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

Things.  §

1. Time is ruthless.

2. Silence is your friend.

3. Modernity dissolves friends.

4. Peace is a patch of sunlight on a white wall.

5. Anachronism is a universal destiny.

6. Ends are not beginnings.

7. We needed God.

8. Wristwatches tell truth, not just time.

9. Soil is beautiful.

10. Be thankful.

The detours are what every year, story, and locale have in common.  §

It’s 3:00 in the morning and I got out of bed to write this because it hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe that’s because it’s 3:00 in the morning and I’m half asleep. Maybe tomorrow I look back on this and I can’t figure out what the significance is, or what it even means.

Who knows?

— § —

Thing is, the phrase I came to, rolling over half asleep with visions of people and places past in my mind is this:

I always seem to end up on the side roads, the detours.

I don’t think another reflection has ever crossed my mind that feels (at least at this moment) as though it so perfectly encapsulates my life.

All these places, and things, and stories, and people. Stuff I’ve done, applause I’ve had. And for what?

Very little of it is still around. I have done thing after thing, been to place after place, but all of it feels like legend now because none of it was destined to stay around—or alternatively I wasn’t destined to stay around it.

I’m still looking for the main road. The road on which I can look back and see where I’ve been and it looks like a path, and look ahead and see where I’m going and it looks like a path.

So many things that have seemed so solid, so important—and that have then evaporated, ultimately become myths more than they are reality.

Did I really know those people? Did I really live in that place? Did I really write those books, do that show, earn that degree, teach those students?

If I’m not careful, it all feels like fiction, like something I dreamed up in a fevered imagination. They were all side roads. I’m still on a side road, I lament that all the time.

Where’s the main road?

There is no diversity left in the female universe.  §

There is one single woman left in the United States. She makes an endless stream of dating profiles, day after day. Unfortunately, she lacks any creativity so most of them look the same, profile after profile.

Title:
“Life is an adventure” or
“Living my best life”

Photo 1:
Yoga pants and sports bra, on a mountain peak or in a slot canyon

Photo 2:
Same yoga pants and sports bra, now “skydiving” in the grip of an actual professional, large smile

Photo 3:
Smiling broadly with friends wearing far too much makeup and a trashy outfit

Photo 4:
Duck face

Description:
“I have no time for players. I value honesty. I have no time for games. I am living my best life and I won’t apologize for it. Part-time yoga instructor. I’m always up for adventure, kayaking, skydiving, hiking, or horseback riding. I love to dance and enjoy a night on the town, or just curling up with a good movie. I’m independent and successful. I don’t need a man, but it would be nice to have someone to share my life with. I’ve seen all the games and then some so don’t waste my time unless you’re fit and financially secure. I know what I want out of life and I know my worth and I won’t settle for anything less. Don’t waste my time!”

Poor thing must be desperately lonely, considering all the profiles she posts.

I wish her luck, but I wonder if she realizes just how off-putting her profile is to any half-sane man.

Social media is increasingly just not for me.  §

I’ve started to delete social media accounts. Being on social media would be great if the people there were great. They aren’t. If social media is a venue that holds a mirror up to society, then society is pretty damned hard to look at just now. Not edifying. Not enjoying it. Not really doing it any longer.

The same goes for the dating sites. I took another spin over the weekend to just browse them. Same question as ever:

“Would I want this person to know who I am, and to have a role in my life?”

Answer over and over:

“Oh God, no. Oh God, no. Oh God, no…”

The powers that be have a lot to say about toxic masculinity, but they say considerably less about the equal amount of toxic femininity that oozes through our social world right now. As far as I can tell, the most toxic versions of both are on the prowl for victims just now.

It’s not a good time to get to know people, because there aren’t all that many people that are any good. If you think I’m somehow placing myself above that category, you’d be wrong. I make no claims to be better than anyone else—I only claim that as a group, we’re a lot of horrible people.

Misanthropy, inc. over here just now.

And tomorrow is election day. That ought to be really fun. Things get worse and worse and worse—not better.

