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

How many more of these do I get?  §

Sometimes it’s really been a year.

Like right now. Right now, it’s really been a hear.

I took tomorrow off from work, so the holiday season officially begins for me again tomorrow. How are we going in?

I’m ill and have been for most of the week. Cough, sore throat, fever, congestion, dizziness, aches, all the seasonal stuff. My son is ill, too, only he’s really ill, as in twice to the emergency room, batteries of tests, miserable and in pain ill, and we’re heading into week three of that situation.

Work feels unstable, and also I feel desperately behind at it. There are a million things I should do on the car. And the house. Oh, the house. The house is a mess. I’ve just spent four hours stumbling around the house trying to clean while hacking my lungs out and wincing at the throat pain before reminding myself that my son has it much worse right how and I ought to just be thankful.

Everything is amiss, and that’s how we’re going in. Happy holidays.

— § —

The year blew by. As in—blew by.

The entire year was adrenaline. We went into it trying to recover from COVID. Everyone got it. Even the dog. And there were significant effects and injuries. And now there is no dog. So last Thanksgiving was a mess as well.

Christmas was still about recovery, January and February were about trying to catch back up in school and in extracurriculars that essentially were ignored for three months.

Then we immediately headed into tournament season and for the first time ever, daughter wanted to seriously travel and train, as in hotels in convention towns and what seemed like endless 5:00 am training mornings.

That went the entirety of the summer and was exhausting and financially draining and then, just as we thought we’d get some relief, son got injured at school right at the beginning of school doing a school-sponsored activity and we entered three months of physical therapy, from which we only recently emerged.

And we emerged into middle school dances and holiday activities, big work changes, birthday parties, and of course, illness.

— § —

The year really has felt like it passed in a few minutes.

A few stressful, panicked, how-are-we-going-to-manage and oh-no-will-this-be-okay minutes.

We’ve just been racing through the whole thing trying not to lose our balance or our composure. And now here it is, a year later. A year after the COVID disaster.

Everything has happened, and yet I have so much trouble hanging on to or remembering it all, I almost want to say that nothing has happened because I didn’t get a chance to live any of it, not really.

— § —

But whatever.

That’s all the cleaning I’m going to do for the night, it’s time to go and lay down and cough my lungs out before we plunge headlong into the holidays tomrrow.

Three pumpkins and a yacht.  §

Just after 8:00 pm.

Just finished adding my own heavy cream from the fridge to a coffee because they don’t have heavy cream at convenience stories. Which are one-fourth of my life. The other three quarters of my life are this chair that I’m sitting in, where I work and have done since 2011 (two quarters) and the taekwondo studio where my kids do martial arts (final quarter).

Why am I drinking coffee at 8:something in the evening?

I don’t know.

Because what else is there to do?

I watched the politics people on television for a moment but I didn’t care what they were saying even though I’m traditionally interested in politics. Not now.

It’s been a brutal couple of days. Long. Busy. No breaks. I won’t bother with details, as it’s all the stuff that life consists of. Sick kids, work trouble, unexpected circumstances, revised plans, tight timelines, tight money, blah, blah.

I turned off three of the four monitors and here I sit with one in this OmmWriter thing that I downloaded a million years ago and still sit here every now and then and bang on.

— § —

I feel like a warzone commander who is twenty years into his tour of duty in the same long, endless war on the same battlefront that I’ve been on since I was a “young guy.”

People have come, people have gone.

New initiatives and attacks and movements and tactics have come, and they have gone.

There have been casualties.

Many losses. Some wins.

It’s just another night on the front. Coffee.

— § —

Sometimes I get this bee in my bonnet and think that I need a counterpart, a comrade-in-arms, a partner of some kind. And then I look around me and I realize that this sort of thing isn’t what’s available to the commander.

It’s all enlisted people and when it’s not it’s other commanders barking back at me, a matter of “professional” differences of opinion that, on the battlefield, can either end up in wary silence or gunfire.

It’s just not a good idea. Hold the line. Hold the hill. Hold the post. Focus on the duty, forget the rest.

— § —

“But why commander?” says the amateur psychologist.

“If you would just stop thinking that way—“

I think the amateur psychologists don’t have bills to pay. When they were handing out boons and assignments in heaven, some got the former and some got the latter.

Those who got the former dissect what people think and say and tell them that solving problems is easy, all you have to do is think about life properly and have a winning attitude and things will be amazingly cool.

