things that go on invisibly around us, the spirit life that echoes our own, the currents of energy that thunder like vast herds of emotions across the open plains and oceans of our planet. That is why I am still a mage; because I took one look at that world, saw its beauty, and couldn't ever turn my back on it.
(This is why selfish magic is such an insult to the idea of magic; selfish magic, by its nature, demands that you do something, demands specific results. Magic was never meant to be utilitarian. It's there to pursue goals, yes, but goals are not effects -- it's the difference between walking a path and building a road.)
I feel like, in some ways, explaining this is a doomed endeavour; the people who know what magic is really about don't need to be told, and the people who can't understand it, won't. But there's still value to stating it. Sometimes, it takes a reminder to help us steer back onto our course. Sometimes, bringing a concept into conscious focus can produce the flash of insight that connects two ideas struggling to meet. And, as burned out as I am, I'm still an idealist -- I believe that I need to give back to the world at least as much as I get out of it.
Continued tomorrow with some of the thoughts that I'm trying to pay the world back for.
November 6, 2001 ... (Continuation of yesterday's magic entry is postponed 'til tomorrow due to lack of sleep.)
So ... I finished my phone thespian assignment today. All I can really say is: Thank the gods. Never in my life have I endured four workdays of such continuous, richly textured "Shoot Me Now" as I just went through.
I'm about to get all whiny here, so I think it's only fair that I stop for a paragraph and put everything into its proper perspective. I am telling horror stories about a desk job in a friendly (if impersonal) downtown office at which I was paid several dollars per hour more than the prevailing minimum wage. All things considered, I don't really have a right to talk until I put in a few shifts in a meat processing plant; start working for a psycho boss; take an assignment that runs two 20-hour shifts per week without overtime pay; or flip burgers at McDonald's. Heck, I wasn't even a telemarketer. Things could have been so much worse. I could have walked out of that job no longer having a soul.
But, all proper perspective carefully noted and discarded: DAMN, am I happy to be done. (Whining starts here.) For all the perks of the job (the ubiquitous free coffee -- is there some sort of conspiracy at work here? Even in offices that make you pay for drinking water, they always offer free coffee -- and the fact that it was within easy bicycling distance of home), I had to force myself to report in to the office in the morning. I even did something which I never do -- called in a sick day on Monday simply because I didn't want to go to work. I feel dirty.
What could prompt such extreme measures, you ask? Well, I've got a number of gripes about the job ... but all of them pale compared to the Big One: That something in that office possessed the mystical ability to slow time to a c r a w l. I could have experienced less time dilation by being paid a salary to whack my head against the wall at two-second intervals. I could have made the days go faster by watching paint dry with my eyes wedged open. I could have had time pass more quickly by hauling firewood for Satan and waiting for Hell to freeze over for lunch break. You get the idea.
The nature of the work was probably a contributing factor. See, when cold-calling people for 15-minute phone surveys, you spend your time about equally divided between two different activities: Actually getting connected to the people you want to speak with; and administering the survey. The former is a blur of busy signals, answering machines, dial tones, receptionists, and the omnipresent ring ring ring ring of the outgoing call. You zip through 15 phone numbers from the list with no success, glance at the clock, and five minutes have passed. You think, "Boy, I wish I were giving someone a survey; that way I could get 15 minutes to pass by with just one phone call." And then you hit pay dirt and talk to one of the people on your list. They start answering questions ... and the survey drags on ... and the topics become increasingly desperate, descending from "Would you describe Company X as 'pretentious'?" to "How important is it to you that Company X offers its customers parking?" to "Would you rate from 1 to 10 the quality of the toilet paper in the meeting areas' bathrooms?" ... and the respondent (that's a very useful word in the phone thespian business) becomes increasingly agitated, because the iron they left at the dentist's was tipped over by the cat and is setting their toddler afire. You can feel the raw force of their desire to flee this repetitive, endless water torture. It's infectious. And suddenly, five minutes into the call, the remaining ten minutes which you were praying for back during the endless busy signals become very, very long, indeed.
