Monday, February 28, 2011

Charlie Sheen, Smoking and Talking

Well, I'd like to post this video of Charlie Sheen.   I think it obvious that he's riled up, and could be on some chemicals.  His attitude seems pernicious and righteous in a way that speaks for itself (so I won't put words in his mouth).  He's probably not sober.

This is how life goes by.

In the little moments.  Just after noon on a Monday in late February.  It doesn't make a sound.  It certainly doesn't come to tell you that you've won a prize.  Nobody is waiting to give you good news at home.  There's a lot of effort in the rear view mirror, and the car still runs like shit. Welcome.

See, I still feel that, everyday, I'm not learning, I'm not engaged, and I'm horribly distracted.  Maybe that's not true on some level.  I'm incredibly bored, in short.  Really, really bored.

I do get a lot of work done at home (mostly writing and reading).  I work at sustained medium-paced tempos, and feel very good afterward.  But I'm wasting time here.  Wasting it for what?  I've got a friend.  He's quitting his job and going on a bike journey.  We had plans, the two of us, to do just that thing, once upon a time.  Once upon a time.  He's making an affirmative step toward happiness in the near-medium term.  I reject the idolized notion of hard work as suffering, and suffering without hard work is intolerable.  That's where I sit now, dazed and unedited.

Another Monday Morning

It's raining here, and rather gray.  They go together, so nothing I can really do about it.  I suppose it would be healthy to remember that there's nothing I can do, period, and that I have little control generally.  That's a bit depressing though, to be honest.  This morning, I made, as I do every morning but fail to mention here (notice how this blog will become a place to track food instead of alcohol consumption?), some steel-cut oatmeal with a bunch of frozen fruit, a pinch of brown sugar, and flax seed.  The trick is to add in the frozen fruit before cooking the oatmeal.  Frozen fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries), oats, lots of water, bring to a boil and then reduce all the way down and let cook for about 20-25 minutes. Delicious mix at the end that I take in a small thermos to work.  Hearty.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wake Up Time

This morning was a mixed blessing. I had some good Italian bread from a place called "Eatily" in Manhattan. However, it is/was over 4 days old, making it sort of, you know, difficult to cut. What to do with this bread? Well, french toast, of course, right?  I whipped up some eggs with a little brown sugar and cinnamon and let the bread soak for about 10 minutes until it was genuinely soft.  Then I threw it in the pan to cook.  After a few minutes, it looked like this:

I'm not sure if that looks good to you, but it is a decent slice of french toast, with enough inner tenderness to melt in my mouth, and I've got a somewhat high standard for inner tenderness, at least relative to those anecdotes that I could foist upon you, but which, I'm afraid, would be mildly embarrassing to me, because the threshold one must reach to share mementos about inner tenderness with another is always high, no matter what people say.

And, onward to the next dilemma.  No syrup.  Damnit, I had to run across the street and get syrup from the cheapie grocery store.  Nothing wrong with this place in a pinch, and this was a pinch if you need, let's say, a box of brand name cereal (well, let's not digress)--and I never used to think like this, trust me, I was raised on Log Cabin syrup--but I was forced to purchase some inferior molasses colored high fructose corn syrup, and it basically ruined the flavor of the eggs and bread, if, that is, you'll allow me to indulge my own skills at infusing taste and flavor into such things.    And, so, here we stand.  I've made the extra two pieces without eating them, and will save them in the fridge to be toasted on weekday morning procuring the necessary "real" maple syrup, which is, also unfortunately, really really expensive.

Another note that not drinking helps significant other not drink that much--it isn't her goal per se--she can drink just fine without me, just that she doesn't do it nearly as much as when I was drinking more myself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not Dark Yet

There's a lazy almost impossibly relaxed quality to this stuff--it stays just on this side of coherent.

Fudamental Disconnect

It is tempting to think that what we want makes our lives better, but at the core of addiction is the basic obfuscation of this idea.  As addicts, or those in possession of addicted personalities (TOPOAP!), we have to try to alter our very instincts about what we think it good, not just about chemical dependency, but about everything.  But we are not children anymore, right.  So we have to become students, really.  Adult learners. I always wanted to get into a PhD program, and now I've got one, with some serious stakes, (i.e. non-academic). 

Friday, February 25, 2011

How To Learn

I need to think about quick responses.  Rather, I need to work on recognizing emotional turns of face, the kind of pangs and discordant ugly-face reactions that billow up and out across my cheeks when I hear something I don't like.  The first step to learning is to isolate out those responses, to freeze them in place for a moment.  To suspend thought and just sit inside of a bubble for a few moments.  If I can remain self-aware, if only to slow down the vestiges of zealous disagreement, perhaps I can be open to learning something new and expanding the world around me. 

Loneliness and Companionship

What's worse than achieving something important and then coming home to an empty house?

Coming home to an empty house that smells like cat piss.

Coming home to a cat pissed on house with neighbors banging on their drums.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You've Passed

Another perfectly good month has passed.  I have a full time job besides being sober (who would have guessed it!), but tomorrow is the 25th of February, and I've been sober since June 25, 2010.  That's 8 months.  It seems like a long time and a very very small amount of time at once.  Either way, let's keep moving forward.

Now, who can tell me which way forward is?

Alcoholics Anonymous and the bounce from Status

It occurred to me just now that we have two dueling objectives: to be valued, and worthy (and that this can place us on a merry-go-round of status driven endeavors) and (2) to be free of judgments from other people.

Now, I don't think that we can ever really break free of status driven behavior.  I'd like to think that we can, but our social world is all about dynamic interaction. This isn't necessarily evil or bad.  Just think about people who shirk the corporate system (I am at times one of them)--and how they ultimately seek status in a different system.  Anti-_____[insert group] can be as status driven as anybody who is more honest about their objectives.  And part of why we seek status is because it rewards us with stability.  Anyway, everything can get out of control.  But, for the sake of this argument, please accept, for a moment, that we seek high status--all of us.

Second, then, imagine that we simultaneously hate to be judged.  Okay, so maybe we seek high status because we think that we won't be judged if we have high status, or that our high status will make up for our faults.  Whatever it is, nobody really wants to be judged.  Even though some honest appraisals might do us all a little good so long as we could get by it and keep working.  Think about it though: many many people choose their friends because friends agree with them on basic issues.  I've certainly done it.

Third, imagine that alcoholism is a chemical dependency that is simultaneously an emotional problem that has to do with shame and fear of judgment from others.
I don't think this is a stretch, do you?

Now, insert alcoholics anonymous, which basically teaches alcoholics to let go of ego and accept powerlessness and God into their lives as a way to beat a chemical and emotional addiction.

See where I'm going?  Well, God is an entity that should accept you regardless of your status, and, at some level, the pure idea of God is to escape status AND the, you guessed it, physical limitations of our bodies.  We don't like those damn bodies so much!  They force us to do things we would otherwise do if we were just rational minds.  Like drink.  In front of God's eye(s?) we are all equal, though, right?  I.e. God provides a way to escape status.  And, if God provides a way to escape ego, then God provides a way to escape our bodily (physical) and (emotional) addictions/limitations.

God/AA allows us to live in an emotional world outside of human judgment.  To neglect the way the world around us values us, individually.