Decline of empire, sure, but bigger picture, decline of a civilization and a way of life.

Promise never fulfilled.

Never will be.

Putting my helmet on. Wish I’d had time and funds to build a fallout shelter underground because there is every chance that the days ahead will be not just unbelievable, but dangerous as hell.

When you travel far enough, you meet yourself.  §

Or, maybe, you don’t.

Do you ever sit up late at night, alone, surrounded by nobody in particular, and miss yourself?

Sometimes I do.

A month without much to say is still a month.  §

Not easy times. Not easy at all. I wasn’t a fan of 2019. I’m even less a fan of 2020.

I knew things would be bad, and they have been—and we haven’t seen the end of it.

The thing to remember about all of this—the politics, the riots, the spread of disease months later, the conflict in our political space—is that it’s not about systems or politics.

This has nothing to do with leaders, leadership, government structures, budgets, or anything of that sort.

It all stems from a single fact: as individuals, we are narcissistic jerks, and getting more so all the time. Yes, this means you. Me, too. No government is good enough to make up for a land of assholes, and in any democratic system, partial or total, functional or dysfunctional, a land of assholes means an entire government superstructure of assholes, and top leadership of assholes.

We did this, and we’re stepping on the gas.

On the distance of friends and the terror of archaeology.  §

So much clutter.

There is so much clutter everywhere. Material clutter. Circumstantial clutter. Digital clutter. Mental clutter. Schedule clutter. Memory clutter.

— § —

I am ripping apart my last decade.

It’s part of a remodel, to turn what was my office into a bedroom for one of my children. It has been ongoing for weeks—in the process of being ripped apart for weeks.

Because when you stick an academic in a small office for years, things accumulate. And when you stick a senior manager in a small office for years, things accumulate. And when you stick an adult person in a small room for years, things accumulate.

All three of those people, being me, were in that small room for ten years.

It’s not all clutter, and it’s not all furniture. It’s clutter intermixed with furniture, in highly dense, rational, and inbuilt ways. It’s taking a long time to tear it back down again. The amount of shelving and desk surface littering my driveway right now is insane as I pull it all out.

— § —

One reason that people who live alone die sooner is that there is nobody around to find them after the heart attack, after the stroke, after the fall down the stairs, after the bookshelf falls on them.

They lay there until someone stumbles across them, often too late.

Someday, that will be me. It has been several years since I had a guest of my own in the house. Nobody stops by. Once the kids grow up, we plod on until the event happens, and then at some point the neighbors inquire about the smell.

It’s easy to say “you should have some friends over” but all of my friends live in other states.

It’s easy to say “you should make some friends” but I have a distinct aversion to having friends in my own state, especially friends that come “over.”

— § —

When you’re feeling in a dark place, it’s an important thing to make a little bit of progress in something. Any progress. Any amount. In anything you’ve been working on or could be working on.

I wish I could say that making that bit of progress feels good, but really it doesn’t.

What it does do, however, is feel less dark than just sitting there, and that’s often enough.

— § —

Tearing apart what I and the kids have long referred to as “the office” has been a kind of archaeology of the recent past, of the past decade.

Thing is, the last decade has seen the absolute worst times of my life in it, by a very large margin, along with some of the best. But it’s the former that hits you with the force each time you stumble across a significant artifact.

There have been a lot of significant artifacts.

— § —

Not everyone can say that they have a stack of letters in which a previously trusted person threatens to entirely destroy the lives of them and their family over and over again in a variety of ways—much less from someone that is actually positioned to carry this threat out—and less still when that person is, by virtue of outward apparent affinity, the last person anyone in the world would suspect of such a thing.

I have such a stack of letters. I haven’t looked at it, or wanted to look at it in a long time. I still haven’t looked at it. But I’ve laid eyes on it again, and that was enough. Risks of archaeology.

Experiences like that—like receiving a stream of such letters over time—change a person and the way that they relate to the world, and to other people.

They cause you to become that strange person, the one who’s always a bit standoffish, who can’t quite be nailed down, who won’t let anybody in, who seems just a bit dangerous.