Naturally, they compensate for this effect by strictly monitoring you during the workday to ensure that you don't even so much as get up from your seat except while taking your 30-minute lunch hour and 10-minute break. Which are both logged in, to the minute, on the timeclock, I should add.
Food is prohibited in the call room, because God forbid you should grab a bite from a chocolate bar every once in a while to keep you alert and refreshed. Newspapers, magazines, books, etc., are likewise banned; go read them on your break time, you chump. And trying to amuse yourself on the computer you're reading the survey information from? Forget it; a random sampling of the room's Windowsboxen showed me that at least half of them were so stripped down as to even have Notepad removed. The sampling was cut short when I was admonished for double-clicking on "My Computer" to bring up the C drive's contents. "You're not supposed to fool around with those," the supervisor genially reminded me.
For all that, it was a good office ... I just never want to do the work again.
There is one silver lining to the cloud, though. Thirty hours of cold-calling people and interrupting them from their work routine and home life has had the effect of completely immunizing me against Solicitation Guilt; I'm simply so numb at the idea of making phone calls to people I don't know and will never speak to again that I no longer feel intimidated by the prospect of making employment calls. It's a little more involved method of finding work than simply sending out one's resume; but it gets far better results, and requires far less obsessive perfectionism about the resume itself -- something that has held me back in the past. So, come Thursday (or Friday, or whenever I actually happen to wake up from hibernation), I'll launch myself into a real job search for a few weeks. Temping is starting to chafe.
November 7, 2001 ... I had a dream this morning that I was Web surfing, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
I happened to be reading through Antwon.com; in one of his mainpage posts, Twon somehow made the offhand comment that, as much as he habitually deprecates his choice of blue-on-orange-on-yet-more-blue, at least his page didn't use "a draconic color scheme". Said phrase was linked to some site I didn't recognize, so I clicked on it out of curiosity.
It turned out to be some sort of website review site. There was a bland top frame, presumably a title bar, and a grey right-side nav bar; the rest of the window, the main content frame, was dolled up in the style of the site that it reviewed. The particular page that Twon had linked to was their review of Tomorrowlands. It had a familiar black background and mostly off-white text, with the occasional yellow and, inexplicably, brown.
I started reading, and what immediately caught me was that this site -- while largely focused on the aesthetics of the places it reviewed -- by no means commented just on their design. I suppose it didn't surprise me that the unnamed reviewer disapproved of my aesthetics as "simplistic"; after all, I've always been all about content. But they rather took exception to the nature of my beliefs. If I recall correctly, they railed on for most of the review about my "unhealthy obsession" with dragons; but considering the sheer amount of content on my site and its wide range of material, I have to wonder just who that caustic label really applied to.
Everything was "dragons this" and "dragons that". I believe that they actually did use the phrase "draconic color scheme" on that site, even though you couldn't pay me money to describe Tomorrowlands that way. (Well, alright, I'd do it for money. If you're perverse enough to send me $20 earmarked for the purpose, I'll find a way to work it into a future journal entry.) The most disappointing thing, I think, was that, having disagreed with me, they couldn't find a single kind word to say about anything I did; about the closest they came was that they specified that my draconic writings were a "waste of space" -- implying that it wasn't a waste when I stuck to more mundane subjects, but not even having the grace to say that there were things they liked despite their overall negative opinion.
The greatest irony of the dream, I think, is that it's the worst press that Tomorrowlands has ever gotten. I do attract the inevitable critics -- The Artist Formerly Known As Thermodynamic comes to mind, and Ryan. (Who has, by the way, printed an apology on his page to me and to the Otherkin community. Major bonus points to him for follow-through.) I've gotten one e-mail saying I was crazy; one private religious battle; and a number of people Not Getting The Point ... but I've never been targeted to that extent. I'm not even on PoE yet -- which still surprises me; it only takes one heartless surfer or disgruntled visitor to slap me with a label and throw me to those wolves.
I know it's a cliche -- a fact which automatically triggers my credulity alarms -- but it seems that I really am my own worst critic.