Tracking Emotions and Alcoholism

There are a lot of "knowns" in the world, many of which fall into easy and hard classification with numbers.  I'm certainly at the beginning of my understanding in this realm.  But, for all of the hard facts available out there, it is still quite difficult to chart emotional landscapes with the kind of accuracy and precision that I'd hope for.  One thing is astoundingly clear though: although we act in patterned ways, we do not always do what is best for us, especially when faced with pleasure temptations, whether alcoholic, sugar, human, or other.  Maybe that is basic.  Still, it can be gut wrenching to watch a loved one abuse him or herself repeatedly with alcohol (or other drugs) without the feeling that you should be able to do something to reason with him/her and help them figure it out--and ultimately, to stop the abuse.

Unfortunately, and I breathe a heavy sigh here, increased information about irrational acts does not product rational acts, but often strengthens irrational ones.  More on this soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Happens When You Stop Drinking?

First, you get really, startlingly, tired.  You should find some alternate food source, and even, I dare say, cut out caffeine at the same time you cut out alcohol.  Not that I'm a model of this behavior at the moment.  And you'll get very grouchy. 

Second, you'll probably feel like shit about yourself and the world around you.   Over time, this feeling will dissipate to be replaced by the notion that, blandly, the world doesn't really care about your drinking habits.  Whereas before "everything" mattered when you were drinking, and everyone cared, and drama abounded, not drinking can be boring at first, because we drinkers were so oriented toward drinking when there's nothing else to do, or drinking when there's everything else to do, etc.

Third, you'll stop hanging out with at least three-quarters of your friends, and realize that you'll need to find alternative models of behavior if you want to continue not drinking.  As comfortable as you might say you are to friends who drink and go to bars (when you're invited), let's be honest and say it like this: going to bars isn't that much fun, and can bring out small (or large) anxiety attacks that persist long after the environment changes.

Fourth, you'll want to do something with your heretofore worthless life.

Fifth, you'll realize that doing something, whatever it is, is really, terribly, difficult.  And yet.  Having freedom from pressure can be very easy in moments of transition.

Sixth, you'll be forced to face some of your own hard seeded emotional irrationalities and either affirm or confront yourself before moving to fast-sinking plateau of utter insecurity about what you've previously believed about the world.  This is actually a good step.

Seventh, you'll write a blog post about this, and hope that you're convincing about the last part.  At least to the one person who matters....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who knows?

Moderate solipsism, they told me, was a necessity for a fulfilling life, for, without an error of judgment slanted toward the old monotheistic tendencies of the self, we may fail to truly become that which we are meant to be. An odd parody, I replied, after they finished with a thump of their cane on the hard rosewood floor, if we are to find acute realizable benefits from acting out of turn, to wit, knowingly skewing that which is most central, why should it be that we cannot do so by sticking our noses close to the floor and sniffing out the scent of that great beast we try to fantasize away in rock ballads and operas, or when cresting the horizon of our loving globe on feather-weight crafts?  I fail to understand exactly what you spell out, and so, perhaps, I said to them with the sternest most direct tone I could muster at the time, aided, I'll admit by a peppering of post-lunch whiskey, that their errors certainly created a disfavorable impression of their persons upon this person, to wit: they would be hurt greatly by their misappropriation before getting to the place they so desired, a brand of heaven, or a denial of hell, I'm not sure which to rule non-existent yet based on these old chaps, and I haven't had my evening tea either, so we'll allow the dichotomous nature of their comments to twist about in the ether a few moments longer until perhaps they will tire and come thudding down by the war-torn shoes they so eagerly removed upon entering.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Threading A Needle (of love?).

Countless bits of stimuli splat against the windshield.  Some make it through recognizably, albeit in fragments of their former selves,, and others, the majority, find themselves an organic cement of rainbow hues, only to be washed away in the diluted blue of winter skies and summer berries, flatly pissed out onto the side of a moving vehicle.  At night, when the road slowly cools from the long baking process of the day, the pieces of filth will stand up, examine themselves, and attempt some reassembly before the day breaks.  Their chance of finding recognition in the driver's eyes now shot, they will try to impress upon whomever available the basic fact that they are valuable and worthy, that they are valid in their existence, however slight, and however brief.  That they might find some audience, they will have succeeded and we need not talk more of them here.  If not, perhaps theirs is a tale to tell of isolated survival with the hopes of uncovering true understanding at a later point.

It is always miserable to think that someone understands you only to find out later that they do not.  Such misery might be assuaged by understanding that you don't communicate so well to start with, like my dense story above may illustrate.  When we predicate our existence on communication, though, we might consider that when our communication is inefficient, we should change it.  But our inefficiency cries out for something very special: the chance to be understood by a select group, and not everybody.  We don't like simple messages.  We want to be wanted by the people who are most wanted.  We especially want the people who are most wanted to understand us, or feel, perhaps, that it requires someone very special to understand us.  We develop standards, especially for intimate partners, for the limited purpose of finding an understanding companion, someone who can empathize from experience.  The odd footnote here is that we're all simultaneously on a very similar mission to find this deeply subjective profound and transformational understanding, so that we can finally just give in to another person and stop presenting ourselves as if we're wanted all the time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I always liked to cook when it was convenient to like it--that is, when I had free time to do so, and when it wasn't too intricate.  I still think that cooking doesn't have to be that hard, and turns out, it can be extremely rewarding too.  Most notably: you get to see and know what you ingest, and have some sort of reward for preparing it.  It slows you down and makes you aware of your hunger, and just what to do to help satisfy yourself.  But, by far the biggest pay off is that I can pretty much diffuse any fights between me and my better half by making some food. Lots and lots of fights occur because we're needy, and cooking allows needs to be met.  It doesn't work with everything, sure, but it sure does help with a lot of things.  So, next time you're fighting with your significant other, or you are cranky and irritable, or just feel lost, ask questions about basic nutrition.  I'm just beginning this process, and although it can be taken to the extreme (what can't), what it often is, especially when empty calories are cheap and abundant, is a check on the pleasure seeking self, and a relationship balm too!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Patterns and Memory

Once a pattern is established and repeated, it becomes easier to repeat, generally. I'm thinking of a skill, particularly, like playing an instrument. Perhaps you've tried to play the guitar at some point in your life. A "C" chord seems impossible to someone who tries to grab it for the first time. You've got to bend your fingers around this long neck and then make sure that, once you're pressing down with the flesh of your finger tip that you don't mute out some of the open strings. It is difficult!

And yet.

If you try to grab this chord a few times, for, let's say, 15 minutes, every day, or every other day, you'll find it easier and easier to remember (instead of placing one finger down, then the other, then the last, you might put them all down at once), until grabbing a "C" chord (at least in the first position on open strings) is relatively easy. You'll want to find other chords then, and maybe learn to play a "D" chord. Eventually, you'll be able to switch between the two chords effortlessly. It's funny how this process works, mostly because what at first might seem a dramatic feat can be relatively easy after a few tries (and mistakes).

I think this dynamic colors our worlds on a daily basis. It means that we should be sensitive to those people and things we are impressed with, and be careful to compare the object of our affections with someone or something that has similar exposure to a particular pattern, so that we can tell how much innate skill is involved, if that's what we're going for. If what we're going for is to be impressed, then we don't have to worry about it too much.