They leave you unwilling to cope with having friends in your own state that might actually come “over.”

— § —

I was never much one for self-defense, or for playing things close to the vest when I was younger. It’s interesting to see how much self-defense clutter I’ve accumulated in recent years—material, circumstantial, digital, mental, schedule, memory, etc.

There is a strand of conventional wisdom—which is nearly always wrong—that says that it’s bad to be on the defensive against other people.

“Open yourself up,” it says, “what have you got to lose? Only love and friendship!”

Like all strands of conventional wisdom, it throws its hands up when the worst happens and says “well… it’s not like there can be any promises…”

Thing is, I have children. My life, now, belongs to their protection until they are launched.

Hopefully launched.

In a way that I and so many in my generation and other recent generations never were.

Until then, it’s silence and archaeology for me in the in-between times.

— § —

I’m not a weak or timid man, but there are nonetheless many things in my life that I can’t bear to look at, am unable to stomach, can absolutely not stand to see.

In the whole wide world, all of them lie within 25 feet of me and where I dwell, day after day, and they have done for years now.

Someone once told me I should burn them.

I couldn’t make them understand that being haunted by the ghosts of archaeological terror is no better than being surrounded by its corpses.

El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo.  §

Weekend in early September, world generally falling apart. Dark, 70 degrees outside. Aquarium slightly low on water against south wall.

— § —

South. That means that if you continue to go in that direction for long enough, you’ll end up in Mexico. And if you keep going long enough after that, you’ll hit ice.

At least that’s what they say.

At this particular moment, it’s hard to believe any of that exists, mainly because it doesn’t. The world, the one that’s falling apart, doesn’t exist anyway.

Because it’s 2020.

— § —

There are times of elation, times of stagnation, and times of suffering.

This time is somewhere between the latter two, perhaps encompassing both of them. The time is out of joint. The center cannot hold. Use whatever phrase you want.

— § —

This returns in echoes for me, at a personal level.

I don’t have one of those even-keeled lives.

— § —

It’s dark in this corner of the house that I do not own living something rather other than the life I had planned, with my own children elsewhere and no particular projects or life goals underway.

Middle age waiting for my late twenties to begin.

There are times when I’m elated and times when I’m stagnant and times when I indulge in suffering.

The last several months have been somewhere between the latter. The time is out of joint. The center cannot hold. Use whatever phrase you want.

— § —

I will never retire. I will never own a home. I will never grow old with anyone. I will never get tenure. I will never be rich. I will never have one of “those” yards. I will never have one of “those” vacations. I don’t remember any of the plans I made. I don’t remember the things I used to do.

— § —

In Oakland and in New York they are marching through the streets chanting “Death to America.”

Twenty years ago I’d have assured you I’d be among them. Ten years ago I’d have been bewildered but patient with the whole thing.

Now I think they ought to be tried and hanged for treason.

— § —

Naivete is a hell of a drug, and you ingest rather a lot of it while you’re young.

Then, you age.

The end begins to race toward you, or you toward it, and you can see it and it grows and gets bigger and bigger and you begin to realize that soon you’re going to crash into it and you don’t have time to react much less to make plans much less to dig up the plans you already made much less to execute on them.

The lawn isn’t even mowed.

— § —

In the corner of the room, in the dark, you can’t hear them thousands of miles away as they chant “Death to America” and you can’t hear the laughter of your children enjoying life without you with some other family that didn’t even give them any genes.

You think about how evil people are, and about how evil society is, and about how the Catholics and the Orthodox had it right all along all these thousands of years, and about how many people that ought to have been hanged never were.

And you reflect on how other people, clueless, naive, and maybe, just maybe, evil—though naturally, of course, naturally, of course, you don’t ever, ever judge any of them, oh no—would think less of you for a thousand reasons, some of them your intrinsic properties and some of them instantaneous judgments of the kind that you never, ever make.

And you also think about how the fact that it’s now mid-60s in the room and falling, and how it will continue to fall in the months ahead in a world without a world, an inside without n outside in a pademic, means that fall is coming and the wheel is turning again.