— § —

Three pumpkins and a fog machine are on the driveway, rotting.

You’d think I’d have had time to clean that stuff up and put that stuff away and so on in the time that’s elapsed since Hallowe’en.

You’d think.

Maybe I am thinking about everything improperly.

But when you get determined to sit down and figure out properly once and for all so that you can finally be wealthy and famous and sail on a yacht and eat small portions of unpronounceable things from square plates, you give yourself a headache thinking and then eventually you chide yourself for wasting six hours trying to think your way out of what are practical problems.

— § —

So what are the problems?

There is this genre of problems that does like this:

It’s problems, yes, but none of them are things that are problems unless you are actively in the middle of them, which is just when you don’t have time to think about or define them well, and they are all somehow really facets of the same problem which is complex and relatively difficult to define, and ultimately when you climb the entire beanstalk, it simplifes to one single overarching problem that can’t actually be named or conceived of at all, but that you recognize as well as you recognize your own face nonetheless.

What’s the strategy that suggests itself for solving them? Or it?

Coffee at 8:something while staring at another pointless screen doing a lot more pointless typing while you don’t sail on a yacht and you don’t eat small portions of unpronounceable things from square plates.

Getting up early leads to posts without titles.  §

Historically (as in, for the duration of my entire life, going all the way back to childhood), I’ve been a night owl. To bed at 1:00 or 2:00 am, up at maybe 8:00 or 9:00 am, with a heavy reliance on the alarm clock in the morning to get to school, work, or whatever other event is at hand on time.

For the last couple of weeks, I have suddenly been falling asleep at 8:00 or 9:00 pm, without the resistance I’d always previously felt to an early bedtime. In quite, I’ve felt quite content to just fade out as the sun fades out for the first time in my life.

And I’ve been getting up the last several days at 5:00 or 6:00 am. Today? 4:00 am.

Is there a medical change of some kind going on here? I haven’t changed anything about my day-to-day living. Same job, same diet, same level of activity, same everything. Nothing new in my personal life. No new significant other, no new pets, nobody has died.

It is just different.

What does it all mean, and why has it suddenly changed? Not sure.

On beards and mirrors and other things temporal.  §

Every now and then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, a middle-aged-and-aging guy with a white beard and an increasingly craggy face.

It was really not so long ago I was quite young and spry.

My marriage aged me sixteen years over the course of eight. And then after that my divorce aged me twenty-four years over the course of the next eight.

I went from being a twenty-year-old thirty-something to being a seventy-year-old forty-something in what feels like no time flat.

I wonder if there’s a way to reverse it.

Then at other times I wonder if it helps to care, and if so, how one can go about doing that again.

Rather lazily insert ‘Insert title here’ title here.  §

I was listening to an interview with Tori Amos because I’m old and I know stuff.

She was talking about how following the death of her mother and successive pandemic lockdowns, she had become confused. Lost. But lost in that way in which you don’t even know how to go about thinking of yourself as lost.

And she said that she had an insight one day and said to herself, “I have to write myself out of this.”

And here I am.

— § —

I have a mug that says I’m a writer. That’s the first thing.

But beyond that, I wrote seven books that have been translated into a list of languages. I wrote papers that are in journals and anthologies. I wrote essays that are in leading intellectual vanguard publications. I wrote poems by the pound and put out chapbooks. I started blogging in 1999 and blogged for twenty-two years straight.

Now here I am and it’s 2022 and when’s the last time I wrote anything?

Months, at least. I have been in danger of not even being a blogger any longer. I have been in danger of not being a writer any longer, even though at the end of the day that’s the only thing I’ve ever really known and the only thing that ties together all those loose, fraying threads of the thing called “me” over all these years.

— § —

Every third day or so I’ll be busy doing something completely unrelated—taking out the trash, or standing up a virtual machine for work, or doing laundry—and I’ll have this sudden, desperate need to write. I’ll start putting things together in my head, in the voice that only speaks when I have something to write, assembling words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs.

It’ll become a physical sensation, like being covered in ants or not being able to breathe. I’ll feel as though I’m becoming so tense that at any moment I’ll start snapping bones if I don’t find my way to a keyboard and start typing.

And I’ll tell myself I just need another thirty seconds to finish what I’m doing and then keyboard and in the nick of time I’ll reach it and save my life. But that thirty-second pause is too long.

