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.
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

Late Sunday night. Again.  §

Sunday night already. It all starts again in a moment.

If I am going to climb this hill, I need better velocity. I now have enough weekends under my belt to know that under the current regime and lifestyle, the important things are not going to get done.

I am going to have to get better than this or the shit will hit the fan, because while I am understanding and try to be flexible, and always have, the same thing cannot be said for others, who will think nothing of turning the cannons on me.

— § —

We hiked to Grotto Falls today. The road was closed, so we had to walk miles on foot, and there was a lot of snow. Add to this the fact that we had a large (and somewhat cowardly) dog in tow.

But we did it. That’s nice. As it gets warmer, opportunities for activity are opening back up again. On that count, it’s nice that spring is back.

In terms of “my time left,” however, it’s not so nice. I’m running out of time. I feel it every day.

All of the mid-life advice is geared toward people who have “made it” in life—it’s all a lot of “What do you do now that you find out that financial security doesn’t actually make you all that happy?” and the answer is always some variant of “Give up on the pursuit of material things, you have more than you need, spend time focusing on the spiritual and meaningful sides of life.”

There is precious little out there for “So your midlife crisis consists of the fact that now, in your 40s, with a reasonable career, you are in worse financial shape than you have ever been in your life, and you will likely not climb out of it before the day you die. What do you do?”

The whole “focus on other things” angle is nonsense when you are working night and day to ensure that there is food to eat and a car to drive.

If I had come from a different background, had a different political and educational history, I would easily be a Trumpite right now.

The divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is all too obvious, and it is only the former that get to worry about meaningful things, stages of life, legacy that one leaves, and so on. The latter are presumed to be like little clockwork mechanisms.

“Oh, they’re just going to keep puttering on trying to feed themselves. No need to provide any thought or insight to them; they’re sorts of automotons, you see—they got wound up once and they’ll just keep hopping along in sustenance mode until, at end of life, they wind down. They’re not who needs speaking to or writing for.”

— § —

It’s also entire likely that people have nothing to say to people like me because there is nothing to say, except “Yeah, that sucks, bro!” and “Shoulda been born rich I guess, them’s the breaks.”

— § —

Every Sunday night I have it again—not dread of a work-week to come, but frustration at having used up all of my time before the housecleaning was even done.

Don’t even get to the looming home and life maintenance tasks. Much less yardwork.

And nevermind about—just laugh and forget about—the career and personal growth tasks that really matter.

Something’s gotta give.

Enter title here.  §

Such a strange time in life.

The aquarium water has been dropping for a while. Lowering a bit, day by day. Evaporation and all that. Day after day—another day, another day, and then it’s a week and then it’s a month and every day is a tick, and they sweep past. Tick, tick, tick.

The seasons are changing. It was dark when I took the kids to Taekwondo, and snowy. There was a night when I was taking pictures out the window and there was the whole winter wonderland thing going on. Coats, boots, driving slow to try to make sure that nobody gets hurt and the car doesn’t have to be replaced and all that.

In, out. Nights. Weekends. More snow. Garbage man. Postman. Store. School drop-off. School pick-up.

Tick. Tick.

Now it’s light outside when we go to Taekwondo, and light outside when we come back, and light outside for hours afterward, and nobody wears a coat, and we are talking about going to the pool.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

Nothing is happening. Nothing at all. And the thing is, nothing can happen. There is no here here. This is not a place. I can walk outside and—nothing. I can walk outside and walk a mile and—nothing. I can walk outside and walk three miles and—nothing. I can walk outside and walk ten miles and—nothing.

Nothing is here.

Nothing except us. This is what the kids know. They have that sense of space that comes from the west; this is normal to them, I wouldn’t want to force a change on anyone; the situation is just barely stable enough to be livable as it is. I remember how it was when I was their age and my parents moved; I hated it. I didn’t understand why I didn’t have any input into anything. I didn’t like to have my whole live put into a state of upheaval just because—because what? I didn’t understand.

And all that. And so on. Etcetera.

No, I wouldn’t go anywhere just now. And yet there is nothing here. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Where are the buildings? Where are the cabs? Where are the people? Where is the smalltalk? Where are the chatty lines? There are no lines. Nobody is in line. It just takes hours because nobody is in a hurry, either. Nobody has any place to be because there is nowhere to go. Nobody is waiting for public transportation. It’s hard to tell whether or not there is public transportation. Everywhere you go, nobody is there. A body, maybe two.

You have to hit the jackpot to have a conversation; there’s nothing to choose from.

We were on a field trip today and the girl giving the presentation was from somewhere around here. She interrupted her sentences in the strangest places to take these deep, interrupted, sudden breaths because she was yelling all the time, mixing up her vowels (they do that here; it’s the dialect). It was hard to understand her, and I can understand anyone from anywhere, any accent. Except, sometimes, the heartland.

Where do they come from, these people? And then you spend three hours out and about and you run into a total of four people and it’s transactional because they’re all busy selling you something over the counter because there are no actual pedestrians on your side of the counter but you, and even then, that’s who you run into.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

Choice is the great modern amenity, except here, except in people, except in environs.

Seriously, nothing. Ten miles I could walk in darkness. I’d pass maybe four cars in four hours. And it’s 10:30 pm. And they call this a city.

This is where I live. The mountains are tall, and they’re right there. They don’t have any names that anyone knows, though the names are in books.

What there is to do is get in my car, drive a lot, go into stores, and buy name brand goods quietly. Or, go “join up” somewhere. Join a meditation group, join a fitness studio, join a meetup, join, join, join. Enroll, so that we’re all on the list, so that we know who’s coming and who’s not. I could drive 40 miles to hit the bar scene, but it’s full of the resistance. They’re scruffy and they assume meat, and they want to talk about Mormons, and they use a lot of four letter words. I think it’s mostly the four letter words that get me, which is funny, because I’ve not necessarily been known for my decorum either.