But, what I really wanted to write about was the ease and difficulty involved in tasks based simply on one's knowledge or exposure to the task before-hand. Some things might be really really hard because they are similarly foreign, and other things very easy because they are familiar. So, take heart, non-drinkers among you, that you can learn to not drink successfully, but at first you'll feel like a kid learning a new language. With time, and exposure to many different types of venues, it can become a second skin that interacts on its own for you, just like booze used to be.

Basically, what I'm saying, is that you don't have to be "all in" to every social interaction you have, all the time. It is a mistake I've made in my own thinking about how to interact with people. It actually helps if I dial down my sincerety when I interact with people, and think about what is easiest to respond to, re: conversation, for instance.  People generally want to have a nice smooth flowing talk, if they want to talk.  They don't want to have to spell out their needs in a formulaic way that is excessively administrative.  They want to, in short, provide code words for longer more complete packages of needs.  Anyway, it has helped me (particularly at work, but also in my personal life) to realize that many people are patterned around certain conversational diagrams that make sense to them, and that getting something done, or successfully navigating a social scene (etc.), involves less interaction and more strategy on my part.  Not all of my thoughts on are always on display, no matter how loud they are inside.

It is a basic idea, but because I'm just learning how to do it, I'm a little slow.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I can't look away. .

Sleep doesn't help. Coffee hurts. Tea helps mildly. Laughing and movement remain the sole tonic available to me. Music is acceptable in a pinch, but can't be overly relied on. Life is inescapable in all ways except for death, and that's not comforting. I'm not talking about easy anxiety here, or some sort of slow motion implosion, or the fundamental realization that my overall worth for the world is quite low, or the idea that I can harm myself in the long term by acting on short term interests, or even disregarding solid and real gains from sobriety. But. Reality is catching up with me.

I'm of the wrong generation to like this, but I do!


My previous post wasn't fair.  I left a lot of my thinking about it out, and put in only tidbits, leading one reader to respond with some good questions about consistency and terminology, below:

I'm confused as to what meanings you attach to a lot of the terms you're using, such as "fairness", "equilibrium", or "coordination game". You start off saying that things aren't fair, without explaining which idea of fairness you mean (there's like five trillion of them, counting just the ones that are precisely defined). Then you talk about an inefficient equilibrium of an n-person prisoner's dilemma (your driving example). Then you say "In sum, we play very large coordination games," even though what you've talked about one sentence before is not a coordination game, and you also say "When disequilibrium occurs..." even though the example you've just set up is an equilibrium, not a disequilibrium.

To sum up, I have four questions (which of course you are welcome to ignore!):

1. What do you mean by "fair"?
2. What do you mean by "equilibrium"?
3. What is the driving example an example of? (An unfair outcome? A fair outcome? A disequilibrium? An equilibrium? Something else altogether?)
4. What is the main thought you're trying to communicate in this post?

So, to respond.  My notion of fairness here is admittedly weak.  It is closely associated with a recent post about the importance of de-emphasizing ego and entitlement.  The point was to say that we don't always get out of a situation what we put into it, and that our reward for buying into something is affected by collective decision making that may make sense when viewed in the aggregate, but not make us happy individually. It is a very basic idea to diffuse some of the self-centered notion that persists in my own thinking about my own priority in the world.

Equilibrium was a term used to describe the flow of traffic. It relates to the amount of cars, the capacity of the roadway, and the speed of cars.  An equilibrium is met when the flow of cars getting on and off the highway balance to keep the average speed of cars at 55mph.  Disequilibrium occurs when one of the elements changes--traffic ensues.  There's snow, so the cars must go slower, but the same amount of drivers come on the highway.  Or an exit is blocked because of an accident. 

The main point of the post was to say this: at times it might seem to make sense to act in a certain way individually--to speed onto the highway and beat out other cars, for instance--but that individual act actually constrains the aggregate a little bit more (because, for instance, one car leaving the highway stays at the average speed instead of speeding off to balance the oncoming car).  We think we make gains individually, but it is much harder to tell whether there was net gain or not.  Ultimately, and here's the take-home, understanding net gain will help us attain higher levels of individual gain.

I think.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Well, I'm upset

Here's a question for you.

Why should anything be fair?

Here's what I'm thinking.  We have a very basic sense of fairness that approaches the biological.  It is a final reason to a lot of rationales, a "God" like reason.  The reason of all reasons.  But why should we expect anything to actually be fair?

It seems to me that the assumption of fair outcomes relies on a mis-attribution of inputs.  Namely, that all outcomes, from all activity, relate to inputs in a strict formulaic way, such that it also resembles the intent of the original actor, minimally, or, maximally, maintains a proportion to the original input.

In other words, that individual intent is the only thing that impacts our lives, or SHOULD be the only measurable metric.

For example, I might choose to drive to work today.  You might choose the same.  And another 100,000 might also choose to do so.  The resulting traffic on a road system that can handle only 70,000 cars comfortably (let's say traveling at 55mph) is not related to my need to get to work individually.  In short, we play very large coordination games.  When disequilibrium occurs, some participants will be affected in a way that thwarts their original desire, despite acting rationally to obtain a goal.  Collectively, then, we can talk about equilibria, though individually we may not think it fair to have our preference for a speedy commute de-prioritized.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Status Frustration

It occurs to me that a lot of drinking, and/or feeling bad occurs when we think of ourselves as low status.  In other words, when we've internalized the status that the outer world gives us.  Because, and brace yourselves, unless you're among the very select few, and the probability is that you are not, you will never be the best, at anything, unless you define that thing so narrowly that only you and a few others fill the category.

Anyway, this is a permutation on a running them here in this blog, sure.  So, you know, it is also a recurring theme elsewhere.  On some level, if we didn't feel inadequate, we wouldn't have an incentive to move anywhere or do anything.  We need to feel some disequilibrium, and desire attainment of something.  How much should we get, then?  Well, largely we benchmark ourselves with our peers, those people who share a similar set of characteristics, and, let's face it, we feel better or worse depending on where we think we stand.

That's a moving marker, mind you.  If we're like average, and chances are much higher that we are than that we're not, we'll move around a few times geographically, and our social spheres will necessarily change.  I mean, even if we stay in the same location, this generally happens.  Right?

I'm not sure yet where my thoughts come out on the matter, but I'm scared.  I'm scared that status is the driving factor behind a lot of what we do, and audience and importance of one's perception are actually more important than  other things (feel free to insert them here!).

The funny thing about actually attaining status is that it we always adapt and our goal posts always move farther out into the field.  We can't really get it and hold it forever.  I sincerely do not believe. . . listen to that!  I sincerely want to avoid the thought that youth is an attainment of some kind of status in itself.  Sure, when we're young we appeal to others the most, because everyone is looking to get together and figure out their mating or their life partners.  And so one's looks can become embedded in their benchmarking process, whatever it is, which--and here's where I insert a value that we can all agree on, on one hand, and go out and see is patently untrue on the other--is wrong because looks shouldn't determine status.

But they do!  On one hand, consider racism of all sorts.  On the other hand, consider that blond haired women make more on average, than their brown haired counter-parts.