I’m repeatedly too late and each time it happens I die an untimely death, replaced by the unconscious petty functionary that mindlessly performs the requisite tasks of modern living. The threshold of no return has been crossed, the dam has broken, and all the words have fallen away in a rush, emptying the reservoir.

Pieces of me lost forever.

— § —

I’ve been losing myself steadily for fifteen years, since the day I was married. For a moment it seemed as though the divorce would arrest the process, but it didn’t. The background violins continued to play, the dancers continued to dance, the whole hazy scene continued on as if it was all a film that I was watching—and at the end of it, here I am, distractedly listening to Tori Amos interviews on YouTube while I putter around the house doing mindless chores until I hear her say, “I have to write myself out of this” and yet again I experience a fleeting moment of lucidity.

But this time I stop what I’m doing and I write because by god, this time someone has put the word “write” at the center of said moment.

— § —

I’m like everyone else in that I’ve become a collection of things. Tools, appliances, linens, knickknacks, doodads, this and that, tasks, jobs, responsibilities, workflows, opinions, origins and destinations, times of day.

There are so many things. There is so much clutter. It’s all clutter. The whole world is clutter. Clutter, clutter, clutter. On the desk, in the sky, in my guts, under my psyche.

I mean, I’m still tempted to start paragraphs with “when we were in couples’ therapy…” and go into some stale insight that I gathered then that has now been sitting in the uncleaned refrigerator of my mind for the better part of a decade as though there is still a “we.” Mindless habits of mind are our favorite embodied oxymoron.

No. I won’t write it. I won’t.

But I can’t figure out how to overcome clutter. I don’t want to adopt the vision of the state as James Scott put it and somehow organize it all out of existence. The clutter is the words, the words are the clutter, and both are me.

It doesn’t strike me as the solution to reform my consciousness and self into a series of well-ordered, sanitary city blocks, the better for the taxation of myself, zoning all of the color out of existence.

But at the same time, I’m buried in it—I can’t master it—it drives me to suffocation so rapidly that even the suffocation is buried in the clutter before I can reach a keyboard and begin to try to cope with it.

— § —

There is a feminine talent that exists in the miasma of the universe for figuring this sort of thing out. In material terms we call it “nesting” or “homemaking” but it’s a kind of innate talent for nurturing what appears to be disorder into what was always actually beauty.

The problem with our current epoch is that this yin of our collective being was, after aeons of fertility, suddenly cut short sometime during my lifetime.

As a man listening to an interview with Tori Amos I commit a man’s sins. I hear her talk about listening to the trees and those sorts of things and I begin to think it’s a lot of woo until she drops the conclusion that “I need to write myself out of this” and then suddenly I realize that as a man I couldn’t get from trees to creative process on my own and in fact I can’t get to the destination of creative process from any origin at all right now.

The world misses this.

There is precious little of the yin of our species being anywhere right now, and that said, precious little of the yang either. Women wanted to “have what men always had” and instead became callous and petty. Men worked at “being in touch with their feminine selves” and simply stopped growing up, remaining pre-pubescent forever.

— § —

One of the joys of being out of academics and working entirely remotely is that I can be a bumpkin, a rube. I can listen to interviews with Tori Amos on YouTube and I can talk about yin and yang with a straight face (if you could see it) as I sit here typing and not worry that someone may see it and end my career.

The general problem with the Smart People is that they don’t understand that we’re dying. They don’t even see the clutter, much less the fact that they are attempting to curate and tax it rather than transform it into biography and living.

We are all lost.

I’m not more lost than anyone else, really, I’m just lost in a different key. That and I’m not comfortable in it because it’s visible to me precisely because for so many years I wasn’t lost.

— § —

None of this is to say that I have confidence that I can write myself out of this. One of the characteristics of clutter (metaphorical or not) is that it makes both reading and writing difficult.

At the same time, it is something to do. That is not nothing.

In a phase of my life in which every single day has been the same for years and years and in which the only reason I bother to get up in the morning has been that my kids (who are now needing me less and less as they grow) have needed me to get up in the morning and direct traffic and provide dad speeches, well… it’s something to do.

I am badly in need of something to do, rather than all that nothing of household workflows. It’s not enough to let the yard go. I need to let about a dozen more things go. “Go” meaning, of course, “grow a history, change with time, accumulate evidence of being.”

— § —

That’s it. That’s the thing.

When you paint the walls and fold the socks and go to work, change stops.

When change stops, time stops.