Ten miles and nothing. Silence. Your own thoughts. You can walk forever. Especially now that it’s warm. Someday, down the road, I’ll move on again, finally. How many times is it now?

Go somewhere where you can step outside your door and exist. Accidentally back into someone, knock their bags down. “Oh, sorry! My bad!”

No walls, no registration, no need to join. Dirty sidewalks.

How many times is it now?

Tick, tick, tick.

Such a strange time in life.

Springtime, tidying, tonsils, and strangers.  §

So last week the kids spent a decent amount of time while I was working “excavating” the back bedroom—getting everything out of the closet, unpacking every box they found, and generally distributing clothes and previously forgotten objects evenly across the furniture and carpet.

© Engraver / Dreamstime

In the last ten or twelve minutes before we left for Taekwondo, and after that mom’s house, they managed to bring most of their toys into the living room, and to open a few juice boxes and leave them lying around for good measure.

They also thought it would be nice to rearrange the shoes in the hallway from a nice row into a nice dispersal, partially on the stairs.

And they’d already had a particularly productive week of clothes-dirtying. For example, on a good day my daughter is able to go through three pairs of socks (she compulsively changes them), but on a really, really good day she can go through five.

So when I woke up yesterday morning, there was a decent amount of housework to do—but I needed to spend some time actually reading books for a change and actually making notes and doing some planning for a change, so nothing got seen to on Saturday.

— § —

Today, I spent the entire second half of the day cleaning and tidying. And I swear, I’ve just managed to beat things back to “cluttered” from “warzone.”

Every other weekend when the kids aren’t here, it’s the same story—hours and hours of cleaning and tidying to try to catch up. But I don’t ever quite catch up; I’m slowly losing ground. I’ve told the kids we’re going to have to do some “spring cleaning” a couple of weekends when they are here, putting in entire days tidying and cleaning.

It was a very popular idea. (I jest there.)

Basically, two kids, single dad who works from home, and large-ish (by the standards of my childhood at least) house just don’t add up. When I’m actually able to afford things again (say, next snowstorm in hell), I’m going to buy a small house in a far more central location. Someplace where it’s harder to make a giant mess and easier to get things to and from home.

— § —

Speaking of affording things, the boy may have to have his tonsils out. This is not a prospect that makes me happy.

  • Surgery is invasive and hard, especially on a little kid.
  • There is always some element of risk, and I’m tired of risk; I need to save all of my risk-taking guts for actual life, where despite my extreme accumulation of risk events over the last few years, I need to take more of them to actually gain any ground.
  • There will be a nice, big bill involved, thanks to the health care plans on the ACA exchange getting worse and worse, year over year. (We have one of the best plans available in our state because my employer reimburses, but where the annual deductibles were $250/$500 the first year, they’re in the thousands now.)
  • They cite a week of “not fun or easy” recovery time. This would have been a PITA before the divorce. Now it’s going to be a PITA, not to mention a minefield as well.

Every kid is high-maintenance in their own way. DD has never required much in the way of health care, but has a reasonably high-maintenance personality in terms of her rather critical fastidiousness, forceful character, and singular vision for, well, everything (this all drove my ex-wife absolutely nuts). DS is tremendously flexible and accepts whatever comes his way, but the saga of asthma that (as it turns out) may always have been sleep obstructive apnea thanks to gnarly-huge tonsils means that he has been tremendously expensive. Worth every penny, but a oh, what very healthy number of pennies.

Hopefully the de-tonsiling maneuver will mark the end of this particular series of issues once and for all.

— § —

Seeing your kids enjoying activities and in photos with other people when you’re not invited and will not have any collection to, or narrative of, the event in question is one of the strangest sensations on earth.

It’s not painful, exactly, but it is vaguely disconcerting, especially when it happens in real time (say, on Facebook) and they’re not around and won’t be for hours or days.

It’s like you are seeing someone else’s children that remind you of your own children that you’ve lost. That sounds worse than it is, because of course you haven’t actually suffered the loss—they’ll be back shortly—but they are not present, are not accessible, can not share with you the context of the photo, and won’t remember it when they return, because of course they’re kids.

I suppose this is what it must be like to have grown-up kids to some extent—you see that they have a life, and you see that they do things, but you’re not connected to, nor do you really understand, any of it. There’s an uncanny element of “strangerness” in it—you experience them as people that you don’t know.

Though I suppose when they’re older, they’ll be able to narrate some of it for you. Of course, they won’t, because while with age the capability is no longer an obstacle, necessary individuation will become one.

— § —

When I was younger, I was very much against judgment. Tolerance, tolerance for all! Embrace everything, etc.

You have kids, and this changes. If you are going to be a parent to your children, if you are going to protect them and care for them and do right by them, you quickly realize that you must judge. You must separate the good from the bad, the safe from the unsafe, the good influences from the wayward ones. Tolerance is for singles. Parents are judges, and their judgments are draconian.

They say that parenthood changes you. I can vouch for this.

— § —

I know spring isn’t for another few days, but based on weather and the general feeling in the air, I declare springtime to be here nonetheless.

INTP.  §

© sveta / Fotolia

I probably won’t take this course because right now in life, post-divorce, who’s got $195 to throw out speculatively?

At the same time, I have to say that Penelope Trunk’s marketing copy here (regardless of whoever actually wrote it) is compelling and hilarious to me as an INTP, because it rings so true.

