Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

The “it’s an unjust world” crowd is more right than they know.  §

Our most recent dark age begins when the generation before mine, finding themselves in shock—perhaps because of the Cold War and its many hot wars, or perhaps because of the immediately prior changes that Walter Benjamin outlines—decides that they hate God, and are henceforth going to tweak his nose by making it their collective life’s work to erect a hell on Earth.

There’s no particular need to argue the existence of God here, and this isn’t a theological question anyway.

One of the saddest of all metaphysical truths is the fact that no matter what doubts may exist about heaven, hell is always eminently attainable, and rapidly so.

And thus we find ourselves where we are—hurtling down the tracks toward it in the space of a few decades, with the boomers and those that follow in their affective foosteps leaning out the windows of each car and screaming petulantly into the wind, in hopes of further offending whatever may exist that can plausibly be offended (they stopped believing in God once they had fully sated their belief in him by rebelling, like adolescent children, against him).

No, theology isn’t needed for endless suffering. Only for the achievement of happines.

The fact that you don’t remember doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  §

So this has been my view two or sometimes three (or even more) nights every week for four years now. I don’t even think of coming to the dojang as “a thing” any longer—I don’t notice it at all unless we don’t go.

Which we haven’t for a little while because of end-of-year school stuff and then the Utah state taekwondo championships tournament.


© Aron Hsiao / 2019

When we’re away for a while, I notice it.

— § —

Thing is, I’m probably more comfortable here than I am almost anywhere else. The people are decent people, and I consider them to be my friends. The place is clean. The environment is generally wonderful for kids.

And there’s no work here. Or if there is, it’s limited to tablet-work.

At home?

I live in an old home that I also work in.

Home is where there is:

  • pollution and decay

  • environmental danger

  • long hours of work

  • bills to pay and schedules to meet

I didn’t have any notion when we started bringing the kids here that it would turn into such a life-changing thing, or that our dojang would become the place in the world where I’m most able to relax.

I doubt they have any idea either. I wonder what they’d think.

— § —

School ends in a couple of weeks.

There is still snow on the mountains.

Is that typical? I can’t remember. Maybe I’ve never bothered to notice. For all the musing we do about the shortness of life and the things we’ll miss when we’re gone, there are a great many details with which we never manage to acquaint ourselves.

But that’s a digression. Summer is here and winter is still here as well. Of course the boundary is more a matter of imagination than reality, like every boundary everywhere. Post-structuralism (though I hesitate to say “post-structuralists”) figured all of this out years ago.

But we don’t like to realize that because we don’t like thinking about what it means for our own lives and the way in which we imagine birth and death to be separated by a vast gulf in whose presumption of durability we invest rather a great deal.

— § —

It was late at night, and I somehow stumbled across the video section at The Atlantic.


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I watched a short film about a family that makes wasabi in Japan.

I watched a short film about a the everyday life of a woman decades after losing her son to a rare disease when he was very young.

I watched a short film about the grown son of a Buddhist monk struggling to find his own path in life.

I watched and watched and watched these beguiling little films until the wee hours of the morning, every one of them a labor of love.

They seduce me so because I have the same impulse, if not the same aptitude and output. So many years carrying cameras everywhere. So many years tapping out little posts like this one into the ether.

Nobody to see them but—perhaps someday, if they’re interested—my own offspring.

Yet I can’t think of anything in my life more important.

— § —

You’d imagine that after all these years, and given my background in tech, I’d have found a good way to make posts while on the go. For example, while at the dojang thinking about a handful of independent shorts I’d recently viewed.

Yes and no.

I was an early smartphone adopter and an early tablet adopter, but I’m still looking for the grail workflow that will let me post my thoughts with blissful transparency, as though I were thinking things directly onto the page.

Maybe that’ll finally be in next year’s feature set.

— § —

They say that every day is decision day, and that’s true, but the truth of the statement doesn’t do much to make life easier, or to make decisions any better.

All the wisdom in the world will get you nowhere unless it’s your own wisdom. Most of the time, even that’s not enough; we’re compelled by forces we barely understand to gradually assemble and live in selves we can often barely tolerate.

Then, the marketers turn up after the fact and tell us that if only we’d read the book, we’d be millionaires who’d never hurt anyone by now, and since there’s still time to get the book, we can live the dream the next time around.

Young people fall for this all the time. They fail to realize that the people who love them don’t particularly want them to pursue “self-improvement” so much as kind and generous participation and learning—mere everyday growth, not in pursuit of achievement but rather in pursuit of little smiles and nostalgia-inspiring moments.


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I still fall for it sometimes myself. I start reading something and it seems so plausible that I spend the night reading all of it. I go to sleep in an ecstasy of triumph at having figured life out.

The next morning, it’s only after coffee and a couple hours’ delay that I realize I wasted another evening trying to “improve” myself when in fact I ought to have spent it living.

— § —

The problem with spending time living is that it brings one closer to dying.

I think under the surface of it all, people imagine that if you can claim to not have properly begun yet, someone will give you extra time at the other end of things, so it’s in your best interest to delay as long as possible until you’re really ready to make a splash.

I’m not sure whether people would be twice as interesting or not interesting at all if things worked that way, but they don’t so it’s all academic anyway.

— § —

Taekwondo class is almost over. I’m supposed to be doing it too, tonight, after the kids. But I’m so worn out most Wednesdays that I just don’t. Problem is, I’m more and more “so worn out” at the end of every day. It’s not going to get any better, because I’m not going to get any younger.

It seems so incredibly implausible at 5:00, when I just want to go to bed already, to contemplate waiting through kids’ classes for an hour and a half and then producing an hour of intense physical explosion from 7:30 until 8:30 myself. When we head out the door, I honestly imagine most Wednesdays that if I tried it, I’d have a heart attack somewhere around 7:45.

But now here it is 7:25 and I’m prepping to head home—with that same old dread about all the things that await there. Now I’d rather stay here, heart attack or no.

Didn’t bring my uniform, though. One of those decisions that gets made every day. Only a few thousand of those left in my life, when you do the math.

— § —

Life is so short.

So very, very short.

Oh, to know what to do once you catch the mailbox you’re chasing.  §

Someone’s sent me a letter. Possibly some time ago, as I never check my now-lockable mailbox. Because no-one ever sends me letters.

Yes, in case you caught that bit, I did acquire and install a lockable mailbox, several years ago. Because my mail was regularly being stolen (along with a number of other things that I won’t otherwise mention just now). Funny thing, the person my locking mailbox primarily seems to keep separated from my mail ever since then is—me.

But I digress. A letter. And a book.

I don’t know if I’ll read the book. Still reflecting on things. But the letter itself is very nice; it must be. Look, I’m writing about it. And I haven’t been writing about anything—anything at all—for some time now.

— § —

Unrelated but related.

Men are lonely. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a matter of our particular culture and epoch or whether this is something to do with testosterone and garages. But we are lonely, lonely creatures.