Einstein said that time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happening at once. But there is another way to neuter time, and that’s to ensure that nothing happens at all, to whitewash and clean and repair everything, every day—every piece of clutter over and over again so that it is the same whether you observe it today or tomorrow or next year or in a decade. We need more things to break. To wear out. To die.

So that we can live.

Maybe I can write my way out of this, if writing becomes my strategy for being irresponsible and permitting things to fall into disrepair so that time can begin to exist again—so that I can unpause my biography and fucking get on with it.

— § —

I still think that “listening to the trees” is woo. That’s why we need more of the genuine feminine spirit around. Because somebody needs to listen to the trees, and it can’t be a man, because most of us don’t speak tree. We speak gravity and acceleration and torrent, not tree and moon and scent.

We need to find ourselves again, all of us.

Having reached the center of the room, he sat down and was silent.  §

I’ve been posting comparatively little recently.

That’s because there is nothing to say and no one to say it to.

I have developed understanding of all those middle-aged people I used to think poorly of, who seemed to live life on a dull treadmill of endless busywork, uninspired.

“How are you?”

“Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as last month. Same as last year.”

“What have you been up to?”

“Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as last month. Same as last year.”

“Any plans?”

“None but to go to bed, then wake up and do it all again tomorrow.”

You need someone to believe in you.  §

A fragmented assortment of thoughts.

— § —

I am neither prone to listening to “new” (as in, post-1999) music, nor to becoming overly emotional in response to… anything. Nor to fits of teen idol angst.

But a band that has mostly already happened, that happened sometime during that period when I was someone else between 2001 and 2015, has taken over much of my emotional universe. Every time I hear Nightwish perform Ghost Love Score or The Greatest Show On Earth, I end up with tears streaming down my face.

— § —

We live in a world that is largely devoid of beauty. We’ve worked very hard to eliminate it since the Enlightenment, and with our tools and science, we’ve been largely successful. When you see it now, it shocks you, like falling to your death, only doing so while at a strange kind of peace.

— § —

Life and growth happen, for a man, because someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself—and you want to live up to their belief and expectations.

So, by that measure, it has been a decent while since I was alive, or growing.

I need that pressure again, that belief that I am not quite sure I can justify. I need someone to think I am better than I believe I am, so that I can become what they think I am.

By that measure, I’ve been dead for years now.

I believe in myself. I can hand you my CV or tell you the ten thousand things about me that make me valuable, even exceptional. But I’m a man. I don’t care about that. I can try, but I don’t. I need something to live up to.

— § —

My son gave me a watering can for my birthday. Now I can keep plants alive. I love the watering can he gave me. I wish I could explain that to him in words that would convey the depth of my appreciation, but he’s 10. I don’t think he’ll be able to understand what it means to me until he’s 30.

— § —

One post a month. That’s all you get, apparently.

Trying to figure out how to generate good outcomes.  §

Sometimes late at night sitting here in the dark I come face to face with the fact that one reason I don’t think about the past very much, and in fact try to forget it altogether, is that I don’t have a lot of good memories that don’t directly lead to bad outcomes.

How many decades has it been since I had a good memory that didn’t culminate in a catastrophic outcome?

I can’t think about it too long. It takes me into the depths. Have to keep moving forward. But I have to also figure out what I’m doing wrong—why I tend toward debt, divorce, and damage at the end of everything.

Ex-wife used to say it’s because I was a born loser. I don’t know if I buy that. But there may be a hint of truth under there somewhere about the way that I make life decisions.

I started out with infinite confidence. Everything since 2015 has continued to batter it. Down on confidence? You bet. But I have skills. I use them every day. I can’t figure it out.

Life is actually only 30-40 years long.  §

Early in your life, your job is to grow up, to learn, to lay the foundation “so that you won’t be behind” and “so that you won’t suffer” when you get older.

By the time you reach your teens, the job is somewhat different. It’s to compete, to accelerate, to build, and when that inevitably doesn’t work out—as it won’t a couple of times—it’s to change things up.

— § —

At some point, you reach adulthood. For most it’s sometime after they turn 30. For a few it’s earlier. For some, later.

You’ll know you’ve reached it because once you reach adulthood, you can no longer do any of those things. You feel unable to learn. Unable to lay new foundations. Unable to alter the fundamental positions in what used to be a competition. Unable to accelerate or to slow down. Unable to build.

You emerge into this extended state in which you live the same day over and over again. The same week over and over again. The same month over and over again.