“INTPs are known for their brilliant theories and unrelenting logic—in fact, they are considered the most logically precise of all the personality types. This means you need to be able to recognize illogical types before they can get near you…This session will also help you target the people who will enhance your life. Who will be fun to debate? Who will be a good sounding board…Look, you’re not going to ever have enough information to make a decision. Which is fine with you, of course, because closure is not your sweet spot. Fortunately, decision makers love you because you help them make better decisions.”

And also:

“Did you know people think you’re crazy? Yes. They do. They think you don’t understand how the world works even as you ask more questions than anyone to understand how the world works.”

(I don’t know if there has ever been a better summary of life as an INTP. Everyone thinks you don’t understand anything, that you’re confused and emotional, that you are making difficulties, even as you know empirically that they actually don’t understand 10 percent of what you do about a situation, that actually it’s they who are confused and emotional, and that their lack of mental discipline and and detailed knowledge is why they can’t see the difficulties and quite literally don’t understand and are misconstruing, due to ignorance and sloppy thinking, everything you’re saying.)

And also:

“Most creative thinkers have irregular career trajectories. INTPs are extreme versions of this.”

And from the INTP summary page that doesn’t seem familiar, so may not actually be cribbed from one of the innumerable other MBTI pages:

“INTPs are skilled at analysis, seeing differences and developing categories. As strategists, they map out all feasible events well in advance. They adapt and improvise as means to an end. They solve complex problems, enigmas, and riddles.”

And also:

“Expect INTPs to be skeptical of anything and everything—and yet always willing to explore and improve on whatever exists. While they are open to new ideas, they are skeptical of their validity until logically proven otherwise.”

And also:

“INTPs will not fit snugly into a typical structure. They value independence of thought and action.They need their space—to think, to be free from other people—to work in short bursts of energy…The simple and obvious bores them, and anything they see as trivial or unimportant will be pushed away.”

And also:

“In times of low energy or moments of single-minded concentration, INTPs are aloof and detached in a way that might even offend more relational or extraverted individuals. Emotions tend to be slightly outside their own life space…Strong emotional impulses, which they do not understand, can cause problems for INTPs…INTPs are relatively easygoing, quiet, and amenable to most anything until something violates their principles.”

And also:

“They have great judgement, discretion, and hard-headedness. They also see—and are happy to point out—the downside…INTPs need those around them to be proactive and keep from coming to them with questions. They like arguments and actions to be well thought through and will excel at ensuring this is the case. They value independence of thought and action.”

Gosh, maybe I will take the course. Not sure. Need to make some notes about this and come to a decision. Though, as pointed out above, it’s hard to accumulate “enough information to make a decision….because closure is not [my] sweet spot.”

I know that this is just Trunk cribbing from MBTI, probably with the assistance of copywriters and contractors. But still, this is why I read her website. Nuts as she is, she communicates well and the content that she oversees has a way of cutting to the quick—quickly.

Night and day.  §

I am at my most powerful at night. At midnight or 1:00 am, ll things are possible. All things are clear. I can think my way to levitation, domination, and wonders of all kinds. There is nothing that I do not rule.

Then, daytime happens and I am bewildered. Nothing can be done, nothing is to be done. I am carried along by the river, helpless in its currents. I can’t think clearly. I can barely think at all.

Why is this?

If I had money for therapy, this is one question that I would absolutely attack with gusto.

No passion.  §

So here’s a thing I do now, apparently.

I write a blog post, and then I don’t post it. Sometimes even a long one. No idea why. I suppose I’m getting bored with the whole thing again. Start with the inclination to post, end up with a bit of a fizzle and a drift-away a few hundred keystrokes in.

— § —

Boredom is becoming a serious and ongoing problem.

I, like so many other men in my generation, and in the younger generation, am absolutely dying for something to be inspired by, to be motivated by, to be passionate about.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

Over the years I’ve gone through technology, open source, photography, social philosophy, and more recently, collecting wristwatches. But they all fizzle eventually. None of them have proven to be all that interesting in the long run. Sometimes the taper-off comes as a matter of disillusionment (open source, social philosophy), sometimes as a matter of simply beginning to repeat myself in an area with no real import (technology, wristwatches), sometimes as a matter of logistics and cost-benefit (photography).

There’s always been politics, but that’s more of a negative force in my life. I compulsively read politics for weeks at a time because it pisses me off so, not because it inspires me to commit myself to something or makes me eager to get up in the morning.

Some would say that I’m looking for my war. Others of the Rod Dreher variety would say that I’m looking for God. I have no idea if either is true. Maybe both are true. Maybe neither is true.

What is true is that I’m suffering from the malaise that is infecting masculinity these days across the board—the vague sense that I’m useful for so much more than I’m being used for, that my capabilities are being wasted, that there is no particular reason why I do one thing rather than another, and that nothing is of any particular import beyond the immediate and mundane (i.e. I must eat if I want to live to see tomorrow, so I’ll kick the can down the road and do X, Y, and Z to enable that particular behavior; hopefully something cooler will arise along the way).

It rarely does. And when it does, it’s only a temporary “cooler.” Within a few weeks|months (I rarely even get to years), everything is back to monochrome again.

Bunch of monkeys on a rock behaving badly toward one another, repeating things ad infinitum that have already been repeated ad infinitum and, in fact, even written down. Embarrassing.

I am jaded.

I need a project. But I also need to care about my project.

— § —

No, people and humanity and all of that nonsense doesn’t do it for me. As a rule, I’m not all that interested in people. I’ve met very few that aren’t cardboard cut-outs.

When you’re young, they convince you for a while that “every human life is valuable, and every life matters equally.”

This is clearly nonsense. It is true that life is, in juxtaposition to the known universe, comparatively rare. But rare is not at all the same thing as valuable—and the idea that every life matters equally is farcical on its face.