November 8, 2001 ... Today's journal entry is brought to you by the letter Uninspired and the numbers Sleepless and Deadline.
Yes, these are original (except where credited). You may thwap me with the Stick of Punnishment now.
How does a mathematician learn to read sheet music?
"A polar bear is just a rectangular bear after a coordinate transform." -- Unattributed
How to pick up a mathematician:
I don't understand calculus. Differentiation is just integration in reverse; why don't they call it disintegration?
The first mathematical travel company:
"This is a one-line proof ... if we start sufficiently far to the left." -- Overheard in a math class
November 9, 2001 ... For what it's worth, I never actually did get to sleep after yesterday's post. I've now been up for about 32 hours. My heart is torn between just going to sleep, and trying to push myself even further in order to produce a worthwhile journal entry. Right now, going to sleep is winning. Well, between those two choices, at least.
It's the end of the work week here at Squeeky Hollow, and everyone has settled in to the living room for movie night. Sarah went out and rented Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I've seen it twice in theaters now, but I'm still finding myself getting drawn into it. I think I'd better sneak downstairs and get to sleep before I end up watching the movie and staying up yet another two hours.
Anyway, happy weekend, everyone.
First of all, and slightly tangentially, I pulled another all-nighter last night, playing (and finishing!) the Squaresoft game "Threads of Fate." Not a complete waste of time, but certainly nothing memorable, especially with Square's track record; and it seems very weird to have a Square Playstation game without any FMV, and with no intro sequence before the title screen. (!) A damn short game, too. I finished it in about nine hours. Granted, it's got some replay value, in that the game plays very differently depending on which main character you pick ... but still, nine hours on a first playthrough?
I'm getting off-topic, though. I did bring up the game for a reason -- to specifically grumble about computer RPG cliches. Why is it that, no matter how reasonably the game starts out, your character(s) always end up saving the world? This is two seperate questions, actually: Why do your characters always fight some evil being plotting to either destroy or take over all life within its reach (typically at least planetwide); and why does that always come at the end of the game?
There is a very simple, short and quite correct answer to those questions -- "because it makes for a better game" -- but life is not a game; and the way that it really works is that if you stop keeping track of the quest after you've saved the world, you're missing out on all of the best experiences. As for the Evil Overlord What Is Heinously Evil, ... well, history is full of demons; but the ones we remember are monolithic -- huge armies or bureaucracies that required whole nations to put paid to, and just once I'd like to see a game in which the heroes' actions are just one tiny (albeit pivotal) blow waged in the service of a much larger campaign.
Computer RPG heroes are also overwhelmingly loners -- quest-driven, serious, silent types -- but I think that's less an RPG fault than a cultural one. That's how we seem to want our saviors and conquerors. People who get the job done and wander off in search of the next land in need of saving. (Or, for extra bonus points, who have their next quest land at their feet five minutes after they finish saving the world yet again; it's just so chic to be endlessly caught up by duty, despite wanting nothing more than to retire to some quaint fishing village with an NPC wife and three NPC kids.)
Like it or not, those are the ideals we subconsciously set for ourselves when we set out to be heroes. These are also ideals that 99.99% of us just can't hack. Some last significantly longer than others, true, but the "crisis of faith" is also another RPG staple -- "What am I fighting for? When did this all get so complicated? How can I pursue this goal that doesn't mean what I thought it meant?" -- and in real life, there's just so much out there, and so many other people to pick up the flag if you walk away, that it's a rare breed who can find inside themself the incentive to keep up the quest.
It has been my experience that practitioners of magic suffer from these problems relatively severely. At any rate, most of the mages I know got caught up in problems larger than themselves in fairly short order after learning the ropes; nearly all have been eclectics (and thus take a very personal, solitary view of their willworkings); and ... well ... having fought to save the world with a group of them, it seems like many of the mages of my acquaintance reached the end of the defend-the-world game, hit "save" one final time, and tucked away the cartridge in their closet.