No matter what you do, you are unable to change the fundamental dynamic.

You move across the country a few times. You change careers a few times. People die. People are born. Major diseases come and go. New cars, cars crashed, new cars again. New homes, homes worn down, new homes again. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. No matter what you do, you have the same basic financial situation. You have the same basic social situation. You live the same basic life. You have the same basic days.

No matter what you do, you are living in empty time, in which nothing is ever different.

You become desperate to break free, to loosen the rock and get it to roll down the hill, to light the fuse and get the bomb to explode, anything—anything—to change things, because you know that this stasis can’t last forever and what you really want to avoid is being stuck where you are until suddenly, when you’re 65, or 75, or 85, you emerge in an instant, and quite unexpectedly, into the last days of your life, having achieved nothing new, seen nothing new, done nothing new since you were 25, or 35, or whatever age it was since you entered into adulthood.

But it doesn’t matter. No matter how hard you work at doing something you, you can’t. No matter how hard you work at seeing something new, you won’t.

Life really consists of about 15 years of childhood, about 10-15 years of young adulthood, and about 5 years of settling your accounts and dying.

Everything else is this strange period of suspended animation—of extended pause in a closed loop—in the middle.

There are moments when conscience and the past are the same thing.  §

For days now, day by day, I have been lost more and more in memories of that time between ’89 and ’91 and the months that immediately followed.

Humanity had won. We were all in love with each other. It was like we had been only children but now we’d found long-lost siblings and were suddenly awash in the joy of family, of togetherness, of that surprising trust that can sometimes simply happen, for not reason, between people. It was magical. We were all in love with each other, across the oceans. We’d somehow saved humanity after all, all of us together, for all of us.

I have a piece of the Berlin Wall on a bookshelf. Previously it was an artifact but now it feels strange, haunted, as though it has a dark soul that watches me—that watches us—and that passes judgement, foreshadowing some terrible punishment.

How did we lose after all, after everything that happened?

It’s like the way that relationships degrade, become abusive, and then, if you’re not careful, become murderous, even if to start there was so much joy.

We humans are broken. Or I suppose fallen is the word.

In any case, that’s what happened. We lost.

We have lost.

All good things—even the most transcendently good things—must end.

Twenty-two years.  §

This site has been online for twenty-two years. Entire universes have come and gone in that time.

— § —

When I was young I never wanted to be the guy that lived for work, nor did I want to be the guy that lived a dis-integrated life.

So it was that I insisted always on working remotely. On using my own equipment for work. I pursued a career (academics) that would have enabled me to maintain the same identity outside of work that I had inside it. When I had kids, I wanted both parents to participate equally and together in child rearing.

I didn’t want to live a two or six or a dozen separate, compartmentalized lives.

But the forces in today’s world are just too strong. Today there is a work me and a private me. I have work computing equipment and private computing equipment. I did not find a career in academics. I am divorced and so half of the time I am a father and half of the time I am a single guy. I am half of the fertility couple that produced my children and rarely have contact with the other half.

Like everyone, I live a completely fragmented life.

I don’t see how or why we live this way. It’s a recipe for losing track of your life—having it fly by without any way to understand that it’s happening or to capture it in memory and narrative. Instead, it’s a string of unassociated flashbacks and images, not a biography of a single person. Very few people get to be single people any longer.

— § —

We’re in that period between the holidays and the summer during which things seem cold and barren. While driving back from dropping the kids at school today I thought for a moment that I’d write a novel about traveling through barren, snowy areas and that feeling that hangs in the air this time of year in the modern world. Then I realized that Orhan Pamuk already wrote Snow and that I’d just be doing that again only without the pathos and the story.

— § —

I have to go. My other self is knocking at the door since it’s business hours. It’s time for the private, evening self to commit seppuku again and hand pass the torch to the business hours work self.

I remembered what I was feeling the urge to write.  §

I was going to write that I was sad.

It’s not cool in this society to say something like that out loud, much less semi-anonymously into cyberspace.

But 2021 was a year that was full of sadness for me. Of course, for a great many other people as well, but I’m not them so I can only speak to my own 2021. And my own 2021 was a sad year. Not sarcastic ‘sad,’ not Trump sad, but legitimately sad. Like, if I could cry, I would have spent a lot of time crying, but as a guy with hormones I’m incapable so instead I made a bunch of insufferable posts here.

But I’ve been sad. It’s been sad.