— § —

The race toward the end.

You always said you’d either become a professor or you’d head south, south to South America, where you’d open a tin-roofed shack of a bar and duck under the flying bullets and flying bottles.

But you didn’t become a professor.

And you didn’t go south.

— § —

Sixty degrees and falling.

And still they march.

No. No love for me. I do not want love, I’ve had more love than I can handle.  §

My ex-wife says that I should go out and find love.

This is wrong.

There are some people who should not date, who should not pursue “love,” and I am one of them. There is not a single love relationship in my life that has turned out well.

Even in the relationship, they never make me happy. They are an exercise in “making myself okay with things” and “learning to deal.” Love relationships are invariably painful, much more painful than just living life on my own, which is actually not all that bad.

In my life, when I have dated, I have been:

– Less emotionally healthy
– Less happy
– Less productive
– Less resilient
– Less connected to others
– Less disciplined
– More exhausted
– More stressed
– More in pain
– etc.

I just honestly don’t understand why I would ever put myself through that again. It’s like a stimulus-response conditioned aversion at this point.

Just about every time in my life that things have been going really, really well, I’ve fallen in love—and then the wheels come off, I soon have despair in the pit of my stomach, I spend years in inner turmoil and pain, and then it ends and my life comes apart. Why do that?

Even after we break up, they hurt me. I have an accumulated list of exes stretching back to my teens. Every single one of them continued to cause me pain after the relationship, sometimes years after.

I’ve met the biological need to procreate, that’s done with. I think maybe she was right when she said that I was “not the marrying type.”

For another age and cultural milieu, I could have been. But in this one? Forget it. Anything I might want out of a relationship I can’t get out of one, even if I somehow manage to make myself okay with the infinite list of painful things that I do get out of one but desperately don’t want.

Modern relationships are structured precisely as “all of the things I least want out of life, and that will cause me pain, with none of the things I actually desire.”

So no, I’m not going to go “find love.” Just not. Because what gets called “love” these days is not something I need, and what I’d call “love” is not on offer and hasn’t been for fifty years at least.

And he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.  §

It’s late and dark and quiet and I’m in a foreign land.

— § —

Does everyone feel as though they live entirely out of context by the time they reach my age? Because I feel as though I live entirely out of context.

This city is foreign to me.
This house is foreign to me.
This room is foreign to me.
This desk is foreign to me.
My own body is foreign to me.
My own mind is foreign to me.

I feel like a traveler. Not the traveler passing through, still seduced by the novelty of his environs and the local folk around him, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow I’ll leave them all behind, but rather the traveler who became embroiled.

The traveler who paused just slightly too long—and as a result is on year twenty of his vacation, still waiting to pull up stakes and move on, someday.

— § —

They say you can’t live your life waiting for life to begin.

But what does it look like to live without waiting? I can’t conceive of it.

Everything about our time and our place and our people is about waiting for rain, waiting for mana, waiting for the page to turn, biding time and doing the things that must be done if the breath is ever to be exhaled—if the journey is to continue.

Only it doesn’t.

— § —

Wrong turns happen.

When you’re young, they’re innocent enough things; you backtrack a bit and return to the intended road.

Then, at some point when you’re older, you realize that wrong turns have begun to accumulate; that it’s been some time since you saw the map—you don’t know quite where it is in your luggage. Maybe you put it back in your backpack? Maybe it’s in the pocket somewhere in your things? Maybe you’ve stowed it in your wallet, or in your laptop sleeve, or maybe it’s in the glovebox.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

There’s no time to look for it just now, you’ll find it later, at the next opportunity, at the Next Great Unpacking which never comes, and anyway, it probably won’t matter because so many wrong turns have been taken by now that you’re hopelessly lost.

You’d stare at it and try to intuit where you are but in truth you could be anywhere in an eight square inch area covering cities and lakes and deserts and borders.

When you were younger, you’d stop and ask for directions, but at some point you gave that up; every time you asked someone, the directions were different, the names were different, the answers did nothing to resolve the questions that you raised.