Anyway, youth does not a beautiful life make.  If you are even mildly interested in anything around you, being young represents a tremendously ignorant period of one's life.  Point of fact, it takes a long time to get to know about one subject, or one person.  There are entire classes on one author, or one of his or her books!

The point is only this.  We still must rely on the outer world for our meaning making.  We cannot shun it and find some spiritual switch wherein we're "free" from it and can rely solely on that "within" ourselves.  We certainly don't need to rely on one or two indicators from the outside world to exist, or have healthy self-esteem.  That's very different from shunning the entirety of social hierarchy.  It exists, and we are part of it.  There's nothing we can do about it.  We stand somewhere in that hierarchy, whether we want to know it or not.  That's not the question of primary importance, though.  Although our motivations should not rely solely on climbing status ladders, increased status has real tangible benefits.  Consider the university professor who has tenure.  Consider the partner at the law firm.  Or Mayor Bloomberg?  Sure, there are costs to high status that we can't forecast precisely from a lower status position.  But there are real benefits that we don't have when we have lower status too.

The way out of this paradox is to recognize your relative status from the eyes of your previous status.  I was once a kid.  Now I'm an adult.  Once I thought it was really cool to a) eat ice cream for breakfast and b) hang out all day and bounce on a trampoline.  When I speak to a child, there's increased responsibility to both understand where they are coming from and model behavior that will instill some good patterns.  It is more complicated now than it ever was. That's something to embrace like a cold fudgecicle. 

What do you keep safe?

What part of identity do you most cherish?  Is it your analytical prowess?  Or perhaps your ability to command attention when entering a room?  Maybe it is how close you are with your girlfriends (or boyfriends).  Perhaps you're an acutely sharp person, with a dry sense of humor?  Or maybe you're the party goer?  Maybe you read a lot? 

We all have a specialty of sorts.

The inevitable question is: what happens when you let go of this closely held identity?  Conversely: what happens when you hold it so tight that it snaps?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Emotional Patterns: Comfortable and Deadly

So, let's say that we respond in a patterned way to emotional stimuli, such that every time we receive enough input to deduce a particular arrangement of a certain emotion or circumstance coming at us, we have a very specific response, and see that incoming information in a dark or skewed way.  Let's say that the incoming information is in the form of a verbal statement along the lines of "did you wash the dishes like i asked?" and that task has been an issue in the past.

What's funny, partially because of arbitrary coherence, and partially because of like our internal mechanisms that i can't really get in to explaining, is that we'll respond in a habitual and patterned way in response, one that is not exactly rational, or one that isn't, perhaps, even related to the person speaking.  which means that, when we react to certain input, we do so in a way that ranges from mildly to severely disengaged from the input itself, or, in other words, the intent of the speaker, for example, the actual words and tone, etc.

At a basic level, we adapt to our own patterns and expectations and get further away from objective understanding to base any subjective response on, and instead have not just reactions, but kind of like shell reactions to things, interacting with them less and less and spending less and less brain power trying to understand and resolve, and more and more fuming.  But who remembers emotions after they are gone?  We don't.  Instead, we remember situational factors.

The point: our own laziness is natural, and it is uncomfortable to push against it BUT and AND pushing against it will make us happier and feel like we're living more meaningful engaging lives.

And we all still have to remember, once we've made that struggle to the speck of sunlight, that it is not okay to have a drink as a reward.  No matter how easy or close it might be.

Off to the Zoo

Digging through the trenches of sobriety.  Teetotaler. Conjures images of doing good deeds.  Religious.  Right path training.  Always on foot.  Dry.  Fleeting; boring; resolute banality.

Funny, the opposite is true.  My thoughts are bright and clear and loud in my head, but I have less of a need to broadcast them, or to cross words with people. 

There are all sorts of people out there who I might easily disagree with, but the point, maybe, is to learn from them instead.  To understand where they're coming from, whether I'm coming from a similar place, and if so, why, or if not, why not.  To try for a degree of empathy, both externally and internally.  Translation = having some patience is a hard thing.  Especially when I get emotional about an issue, for instance, or have the urge to say something. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Principles vs. Consequences vs. Being the Best

Perhaps not the most ego-gratifying way, but, I think, good way, to live, is to convince yourself that you're not special (in the healthiest way possible) and, simultaneously to try very hard to care about consequences and goals instead of principles and values.  I think on average, thinking that you're special does more harm than good, mostly because it causes you to evaluate the world in relation to your standing instead of objectively.  I realize that i'm setting forth a bit of a principle (think about consequences) but outcome matters more than principle--this should be reordered to say that we should prioritize outcome or results over principles.  We care most about outcomes when we endeavor to do things.  Again, I think, on average, a lot of fights (political, intimate, friendly) may go away if we stop thinking about our own exceptionalism (and therefore protect our own status) and also, think about coordinating with others to accomplish a goal instead of theorizing about the goal on our own.  Of course, these will sort of vary depending on the goal you have in mind. 

Mostly, I think subjective exceptionalism (and I'm making up the term) results in more principled thinking and inflexibility when we could get better results for more people faster, otherwise.  In other words, our number one enemy, both internally and collectively (when we should try to coordinate) is either our own idea that we're special (and we may be very sensitive to a lot of things and actually be special, but for the sake of increasing our own happiness, if we were actually special, it is best not to think of oneself as special, for the sheer sake of facing the world on a daily basis), or the idea that things must be done a certain way in order to get best results.

Now, having said that, we can't second guess our actions all the time.  And being stubborn, at times very stubborn, can have really solid tangible results too, so I'm let's just call this thought a capsule for right now, with more to come.


There's a lot of it out there.  There's a lot of it in our thinking process too--we are capable of rational thinking, of understanding true costs and benefits and making informed decisions, but we also overvalue what is present, become distorted when we are hungry or in need of basic physical sustenance, or are trying to impress someone, for instance, though this is trickier than I'll allow here.  Still, the question plagues us: how to get more done with our lives?  But I'm not talking about just being productive, I'm talking about eliminating needless work, about effort that will have no payoff--about atomistic labor.  And here I don't mean it won't have a payoff in terms of cash, but instead, a payoff in terms of increasing opportunity in the future.   So there's a lot of inefficiency out there, and some of it happens for good reason too--labor unions exist because there were abuses, because, fundamentally, there's a lot of people willing to work for not a lot of pay.  So there are laws that protect us from labor abuses, and for the sake of safety (no truck driving for more than 7 hours at a time).  By their nature, those laws strip out some short term efficiency for the sake of providing longer term sustainability--and they only work if everyone follows.  If not, we've got a black market of sorts. Exchanges occur that are more efficient for two parties, but they are not regulated.  We all want regulation when it saves us from working, and we all want to do away with regulation when it bites into our bottom line.

Anyway, I am disorganized here, I know.  Part of the point of this post was to detail some of our basic drives and desires--why we do what we do given some set choices.  And what I wanted at was some of the story line we tell ourselves, not just in terms of long or far thinking but in terms of universal values.  We act out of our universal values (let's say they are the values we think makes society fair, the internal moral code that keeps everyone competing without dying off first, because, for instance, they have been driving three days in a row--faced with a gargantuan task like this, many people will see their personal risk as worth it, simultaneously devaluing that risk to themselves, and while rationally understanding that others should not take the same risk--accidents happen unintentionally)--anyway, what's interesting is that we mostly think of ourselves as ______, ______, and _____ [insert adjectives] type of people, and mostly, those are idealized acts.  What's funny is that those values can actually harm us.  They can create inefficiency that keeps us from attaining a higher objective standard of living both individually and collectively.  At the same time, we're not going to be able to change people's values so easily--i mean, think about having a personal conversation with a friend about something you both have hard opinions about (even about which baseball team is best, or which car is best etc). 