Okay, I lie. I am sure. Not in any epistemic way, but rather as a matter of the puffy white clouds of my own opinion-making, which (refreshingly) sail the skies of my life again since I left academics and no longer have to prove everything with reference to (always obnoxious) “intellectual giants” or (even more obnoxious) “highly cited articles.”

But yes, as I was saying, we are lonely, lonely creatures. And it’s at this point that all of the women in the room start on about sharing feelings and finding connection and all of that sort of thing, but the fact is that all of that really misses the point. It’s part and parcel of the problem, in fact.

If we could share feelings and make connections and so on and not be lonely, we’d all have done it already. Therapy, after all, runs like water in our culture, and very public (and often entertaining and witty) advice along these lines doubly so.

But being lonely doesn’t come from making no connections. We make connections and we’re still lonely.

— § —

I remember the last time I cried as a child, and the first time I was unable to cry, despite very much wanting to. I simply—couldn’t. I nudged all the right muscles and made all the right facial expressions and tried a heave or three, but nothing would happen. It was infuriating.

It was, in fact, the terrible moment at which I knew that for the rest of my life, “release” of any kind would be a limited resource. It was the moment at which I caught my first young glimpse of the concept of “destiny,” and of my destiny as a man in particular.

No one ever told me not to cry. Quite the opposite, in fact. I had that very modern, forward-thinking, highly educated, very liberal WASP mother who reassured me to no end that sharing feelings was right and that it was very good for boys to cry.

Women think boys don’t cry because we’re trying to impress them. Or ourselves. Or because we were beaten by a toxically-masculine brute at some point, or teased relentlessly on the playground for it.

In fact, many of us can’t because we just—can’t.

I suspect it has something to do with XY and hormones. It’s probably a reasonably good evolutionary adaptation. If your job for the species is to ward off predators double the size of any community member and to fight off invading armies of clever homo sapiens sapiens opponents, it’s really an “all-hands-on-deck” sort of thing you’re up to.

The jobs of men have traditionally been the jobs of pain, suffering, and early death on behalf of others—so that those others, offspring amongst them, can thrive.

Breaking into sobs when things really, really suck may be good for the soul but I imagine it’s an evolutionary dead end in comparison to those who aren’t so encumbered.

But of course that’s a just-so story based on nothing but my own surmise.

— § —

Time is passing.

I’ve written that phrase so many times here and elsewhere that it’s a terrible cliché for me. Yet it is. And more. More than ever.

I am grappling, in fact, with the problem of mortality, because I can smell it in the air.

When I was younger I absolutely reveled in the “half as long, twice as bright” thing. “A pirate’s life for me!” and all of that. I did not live with longevity in mind. I wish I could say that I lived well, but I can’t honestly say that, either.

In any case, parenthood changes things. “Half as long, twice as bright” is not good for the kids.

I am overtaken with immense parental guilt about my own mortality and the many, many ways in which I may have hastened it when I was younger and likely continue to hasten it today. I’m trying not to be obsessive about it and, for the most part, succeeding, but the reason for that success is more analagous to the reason I never cry than it is to any particular substantive state of mental healthiness.

— § —

This brings me to a strange kind of empathy that I have begun to feel for my elders and forebears—an empathy that continues to be comingled with resentment and shock.

Because of course they built this world. This world of nuclear arsenals and global warming and asbestos and runaway capitalism and arid secularism and so on. For so many years, what I mostly felt about them was a kind of naive rage. How, after all, dare they? How dare they and also have us?

The selfishness!

That tapered off somewhere in my thirties and I generally forgot about all of that. I think that’s what one’s thirties are generally for—forgetting things.

And now, the forties, in which one’s purpose is to remember all of the things that one has never yet known. Including the fact—in my case, at least—that I am now my forebears. I now inadvertently destroy the health and happiness of my own progeny with nothing but the best of intentions, just as they did.

Innocence isn’t just at a premium; it’s both a scurrilous fable and the essence of all being at once.

— § —

We were talking tonight, the kids and I, about dog cognition.

We were veering perilously close to Sapir-Whorf territory, but what can you do? Dog cognition is dog cognition and in comparison to the human phenomenological universe, Sapir-Whorf seems both pedestrian and obvious rather than fraught.

But as the children wisely pointed out—or is that understood—it’s difficult for me to understand the difference any longer as a parent, which really deserves a post of its own but won’t get one—underneath it all, we humans all have dog cognition as well.

And, in part, it’s what must be recovered if one is to survive middle age and the golden years without snuffing oneself out.

It’s the best substitute for the ability to cry that a man is likely to come up with—that subverbal and in fact subcognitive level of stimulus-response that is the human equivalent of (to use a phrase that I found surprising and delightful and sad all at once when I first heard it) “the pure, unironic joy of being a dog.”

Some men get it from motorcycles. Others from guns. Others from sanding boats. I myself get it from wristwatches. And sunroofs. And, say, getting unexpected letters in the mail.

When the going gets tough, you are able to see evil.  §

It’s been a while now that I haven’t been able to write a damned thing. How many times have I started a post, then stopped? Twenty? Forty?

You can tell just by looking at this space. It’s empty. It’s bereft. It’s arid.

But that’s where I’ve been, too. Empty. Bereft. Arid. Yeah, you could say there are some problems. Okay, you could say there are a shitload of problems, mostly related to middle age and life as a single parent. And a bunch of other stuff. But for now, those will do.

— § —

So let’s see, what’s been going on?

House. The house isn’t mine. And it’s falling apart. And I’m pouring money into it. And it isn’t mine. And I should feel grateful for it. And it’s falling apart. And I’m pouring money into it. And all of this in very not comfortable ways, since it was built in the 1970s. Draw your own conclusions about what that means.

History and human muzzles. Speaking of, I can’t say a damned thing. That’s the reason for the disappearance of 75 percent of all posts. I can’t ever say a damned thing about a damned thing because I’m divorced and that makes everything in life (a) shit and (b) difficult and (c) painful and (d) guilt-inducing.

Society. The other 25 percent of all posts are muzzled because I also can’t say a damned thing on account of the fact that I’m not a tenured academic somewhere like I once planned, but am rather working on the open market where everything I do and say becomes a part of my value proposition, and it’s got to be a good one if I’m going to stay employed and continue to progress. I won’t say more about that, for obvious reasons.

Market. Speaking of, I have to stay employed and continue to progress because the debt load from years of graduate school followed by divorce is crushing. My ex is buying a house. People look at me like I’m irresponsible on account of having saved no money. But here’s the thing. I’ve paid for three whole cars, completely in the past four years. How many other people have paid for three entire cars in four years? That’s where my money went. My attorney’s fees are all paid off. That’s where my money went. Other debts that I took on as a part of the divorce are gradually being paid off. That’s also where the money went. But where’s it not going? Student loan debt. And buying a house. That’s what my ex gets to do.

Meaning. This is really all about the divorce again, but the thing is that it’s hard to be yourself or to explore the things you’d like to explore as an individual when you’re divorced because every last thing you do is scrutinized and anything that you do that deviates from recent history has the potential to cause trouble and causing trouble is the last thing that you want to do when you’re as empty, bereft, and arid as I have been. So there are things I’d like to do that cost nothing that I haven’t done, and that seriously gets my goat.