This is not to condemn mages as powergamers, or accuse the genre of a hero complex; when poking too ambitiously into forces beyond the typical person's reach, one is bound to find things that poke back, and those with the chutzpah to continue exploring are bound to stumble across something requiring taking a stand over. And a solitary practitioner, faced with a struggle against forces he can't measure, will almost instinctively fall into the mythical heroic tradition, almost like it's programmed in. Which, culturally speaking, it is; we shouldn't be too surprised when the archetypes that we hammer into the heads of every generation show up once in a while.
As mentioned above, though, most people -- even heroes -- aren't really "hero material." Our cultural tradition carries with it a high rate of burnout. One of the factors, certainly, is the solitude of the path; nothing crushes the heroic spirit quite like having not a single friend, or a single source of comfort, to turn to in an hour of need.
With that in mind, I turn to the following letter that Kaijima sent to me a short while ago; perhaps it can help smooth out the path of some mages, lead them away from facing such extremes, and in the process help keep some from crashing and burning after taking on more than they can really parse.
I realized today, for the first time really, how little mages have. Real-life mages, here and now. We don't have a religious doctrine, or big books of rote magic, or lists of specific forces and deities to follow. We don't even have a philosophy as such. Maybe, as such individualists, with the way we work, we shouldn't have anything truly monolithic ... but I can't help but think there shouldn't be nothing ... nothing that goes beyond just the individual.
Half of the oath's power is in the values it holds; the other half is in the fact that there are others out there who believe in it right along with you. Take heart in that silent companionship; remember that you're not the only one on the front lines of whatever conflict you find yourself fighting; and don't think that saving the world even has been, or ever will be, a one-man job. There are too many people who care too much to let something that big go unaddressed.
November 11, 2001 ... One of my roommates is sleeping on the upstairs couch tonight, and so the living room light is off. I sit here typing this in the dark. The house is silent. There is a sense of timelessness hanging in the air.
At times like these, I feel a strong desire to turn my monitor brightness way down -- to mesh with my environment. (It's occasionally awkward typing in the dark, but mostly it's just like touch-typing during the day, except that when you mess up, you have to remember the QWERTY layout instead of being able to look down at the keys.) I prefer to have my monitor only faintly illuminate its surroundings -- to have it glow just enough to read the on-screen text by; to have the effect on my desk seem more moonlight than light bulb.
This also extends to hearing. I can't abide by loud noise in darkness. I do listen to music, and in fact usually go to sleep with a CD playing; but it has to be quiet music. Not necessarily non-aggressive music, just low-volume. I caught myself adjusting the volume on the Crash Test Dummies CD when I turned down the monitor brightness, down to the lowest setting where I could still make out the song. Silence is aural darkness, and follows many of the same inner rules.
I think my brain occasionally adapts to the dark, in the same way that other people's eyes do, and the concept of having more light around than strictly necessary causes me emotional discomfort. Nighttime is designed for dark; we do our best to push it back, to live our waking lives in a world of perpetual illumination, but I occasionally feel the call of a more primal world, and cannot help but listen. It's the call of silence, of stillness, the noiseless howl; and we would do well to appreciate it once in a while.
November 12, 2001 ... This morning, I was going through the mail at my old spamtrap address -- to which I still have some mailing lists sent -- and I skimmed through a letter from the state Libertarian Party about how "our guys" did in the recent election. It's now been almost a week since I voted, and I'm just now getting around to finding out the results of the few seats and ballot measures I have specific interest in. I've been so out of the loop that I don't even know who was elected mayor of Seattle. (I just went to http://www.vote.wa.gov/results, which redirected me to King County's website for the local race, and found out that the winner was Greg Nickels -- but I wouldn't have even done that if I hadn't been writing this post.)
I have to wonder. People make such a big deal of voting being our "civic duty". This is a guilt trip that is probably needed, given that only 26% of our county's registered voters cast ballots, but it doesn't seem to go far enough. Are you really fulfilling your "civic duty" if you, as I do, cast your ballot once a year and then try your hardest to ignore government the rest of the time? Isn't that like going to church just on Easter and Christmas? Better than nothing, but it hardly gives you the right to act pious.