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Yesterday was a brisk one spent in a garden like neighborhood near a park. We walked up and down hills with huge victorian mansions surrounding us. There are entire chapters of my life with only mildly little relevance to the current one. It is shocking, really, because we like stories so much, and stories always set up later events with earlier, so that the later events could not occur without the earlier events. I think that represents a bit of fiction or desire in us to feel that we've been through is relevant, not just generally, but at a basic plot-like level. Event X had to happen so that event Y happened like it did. Saying that is often just pointing out a non-sequitur of life and asserting that it is logical.  When it might not be the case.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Adaptation, and Kids

We're pretty good at adapting generally. That is, once a change is made. We're simultaneously bad at weighing the costs and benefits of a potential change. We generally discount benefits and over-emphasize potential drawbacks, which is part of our "availability bias"--mostly that we prefer what we already have (and know) to that which we don't know. We also like stuff that WE came up with more than stuff other people came up with, even if it is the same stuff. You know, like an idea to get sober. That's probably why an alcoholic must "hit rock bottom" first, before he or she makes a decision to stop drinking. That rock bottom place is the final and utter realization that drinking has in the past and currently hurts one's well-being, and that not-drinking is necessary, now--that, finally, short term pleasure gains have caught up with longer term implications. Like a job. Or a wife. Or a kid. Or a car. Or one's life (or limb).

Another thing to realize is that drinking a lot kills brain cells--a lot of brain cells. Just a thought, before the thoughts diminish.

But the point of this post is that mostly, we adapt and keep on living. We build tolerance to alcohol. Things happen to us that we didn't expect all the time, and our responses are largely to deal with those things. We might not like them--they may cause us emotional or physical pain--but we will adapt to them, and eventually, even come to look fondly, or value, that past occurrence. Now, that's not to say that, after falling into a three year binge-drinking streak, we'll adapt, move on, and realize that it was a great thing one day. I'm not talking about the events you can control.

For instance, I've been thinking about kids a fair bit lately, and whether to have them--or at least, whether to want to have them. There are a lot of conflated issues regarding children. On a whole, though, it is easy to over-estimate the harm that they'll bring as related to one's freedom and harder to bring about happy thoughts as related to children. But, talk to some people who decided not to have children in their lives, and I'm telling you, they almost always have a different story--almost.

Kids are not right for everyone, okay, I get it. But, considering the chance that I would feel more fulfilled in my life if I had kids eventually, perhaps they're worth having? Is that selfish? Sort of, but not really. It is my life, and my decision, to some degree. It is one of the controllable decisions in my life, anyway. Nothing like some real responsibility to put one's prioritization genes into action! What's important?

I made it through February 10th.

February 10th was my father's birthday.  He would be, let's see, 1, 2, 3, 4, 56 years old.  Not so old.  A few days ago, the pangs of what can only be described as the devil's fingernails coming up to scratch my back while I slept, started to find their way into the recesses of my thoughts, and emotions, and I didn't know. Why that is.  And then I did.  And now, another birthday has come and gone.  If there's a reason for staying sober out there, then this is one of them, even though it is exceedingly difficult on a day like that.  Probably the most.  I'll let Chopin tell you the rest:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's the Thing?

What the subject, object, occurrence, pattern, behavior, person, politic, word, hand motion, lip curl, or phrase that gets under your skin?

Whats the thing that you are most ashamed about concerning yourself.  You know, like, the thing that you'd be afraid to tell even your closest friend, the thing that you barely admit to yourself, and only on a good day when you look in the mirror and are sure you can beat it out?

Take that shit out, and put it on display.  You'll feel better for it.

Me, I feel like a failure half the time.  You know, like not totally incompetent, but at least that the congruency that was oh-so-apparent between my shining internal self and the dastardly grey of the world that surrounded my skin wasn't exactly, you know, apparent, to other people.  You know what I mean?

Now, feeling like a failure has some advantages.  You want to know what they are?  What could they possibly be?  If there were none, why would I feel that way?  Well, here's an idea, self.  It is downright comfortable to feel like a failure half the time. It is easy to sit down on the couch and not care if I'm a failure.  If I'm a failure, I don't have to try that much. Yep, trying is hard.  Being a failure, that's like hard when I have to face it, but it provides THE justificatory schematic for me to ensconce myself in my own misery and disengage.  Now, what else was there like that?  Some liquid?  Some basic ethanol?

And what else? You know it is really difficult to listen to people you disagree with, but, it is so worth it.  I very rarely learn anything from anyone I agree with.  I'm sorry.  It isn't that I want to fight, it is that I want to understand what I might not understand now that could add value to my life that I don't have.

Off Track

Sorry, the point of the last post was to say: I wrote this paragraph.  It said something like: you never know when things will change for the better, so keep working on it.

But let me be clear.  Or say what is becoming clear.  Despite becoming glaringly aware of my shortcomings (a tendency to, alternatively, talk too much or too little, be anti-social, demand tremendously unrealistic things from myself and others, neglect my body and mind, criticize, nag, not be open-minded to ideas that could really help me out, and to slack off, and drink too much coffee, and to throw a fit if things don't go my way), not drinking alcohol has helped me in more ways that I could hope to count, and I'll definitely continue on to my 30th birthday, in late August of this year, and potentially onward into the future forever.  I haven't really decided that yet, but do think it could only be beneficial for me to be uncomfortably sober at times, however unintuitive that might seem.


I wrote this self-congratulatory paragraph once.  I received an A for a graduate class in political theory.  The class was reading and writing heavy, and the first draft of the paper I turned in was returned to me, with a "see me" note--turned out that I couldn't do what I wanted, and had to rewrite the entire thing.  Damn.  I chose the hardest option afterward that the professor offered me, and she really liked it.  Now, I'll confess that most of that stuff is kind of like high level posturing, with very little substance.  It seems that most of what we do in life is posturing, until we get into a position that we like enough to actually work on substantive stuff.  There's a real divorce between doing things on the ground--the fruits--and the setup, and an awful lot of life is consumed by the setup, and not the execution.  I think that's a mistake, both in the professional and personal world, but I do allow that we need to do some brainstorming when we start from scratch.  But, and I ask this seriously, who is really concerned with exclusive legal positivism?  Don't know what it is?  Well I don't anymore either (and it wasn't the subject of the paper mind you), but it has something to do with establishing validity of legal norms--not why do people follow laws, but: what makes this law legitimate so that we should follow it?

That's a central question, actually, in the personally realm.  Why follow a rule that you tell yourself to follow?  Should other people follow it too?  See, my education is already helping me in non-monetary ways! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pigeon landed on my head, almost.