My life is clearly worth less than that of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and more than that of the homeless guy on the corner out in front of Wal-Mart. Maybe it’s regrettable and we don’t like to speak in these terms, but give me a break, let’s be real and honest here.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

And the reason that many lives are less valuable than a handful of others is that they are completely interchangeable, undifferentiated, and largely self-absorbed, like my own. Even the “people people” always turn out to be “self people” in the end.

Camille Paglia keeps saying that we’re in the decadent phase of culture, and I agree with her.

Risk and danger are, paradoxically and sadly, the only things that give human life meaning. Give everyone comfort and safety and we become unimpressive, unimportant, and irrelevant. We have everything we need in our culture, and so we set about the arduous task of feathering and refeathering our luxurious nests until we die.

Yes, yes, I’m very grateful to live in relative comfort. That doesn’t change the fact that living in relative comfort is not an ennobling thing. No, I wouldn’t trade it. But I’d be a better person if I did.

Which is why the fact that I won’t—and nobody else will, either—is so telling. It says more or less what we need to know about ourselves in 21st century America.

— § —

So what’s on the horizon for passion?

Nothing. Literally nothing. I’m supremely bored with women, with technology, with academics. I’m also bored with wristwatches and politics, but at least I’ve managed to become addicted to them.

So that’s what’s on the horizon, for no particular reason other than inertia and the avoidance of other, more harmful addictions. Because surely when there is no passion, there must stand an addiction in its place to salve the wounds left by its absence.


“Microaggressions.”  §

Aside from the fact that since Sue’s original paper (which was far more proposal than proof) there is basically nothing empirical on Microaggressions yea or nay in the years since, meaning that the concept is little more than an opinion and an assertion at this point, wholly unsupported and unsubstantiated, there is a much more fundamental problem with the concept.

© Simon Gibbs / CC 2.0

The problem is this: microaggressions as defined are little more than non-positive communication. They are little gestures that do, in fact, communicate in particular ways that are not wholly positive and many have taken this and run with it—well gosh, then, they ought to be stopped.

Nobody seems to have asked whether or not non-positive communication is in fact legitimate and ought to be permitted.

To my eye, what is at stake is the same concept that underlies “safe spaces” and so on—the entire march of the increasingly totalitarian left. If not through “microaggressions,” what avenue to indicate disapproval, qualification, pessimism, etc.? Microaggressions as a genre might easily be called, instead, tactful, non-explicit gestures for indicating these things. So do we return to explicit disapproval, qualification, pessimism, etc. expressed in so many terms? Would the critics of microaggressions support this?

Surely not. They would even more vociferously condemn such things spoken in explicit terms.

The secret sauce behind the microaggression debate is the notion that for certain subjects, no negative or even non-positive communication of any kind is ever to be countenanced. The point, in my reading, is that certain people must never feel sad, and other people must never say or do anything that might ever make someone feel sad, and the dividing lines between the two are set a priori—they are race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability/disability, etc.

This is, in short, bald totalitarianism flying under the banner of “justice.” The actual argument is that, “You, A, do not have the right, ever, to say or do anything that B disagrees with or is made uncomfortable by, by virtue of your innate identity and of theirs, and you will be sanctioned if you do. And, for the same reasons of innate identity, you shall receive no such protection, and in fact, quite the opposite. No, you have no right of appeal.”

There are times when I’m glad I left academics when I did, because on the whole, the industry (and make no mistake, that is what it is) has gone insane, and this insanity is infecting much of the rest of society like a disease.

— § —

I used to think that it was hyperbolic to say this, but with every passing day I think it less so. The students of the social science academy are less and less students and more and more the brownshirts—the red guards. We have made these mistakes before, in all our righteous moral indignation, in the name of “justice.”

What is on display is not so much their “heroism” as their self-serving naiveté. Embarrassing and regrettable.

Thugs.  §

There is a difference between protesting speech and suppressing speech. If speakers are getting cancelled because of fear for their safety, you are suppressing speech.

There is a difference between protesting speech and rioting. If speakers are getting physically injured, you are rioting.

There is a difference between activism (of which I am already not a fan) and criminal activity. The students at Berkeley and now at Middlebury engaged in the latter. They should be in jail—all of them. And expelled from school.

I knew these kinds of activists once in my grad school years. I watched them injure people. Commit crimes. Claim to hold the “moral high ground” while doing it, because “by any means necessary” was seen to be a moral position justified by “just how bad” things were/are.

It is to my regret—and likely will be for the rest of my life—that I lacked the moral fortitude to involve law enforcement against them.

There was a time when I drew a line between that sort of “thuggery” and activism.

I often cannot see where to draw this line any longer in our society. Something has broken.

— § —

It gives me no pleasure to say that while Trump would not have been my choice, with every passing day I come to better understand those that wanted him. A corrective was and is needed. Not really sure that he is or will be it.

But what I see—sucks.

Arrest those “students”—anyone that moves beyond protesting (which is grand, traditional, and often noble) and into suppression and rioting. Discourse, yes. Violence? Jail.

The big four-one.  §

So, 41.

When you’re younger there’s all this talk (and thought) about self-improvement, becoming a better person, striving to expand who you are, and so on.

I guess some of that is still in play, but at the same time, it’s much more clear by the time you’ve reached your fourth decade that, in fact, you are who you are and at some fundamental level, you’re not going to change. Ever.

Me in my early 20s. It is now a very, very long time since then. Who and where is this man?

The new project is to work on making the most of things, and on coming to terms with what is clearly inevitable about yourself. Because, as it turns out, when you’re on the down slope, it starts to seem ridiculous to spend all your time trying to be a better person for the future—because the future gets smaller every day, and the dwindling number of present present moments increasingly feel as though they’re not to be wasted in trade for an even smaller number of future ones.

— § —

In middle age, life becomes the perpetual emergency.