Where is the GPS for the roads that you travel in your own biography?

— § —

It’s August 2020 and I’m out of context.

There’s an episode of Northern Exposure in which the problem of living out of context is discussed. When I was younger, I had no idea what this meant.

The words washed over me in the way that words sometimes do; you intuit a bit of this and a bit of that and the result is a kind of pastiche of meaningfulness that satiates for the moment without doing any particular damage to your worldview.

Now—now I understand the concept.

When you’re young, giants walk the earth and you’re one of them. You can see as far as the horizon in any direction; you can spot every landmark at a glance.

Ideas and decisions flow, and the symphony of your life plays out naturally, as though nothing could be otherwise.

But you’re only a giant so long as the things around you are smaller than you are, ready to hand, familiar. As the architecture of time and biography rises around you, it is you that seems progressively smaller, until your view is blocked on all sides by new, concrete and glass giants of contingency and history.

You wander and you peer, and at length you pick a little corner to dwell in, to create well-worn paths in, to avoid getting lost in—the same way a traveler tends to stay within a few blocks of his hotel while in town.

Only it’s August 2020 and I’ve been in town for two decades at least.

— § —

What would it look like now for life to begin?

If the world were suddenly to open to me—if the student loans disappeared and the children were grown and all the questions were settled and the floors were swept and I had open vistas again around me, could see all the way to the horizon once more—

What would I do?

I can’t even be sure.

— § —

People go to therapy because they want to be reassured that they don’t want what they actually want, which is—too often—nothing in particular, or nothing they can sell to themselves.

They want to be told that the reason they’re lost in their lives isn’t because they’ve decided rather intentionally to become and remain lost, to embroil themselves in complications of urban shadows, but rather becuase they are being oppressed by a foreign presence.

Of course what is asserted to be a foreign presence is their very own “subconscious” self.

The older I get and the longer I wander around these streets, the more I believe this to be nonsense. We do what we do because we chose to do it.

If you don’t have all the things in life that you “want,” it’s because you don’t actually want those things but can’t bear to admit that to yourself.

You have exactly what you want. You have conducted the cost-benefit analysis; you conduct it every day, and at every moment, in every thing. You do the things you do because you chose to do them. The other things that you don’t do are the things you didn’t choose to do.

The question isn’t why you don’t do what you want to do.

It’s why you don’t want what some part of you would like to be able to say that you want.

— § —

That calculation is the easy part.

The hard part is figuring out what it is that you actually want, so that you can enter into talks with yourself about when to issue the press release and come clean—“Here is what I want, and have wanted all along, and I’m going to continue to pursue it with aplomb.”

So that you can do what you are doing anyway even more, and even more properly.

— § —

Why did you take yourself out of your natural context?

Why did you pause in this town, at this hotel where you claim to be only temporarily marooned? What is it that you’re actually doing here?

How can you make the context your own?

How can you go home, finally, just where you are, and begin to put down roots in your life, in your own ongoing work of dwelling?

— § —

If there’s one thing I wish I wanted to do, it’s to put down those roots.

To embrace where I am and see the richness in it properly; to identify with myself and as myself and see myself through clear eyes, instead of through the haze of the traveler’s heady bewilderment.

Because twenty years is too long to be traveling, to be a stranger in a strange land—particularly when you’ve been there so long that everyone recognizes you already and has done for ages.

Everyone, that is, but yourself—for and to whom you remain a stranger.

It’s time for a change.  §

Let’s go.

A population that doesn’t know what “2 + 2” is actually referring to can’t beat COVID.  §

Here’s the thing about COVID-19 in the United States.

Another complete lockdown would help numbers somewhat, just because there are a lot more places that people can’t go. But unless there is a legitimate locked-in-home order with enforcement teeth, we’re not going to beat this thing.

Why?

Because Americans will continue to go and hang out with their friends, socialize with their families, hold parties, and so on. Because they just don’t get it.