Phew, that was close.  A pigeon just swooped out of the air and tried to land on my head!  Damn birds, as if I don't already have problems getting a slice of the real estate pie, they want to come in to roost.  I should have turned my mouth up in a mock exhalation of smoke and bit off a tender claw, then spit it out on a passing cabbie, who, for reasons I simply cannot conjure, deigns to lay on his horn at 7:45 in the morning, behind a red light, behind a line of stopped cars.  You know, we're small.  We can make lots of noise, but mostly, we can't just move entire blocks of vehicles with mere sound alone.  No, no, can't do that, I would think, spitting bloody pigeon claw at his windshield with a force that would surely create a sliver, or two, in the glass, before moving on, feeling like my own horn was blown outward, a humpty-dumpty outfit of adolescent revenge, all mismatched and over-priced.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Everybody's an Asshole, and: You don't have to go to AA: but you can't drink.

I don't care if everyone is an asshole.  Still doesn't give you a right to drink.

Consider the idea that deciding not to drink resets your emotional development.  You'll have to relearn how to talk, act, think, and be, and most importantly, you'll have a new life that is a) much much less exciting and b) much much more predictable.  Do you like that?  Doesn't have to be bad--it is just bad for the part of you that wants constant attention and excitement.  The short term pleasure seeking hungry part.  Go prepare a meal--learn how to cook.  Take your time.  What are you rushing for anyway?  To go do what?  If you don't have to go drink, there's no need to rush through the rest of your life to go have a drink.

If you accept the new beginning idea, that means you'll give yourself less of a bar to pass.  You won't say "I already know how to do this activity," and then feel bad about not being able to do it adequately.  Instead, you'll try something out, and think about every situation you face as possibility to learn one thing.  Then, if you fuck up a little, that's par.  If you don't, then you're doing really well.


That depression is caused by a "chemical imbalance" in the brain seems a stretch.  The idea is one that's been highly profitable for drug makers, even if it rests on placebo effect. That depressed people have a different chemical balance in their brains when depressed doesn't seem that far of a stretch though. One of the easiest ways to change depression is through regular eating and exercise, often neglected because, well, if you're depressed, you probably don't feel like moving or preparing food.  Another very easy way to change it is through drinking--much easier.

Another weird issue is that depression can be caused by events that happened a long time ago.  That idea does seem to have some salience, but doesn't get to the basic valuation problem: when we see the same objective stimuli as other people, why do we evaluate it differently when we're depressed?

And a third idea, of course, is that depression is caused by immediate situations, and one's helplessness within those circumstances.

There's a unifying theme throughout, though,and it should be noted that all three causes can come into play. If you're depressed you don't see the future as very bright.  If I had to distill depression down into one thought, it would be that: you see the future as impossible, or impossibly difficult. 


The Washington Post reports a story about taxing witches in Romania.  Check it out here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Selling Out

What does it mean when people accuse other people of this?  Usually it is a mix between these overlapping claims:

a) You're propelled by an intent to make money

b) You no longer care about values

c) You no longer care about me (because of what we shared)

d) You are going to work for a corporation or the government.

So, do any of these make sense?

Well, the idea that money and values are exclusive to each other is a dubious one, though it goes right to the core of what we believe selling out might be (I think).  Consider, though, that corporations respond to, and create, demand for items.  We know what they're after: profit.  Not revenge, or psychological warfare.  Consider further that to maximize anything but the shortest profit, corporations should consider how their products affect consumers.  More directly, corporations care about the commons so long as a) they can still make money from their products because there's a place to utilize the product, and b) that the time frame is long enough out to consider in a business decision and c) that caring is a pre-requisite to selling items because people look for clues that a corporation cares (think charity).

Also consider that consumers care much more about appealing to norms around equality when they're confronted with an audience, even a perceived one.

I read a book recently, I'll have to find it--a it was this one:

Consider a number of environmental activists at a rally.  The speaker says: are you willing to get arrested for the environment?  The audience yells back, yeah!  The speaker says: are you willing to go to jail for the environment? The audience yells back, yah!  Then the speaker says: are you willing to cut your hair, take a shower, don a suit and go to law or business school for the environment?  The answer: silence.The point is this: adhering to group norms is more highly valued than the professed topic of conversation, or rally, etc.  Selling out means that you aid the universal wrong, the most evident evil, or the professed malicious intent.  To the point, and maybe I'm wrong, but a lot of our highest values are accomplished when we're alone.

The Mating Market and Internal/External status.

When we select a lover, whether we like it or not, we're in a market.  We choose among alternatives, and we choose based on some criteria--and here's the fun part: we are also simultaneously chosen.  Unlike a product, a watch, or a car, for example, there's a binary process in the mating market, which makes it interesting, to say the least, because half the time we're hedging our bets--we accept what might be a safe choice because we might be fearful of rejection if we chose someone else that has a high status relative to our own.  What's high status?  The ability to attract (and reject) many potential lovers.  Go hang out at a bar on a friday night and watch this market play out.  It is weird, but it is true.

Having rare traits in this market can make you more attractive, and therefore have more power.  In our society, we seem fairly obsessed with celebrities, partially, I think, because we think that they constitute the upper stratum of this mating market, one that we average people cannot touch, or have access to--so it is fascinating to many of us what those folks are up to, and great to notice that their lives are, gasp, full of drama.  That, or we secretly wish we had the command or power high status on the mating market brings.

What's all this got to do with drinking?  Well, probably a lot more than I can see, but for one, a lot of the mating market happens around the consumption of alcohol, and for another, one way to "puff" in this market is to get drunk and act a way that you know you are not--and then to convince yourself that you are much higher status.  Because, sensitive people of the world, we don't like the fact that people are more important than us, damnit.  And drinking allows us to feel as important as other people, even when we really are not close. 

We all intuitively care about status, but the important thing to note is that status does not care about us.   Having status does not guarantee anything except for an illusion of power.  At the end of the day, we'll slowly slip off of the "top" of any game that we used to have, and we'll be forced to recognize that we're never quite at the top of the demand curve--we never quite commanded the highest price, and with this extra pudge, or this wrinkle, we have to come to terms with the our own relative status and still go forward to live another day.  The answer, or part of the answer, is not to confuse high external status with high internal standards.  Those internal standards don't have to be fully informed by the mating market out there, though a lot of times they are.  As uncomfortable as it might be to think about mating as a market, to the extent that it provides truths, we can actually use those truths to see that our price on the market is just one marker, not the marker.  In other words, we don't have to pretend that, since we command a low or average price on the mating market, we are a premium commodity in some other social market.  We can never be the best. If you're trying to feel better about getting rebuked in some way, and you're drinking to do so, consider the idea that your opponent was right: you did fuck up, you are ugly, and you are not going anywhere.  Accepting those insults, however much they might hurt, and trust me, they do, is a way to, you know, get closer to your imperfect self. 

The really hard thing to do, once you are either removed from the mating market, or feel sufficiently ugly, is to accept a bigger truth, one that has driven better men than me to drink their lives away--and that is simply to see that happiness, if it exists, is temporal, and perfection, if it is out there, happens for seconds at a time, nothing more, and that our lives, so long, so boring, so grandiose and important, will, simply, end.  They'll end regardless of how shiny our feathers are or how intensely joyful and hurtful they might be.  Which is to say this: there's no such thing as beauty without pain, and I meant that sincerely.