Work emergencies, child emergencies, household emergencies, logistical emergencies, financial emergencies, logistical emergencies, and so on.

From everything that I understand and ahve seen in life, this is a class-centric thing. If you see that your middle age has become a series of emergencies, then you know that you are middle class or below (in the social science sense, not in the self-reporting/self-identification sense).

If you are working class or below, then life is not a series of emergencies, but rather a single, long catastrophe. If you are upper-middle-class or above, then life continues to consist primarily of what might be called “normalcy,” i.e. predictabilies.

— § —

When I was growing up, my mom used to reference Thoreau often by saying that “we all start out building castles in the air, but at some point as we age, we wake up and realize that construction has stopped and reality has intervened.”

Until my mid-to-late ’30s I was rather happy that construction on my own castles appeared to be continuing apace, and was confident that in due course, work on them would be finished.

Then, in the last couple of years, reality intervened.

I am now yet another citizen of the world with not castles, but partially finished (and forever partially finished) construction projects overhead—these likely to remain that way, sunk costs only vaguely embodied in ephemeral artifacts for the future archeologists that are my children descendants to excavate, interpret, and discuss.

— § —

I am not totally sold on the value of awareness (not to be confused with the value of self-awareness).

It increasingly seems to me that the achievement of awareness is nothing other than the achievement of full existential dread. Reality is an unsettled and dangerous place that goes about its business whether or not one is entirely aware of the various and sundry nefarious and risky processes and mechanisms that underlie it. These do not need our help to continue, and most of the time continue they do, despite the constant threat of calamity.

More and more, I feel as though “to be more aware” is simply to more incessantly at the shoreline in a vain attempt to determine whether or not the sea will someday rise suddenly to swallow you up in a tsunami. It could. It always cold. But gazing in terror rather than chopping wood and carrying water doesn’t buy one any added security, in practice—only the mistaken impression that one is somehow taking much-needed preventative steps.

To get things done, a certain amount of futility in life must be embraced. Otherwise, all those pedantic and seemingly insightful questions that you raised as a pre-teen—why make your bed if you’re just going to unmake it again in a few hours and why do your homework if we’re all going to be dead soon enough—end up actually having currency.

You only get one life, and it’s going to be rocky, whether you choose to live it or you choose to hide from it.

— § —

Thought we were beyond this, but the kid is having breathing trouble at night again. Only when he’s asleep; he doesn’t even realize it’s happening, and if you wake him up, everything returns to normal.

As soon as he drops off though, he goes into apnea/stridor mode—failed breath, failed breath, failed breath, partial wakeup and big successful inhale, then back to complete doze, failed breath, failed breath, failed breath, partial wakeup and big successful inhale.

You have to monitor him closely and position him well to keep this from happening.

I’ll probably have him seen. It will probably cost a lot. And deductible now is five times higher than it used to be because the plan we used to have is simply no longer available on the exchange. We have basically the best plan going right now, but it’s still crap—you get to spend thousands out of pocket before insurance kicks in.

And the worry level is high. Nobody is getting to sleep very well because the parents are up all night (or at least I am—I presume it’s the same way at the other house) monitoring and adjusting all night.

Then he wakes up happy and everyone else wakes up exhausted.

I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those instances in which a little modern knowledge is a curse. In fact, daughter had the same thing until she was about five, but nobody knew any better, nobody had done any research, and so it was just “assume this is what kids do” mode. Then, she grew out of it and all was well.

With him, because of the previous asthma difficulties, we’re aware of his breathing already, and we’ve had the discussions and done the readings. And as a result, we’re worried all the time, ready to spend a lot, and watching like hawks.

Looking at this picture makes me tremendously sad and also fills me with love for my daughter at the same time. Life hurts. That sucks, because I want to make the world a happy place for her.

That’s not to say that it’s nothing. It’s also not to say that it’s something. It’s more about what you know and what you don’t know in life. Once you know about things, and have spent time focused on them, they are points of worry, attention, and investment. That may well lead to better outcomes overall. It also leads to a higher-stress life, regardless of outcomes.

— § —

Totally different circumstance with different importance, I know, but a similar thing goes for academics and my now largely historical academic life. If I’d never gone to grad school, it wouldn’t have mattered to me all that much that I finish a Ph.D.

If I’d never finished a Ph.D., it wouldn’t have mattered all that much that I don’t work in academics now.

In fact, if you told the twenty-year-old me about the career that I’m working right now, he’d have been overjoyed and imagined himself to be a reasonable success. But with the knowledge and experience that I do have, it feels at times like a failure to live up to potential, or as though that remains a significant risk in my life as a whole.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. That’s a hard pill to swallow because knowledge is everything—power, justice, wisdom, etc.—but it is also one of the most fertile seeds of discontent, worry, and regret.

Hard truths.

— § —

A friend had a car wreck. Or rather, someone was (likely) texting on the road and ran into (and totaled) her car.

There’s a worry to conjure with. I’ve never been in a serious wreck—just that one, minor fender-bender that wasn’t my fault. The only one ever in all my years of driving. And yet even that, minor in physical impact, in cost, and in time lost, completely altered the course of my life forever, leading me out of computer science and into the humanities and social sciences, by way of a missed final exam.

If that five-mile-per-hour bump had never happened that morning, I’d be a completely different person leading a completely different existence.

Knowing what she’s having to deal with right now, it’s hard not to selfishly worry that given how many years I’ve been driving, I’m just about due—and to further worry about how well I could cope right now with, say, a car being totaled and what insurance would likely offer for my nearly-twenty-year-old car in order to replace it.

How would I cope? No idea. How well would I cope? Probably not all that well. Given those conclusions, I definitely feel for her.

And I hope no idiot texter out there does the same thing to me anytime soon, due or no.