This is not to even get into the issue of being an educated voter; I simply left blank all of the options for which I had no opinion, but technically, anyone can "do their civic duty" by showing up to the polls and picking their choices based on the sound of the candidate's first name. ("I think we need more Bobs in office.") Take, for example, the Port of Seattle. I didn't even know that the Port of Seattle had elected commissioners. I don't even have a clue what they do, aside from the obvious answer of "oversee the Port of Seattle". (There was a slight problem with my recent change of address form, and I didn't receive a voter guide.) How am I supposed to choose a candidate in not one, but four contested, nonpartisan races? And then there's the school board positions. Why do they even let me vote in these? I moved to Seattle as an adult, and will quite likely never send a child through the school system. Is it my civic duty to not vote there, or is it my civic duty to take advice from a parent that I like and use my otherwise meaningless vote to give them twice the influence they'd otherwise have?
It's possible questions like that are what made 3/4 of voters cynical enough to not even bother to go to the polls -- or, at least, contributed to an existing and far deeper political malaise.
I'm reminded of Winston Churchill's immortal quote: "...democracy is the worst form of Government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Perhaps more appropriate, though, is a lesser-known epigram of his: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
November 13, 2001 ... Today dawned clear and ... off-white. There was probably sun there, somewhere behind the solid wall of rainclouds, but the only way to tell was that the sky is considerably lighter than it is at night. And then there was the rain. They've issued flood warnings for some local rivers, and from the way it's coming down outside, I have to wonder if our streets and alleys count in that category. This year's autumn was actually fairly dry and temperate, and now that winter has arrived in earnest, Mother Nature seems determined to make up for lost time.
This is when living in Seattle really starts to get to me. Usually, I sequester myself indoors and in front of a computer by choice, secure in the knowledge that I at least have the option to go outside and deal with life once in a while; but when the weather is this inhospitable, there's just no incentive to do anything but sit around and play Diablo. Even when you've got a destination to visit, you have to balance the benefits of going there versus the annoyance of donning extra layers of raingear that are inevitably going to get soaked in the line of duty and require drying space (which is not easy to find in a household of eight adults).
Still, there are some things worth braving the rain for. Like food and companionship: I went to Thai Tom's with Kylee this evening, dashing through the dark and stormy night to meet her at the restaurant (only a few minutes late). We admired the inobtrusively aggressive music, talked about the interplanetary expedition practices of alternate Earths, and I enjoyed my typical order of swimming rama (chicken and spinach in peanut sauce, for those who aren't aficionados). Over our salads, we decided (by virtue of mutual amusement) that Kylee is SWIETFW.
If you know Gwynyth, you've gotten the in-joke already. The rest of you, in order to properly appreciate the acronym involved, should know that I cannot eat Thai food with my mate, due to an unfortunate conflict of tastes. As I am something of a Thai junkie, to the point where I get occasional cravings that can't be placated any other way, I need another partner to help me fulfill my Thai urges. Thus, Kylee is She Whom I Eat Thai Food With. (One does always have the option to eat Thai alone, but it's a stopgap measure at best -- allowing one to give the body release, but not addressing the deeper needs involved.)
On the way back to Squeeky Hollow, I made the comment to Kylee that rain always makes me wish that I were out in the backcountry. See, rain in civilization is an inconvenience -- keeping people indoors, hampering safe driving, disrupting outdoor events, forcing changes of plans in a million tiny ways. I've been through rain while hiking, and what happens when the skies open up? You cover things with tarps, and continue about your business. The rain becomes unavoidable, but it's precisely that unavoidability that makes it more appealing to me. I don't really want to hide from the rain; granted, I'd rather not deal with getting myself and my stuff wet, but if the rain's going to be there, I'd rather find a way to minimize it, and have it there, than to simply retreat indoors and go about business as usual.