Age. Do other people feel—like, literally feel—the life force draining out of them with each passing day? I feel that in me. Yes, I know they say that everyone is slowly dying, but I can feel it, day by day and it sucks. No, it’s not going to happen in the next year or probably even in the next ten years, but I can feel it coming. It’s not indeterminate. And the amount of guilt that I feel about that—about a potential departure—is crippling as a parent.

Some of this is all in my head. Hell, all of it is all in my head. All of everything is all in everyone’s head, because in fact phenomenology wins if we’re all human, which we are, and that’s that.

— § —

Mostly I just hate all the things that, for a while, I loved.

I hate you, Foucault.

I hate you, academics.

I hate you, atheists.

I hate you, enlightened people.

I hate you, time.

Okay, I don’t know if I really hate these things. Because I don’t actually know what hate is. I don’t frankly know what anything is. I am coming of age as a lost soul, which I believe is what they call a “midlife crisis.”

Mine has been going on for five years, what’s your name?

— § —

I am also at that age where I think back over a life of doing things, and I think back to a lot of the things I’ve done, and I don’t like it. Guilt. Regret. Embarrassment. Sadness. Wistfulness in a few blissful, yet still painful cases.

— § —

Also—and this is hard as well—I used to be so happy to have known so many people.

I’ve inverted on that point. I regret having known most of the people I knew in my twenties and thirties at this stage. I regret having let them into my life.

Does everyone reach middle age and feel as though they’ve lived their entire life wrong and wasted it on people who were at best pointless and at worst evil?

— § —

Somewhere along the line (guessing just where is left as an exercise to the reader), I came to believe in evil, for the first time in my life.

Nothing has been the same since.

All of this is still the Great Unwinding that follows from that. The little stageplay in which I unravel like an old sweater and then disappear in a puff of regret.

I once owned the domain regretengine.org.

Ironic that I let it lapse just before I came to need it most.

— § —

“We play at believing ourselves immortal. We delude ourselves in the appraisal of our own works and in our perpetual misappraisal of the works of others. See you at the Nobel, writers say, as one might say: see you in hell.”

(Bolaño)

— § —

He found out he was going to die and wrote a masterpiece to honor his children. Would that I could do the same. But I suspect that when the time comes, I won’t. And that alone makes me want to wring my neck.

Is posting a blog post like this a sin? Probably.

But it is what it is.

When Notre Dame burns, new converts are gained.  §

Today’s burning of Notre Dame reveals just how profoundly we have dispensed with our imagination of—and vocabulary for—the numinous.

To read and hear much of the coverage, one would think that these “experts” and “public figures” feel nothing that I do about it. And maybe they don’t.

“…a historic building…” one said.
“…an important landmark…” another said.
“…obviously a religious building…” said another, stupidly.

Soulless automatons that have been programmed to reject the concept of the soul cannot possibly comment on the affliction of the soul of our civilization, or on the pain felt by millions of souls at watching it.

Philistines, all of them, everywhere. That’s what it was in academics, too. Everywhere.

“Of course, it’ll be rebuilt again—and better and more beautiful than ever, because now it will be made with modern materials and modern techniques,” I’ve read several times tonight.


© Jorge Láscar / 2014

I’ve also read several variations on, “It’s a building. Buildings come. Buildings go. That’s what happens. And let’s face it, it was an old building, obsolete and precious.”

Someone even said that Disney built better and more interesting things.

— § —

I have been on the fence for a long time, back and forth on the question of religion.

I’m not on the fence any longer. You can think what you will of religion. What cannot, however, be denied, is that only religion appears able to grasp—much less to preserve and to convey—the idea that there is more to life than a prosaic plod through economics and the intricate structures we’ve erected to venerate economics.

Birth happens. Death happens. Things matter, and not merely because they matter to me. Or to you.

All of this—the cars and the grades and the textiles and the plastic packaging and the wages and the elections and the battles for justice—all of this is so much pointless noise.

Everyone ends and will end in same way: in a final, eternal confrontation with the numinous.

If only religion is able to substantively reflect on or acknowledge this fact, then religion is where I must go.

In real life, you don’t always come up smelling like roses.  §

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything.

In general, I haven’t been posting a lot in recent months. There’s a reason for this. As time passes, I realize that these days I often hesitate to post if things aren’t going well.

There are always things in life that you can’t really talk about—that just aren’t things you can expect people to make conversation with. We live in a culture in which, despite all claims to the contrary, it’s not socially acceptable to traffic in sob stories.

People only say in the abstract that they’d like others to reach out to them, to talk about problems and sadnesses. In practice, as we all know, but no one can say, it borders on rude to say anything other than “Well, thanks!” in answer to the question “How are you?”

— § —

Full disclosure, I’m not sure I’m well. It’s been a trying few months, to say the least, and I can’t honestly say that things seem to be getting better.

I can’t honestly say that there are too many areas of life in which I don’t feel fairly backed into a corner.

I’m not keeping up. I’m certainly not getting ahead. I don’t entirely feel up to the job, and I’m not entirely certain I’m durable enough to do it, all things said and done.

I’m not optimistic about the future and I’m not sure what I am hoping for. That’s a dangerous position to be in.

— § —

The worst situation in life is the one in which you’re just barely hanging on.

Because when that’s the case, obviously things are not adaptive. Yet in the absence of actual failure or catastrophe, it’s hard to justify significant change—to yourself, much less to others—so you aren’t likely to do anything differently.

Yet at the same time, it’s clear once you’ve been hanging on for a while that you’re also not going to make any ground.

You’re not going to win, and you’re not going to change anything. Bad news. At least in the face of catastrophe you have no choice but to change.

“Hanging on” is a state of affairs that can go on indefinitely. For me, it’s been a good twenty years.

— § —

I need changes, but I don’t know how to make them.

I need a simpler life, but every time I try to achieve one, it seems to get more complicated.

I’m worried that I don’t see a lot of green ahead. I’m perpetually worried about what’s to come.

Still hanging on.

Responsibility and consequences are better learned about early in life.  §

I haven’t been posting much in recent months.

Things have been hard. Much stress, much fatigue. Much worry. Much guilt.

There are good moments and bad moments. Recently, there have been a lot of bad moments. I suppose I’m having a good moment, which is why I am posting. In the bad moments, I am coming to realize, I no longer post. Because my bad moments aren’t angry now like they were when I was 23. They’re just bad.

— § —

I’ve never been one to enjoy hand-to-hand combat with life.

I like hand-to-hand combat with little problems. Practical problems. Computer code. Car engines. Watch movements.

But life? Death? Familial relationships? I don’t like doing hand-to-hand combat with these things. Some people thrive on it. I don’t. I don’t like making decisions upon which the entire world seems to depend. I don’t like having the responsibility.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with it, but it’s not something that I’ve yet grown into. I hope that someday I do. I often recently think that if I’d had more training with responsibility as a young person—if my parents had believed in giving allowances so that kids could budget, or allowed me to play team sports, or if I’d joined the Marines or become a police officer—I’d be in a very different place in life.