— § —

My very subtle and under-the-radar birthday “celebration” is done as of today. Celebration is absolutely the wrong word, as no observer would be able to detect anything of the sort going on in my life right now or over the past week.

But it’s been happening, in little details that have been slightly different from the usual, everyday course of things.

It’s the birthday that started this post, a couple of days ago, and I ended up feeling as though I wasn’t ready to post it yet, as though it was incomplete. And so it was. Here are the things that I’ve been led to as a result of the quiet birthday period, and that need to be said:

  • We tend to think of ourselves as the prime movers of history, but Latour had it right. The objects match us in importance. No, they don’t have agency or initiative. But they are, in comparison, immortal and (by dint of experience) far more “wise,” while achieving a similar level of expressiveness over time.
  • The older you get, the more the things you do have almost nothing to do with your own self and everything to do with your responsibilities to others.
  • When you’re young, fear and desire drive you mercilessly. This makes you incredibly productive. These fade as motivators as you age, which is a good thing. They are not, however, replaced by anything else, which is not such a good thing.
  • Sunflowers are amazingly beautiful things, as are basil plants. Old cameras, too. There’s a kind of organic aesthetic that resonates with something primal in the human experience—and that’s been lost in our world of hyper-clean, sleek-and-hard industrial design. As you get older and you feel the soil’s embrace getting closer to you, you become less Bauhaus and more Thoreau by the day.
  • You don’t just accumulate more history as you age; you also accept and take on more of the history of those that came before you. It’s hard for young people to care much about the histories that their elders repeat and describe. As a young person, you have nothing in common with either these elders or with this sense of “history.” For young people, history is that which is both over and inaccessible. It looks like nothing that they understand, either in substance or in purpose. Youth is an endless struggle in the suis generis forest of novelty. Because the young have no past, and because their pursuits are entirely oriented toward their own futures, history has no meaning for them. Elders’ preoccupation with it seems like a strange personal tic. By middle age, however, the young person has gained a personal history, and it is a history with (for them) deep importance. More and more, their history is all they have, as the bulk of their life tips into history, into the past, and out of the future. And as they increasingly come to identify with their own history more than they do with their own (shrinking, slowly vanishing) potential, the expansion of this history with the linked histories of others gradually comes to take on the character of an expansion and solidification of the self. The older you get, the more history matters, because the older you get, the more you are made of history and little else.
  • For similar reasons that are left as an exercise to the reader, the older you get, the less you are concerned with the timeless Legacy (big ‘L’) that you leave to the world, and the more you are concerned with the everyday legacy (little ‘l’) that you leave to your children.
  • The transition from “I am that which is to come” to “I am that which has been” is not an easy one to make. Good thing you have a couple of decades in which to make it.
  • When I was a kid, I imagined that by the time I was middle-aged, the “problem” of aging would have been solved. It did not occur to me that this might not happen, nor did it occur to me that aging and death are the prerequisites for desire, meaning, and love. The human experience is a kind of practical joke. Life is worth caring about and preserving precisely because all your caring with amount to naught and there is no way to preserve it.

I suppose this has been 41. Next year: 42.

Only a short jump to 50. I am beginning to get wrinkles in places that don’t bend, where there are no joints and little skin movement. My beard has long been graying. My hearing and my eyesight aren’t what they were.

I’m still in pretty good condition overall compared to a lot of people my age, especially for someone that has always worked a desk job and has never been a health and fitness pursuer.

I suppose, however, that I always thought that somehow the rules of aging didn’t apply to me. If there’s one thing marriage, parenthood, and divorce have done for me, it’s drive home the relentless, inescapable, and irreversible nature of the human experience of time.

No one escapes, there’s no going back, and there are no controls in place to ensure fairness. Life is unjust and unforgiving. That’s just how it is, and not a million, or a billion, or ten billion idealistic young activists can change that. Ever.

The thing is:  §

Here’s the thing.

We haven’t made as much “progress” as people on the left think that we have, in terms of culture. Whatever you think of left values, they are dominant now not because they have dispersed and been genuinely adopted by the population, but through the strategic exercise of power in social networks.

In short, people that aren’t on the progressive left haven’t been persuaded at all; they’ve merely been silenced by being shown that there are significant, unavoidable penalties to speaking their minds or acting according to their beliefs.

This is a dangerous state of affairs.

  • The cultural status quo (i.e. the empowered) complacently believe that progress has been made, while in fact a reservoir of anti-progress lurks beneath the surface.
  • Silence is not the same thing as acceptance, and it embodies a great deal of kinetic energy waiting to be released.
  • When it is released, the pendulum will swing significantly in the other direction; there are—people will believe—wrongs to finally be righted. And contrary to what the left imagines, Trump is not the release of this energy. Trump is a small pressure valve. When this energy is released, there will be zero question and zero time for discussion.

The totalitarian left is making the cultural mistakes of the past all over again.

Untitled  §

The next car, I’ve decided, is going to be a Volvo 740 wagon. I’m not too concerned about the year so long as it has low mileage (less than 100k miles) and the interior is in good condition.

Unless they’re $20k by the time I replace the current car, in which case I’m just going to be sad and the have to figure something else out.

Really, I was satisfied enough with my 740 that I’d be happy to own these things for the rest of my life.

— § —

Days are flying by. I’m about to turn 41. It was about ten minutes ago that I was consoling myself with the fact that at least I was turning 40 and not 41.

Rather short-sighted way to rationalize, I suppose.

The kids are growing. The seasons are changing. Everything is racing. Life is short.

Meanwhile, you go to work each day, not becuase it makes any eternal, metaphysical sense, but because that is what you do and no other options have been made available to you.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

I had been in this long period of “I hate divers and watches with bezels” and was getting more and more “dress” in my watch preferences.