And now, taking down the Christmas decorations and heading back into ‘reality,’ a new wellspring of sadness ironically at 2021’s passing.

I am hoping that 2022 can be better, with far less to be sad about, but there are troubling signs on the horizon.

There are indeed times when I wish I didn’t have to be sad alone, but life experience teaches me so far that some of us are always alone, whether other people are around or no. Yes, possibly that’s our own damned fault. Doesn’t mean we know how or have the skills to fix it.

So sadness it is.

That’s the post.

Football metaphors aren’t always bad. In fact, they may be better than most other things.  §

I swear.

All day I thought about making a post, and then it comes to 7:38 in the evening and I realize I’m in danger of not doing it.

That has to stop. That’s the encapsulation of any and all New Year’s resolutions that I have. That sort of thing has to stop. If I think all day about making a post, I damn well need to do it.

— § —

Of course by now, having let things slide for far too long, i can’t remember any of the things I wanted to write. That normally would then become the excuse for inaction. “Owell, I forgot, I guess I’ll do it later.” Wash, rinse, repeat.


— § —

My alma mater went out yesterday and played a hell of a football game. They lost. But they did not lose by failing to live up to their potential; they maximized their potential and they lost anyway. Funny thing, this makes the loss something that I feel proud for them for.

All of this is a bunch of old truism, i.e. there’s no shame in loss if you do your best, but I think people often lose the latter part and shorten it to “there’s no shame in loss,” which is incomplete. Or they take “do your best” to actually and secretly mean “intended to do your best and really ‘put your heart into it.'”

That’s not right either.

Heart isn’t worthless, exactly, but it’s not the key piece of the puzzle. Your best is that which matches your potential. Doing your best isn’t a matter of intent, and it’s not a matter of heart. It’s a matter of hard work and long preparation and discipline and sacrifice. If you have done all of those things, haven’t cut a corner, haven’t phoned it in on this day or that, have legitimately kept your promises to yourself and to others and grown through every last ounce of hard work that you can commit and then you lose—then, and only then is there no shame in it.

Indeed, there’s much pride in it.

— § —

It sounds just a little bit maudlin and high school to be telling football stories and using phrases like “your best” on a blog post when I’m a forty-something, but I’m legitimately inspired by and trying to learn from these guys to start the new year.

Because I grew up in modern America. Every blow is softened. For every erstwhile unsafety there is a safety net. I didn’t join the military and go to boot camp. I didn’t play football for my school. I didn’t ever have to work hard. I had a decent brain through no fault of my own and as a result have been able to skate by and outperform peers since fifth grade without having to do much of anything.

But now, pivoting toward fifty and having used many big and flowery words with the serious and intelligent people and communities of the world, it all seems worthless.

Plain talk. Plain thinking. That’s what I’m after.

And in plain words I have the more-than-nagging-feeling that I could have been, and could still be, so much more than I am.

And there is shame in that kind of loss, and I feel it.

— § —

So my resolution for the new year is to be harder on myself, not in that self-indulgent way, but in that drill sergeant way.

I will fail, possibly for a long time. I have no model for nor practice in this kind of thing.

But I am determined to do my best.

One small step toward that is actually turning up to make the post I thought off and on about all day, even if I forgot what I was going to say, rather than kicking it to an eternal tomorrow.

Let’s fucking get some things together, team.

At the end of some years, there aren’t so very many words.  §

I’ve had this tradition of making a long, wordy post to end the year.

I’m running out of patience with my past self, and with words. Here are some things, and I think we can leave it after that:

  • There are way too many words in our society just now. A lot of talk—talk, talk, talk, words, words, words, most of it bullshit. I have come to realize that I’m as guilty of this as everyone else. We made ourselves these word-centric systems like social media and proceeded to fill them up. Mistake. The words have taken the place of actions, morals, decisions, understandings. It’s vapid. I’m vapid. We’re all vapid. Say less, do more.

  • On that front, I have had a terrible 2021 in most every way. But a lot of that is due to exactly the above—thinking I was doing a lot of things when in fact I was just saying a lot of things, like everyone. Which is ironic in my case because I don’t even have that many people to say things to. But the dark magic of our social media age is that you can blather on indefinitely to nobody at all and your circuits think you’re talking and mistake that for real stuff.