But that’s not what happened. My entire childhood and youth were about being protected from taking responsibility for things. In my twenties, nobody would give me a serious job. Typical at the entry level, but it meant that nothing in particular hung on what I did.

I became an academic for twenty years. Academics is that place where you make pronouncements on all of the world’s Most Serious Topics[TM] but do so in such a way and with such a small audience that there are no consequences for any of it. Anything you do or say or think is entirely irrelevant to anyone but yourself and the people in the room with you.

It’s a way to feel important without being of any importance. A scam of a sort, if in some ways a noble one.

— § —

Now, I’m an ex-husband. A father. A critical supporter of two households. The owner of multiple pets, one of whom is very old and dying. I’m director at a startup. I routinely communicate with large audiences, and with wealthy, important individuals.

I guess this is the natural course of things, but now at nearly 43 it feels as though everything I do matters. Not just matters a little bit, but matters a lot. Everything that I do has consequences.

Lives and fortunes depend on me and the decisions that I make and the things that I do.

And it’s all new to me. I’m encountering this importance and this sense of responsibility for the first time now, in middle age. I don’t feel prepared. I wish I’d been better trained for it. I wish I’d been hardened and disciplined for it.

I used to laugh at military folk. Now I envy them. I envy the fact that they were taught to stiffen their upper lip and to make perfect hospital corners and to wake up at 4:00 am on-the-dot and to run for twenty miles at a pop, rain or shine, even when lungs are burning and legs are going to give out. I envy the fact that they were told, over and over again, that the lives of others would depend on them.

They’ve spent years having to think about all of this stuff, to learn how to do what needs to be done not just when life is smooth, but when what needs to be done is impossible.

I feel like an amateur. And I’m not emotionally ready. Nonetheless, here I am.

— § —

Navigating a marriage and a family to an end while trying to preserve the emotional health of loving children. Trying to survive financial armageddon and reach some sort of equilibrium—still not yet found. Trying to make good decisions, launch good initiatives, lead good teams, and help companies to survive so that co-workers have jobs to feed their families. Helping innocent souls to find their way toward a peaceful end, even when infirm and suffering.

These are the major components of my life over the last four years. I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and I’m still not, but here I am living through it. Making decisions. Sometimes the right ones. Sometimes the wrong ones. Sometimes I just can’t tell.

I’m tired of mattering so much.

— § —

My emotional constitution is such that when the going gets tough, I go on autopilot. Not because my autopilot is better necessarily, but because otherwise I will be unable to cope. I’ll retreat. And when you matter, there’s no retreat.

You’ve got to try your best to do what needs to be done. Turn off your feelings so that you don’t let everything you’re holding come crashing down. And take your lumps and keep on moving when you make bad decisions. There’s no time for guilt or regret now. That will have to wait until later.

When, exactly? Later adulthood? I’m already 42. Retirement? Death?

— § —

All of this sounds very petty. Let’s be honest, it is. Generations ago, 17- and 18-year-olds flew halfway around the world and stood under the open skies of hell in trenches, eating bugs and effluence in storms of bullets, bombs, and body parts as their closest friends were torn apart beside them.

Then, they came all the way back and found ways to lead lives, live, love, and die. What have I done? Nothing. I have no grounds for complaint.

— § —

So here I sit nursing a dying dog. Trying to figure out how to think about my ex-wife’s urging that we try things again and how I ought to weigh the too-broad range of potential benefits and consequences for everyone involved. Wondering how I’m going to ever retire, or even catch up to my finances.

Wondering how it all would have been different if instead of doing everything I did—college, graduate school, marriage, kids, divorce, pets, bills, etc.—I’d joined the Marines.

— § —

Do I have anything of substance to say?

Yes. Something of substance, and shocking, too. It’s the first time I’ve told anyone, really, apart from two very old friends.

For about a year now, I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming Catholic. At the very least, I have deep regrets about my treatments of—and interactions with—religious folk in years past.

Anyone that has known me for any period of time will be shocked by this admission. I’m shocked myself. I’d never have figured myself to be a believer, and I’m still not sure that I am or ever will be.

But as I get older, I realize more and more that it’s not really about belief at all. It’s more about what’s right and proper and best, as I am beginning to realize is often the case in adult life—in real life. In the lives of the people who have some measure of stewardship for the world.

No, it’s not really about feelings or belief at all. Nothing important is.

Call me late to understanding in things that matter.

The problem with contemporary America is the self.  §

Self. We have been living in the age of the self since the 1970s. More passing years? More self.

Now the advice people all give us self-advice. For self-care. Self-forgiveness. Self-love. Self-acceptance. We are meant to build the self. Curate the self. Express the self. Promote the self. Self, self, self.

There is another word for this. That word is “narcissism.”

No, just no.

You should not “care” for yourself or “forgive” yourself or “love” yourself or “accept” yourself or any of these things. That does not mean that you should refuse to care for yourself or refuse to forgive yourself or refuse to accept yourself, either.

It’s not about whether or not you are positive or negative about yourself. It’s about the fact that people are thinking about “selves” in the first place.

The disease isn’t refusing to forgive yourself or refusing to love yourself or refusing to accept yourself. The disease is in considering these things in the first place—in all this damned thinking about and justice-seeking for the “self.”

That’s the narcissism.

Forgive or hold a grudge, love or hate, if you’re doing these things with regard to the self, it is still all about you. Hating yourself is just another way of loving yourself and vice-versa.

Caring, forgiving, loving—these are things that a well-adjusted person does for others, not for themselves.

You take responsibility for yourself. That is all.

You care about others.
You forgive others.
You love others.
You sacrifice for others.
You believe in others.

If you are doing these things for yourself, then you are not helping the world.

This bizarre belief that the best thing that you can do for the world is to do something nice for yourself—that the best way to do right by others is to let yourself off the hook…

It’s all a rationalization. A selfish rationalization by a selfish society in which each person doesn’t want anything to accrue to anyone other than themselves. A society in which every person is asking not “Who is here and what do they need?” But rather “I am here, and I have needs—so how can I have them met?”

This is why everyone is so fucking miserable.

Because they are living in the center of the very defintion of loneliness. They are alone. They are alone atop their shining hill in the halls of justice-for-the-self.

Q: But how can you live if you don’t care for yourself, and other similar objections?

A: The greatest tragedy in an individual’s life—and the greatest loss of meaning—is precisely the loss of the chance to die for the cause—to be stuck with oneself and nothing larger, rather than to lose oneself for one’s commitments to others.

The Huawei charges are AIDS medications.  §

We’ve seen this movie before.

Customers in the United States will pay more—a lot more—for inferior quantity and quality. Why? Because elites are working hard to shore up their own monopolies through regulatory capture. Which is what the Huawei stuff is all about. It’s infuriating. And I’m about to start snapping up all the Huawei gear I can get while the getting is still good.

Oh, but you don’t want to be spied on?

Stop looking at Huawei, son. You know who’s spying on you?