What's easy? What's hard?


Coming up with reasons for other people's actions

Getting Angry


Driving Aggressively

Being Young and Selfish

Calling in sick, staying at home


Talking about global problems

Binge Eating

Reacting quickly


Coming up with honest reasons for your own actions

Getting quiet when angry

Not Drinking

Driving Politely

Getting Old and noticing that you're not the center of everything

Going to work every damn day

Acting for the sake of successful outcomes

Seeing that your efforts only make a minute difference, if any.

Eating until you are almost full, and then stopping

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Small Connections Matter Most

I'm fairly sure that a lot of children have been ignored while their fathers or mothers (but let's be honest, mostly fathers) chased after some dream, or some principle, that involved some degree of perfection, or beauty, or righteous correctness.  Lots of time the dream also had a ton of status attached to it, but the focus--always--is on the value in and of itself, and not on the status, externally.  Internally, status may be the main driver even when our doer doesn't know that.

Why is it that men are more prone to this than women?  Or, am I wrong?

For the sake of it : early morning sober bloggin

I've got no less than five books open now.  Some of them are in a different language.  There's random music spread about.  Papers.  Hand lotion.  There's a can of peppermint hot chocolate, empty of chocolate, now full of coins--I'm hoping enough for laundry in a few minutes, trying hard to convince myself of the absolute necessity of performing this most mundane of everyday task.

I walked the hauntingly empty streets this morning in a biting driven wind that could only be pre-church in its relentlessness.  Digital read outs seemed to confirm this, asking me to meet God later on--at 11:15 He would appear, and I accordingly, ducked into a seedy motel to ask for a phone card.  A mildly plump gentleman who had been awake all night judging by the circles under his eyes--not merely woken up by an insistent cat at 6:15--told me that I could walk three blocks back, and then take a right.  On the the next corner there were some grocery stores that sold phone cards--yeah.  That's my corner.  And they're closed.  Still, under the impression of hotel management I followed my feet into the ridges and ripples of ice and snow, and, eventually, toward the stores that he spoke of.  One appeared to be halfway open--the gate as up--or so I thought, but after I got closer, the strewn plastic bags, anti-pigeon spikes, and plastic crates struck a particularly isolated chord in me.  I think it was a C sharp minor.  Dylan liked that one.  Slide that into F# and you've got the beginnings of a lot.  And yet.  A brand of emptiness that certainly isn't advertised on the oversized brands gleaming back at me from the mall.

So I wandered home.  And now there's some redemption in tea.  The day, despite how long it may seem in front of me now, will creak by, and perhaps, if I'm lucky, I'll have one less book open at the end of it.  I'm not sure, yet, to what end.  But if there's a time for some faith, I suppose it should be right now.  Okay?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Organizing One's Thoughts: The Whining Complex

I know an awful lot of people who appear to be brilliant.  They have inspiring insightful things to say, and they say those things.  They have perspectives and viewpoints, and they know enough about their surroundings and how to please people that they are constantly sculpting their responses, increasing their shine all the while.

What I've failed to see is that many of the same people--though not all to be sure--are also, simultaneously, full-on disorganized about their own thinking as it applies to their own lives.  It gives me pause, because some folks are at times quite aware and principled--let's say as applied to a particular field--but when when the lens turns inward, they are lost, and revert to emotional preadolescence.  Why is that?

I certainly do it at times.  The way I communicate with my intimate partner (and there's only one) when I want something is not the same way that I communicate with my colleague at work, but it is also dissimilar to the way I ask a good friend to do something.  I've caught myself literally whining until I get in response, not my preferred objective, but the "look of doom."  One glance, and I'm either going to capitulate and state my desires in a more grown up manner, or, I'll defend myself and get upset.

By the way, it doesn't follow that I am also proficient in other realms of non-whining object acquisition. The point remains.

I have been on the phone with people in a professional capacity and be forced to tell them something they might not want to hear, only to get an earful of angry remarks.  Why is it so personal?  Isn't this precisely the type of stress that causes bad things to happen?  Don't we want to keep bad things at bay?  What makes people think that anger gets results?

Oh, right: it works!  The loudest complainers get treated first, so long as they value their end goals more than the perceptions they create in others along the way.  That's the only conclusion I can come up with right now.  And so, the conclusion to this conclusion?  Shall we endeavor such an endeavor?

Ah, Memories of Minnesota

We move through life so damn fast, and with such a rate of increasing complexity, that it is often easy to look back at simpler times--drunk times too--and revel in them as one might take a nostalgic dip into a memory of early childhood. 

I used to live in Minnesota.  And like all good Minnesotans, I went to Duluth a few times a year.  You too?  Well, damn.  Now there's a town for good beer.  So when my friend just sent me a nytimes article on beer in the north county, I didn't expect my nostalgia glands to salivate so heavily at an immediately familiar (and quite warm) image.  We used to stop in this place for the best fucking beer this side of the northwest--and I'm sorry, but the best IPA, and IPA was my beer, I ever had was in Seattle.  Enough hops to blow a hole in your throat and seize up your sinuses.  Like, you know, sheer bliss.  It was mandatory to have two of these and wait out the buzz to drive back, or request that my then girlfriend drive, and have two more.  Let's see if I can find a picture for old times' sake.  Well, I better not actually.  So dense and cloudy were the pictures, and so inversely clear was my memory of the crispness, that I'll just finish this post out right now with an ode to fitgers in duluth--it will always stay a weak spot in my heart. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stakes and Pressure

When something is high pressure, or there's a lot of outcome/perceived outcome on the line, we act differently than we act when there's not a lot of pressure--we actually perform worse in this situation.  That may not be so revelatory, but consider how much self-inflicted pressure we have concerning personal consumption patterns, and a quest to change those patterns, and it might make sense to take steps to decrease pressure in any way possible--and not with counterbalancing anti-activity pressure, but, you know, with some other activity.  Take everything out of the arena of drama, and try some patterned routine behaviors for a while.  For me, these are actually more rewarding and sustaining than the former. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is Getting Sober Difficult?

Should I concentrate on it to the exclusion of other pursuits?

Where do I draw the line between simply being and "getting" sober, and pushing myself in other contexts?

I'm increasingly convinced that I don't have to think about sobriety in the long view, but only come up with good long view reasons to tell myself in the near mode, when I'm craving some direct cranial stimulation. 

In the long or far view, I should be thinking about what I want in this life--i.e. my life, the only one I'll know, the one encased in a fallible flexible and currently achy body that's just coming to terms with the day as the brain inside of it has growing anxiety about getting to work late.

Seriously, though, the plan is not to concentrate on not drinking all the time, bar none.  You know the people that talk all the time about what they'll do in the long term, see it in only one sided beneficial terms, and even glamorize it when they are doing other activities that don't correspond?  Well, yeah, I've looked in the mirror too, and I'm about trying to navigate the short term in the most consonant way with long term values.  That's all there is.  And all that matters, when it is squeezed out of the meat grinder of my mind-body, are the results.  What's the impact?  Have my actions comported with the value-laden life that I desire to live? 

If so, then it becomes almost needless to talk about living a value-laden life, except in certain contexts (like this).  Right? 