November 14, 2001 ... Sometimes the World Wide Web seems far more suited to my actual lifestyle than life itself. Take time. Web time is completely arbitrary, and completely free-form; things happen as they happen. CNN.com doesn't post news on any schedule like "once every hour"; they release stories as the stories break. On popular collaborative sites, updates just kind of happen as people post them, and there are always new words to read in the forums. If you're running an hour late, Livejournal doesn't care; just read your friends list the way you normally do, and stop when you reach stuff you've read before.
Time in the real world, while equally arbitrary, is a great deal more rigid. Need to get to the bank? Don't dawdle around after work -- even the ones that close late won't leave their doors open past 6 PM. Getting a craving for a juicy, flame-broiled Whopper? Sit around and twiddle your thumbs until 10 AM, when Burger King switches over from their breakfast menu. And heaven forbid you work at an employer that uses time clocks -- you'll be at work for 8.0 hours, by jiminy crackey, and prepare for a chewing out if you take a little too long tying your shoelaces and are late for your bus.
I don't work in real-world time. I work in WWW time. Long-time readers of this site will already be familiar with my terribly loose (and ironically appropriate) interpretation of the word "tomorrow", but it goes even deeper than that. For instance, take my dating of these journal entries. Astute readers will have noted that, often, a day's entry won't be posted until well after midnight on the following date. This is because I am a firm believer in Baxil Standard Time; in BST, (1) days don't end until you go to sleep, and (2) my dates roll over at dawn instead of some arbitrarily-declared "midnight." Thus, if I got up after sunrise on the 11th, but don't write and post that day's journal entry until the following morning, it is still the day that started on the 11th, and I will date my entry accordingly.
If this seems slightly confusing, don't worry. It makes perfect sense
to me, and since I'm a professional mathematician, you can take my word
This system, for all its lackadaisical charm, occasionally leads to oddities. For instance, take today's entry -- dated the 14th -- and yesterday's entry -- the 13th's. As it turns out, I finished the 13th's entry not ten minutes ago, and launched into the 14th's immediately after posting it. Now, technically, it's still the same day, and I should be dating them the same way, but I know that I'm not going to get up until after dark when I do go to sleep, and I'm trying to stay committed to BaMoJoEnt's "post-a-day" ethic. So I'm tossing my notions of time out the window for the sake of convenience, and simply stating, "This is today's entry. Today's other entry is yesterday's entry, but I wrote it on time because I wrote it before I went to sleep, and I didn't write today's entry early because I wrote it on the Gregorian calendar's legally defined November 14th. That works." If this seems slightly confusing, don't worry; it only makes sense to me when I don't think about it too hard.
But back to the point. I live in that sort of free-form, round-the-clock, event-driven-not-schedule-driven time. I generally find myself incapable of thinking of deadlines in terms of clock time; rather, I'll process it as, "I need to do action A after I finish reading my e-mail but before I start playing Diablo II again." In the broader sense, I consider time in terms of casuality -- If X happened after Y, would that break the rules or lead to a loop? -- and am earnestly convinced that if you start something at a given time, that no matter how long it takes you to complete it, it can count as having been finished at that time, as long as you haven't done anything which would require re-framing the action. (For instance, if you answer an e-mail three months later, it still counts as having been answered in a basically timely fashion. But if you, in the meantime, answer another e-mail which that same person subsequently sent, you've inserted landmarks of causality in the three-month-old letter's timestream that you can no longer gloss over.)
What's the point of all this? I'm not sure, really. Perhaps to wonder just how many of the world's procrastinators are, like me, people who just aren't fully aware of the passage of time -- people to whom "late" more accurately describes someone who's passed away than someone who takes their time while finishing up some important task or another. I don't really see how this world can assign so much importance to "late"; for the vast majority of situations that life throws at you, it's only too late for action when you're dead.
November 15, 2001 ... Today's Baxilian translation of an old classic:
"A webmaster should be able to write fiction, quote mythology, discuss philosophy, analyze science, defend dumb ideas, propose smart ones, use Babelfish, use Google, photoshop an image, make a sidebar, edit copy, moderate a forum, flame cleverly, lay out a page, code, hack. Specialization is for dot-coms."
-- Robert Heinlein, paraphrased
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