We have an entire society that has never made a chair out of wood. Never spent time in nature—real nature, without pavement and amenities, where cars can’t go. Never repaired their own car. Never tried to grow crops. Never had to face and contend with the hard truth that nature is nature and does what it does, and that there are forces that are beyond us.

A large majority of Americans will inevitably say, “yes, yes, COVID, lockdown, I know, but this is a really important party” or “but this is a big deal of a conference” or “see, my extended family always gets together in September like this” or “yes, but this is just neighbors talking to each other, a policy that banned that would be asinine” and so on.

Some people suggest that “they” won’t get it “until” some of them come down with the virus. This misdiagnoses the issue.

They won’t get it even if they come down with the virus, not until and unless they find themselves on their death beds. Some not even then.

The problem with Americans is that they don’t understand, at a fundamental level, that not all things are customer service or policy problems.

Even when they do end up in the hospital with COVID, a large segment of the American population will stare physicians in the face and ask to speak to the manager. They’ll still be pleading their case.

“No. It’s not okay. I refuse to be sick, I was going on a completely legitimate vacation. It was planned a year ago, before COVID. I couldn’t just cancel, I’d have lost all that money. This is ridiculous. It isn’t fair. I want to speak to someone else. Who’s your supervisor, get them in here now! You make me well again or change the diagnosis, I was not violating social distancing, my vacation was planned before COVID, dammit! You tell your manager I’ll sue you into oblivion if you don’t handle this differently!”

They really, really don’t understand.

This is the hidden underside of living in a first-world “service and knowledge economy” where all real, physical things and expertise reside overseas.

The population literally can’t conceive of physical realities. Everything is a decision by the management.

People really do think that they can turn the COVID caseload around with protests and civil disobedience. Or maybe by suing it in court. Because everything is just words. Everything is just policy. That’s all they’ve ever experienced in their lives—the physical reality just takes care of itself if the policies and the words are right, and if you have enough clout or enough money.

Until now.

And that’s why the US is where it is.

When afternoon light comes through an east-facing window and hits a white wall, it makes gray.  §

There is so much noise in modern life.

There is an incredible amount of noise, really.

Aural noise, visual noise, olfactory noise, tactile nose… a general level of background noise that is shocking once you notice it.

Thing is, it’s hard to notice. I only notice now because the room that I call my “office” has recently been moved as we remodel the house to accommodate new bedrooms as the children get older.

And so I sit here, in an only partially “done” room, with white walls and an empty desk and a few books. All of the “optimizations” made to the space over many years, which often involve additional items, gadgets, connectors, cables, fixtures, and so on—as well as several lights in several areas of the room to illuminate key things or spaces—they are not here yet.

Instead, everything is a tad gray.

And very quiet.

And there is a decent amount of space.

And it’s just me and a keyboard and a screen.

— § —

I’m not sure I’m doing the right things with my life.

To clarify, I’m quite positive that I’m not doing the things that I wish I was doing, but that’s a separate question.

In general, I tell myself that I do what I do out of a sense of necessity, responsibility, and expedience. I tell myself that what I do must be done, and that this is the way of things.

Sometimes, I even look sideways a bit, mentally at least, at all of the people out there that aren’t holding up “their end of the bargain,” whether in personal life, in family life, or in society more broadly.

But then there are times like now.

— § —

When a room is empty, when all the noise has suddenly been attenuated a bit, you are brought back to a deeper reality in a very visceral way.

With Twitter in front of you, you never ask things like, “What does it meant that I am sitting here, alive? And what should I do next.”

It’s hard to ask yourself questions like that in a typical office, even if there isn’t a Twitter or a Facebook or a list of work tasks in front of you.

Such questions can only be noticed, hanging in the air as they always do and always have done, when there are no things and no people immediately calling for your attention.

They are quiet questions.

They don’t yell.

— § —

In the modern era, we have an incredible dispersion of incredible tools. They multiply everywhere. They fill our sights and our lives with facility.

We use them to make carnivals where we then play for hours, weeks—maybe months, years on end.

We don’t generally use them to make anything.

So much for Heidegger’s building and dwelling.