Intel, Cisco, and the U.S. feds. We know this. We’ve known it for years. The exploits and serious question marks are public and on record, and they have been for a long time. And they don’t belong to Huawei or the Chinese government, as anyone in the security industry can tell you. It’s the American firms that are spying on everyone, domestic and foreign alike—not the Asian firms.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…”

There is a non-trivial chance (some might even say likelihood) that Huawei is being penalized because they *won’t* backdoor for the NSA and U.S. feds, i.e. FEDGOV wants Huawei out because it’s providing actual security to customers—and won’t compromise that for the U.S. authorities.

How to fix your HP or Tandberg LTO1/LTO2/LTO3/LTO4/etc. drive’s tape path leader.  §

My tech posts have always generated the most traffic over the years, so here’s another one for you tech heads. Sorry, no pictures.

I have a love-hate relationship with tape storage over the years. Mostly hate. QIC, 4mm, 8mm, AIT, DLT, LTO, I’ve tried them all. They are all crap. The drives rarely last longer than a year or two and the tapes even less than that.

But with that said, offline, semi-archival storage is offline, semi-archival storage. I’ve also had terrible luck with hard drives, and they lose data just sitting on a shelf. If they ever spin up again after sitting on a shelf.

So… I have tapes.

I’ve recently switch from DLT to LTO4. And of course, one of the first things that happened to me was that I accidentally powered down with a tape in the drive.

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, “I hope the firmware can cope.”

Like an idiot, I powered back on, without taking the suggested steps:

  • Disassemble my tower

  • Decable, unscrew, and remove the drive

  • Stand it on its side and do the arduous and very time-consuming manual eject procedure that HP outlines on YouTube and that takes hours of mind-numbing wrist work

So what happened when I powered back on?

  • The drive got confused

  • It snapped the tape

  • Of course the tape load leader was now in the wind-up spool, meaning that the drive was dead with piles of tape inside it, and the tape was dead, too

  • All of reality was borked

So, lesson one for LTO:

(1) Never power back on if you accidentally power off with a tape in the drive. You may kill your drive. You will definitely destroy a tape. The firmware cannot cope.

Now, let me help you to fix the problem. With some narration.

Fixing a Lost Tape Leader

If your drive has snapped a tape, the pick-up leader that grabs the pin in LTO tapes to wind them into the drive now can’t be recovered, Normally, it’s wound back out and grabbed near the end of the eject procedure, so that when you insert a new tape, it can grab the new tape and wind it into the drive, etc.

But now your leader is sitting on the inner spool, and if you hold the door open when you power on the drive, you can see it just spinning and spinning for a bit, before you get the Yellow Light of Death indicating that you’re supposed to send the drive in for a $1,500 service.

Side note: That’s crap. So is the $4,000 sticker price of an LTO drive. Just wait until you get inside. These things are made of the same metal casing as a $12 DVD-ROM drive, plus one circuit board, plus a bit of tinfoil and plastic. They’re designed to fail so that those hefty enterprise service contracts can generate a ton of revenue.

Don’t fuck with that. Do this instead. Again, sorry, no pictures, but if you’re mechanically inclined, this should be enough to get the light bulb on and get you there.

  1. Take your drive out of whatever it’s mounted in.

  2. Get some torx screwdrivers and pop the top of the drive case right off. Cut through those warranty stickers. Fuck ’em.

  3. Get a magnifying glass or head-mounted optics and carefully disconnect all the cables and any screws from the top circuit board(s) so that you can get it (or them) off of the drive. You want access to the inner spool.

  4. Do the manual eject procedure enough to get the tape cartridge out of the drive and out of the way.

  5. Now take some time gently getting the miles and miles of LTO tape off of the inner spool. Don’t get an Xacto knife and slice through it or you’ll slice through the leader (more on this later though).

  6. When all the tape is out, and you’re just looking at the leader flopping helplessly in the breeze, notice that the plastic end of the leader has two posts on it, one at the top and one at the bottom.

  7. Notice also that near the rear of the drive there is a crevice into which this can slide, with the posts fitting into grooves. This is the tape path. Insert it into the tape path, making sure that if fully extended through the path, the tape will not be twisted.

  8. It will look like there’s no way to get it in there beyond just the entrance. There is. Gravity will help you. This is a low friction operation, the tape leader is not stiff, and the latch unit at the end of the leader is heavy. Just tilt the drive around to get the leader to slide through the path.

  9. You will get stuck halfway and it won’t move any more. You’ll be tempted to disassemble the path housing or to try to poke in there with a needle or something to pull it all along. Don’t. There is nothing fancy that has to be done, just some grunt work.

  10. Flip the drive over. Find the manual eject bolt, the one that you twist to manually eject tapes. Get your nut driver and start turning. Only this time, you’re not ejecting—turn the other way. You’re inserting again, even though there’s no tape in the drive now. Twist until fully inserted (or until what would be fully inserted if there was actually a tape there).

  11. Try to move the tape leader through the tape path again with gravity. Voila! With the mechanics in the “tape inserted” position, the tape path is now magically clear. A bit more tilting and the end of the leader should fall right through to the front of the drive.

  12. Now wind the manual eject mechanism again to move the “imaginary” tape all the way back out once more, to the ejected position.

  13. You should now be able to see where the leader latch is supposed to sit—right next to the corner of a tape, latched into a couple of little springs. If you can’t use your imagination, partially insert an LTO cartridge and notice where the opening is. Your leader mounts near there. Look at its edges and look for a latching socket that they might fit into.

  14. Slide the latch into place. It will click. You will be amazed, looking at this crap machinery, that this pile of shit costs businesses $4,000 (and will even feel a bit taken for spending $200 on eBay).

  15. Give the leader a couple quick tugs by winding the inner spool. It should go taut now and not budge once taut, fully latched into place.

  16. Reassemble the drive and power up. No more Yellow Light of Death. Congratulations, your LTO drive has been repaired—and you didn’t have to spend $1,500 on a ten-minute repair that requires no special tools.

What’s that? You have objections? Let me see if I can guess what they are:

  • Q: Don’t I need a clean room for this?
    A: Take another look into your drive through the door. Do you see how much dust and debris is in there? Did you say a shit ton, yet your drive has been working anyway? Give that man a cigar. Guess what? You send it off to HP, they’re going to charge you $1,500 and some dude is going to be doing it on a dirty workbench that has had Mountain Dew spilled on it 14 times this year already.

  • Q: Won’t I hurt the alignment or some other Fragile Thing?
    A: Don’t dick around with the tape heads and you’ll be fine.

  • Q: But my leader snapped! What do I do? (Told you I’d come back to that.)
    A: Just get an Xacto knife and some Gorilla Tape and fix it right back up with a splice. Notice how thin and crap everything is inside these drives. These are not precision instruments. They’re built like the utter junk they are. Do what you have to to kludge a fix and carry on.

Seriously, if you paid $4,000 for one of these, you’re an idiot.

And if you were planning on paying $1,500 to repair one, or even $200 to pick up a replacement on eBay, now I’ve just saved you the trouble. Because this is what goes wrong on DLT drives and ten times as much on LTO drives. Leader problems. Over and over and over and over and over again.