Then, all of a sudden, I flip-flopped, and now I’m absolutely in love with my light-dial Mako XL with the black bezel and brown leather strap again.

There’s something so… impenetrable and elemental about it. The whole thing is external, exterior; whereas on my other watches, the space below the crystal feels like a kind of interior, no such thing is true for the Mako XL. The interior is hidden from view.

And with the brown leather, it feels very old-fashioned and very outdoorsy.

Part of the lure of these things is that they become metonymies for daydreams that will never be realized. I will likely never live inside a Norman Rockwell painting or near the idealized new-England-country-road-in-fall-in-my-mind, but with the right wristwatch, I can carry a little bit of that sensibility with me.

It’s a kind of denial and a kind of escapism joined into one.

— § —

I don’t want it to be Monday again.

Every weekend, I start out with the intention to finally make progress on something that matters, to finally do something of importance in relation to life goals.

Then, by Sunday night, I am in a pitched battle with myself just to do a few basics—dishes, laundry, and so on—that by then I odn’t want to do.

Nothing of import ever gets done. This remains a departure and an inversion relative to most of my life, and it bothers me.

— § —

Medical school or law school?

Am I crazy even to think about it?

— § —

Songs from Bowie’s “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” have been suddenly going through my head all day for the first time in many years. I don’t know what that’s about, but there it is.

Mortality and durable goods and dogs.  §

It seems to me that many aspects of consumerism are ways of fighting mortality. Collecting and hoarding certainly are, but I suspect the same of fashion and home decor as well.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

It’s all just monument-building in one way or another, ways of fighting against time and against entropy.

The society that refuses to believe in mortality, even for a moment, is not a healthy or well-integrated society.

You can say “everything dies” until you’re blue in the face, but nobody in this society is going to accept that. The answer will always be, “well, not the expensive, high-quality things,” or it will be “that’s why you get another one before the first one runs out of time.”

We can’t accept things as they are, we can’t accept time as it is, we can’t accept life as it is, we can’t accept ourselves as we are.

We don’t ever get around to living because we are busy trying to shore up our monuments and stop time first. Once that job is done, we’ll turn and focus on whatever else might be in play in existence.

— § —

Sometimes I don’t blog because it starts to feel like a way of not doing things.

Then, I stop.

But I don’t do things instead, then I just… don’t blog. I’m not doing more as a result, I’m doing one thing still less.

— § —

I will try to do some car repairs and maintenance tomorrow. I’ve acquired a hydraulic floor jack, jack stands, and a yet more tools.

I’m nervous. I’m nervous because car repair is one of those nuts I’ve tried to crack my entire life, but I’ve never managed to make any significant headway, and I’ve fucked up expensively on multiple occasions.

But now is as good a time as any. I can’t afford to buy a new car, but I can’t afford to fix the one I’ve got by going the mechanic route.

If I do have to buy, I’m going back to the old Volvo bricks. They were far easier to fix, and far more reliable. Yes, Toyotas are reliable, too, but they’re far too small to be useful. I need legroom and dog room and so on.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2007

Speaking of, I am actively looking for another dog. I’ve decided that despite some nagging worries, another pit or pit mix is the way to go, starting from puppy. I understand the breed, I’m familiar with its quirks.

Plus, a similarly large breed with a similar temperament is more likely to be able to hold its own in a house that already has one 75-pound pit.

I don’t know how I’m going to afford this, but it needs to be done.

— § —

I hate the fact that time passes. I hate the fact that things change. I want to live the same day over and over and over again, like Groundhog Day.

Well, as long as it’s a reasonable day. I suppose I don’t want to live the same *bad* day over and over and over again.

But I am tired of each day being new. It doesn’t feel like an adventure, it feels like an imposition, or maybe like a betrayal.

That’s that mortality thing again.

Friday.  §

It’s like my mind shuts off entirely when the end of the day arrives, the flip of a switch.

Not an hour ago I was impatiently waiting for the moment when the kids would be asleep and all would be quiet because there was a fully-formed idea of some sort or other that I very much wanted to type out. I even had a photo mentally chosen—and thought that I could find it in the archive in a reasonable amount of time.

So here we are maybe fifty minutes later, and—nada. What was it? What was it all about? I have absolutely no idea. It’s like I’ve never had a thought in my life.

— § —

I both need and want a promotion at work. I have pressed a bit. I need to press more. I am beginning to become concerned.

— § —

Went to see “Alice in Wonderland” at the local theater company today. An original production. And, I am sad to say, not nearly as good as “Frog and Toad” just a few weeks ago.

In fact, not even in the same genre of thing.

But the kids loved it anyway. They love the theater. This makes me happy. As years recede from you, most of the contents of days, then months, then entire years disappears from memory. I barely remember anything from undergrad.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

And yet from the images and fragments that remain, many of them are either films seen in the film department for credit, or theater performances attended for pleasure using my student discount.

— § —

Chaperoned a field trip yesterday that took place on the local university campus.

It was just bowling, and burgers afterward. Perfect for two young kids, who thought it was all quite amazing.

For me, it was torture. There were moments when I thought I would vomit. Being back on campus. Looking around at the students and their laptops and notebooks, seeing the tweedy professors standing on line to buy their salads. Bustle. Study.

That was my place and that was my calling. And I have lost hold of it. It is a rip in the fabric of space time, a not-right.

I am not a bitter person by nature. I leave that to my ex. Very, very few things make me bitter. But if there is anything in life, any moments on the calendar that threaten to leave hints of bitterness on my tongue, it’s those moments in which I’m reminded of the career sacrifices that I made for my marriage.

I had to come home and take a few deep breaths. Bitterness serves no one. What’s done is done. But the outcome—the way things are—is wrong. Was not meant to be. Will never be right. Is a miscarriage.