It’s life as a visitor’s event. You go on a quick tour, try out all the little rides and shops and possibilities, never really paying attention to any of them.

— § —

There is this tendency in modern western society to say something about the Buddhists when talk goes in this direction.

Lots of people now have Buddha statues in their houses and books by the Dalai Lama. Often, they are impossible to get along with.

Usually, they are as shallow as puddles on pavement.

They’ve consumed it like they’ve consumed the rest, and they’re carrying it with them like a Bloomingdale’s bag and showing off their new threads just a bit.

— § —

Every now and then, the kids ask me what my favorite color is.

I always say the same thing.

“Titanium gray.”

There are still deep discussions on key issues happening.  §

Just not, perhaps, in the halls of power or in the kitchens of the public.

But frankly, this is where our discourse should be.

Even if you abandon your father to wash curtains you won’t run out of things that need to be done.  §

There are so many things that you think over the course of the day, little thoughts as you go about your business, that cause you to say, “Ah, that should be in my next blog post!” And you craft sentences to come before them and sentences to come after them, and then paragraphs to come before them, and then paragraphs to come after them, and you envisage perhaps even an entire series of related blog posts on what is rapidly becoming a sprawling, interconnected set of topics, and you begin to feel quite satisfied with yourself and your plan.

And then the end of the day arrives and you’re actually sitting in front of keyboard and monitor and you have no recollection of what, exactly, any of those thoughts were, because sometime around the time you were doing dishes, or perhaps washing the shower curtains, or perhaps climbing about on the roof to replace the cooler pads, you became entirely preoccupied with the task at hand—and that was that.

Oh well.

— § —

Once you get into the “I’m doing things that need to be done” flow, the only way to exit the flow is a conscious exit. That is to say, you have to do what is ultimately a vaguely unsatisfying thing: say to yourself, “I’m not done, but I’m stopping anyway.”

This is of course because the list of “things that need to be done” can not, ever, for any reason, be exhausted. And once you are in the flow and making steady progress, there is a momentum that carries you forward, and if you don’t consciously stop, you can go on straightening pictures and cleaning toilet handles and sewing torn clothes and washing windows until you’ve not slept for weeks and drop dead despite yourself.

— § —

I have never hung any of my degrees. I have two bachelors degrees, a masters degree, a doctorate degree, and an endowed award from my discipline. In a way it feels strange that I’ve never hung them, and I do have, in the new office, space on the wall where they could conceivably go. I mean, I did earn them and they represent many years of my life and a significant dimension of how I got to be who I am.

On the other hand, it seems strange to hang them given that I’m no longer in the field, am no longer a classroom professor, do not research, do not publish, have in fact not seriously thought about any of these topics in more than half a decade.

— § —

How do I feel about that?

I still don’t know. I don’t have the existential pain that some have when they leave the academy. The fact is that I was not all that happy with what academic life was turning into in my case. There are a number of digressions that I could make here, but suffice it to say that I didn’t like where academics seemed to be going, I didn’t like where my discipline seemed to be going, I didn’t want to make the sacrifices that would lead a broken culture to take me “seriously” as a candidate for bigger and better things, I was losing the appetite to live in poverty and destroy parts of my life in order to publish, and—of course—at the time that I left I found myself going through a messy divorce and custody battle.

So academic life wasn’t really on the cards.

But how do I feel about it now?

Fact is, I only came to work in upper management in business by accident. I was, in fact, headhunted, and when presented with an exit ramp given all of the circumstances outlined above, I took it.

— § —

I am, however, troubled by the fact that there are things that I can do and things that I can think that will never be of benefit to anyone—by the fact that I’ll do a pretty vanilla job in a pretty vanilla industry probably for the rest of my life. That’s not to say that things would have been any better in academics—they wouldn’t have. Not as it is currently constituted. It’s broken, thoroughly broken, like so much of the rest of our society.