So now you know how to fix them.

And never, ever power down your LTO drive with a tape in it, unless you get your kicks putting leaders back into place over and over again as you blow through tapes, ripping them to shreds.

Gently catching the temporary by the wings, holding, then letting go.  §

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here that I liked. Frankly it’s been a while since I wrote anything anywhere that I liked.

It’s also been a long time since the last time I did any design work around here. When I started blogging, I did a redesign every year. Just to play around with colors and lines. The blue and gray in place right now is the second go-around for the blog that had felt the most like “home” to me over the years. I made it in 2006 in Graymatter, back when Graymatter was a thing. I resurrected it post-divorce in WordPress.

I don’t know why I say any of that. It’s neither here nor there.

— § —

I am typing this listening to the much-shared recording of the Aramaic Our Father sung for the Pope in Georgia. I don’t know why. I’m not Orthodox. I’m not Catholic.

When I started playing it, YouTube first ran an ad for Wix for five seconds.

It made me want to punch a hole in my screen.

— § —

Things I now wish I could be that I would have scoffed at as a younger man:

  • Police Detective
  • Firefighter
  • Marine
  • Medical Doctor
  • Attorney

Sometimes now I sit and wonder whether there’s still a way for me to dream about being things, and to pursue those dreams as if they might someday be made to come true.


© Aron Hsiao / 2019

But life is short, time is running out, and I am getting tired.

— § —

The windows on the house are dirty, but I never clean them.

I don’t clean them because then I would be able to see out through them with fidelity. I’d see things clearly, and the glass would be transparent. I’d see the world and the trees—but nothing else.

But dirty windows do something different; something bigger than passing light through them.

They reveal truths that are otherwise ephemeral, traveling in waves light but held prisoner by some property of the universe that I only vaguely understand. The one that hides the most important truths, always.

I don’t wash them because right now, at this particular time of day, when the sun streaming in through the window is bright but not blinding due to the angle of the sunset, the trees appear on dirty windows not as trees, but as the essences of trees. Not every branch and needle; not every detail in the clinical manifestation that we’re so accustomed to in a modernity in which we’ve attributed entirely too much importance to fidelity.

No, on dirty windows when the sun is just right, you can see in them the spirits of trees, touched by something ineffable, glowing, mixed with presence, imbued with a deeper authority than fidelity can bring or will ever know.

Clean windows have panes, but dirty windows have souls. To clean them is murder.

— § —

This problem of cleaning points to a sad and intractable paradox at the center of human life: that we are both material beings in a thermodynamic universe and conceptual beings that dwell in the deep, sticky middle of a subtle phenomenological implausibility that is not any less evident.

These two things are at odds with one another.

Thermodynamics is a kind of cosmic, metaphysical theft. It is an arrow that leads only toward one thing: death and emptiness. So, we marshal energy here and there, ordering and building and cleaning everything at hand, making a little human world for ourselves where we can attempt to disown physics. Nesting.

We are compelled to do this by the problem of meaning, which demands that we have order in our souls and in our memories. But to expend this energy is to participate in and hasten the thermodynamic fate to which our material selves are condemned.

To clean is to destroy being. But also—to fail to clean is to destroy being. Being itself must be tenuously suspended in a studied balance between the two that must always be actively maintained.


© Aron Hsiao / 2003

It is this sort of thing—the fact that our very existence lies at the peculiar tension point between overwhelming and intersecting ontological regimes—and that it is so very, very delicate, a matter of balance and care and attention that hovers forever at the edge of disappearance, pregnant and taut—that continues to bring me back to theological questions these days.

— § —

I spent much time early in life expressing things, and this carried with it a kind of momentum.

Momentum is wonderful, and I need it very much. But momentum in sufficient quantities can also blur what passes beside you so that you can’t be sure what you have seen or when is the right moment to turn right or left. And it’s rather hypnotic in its way, a kind of truth of its own.

To finally lose momentum and wake up, standing in the middle of the desert, looking around yourself north, south, east, and west, with “the lone and level sands” stretching away everywhere around you… There is a kind of magnificent riddle in that.

The sphinx need not be a rock. You can hear his questions coming from the sun up above you in those moments, and from the sand under your feet as well.

— § —

I said to someone last night, “pretty much all of us are wrong about pretty much everything.”

I stand by that.

My name is Aron, and apparently I am insane.  §

Well, the American Psychological Association has gone and done it.

They have taken the step that pundits have been using as a “next thing you know, they’ll…” by declaring all non-feminie men to be suffering from a mental disorder. That disorder is called “masculine ideology” or, in other places in the document, “traditional masculinity.”

What are its symptoms?

They include stoicism, strength, desiring not to be feminine, adventurousness, competitiveness, and the drive for achievement. Oh, and violence (because obviously all of these things are budding forms of it) and homophobia (because naturally anyone who isn’t interested in being feminine feels that way because they are homophobic, and not because, you know, they’re a man or anything as retrograde as that).

Welps, that does it for me. Lock me up and drug me, I guess.

Oh, and remind me never to visit a therapist.

So many certainties, so little justification.  §

Things that are all said to be true:

  • Masculinity is toxic

  • It's bigoted to talk about 'male' and 'female' or 'man' and 'woman' because it's a fluid spectrum, everyone in the gray area, and masculinity doesn't make a man, nor does femininity make a woman

  • It is right for gender-dysphoric people born male to pursue femininity, which is what it takes to be a woman, and for gender-dysphoric people born female to pursue masculinity, which is what it takes to be a man

  • It's bigoted to talk about 'male' and 'female' or 'man' and 'woman' because it's a fluid spectrum, everyone in the gray area, and masculinity doesn't make a man, nor does femininity make a woman

  • People born girls who identify as male and achieve masculinity are, without question, both heroic and men

  • Masculinity is toxic

Point being: this is a soup of contradictions. It only makes sense if the underlying truth is:

  • People must be affirmed and validated, no matter what

This is a very, very bad position to take.

In fact, we should all exercise our best judgment to affirm and validate people that we judge to be right, and to provide no affirmation or validation for people that we judge to be wrong.

"But judgment is bad!" comes the rejoinder.

To which I can only say, in sarcasm, that obviously then the moral thing is to eliminate all judges from society and stop teaching our kids to exercise judgment of any kind as they grow up.

The terrifying thing is how many people would agree, quite earnestly, with these suggestions.

— § —

Side note after watching the college football national championship game:

I am grateful to Clemson for what they accomplished tonight. Specifically? They did something unexpected. They willed it, people said it was impossible, and they did it.

This is not me saying that "anything is possible." Clearly, it isn't.

But the realm of certainties has unjustifiably expanded in recent years. The world today is beset by a complete lack of intellectual humility. There is an epistemic overconfidence running through late modernity, and in particular the information age, that is destroying our society from the inside out.

There is an unstated belief, held far and wide, that in our time it is both easy to predict the future and a simple matter to know truth from falsehood, right from wrong.