It's funny.  It is easy to think about becoming famous, rich, successful, married.  Insert your favorite!  It is so easy to think that becoming some thing will solve all other problems because of the great benefits it will bring.

What we must understand, what I must understand to live a life that can evolve via maintenance (and not swings of mood, or swings of good and bad relationships based on principles), is that attaining some status will always have diminishing returns once it hits, and that there will be costs--in other words, that no matter what your dream, attaining it as you dream it is not possible without excluding some portion of reality at that point.

Which is to say, that if living a rewarding life is the goal, a life with the highest utility, or happiness quotient, we should move forward starting with consistency, work toward our high values, understand incentives that we have regarding audience, and what we've been told to believe in, and try to see costs and benefits of our attitudes and actions in a way that is not biased.  If it helps to put it down on paper, so be it.  The point is that nothing will ever be how we imagine it.  Our character is determined how we react to changing circumstances, when we attain something that doesn't look like it looked from our mind's eye, how we react to our own imperfection when our intimacy and dreams are on the line.

I think.  You know, I could be off track here.  Now, excuse me while I go get some hot chocolate. 

Break me from literal to contextual, and back.

Hit me on the nerve bundle that makes me shudder.  Right in between where I'll take instructions literally and when I'll see context for what it is and recognize sarcasm.  Can't tell the difference between the two?  Well, you know, lots of cross references goes on to manufacture intelligence and do what we do--communicate many shades of meaning with a small range of words that have overlapping usage depending on context.  Damnit. 

Ever had a serious fight on gchat?  On AIM?  Not so easy? 

Turns out that it is hard to create intelligence too, although we're making some serious strides.  Language is the key.

Have a look at what IBM's been up to lately with Watson, if you didn't know about it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sheer Convenient Pleasure keeps me lazy.

Enough said, right?  Best to eliminate alternatives and have only one option, if that's the option you want beforehand, anyway.

Low Sugar. Nutrition and Alcohol.

Listen, there's a lot of rational (and not so rational) machinery that's been coming out of this blog in the last few weeks, which is fine. Much of it has concerned how we act, how we move on impulse, or restrain ourselves, whether our actions are rational, how they match up with each other in the short and long term, etc., but let me point to something else that needs highlighting too: if you're trying not to drink, you'd do yourself a favor to eat well.

At times--not all times, but some times--an urge to drink is really your body telling you, or me, that it is damn hungry and needs something, anything.  Booze serves a great purpose in this respect, and it is hard to separate out booze's impact as compared to the sated feeling we experience after eating, or when seeing friends, for instance, or all of the other changes in our worlds that happens routinely when we drink. 

So, right now, I'm low on food, and will seek something.

Losing Touch

A lot of thoughts raced through my head this morning as I stood on a crowded NYC subway train. All trains were running slowly this morning, and I had the pleasure of standing for about 20 minutes on one of them with little or no movement. The crowds were particularly dense because of the delays, so I was in many ways very very close to complete strangers and forced to stand still in my cramped position for an extended period of time.

What I thought about wasn't the situation itself though. I tried consciously to think "far" thoughts, about the long future, work goals, life goals, even weekend goals. I know now that if I let the "near" thoughts of the people and the train intrude--and they did so regardless--I could experience some pangs of anxiety. After all, this was not a typical situation, even by NYC standards.  Mostly, I was successful in staying calm.  But note that I didn't stay this way by thinking how the situation wasn't bad (or trying to negate the very real anxiety that the situation could create in my short term mentality)--that would give too much credence to the situation I think.  Instead, I focused in the future, far.  I wasn't in real physical discomfort, though it was hot, so there was nothing keeping me there except for the other passenger's eyes searching for a place to go themselves.

Another quick thought: past relationships.  Past experiences.  We had them, and somehow they no longer hold salience.  There may be fond memories, pangs of nostalgia at times, good hopes for others in a general way, but when you've truly lost touch with someone--and I mean someone that you were previously intimate and romantic with, and I also mean lost touch as in no desire to talk--I think the amount of mental energy dedicated to that person is drastically lowered.  Part of it must do with the fact that the relationship is in the past, and that we've evolved to concentrate mostly on future conditions, patterns in the mist at our feet right now so that, and this is pure speculation, past relationships simply don't have the pull or tug at our brains that current ones do, unless there is unrealized desire to go rekindle them--not something I have.  What is remarkable is how easy those relationships thin out in our brains, how many rich rewarding experiences lose their texture, their gravitas--and of course, the caveat here is that, once you start to plumb your memory for these experiences, the texture will thicken.  So my note here is how truly absent absence can be.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

This is a great album that takes itself just seriously enough.  And unlike a lot of new music that's tremendously popular, this guy has some sensuous and beautiful vocal chops.  He sure can sing.  In a baritone that blends melody and grace with just the right traces of sarcasm and humor.  It takes a few listens.  Okay, that's it.  No more album reviews.

Commitment and Desire

When we commit to something, we make a claim about our future actions in the relatively long term.  Unless the decision is in real time and dynamic, we don't really have to make a choice about our actions, only our perspectives about what we want our actions to be.  So it is easy to commit lip service to long term comitments and harder to do so in real time.  When we act in the present, we do so with urges and temptations, and are primarily pleasure seeking in some way.  We eat the fast food because it is immediate and available, we agree to an argument to appease someone in authority, we disagree with an argument to show something precise to the available audience.  A lot of what we do in the short term may be driven by emotions that suck up our rationalization the second after the emotion decides for us, but a lot of what happens in the long term has to do with weighing supposed costs and benefits without real commitment.  That is, you don't really know what someone will do until they're faced with a decision, and when they are, it is bound to be sloppy if their long term and short term selves are in conflict.

As was made clear by recent comments, both the long term and short term self can be rational for their own respective goals (or responses to the environment).  Thomas Schelling talks specifically about this dynamic as related to cigarette smoking in a few of his chapters in his book about commitment.

Enter, for instance, relationships.  Marriage is a key long term commitment, though we may not signal our long term commitment in all of our actions.  For instance, a male might call an attractive waitress "darling" in front of his girlfriend, and the response is one of outrage because his wife thinks that he wants to break their long term vows to one another.  The husband might respond honestly that he doesn't have any interest in committing to the waitress.  And then a fight ensues.  Why?  Because each party is talking about different levels of commitment.  Both parties are logical and rational (although pissed by now) and increasingly justify their belief (relative innocence or indignation) and the other party finds opposing claims more and more specious. 

So, enter rules, says Schelling.  I have this rule: when certain conditions portray themselves, I will not endeavor to think about my decision--I will not weigh the costs and benefits of a decision like I typically do in the long term because it is too easy to over estimate the benefits--and instead I'll pre-decide to act in a certain way.  I won't drink.  I won't look at the waitress.  I won't eat the fast food.  I won't smoke a cigarette.  Short term rules to live by guided by long term interests.

The problem is that we can't live such a rigid life!  Good grief.  Don't do anything! 

Our notion of freedom is bound up with the ideal of short term options.  We want to be able to do whatever we want to do.  So, yeah, there's some tension here.  The short answer is that we've must be able to replicate our pleasurable rewards in a system that provides some long term benefits.  It doesn't have to match up perfectly (we can't predict the future, only see past patterns), but it can get close(r).

Okay, that's enough for now.