— § —

Tomorrow, we attend a magic show. In 41 years, I’ve never been to a live magic show. I’ve attended almost every other kind of event conceivable, paying and non-paying, but not a magic show.

The kids are excited.

— § —

The days are flying by. Time is short.

Spring.  §

Was out tonight doing some shopping for basics. Slowly. I do everything but work slowly these days. Digression. As I was saying—

I was out tonight doing some shopping. I had occasion to walk across some parking lots, to have my hair tousled by wind, etc. and so forth.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

Point being: it smells like spring.

Winter is going to end.

— § —

Inside one store, it’s clearance time near the store entry, and garden time near the back and side.

Toys and indoor knickknacks? All red tags and disarray.

Then, yards away, rows and rows of pristine garden gnomes. Scaffolding from which wind chimes hang. Barbecue grills. Seeds and seeding kits for gardening.

— § —

Last year, I said that I was very happy for spring to come. Optimistic. Expansive.

It was all a blur. That past year did not exist.

And this year, I am not ready for spring to come.

I looked around in a kind of near-panic, something I never feel. Spring. Overwhelming, somehow. Unwanted.

— § —

The thing about spring is that spring is a liar. Spring is like a beautiful hooker in an overseas red-light district. She’ll make you forget about everything in the world, fill your ears with whispers of all kinds of exotic promise and escapism. Fragrant, wild, overpowering. Everything else fades—

—until it doesn’t.

Spring is a fraud; a fake. Fall and winter, they are honest. They tell it like it is. Home. Hearth. Dirt. Dust. Labor. Death. Time. Discomfort. Relief. Fall and winter are alive.

Spring is fucking with you, and because of spring’s particular charms, you don’t realize it until you suffer the crash.

— § —

I don’t know what I feel about summer.

— § —

Humanity seems a million miles away from me at times. All those other people—are they real? Hard to say. I’d have to get closer to investigate at all.

Shibboleths of various kinds.  §

My Crumpler bag had a lotion or some such spill in it on my trip to Victoria. I didn’t notice this until now. Some sort of viscous, sticky stuff with a “girl section” aroma has seeped through multiple layers and into multiple storage sections.

This is not the sort of thing that makes me happy. At all.

— § —

These days, people mistake vanity for personal properties. Here’s a sort of cheat sheet.

If you ever see someone claim to be hardcore, they lie. Hardcore people do not boast about being hardcore.

If you ever see someone claim to be resilient, they lie. Resilient people do not boast about being resilient.

If you ever see someone claim to be generous, they lie. Generous people do not boast about being generous.


— § —

Every now and then you have those stretches of time that sort of come to haunt you because they were so tough. Often this is about illness, sometimes it’s about other things, but the basic experience is the same. You feel, as you’re there, as if you’re down in a rather deep pit looking up longingly at the sky.

Time passes slowly. I feels as though it’s taking forever for things to get better. You tell yourself often that at some point, you’ll be past all of this and then, at length, it will even fade from memory entirely. It’s a mere blip on a life-path.

Get through it.

Then, when you do begin to climb out of the pit, you’ve been in it for long enough to be a bit mistrustful of your judgment and of reality. Is this really the end? Are things really getting better? Is it all just wishful thinking? Steel yourself for the worst but hope for the best!

And then, at some point, you realize that you’re out, that you can declare victory. And you do actually feel just a bit victorious for a few weeks afterward. And then, you’re past all of it. And then, at length, it does fade from memory entirely, unless it’s brought up by someone else or the memory is recalled by a sight or a scent or an encounter with an artifact.

More YouTube porn for thinking folk. The program is called IQSquared.
© intelligence2

And even then, you only can bring back fragmentary impressions, along with the general concept that “That was really a tough stretch.”

Forgetfulness is merciful in that way. Remembering the tough stretches in detail would be rather harrowing, yet you might feel compelled to remember them because of their apparent significance.

— § —

I found a British debate series on YouTube. I already forgot what it’s called, which is a shame because I watched like four of the 1.5-hour programs in a row today. They were brilliant.

I got there via Jonathan Haidt, who was on a bit of a panel with Nick Clegg to talk about Trump and Brexit and the parallels, differences, consequences, and lessons to be learned. Then one thing led to another…

When I get a moment, I need to track it down and add it to my regular playlist. I’m hoping there are many, many of them, and that they’ve had Camille Paglia on at least once.

— § —

Culture gaps.
I don’t know.
It’s a miracle we get any communicating done at all.

As I get older, I’m more and more open to the classic wisdom that people should stick to their own kind. I mean this not just nationally or ethnically, although that’s one interesting way to understand things, but also by age—the old with the old, the young with the young, etc.—and by gender—the men hang out with the men and the women hang out with the women, etc.

This diversity thing does not seem to me to provide many real benefits that we are actually able to capitalize on. It seems to be more a sentimental thing and a way for capitalism to generate additional revenue.

Not that I think that this should be codified into law or anything like that, God forbid. Just that I think that it was beneficial when the guys could go to the lodge every night, the women could go to the womens’ circle while the guys were at the lodge, the kids had kids clubs, and the seniors could play shuffleboard with the other seniors.

We seem to have idealized this bizarre model in which every neighborhood is made up of multiple nuclear families with multiple strongly held, never-assimilated-away ethnic and national identities, and in which each of these nuclear families consists of two middle-aged people, one of each gender, and two children one of each gender.

Looking at that design for a social fabric, it’s hard to see just what most of these people can have in common with one another, or how a community can build and sustain a healthy identity that acts as a cultural resource for everyone to draw on in the “toolkit” sense of culture.

It seems to me that there have to be some shared characteristics across multiple members of a community for social cohesion and solidarity to be possible.