On every side, the activists sneer at anyone who suggests, even for a moment, that life is complicated, that unexpected things happen, that the realm of certainties in life is very small, and that the list of what is "obvious" is a short one. The sneering on all sides has now reached the level of an overwhelming roar, all being certain that they have the answers, today and tomorrow, and that only a fool would deny it.

That the future is an open book and the present is crystal-clear has become such an article of faith that those who might otherwise try to do something new, to write actual pages in the book of history—simply don't.

So thank you to Clemson for doing the unthinkable, the bigoted, the stupid, the disallowed—and demonstrating that everyone doesn't already know everything about everything. That people can be wrong. That will counts for something. That human natality and uncertainty are actually alive and well.

And for a night—suck it, certain people, all of you, across all human endeavors. You are a disease. You know everything, sure. Until you don't.

Goodbye 2018.  §

I always write a post for the end of the year. And I have always been working on it for several weeks by the time it goes live.

Not intensive work, really, but slow, now-and-then work. Adding things as I think of them. Reflecting on things. Coming to internal conclusions about how I feel and what has mattered in the year that has passed.

This year I haven’t done that. I’ve only thought about starting it maybe twice over the last month, and each time the thought came and the thought went shortly thereafter with nothing done, no steps taken.

So here we are… It’s time for a year-end post and I’m typing one out, and purely by accident. I didn’t set out to write one, but merely to force myself to actually write something. Only once I got started did I realize once again that the end of the year is here and I ought to say something about it.

— § —

This year has not gone according to plan.

I switched jobs. Twice. Where I ended up is great. But that, combined with the ongoing complexity of divorced life and the financial stress that all of this brings, have led me to feeling just a bit at end-of-rope.

And when I’m at end-of-rope, I fall back into my own most deeply ingrained tendencies.

The most important of these is the tendency to be completely overtaken by my own momentum—or lack thereof. By my own inertia.

Without a conscious effort, I am an entirely interia-bound person. Whatever I am doing, I will keep doing it. Whatever I am not doing, I’ll keep not doing it. Even if I want to change, on both counts.

Whatever is the last thing I did is also the next thing I’ll do.

Now I realize that everyone struggles with “habit” and the question of how to break bad ones and form good ones. But I’ve never met anyone who manages as much of their life purely through habit as I do.

I am conscious for two things in life, and two things only: novel tasks at work and time spent with the kids. Everything else, and I literally mean everything else, is on autopilot.

This means that if I have a sticky autopilot function, and it’s stuck in bad positions, I do not do well. It’s been an issue for me since I was a teenager, and it’s still a big issue, as this year demonstrates.

I don’t think my ex-wife ever understood the degree to which I just plain do things automatically, without thinking. Whatever is happening, if it doesn’t kill me or cause severe pain, well—it’ll keep happening. Down to the smallest details of my life.

I’ll wear the same shirt and pair of jeans a hundred days in a row. I’ll launder them every three days or so. I’ll tell myself that I need to wear different clothes. It’s not like I don’t have any. Then I won’t. I’ll tell myself that it’s silly to launder just one pair of jeans and one shirt together, that I ought to wear more laundry and do bigger loads. No matter, it doesn’t happen. I’ll run out of detergent and know it. But I won’t buy more, because I don’t buy detergent. I just don’t. It’s not a habit. So when the next day three rolls around, I’ll go downstairs and make laundry motions and even get out the scoop and scoop in empty air and note in passing (and it barely registers) that I just got a whole scoop of empty air and am laundring my clothes with maybe two granules of powder. And by a minute later, it’s off my radar again until three days later still. Maybe after eight or nine months, I’ll finally remember to buy detergent, but only if I’m already at the store for something else and happen to remember it.

I’ll tell myself that I need to make a list of things that I need, in passing, and then I’ll go on doing whatever it is that I was already doing and not make a list because I don’t make lists. Not out of principle or anything. It’s just not what I do. And telling myself that I need to do it does not physically make me into someone who does it.

It’s just been that kind of year.

Turn up the stress, and I attend to the big problems, and all the little things go on autopilot.

I suppose another way to say this is that I live one of the most perpetually distracted lives of anyone I’ve ever met. I am a high-horsepower distraction machine. I see my kids and I see my job. I am entirely blind to everything else.

That’s how my year was.

I even have a habit of reflecting just before bed on how terrible this is and how my life is slipping right through my fingers and I need to take bold steps to change it because I am living the same day, week, month, and year over and over again and soon I will run out.

Then, I lay down and go to sleep without realizing that that’s what I’ve done. Because habit.

It’s as though my conscious, reflective brain is completely disconnected from my will, much less my body. My ex-wife commented on this often as well. She was right; something in my brain doesn’t believe that the world exists.

All that exists are the thoughts, if I can even be bothered to have them. And if I have them, my mind presumes that it’s been attended to and moves on.

— § —

There is another way of describing this, probably a more useful way.

I just don’t give a shit.

I don’t give a shit about anything but work and kids.

Because to be on autopilot like this and not really suffer, the deeper truth is that everything you actually care about is getting seen to. Because if it wasn’t, you’d be in pain for having let things that you care about fail or slide. You’d have regrets.

To be fully distracted all the time yet not in pain is a another way of saying, “I may tell myself that I care about all the shit I’m doing and ought to stop or not doing but ought to start, but in fact I don’t care about these things at all, which is why I’m never caught out when they do or don’t happen.”

Everything that’s critical, everything that really matters, gets done. Everything else is on autopilot.

From that perspective, it almost sounds healthy. I can hear a therapist being tremendously reassuring and saying, “Well then, all of the things that really matter actually have been taken care of, haven’t they? What you’re doing is called prioritizing, and we all do it.”

But that would be a lie, at least in a way.

— § —

If what I’m doing is prioritizing, then I’m automatically prioritizing today ahead of tomorrow, always.

I’m not sacrificing for the future, preparing for the future, planning for the future, or even aware of the future. I don’t mean Future like when I’m going to be a movie star, I mean future like the fact that there is no toilet paper in the house because I couldn’t come to consciousness and plan ahead enough to actually get any before the last batch ran out.

When will I get it?

The next time someone needs it, we’ll have to make a sudden trip to Walgreen’s to buy some. These sorts of sudden trips are also a habit, the way that I do things.

This kind of “prioiritizing” is not okay, because it means that I am completely unprepared for tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, much less, say, retirement.

I am living by relying entirely on the just-in-time nature of modern urban life. Whatever I need I can have now, so there is no need to prepare. There is, in fact, no need to think. Anything that becomes a problem can be dealt with when it becomes a problem and not before.

Now, there is a kernel of wisdom in that attitude; a lot of people have the opposite problem, worrying incessantly about everything and being hypervigilant about the million little things they’re doing or not doing every moment of every day.

But in my case, I need the opposite. I am a man standing in a battle zone without a weapon, without camouflage, and without armor of any kind. When and only when bullets start flying past my head will I worry about it.

Thing is, I know that at some point they will start flying past my head, so I should at least take cover right now. But I don’t. Because until one almost hits me, it’s just not on my radar. I’m busy thinking about other things.

It’s a risky way to live, and it bothers me.