I suppose I find myself thinking that it’s a shame that there isn’t some other academic constellation or universe out there (“academic” probably being the wrong word here) where I might do some good. At the same time, I long ago lost my youthful sense of initiative. All those thoughts that I had a decade ago about perhaps getting together with a handful of other endoctorated radicals to start some “new” sort of organization that was the Humboldtian university without actually being the Humboldtian university, well… those thoughts now just tire me out.

I recall once again (and each time with greater amazement than the last time I recalled this) that my dissertation chair once told me that at his advanced age, he still wasn’t “tired” at all, that he still had “a lot of energy.”

I’m half his age and I’m exhausted. I don’t have energy.

Note that I’m not referring to physical energy here. I do taekwondo. I can hike for miles without stopping and have by now remodeled god knows how many rooms in my house singlehandedly, alone, late at night.

What I don’t have is mental and spiritual energy.

I am lacking a cause and my conversion story to it. Once that cause was knowledge. Then I learned that I was being fooled about the nature of knowledge in contemporary society, and I still haven’t recovered.

— § —

At times, when I’m busy puttering around the house “doing things that need to be done” I wonder what it would be like to be a teacher of students again. There are times when I think, “Oh, I could dip my toes back into that. I could teach as an adjunct, now in even more places than I did in the past, given the amount of new knowledge and experience I’ve gained in the private sector and the things I’ve learned about how my discipline relates to and interacts with others.” But then I think better of it.

I don’t think there’s any way to make the world a better place by teaching right now, at least not institutionally. The institutions are morally bankrupt, across the board. They are machines for the corruption of students and the destruction of society, little more, and probably even less.

At times I also think that I ought to reach out to my department chair.

I am possessed now of that disease that one catches when too much time has passed between the last time you spoke to someone that has been important in your life and the present moment. Rather like the fathers who abandon their children—only in this case, it’s the opposite. As an academic “child,” I have abandoned my academic “father.”

I go over entire speeches in my head, ways I’d try to explain the lack of contact and my abandoning the discipline without telling him.

It wasn’t just the divorce, I’d explain. I’d become disillusioned with the whole thing—with the ideological forces at work, the quality of the students, the quality of the research. I’d come to feel that the academy was doing more harm than good. I left to get my bearings. I’d explain how the impact of his suspicious posture toward postmodernism and “luminaries” like Foucault had grown ever more important in my life, how I understood more and more with each passing day how right he’d been. How sorry I was to have spent so much time arguing otherwise, how much more I wish I’d listened early on to what he was trying to tell me.

I’d explain how all of this meant that I needed to go away and think, to get away from the academic life I’d been embroiled in since I was fifteen years old, and how I still am not entirely sure that I feel settled about all of it.

I’d also express my thanks for everything that he did for me, and apologize for not making more of that investment.

But I never actually write or call. Because I don’t know to what end I open that relationship again. Where does it go? Nowhere. I’m living a non-academic life and there are a lot of things that need to be done.

— § —

My direct supervisor at work, who happens to be the person that runs the company, keeps telling me that I need to take time off. He’s right.

The problem is that there’s never a good time to take time off; whenever I take time off, double the work will confront me when I return. But yes, I need to take time off. There are many things that need to be done outside of work, things that are languishing, that are forgotten, that are urgent but also very, very late.

Moving to this new office has been one of those things.

But there are any number of ways in which I’m living in a kind of stasis. Not in terms of my age, which continues to advance apace, but in terms of the configuration of my life and values.

Problem is, I don’t need something like a week off. I need a sabbatical. I need five years away at a monastery to read and reflect and tend a little patch of flowers.

That, however, really isn’t on the cards. There are two kids that require a father to live a reasonable life (bet you’ve heard that is never the case and, in fact, isn’t even really possible, but it’s true) and there are of course too many things that need to be done.

So I’ll just postpone the “read” part to sometime (hopefully) before I’m dead, and I’ll do the “reflect” part as I do dishes, wash shower curtains, climb about on the roof to replace the cooler pads, and so on, writing long, insightful blog posts in my head full of startling yet inevitable parallels that illuminate things about my life and the moment in which we all find ourselves—and then I’ll lose sight of them again, not publish them, and write posts like this one instead.