— § —

But I don’t give a shit. I want to say that I can’t give a shit.

Because the thing is, I want to give a shit. I want to care about things rather badly. And yet I don’t. Only about those two things. Work and kids. Work and kids.

Has always been thus.

— § —

So, to recap what I’ve said so far in TL;DR terms, 2018 may as well have never happened, in a way. I did nothing new. I stopped doing nothing old. The end of 2018 looks exactly the same in most ways as the beginning of 2018 in terms of “my life” in any way that matters.

And with that out in the open, I’m left with the problem of reconciling everything I’ve just said and the cause to which I attributed all of it (stress about job changes and so on).

It’s a circular problem, if you think about it. All the stress of changes caused me to be unable to change anything? And the net result is that absolutely nothing changed this year, thanks to the effects of so many changes?

It makes absolutely no sense.

What’s really going on here?

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll figure it out in 2019.

— § —

Things that are more than likely coming in the year ahead for me:

  • Health care crises, thanks to a convoluted health plan situation

  • More navigating the stressful relationship between me and ex

  • Death of my more-than-twelve-year-old dog, who has cancer

— § —

The stressful relationship between self and ex thing probably deserves some discussion, particularly since it’s possible she’ll read this.

It’s not that things are bad between us. They are, in fact, remarkably good all things considered.

It’s just that we’re so different. Our minds work in diametrically opposed ways. Looking at things now, it’s a complete mystery to me how we ever managed to marry and procreate.

Just about every single thing that she says or does comes as a complete shock to me. Not a bad shock in itself, necessarily, but as something-I-wasn’t-prepared-for. Something that interrupts my autopilot system, and for that reason, tends to send me into confusion from which I struggle to emerge.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize it. She barely realized it when we were married, and never understood it at all, and so now, three years on and with separate lives, I’m sure she doesn’t realize what a complicating factor little innocuous and completely innocent things can be.

One of the things I’ve realized as a divorced man is that I should never be in a relationship again. Or at least not until I solve the autopilot problem on my own. Because when I’m relying on autopilot and something little causes autopilot to disengage prematurely, my entire day goes out of whack.

And when someone hasn’t planned ahead, when they’re living entirely moment-to-moment in that battlefield of life without any defenses, a day out of whack is a significant problem from which it can be difficult to recover.

In other words, I can’t afford relationships. Cognitively. Emotionally. Not until I figure out how to cope with unexpected inputs.

— § —

Interesting question here.

How is it possible for a person like me to exist? My single biggest strength in work life and in just about every other serious endeavor has always been that I can think on my feet and do what needs to be done better than almost everyone else.

I am amazing in a serious crisis. When a building is burning down or a neighborhood is being evacuated, that’s when I come into my own and people lean on me for support because I’m so agile and adaptable and capable.

So how is it possible that I can’t freaking go to the other side of the room and wear a different shirt just once, because I’m so stuck in distraction, or that a text message with a funny joke that I wasn’t expecting to receive can derail my afternoon?

Theories:

  • I am using so many of my faculties for whatever important task is immediately at hand that I have nothing else left for life—and this is why I’ve been visibly above average in terms of success in some areas but also visibly below average in ters of others (i.e. the trade-offs theory)

  • High stress kicks off something biological—adrenaline? cortisol?—that causes me to focus on the thing causing the stress, and to ignore all of the other things (i.e. the involuntary trade-offs theory)

  • I am actually dysfunctional most of the time, but high arousal—again, adrenaline, cortisol, whatever—actually turns my brain on for the duration of a task, and when the task is over and the chemical factors disappear, my brain shuts off again (i.e. the developed-tolerance-to-stress theory)

  • There is actually a set of criteria at work that I’m not aware of, and I’m not aware of them because I am keeping them—and the logic behind them—from myself for some reason (i.e. the repressed-rationales-for-choices-plus-avoidance theory)

I’m not sure what the truth is. And there are probably half a dozen other theories that I haven’t thought of that could also apply. I’d like to say that I’ll think about these more and try to figure out what’s what, but I won’t.

Because… wait for it… that’s not what I do.

— § —

Things that I wish I could say were coming for me in the year ahead:

  • Finding and joining a community of some kind (religious, even?)

  • Starting my own company

  • Developing a newfound sense of discipline and attention to “little things” in life

  • More money and financial security

— § —

What do I remember most from the year?

Possibly going to Lagoon (a local amusement park) with my kids a couple of times in the summer.

And being required to erase all of the work that I’d done for the previous five years when my company was acquired, and then to sign my name indicating that it had all been destroyed and none of it existed any longer.

Apart from these things, I swear I’m not sure I can remember or name a single other thing that happened this year just now. It’s all been mostly the same day over and over and over again, I think.

— § —

Things that I absolutely do not care about in the coming year:

  • Dating

  • Home repair

  • Financial planning

  • Getting organized

I wish I could say that I did care, but I can’t honestly say that.

I just can’t.

How can I get myself to care?

I think that’s really the operative thing for 2019.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s my year-end summary. 2018 was the year in which it really, really started to bug me that I don’t care about anything but kids, work, and the next 1.5 minutes of my life.

Like, it bugs me enough to make me angry late at night when I lay down and finally think about it.

So maybe the project ahead for 2019 is to try to figure out how to give a shit about things. To learn—as it were—to actually care.

— § —

Related question.

How do you change your understanding of who you are? Of your own identity?

I mean, that sentence that begins with “I am someone who…”

Also on dock for 2019: figure out this related sovereignty problem.

Because if you are not sovereign over yourself, then you are powerless to affect anything else.

And yet changing understandings of self is a remarkably difficult thing to do, at least if you’re me.

Statement to self: “I am someone who…”

Reponse to self: “No you’re not. That’s a lie. You know very well that you’re actually someone who…”

This is a problem of will. Will should be enough to effect changes in self-identity, should it not? And yet… it’s not.

What do you do when you don’t believe yourself? And is this different or similar to not believing in yourself?

And yet I’m someone that has always believed in myself. Maybe just about the wrong things?

Is this a granularity problem as well?

— § —

Hello, 2019.

Gutenberg sucks.  §

In my professional life, I have spent a lot of time in WordPress. I know HTML, CSS, and PHP close to inside and out, and I know Javascript well enough to be quite literate and capable if I have StackExchange in front of me.

For those who just want the meat: Gutenberg breaks WordPress. Not “official” WordPress, but WordPress as we have all known it and any code that has been written in the past.

For now, you can still disable Gutenberg, but the roadmap is to EOL the “classic” stuff by 2022.

So, basically—it’s time to give up on WordPress. Back to Drupal with me? Possibly.

And I suggest that small developers or small team developers everywhere move on. WordPress is dead. No, not yet, but given the security history of WordPress and the necessity of staying current with core, you don’t want to wait until official EOL for classic. Tell your clients and your boss now that anything you have built is EOL soon, will stop being maintained by you sometime before 2022, and you will be moving on.

Then, use the time between now and 2022 to develop a remediation strategy, build new skills, and move on.

December 2018 is the month that WordPress died.