  • What I have learned since exiting the academy and getting divorced has become clear to me, and I think I can get it out in a bullet. Truth exists. Truth cannot be explained or detailed in words. Truth is suffering and suffering is meaning. Truth is not entirely material. Children are the only thing that matter. God likely exists, because hell clearly exists. Providing reasoned critiques of this in words is a loser’s game, like saying that apples are a pale imitation of television. Well, yes.

  • My resolutions for 2022 are simple: talk less and do things. It doesn’t even really matter all that much which things. Just things, and actual doing. Not talking about doing, not considering doing, not evaluating-the-possibility-of-doing-as-a-form-of-doing. Actual doing of things, offline, beyond symbolic culture—beyond words, beyond code, beyond images, beyond screens.

  • The world is going to get worse in 2022. And worse again in 2023 and then a whole lot worse in 2024.

  • Living in truth is not a mental thing. It’s a physical thing. Life is not a mental thing. It’s a physical thing. The only things that really matter are not mental things. They are physical things. In fact, mental things, too, are ultimately physical things—just an impoverished category of them.

  • The pope make a mistake on the Latin mass question. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) But he has made a lot of mistakes.

  • Most of you are already trapped in the matrix, as I have been. Escape will not be easy, but unless I escape, 2022 will be as terrible as 2021.

  • In all these years, I have learned next to nothing. I have much—very, very much—to learn.

Happy new year.

The academics are fighting over crumbs while Ganon threatens Hyrule.  §

Every year since I-don’t-know-when I’ve done this “year-end post” thing.

It’s about time to start cooking mine up for this year I suppose. I’m not sure to refer back to previous years to get a flavor for what I have done in the past (because for the first time, instinct really just isn’t carrying me there) or whether to just wing it.

I guess I’ll find out over the next few days which wins.

— § —

Among the other things worth noting this year is that 2021 is the year that I started playing video games again. There were accidents and disasters and then we all got COVID and somewhere in the middle of it, as everyone was laid up and reeling, I noticed that my kids were playing this game on their Switch units that spoke to me somehow. I asked my son if I could mess around for a bit and before you know it, I was playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Like, a lot.

Throughout my COVID recovery and then the rest of fall I played it, without spoilers, until I finished the game and nearly all of the tasks. It is amazingly deep. It almost immediately joined this category of “gaming experiences that stick with me as life memories.” This category also includes:

  • Riven

  • Nethack

  • Pac-Man on Atari 2600 (used to play this with my dad)

  • Original 1980 Star Wars arcade (first serious video game experience)

Don’t get confused about this list, I’ve played a lot of games. As in, a lot. But most of it dates back to the ’90s and early ’00s and I haven’t really played anything since maybe 2011—that is, until the second half of this year.

— § —

I stopped gaming for two basic reasons:

  • Games were less and less fun and more and more just about polygons and FPS

  • Serious academics don’t play video games

I’m embarrassed to admit the second one, but I spent half my life swimming upstream against an army of people spread across the continent who said I’d never make it and that I wasn’t serious—and I was determined to prove them wrong.

I’m ultimately not sure whether I did or not… I did get my PhD and I was a professor for a time, which I think are the two things they meant I’d never accomplish. But at the same time, by 2021 I haven’t used my PhD for anything in ages and I haven’t been a professor for eight years. So did I make it or didn’t I? Hard to say.

What I can say is that I was absolutely tuned in to playing the “serious” academic game in which you are working hard to be “competitive” and to “embody” the role.

In practice this means pitched, highly political, often vitriolic and underhanded battles between aspiring academics and other aspiring academics, and between aspiring academics and other aspiring academics’ faculty advisors. The battles are all-encompassing and deeply bloody and brutal, and if you’re going to survive, you can’t be spending your time playing video games—you have to dedicate your whole self to survival and coming out on top.

The funny thing is that despite how seriously academics take these battles, and how convinced academics are that they are Very Important and that The Future of Humanity may rest on each one, in fact they are completely invisible to the real world.

The academics are fighting each other for supremacy over each other in the end, though they don’t realize it—not for anything in the real world.

In the real world, the global video game industry drives $350-$400 billion in sales every single year, just shy of the accumulated total endowments of the entire Ivy League put together.

In other words, all those people coming home from work and playing Breath of the Wild (which is, incidentally, the greatest video game I have ever played, hands down) are the real world; the academics who are sure they’re fighting The Important Battles in the Real World are, in fact, off in la-la land engaged with each other in battles that are entirely irrelevant to anything.

They’re like rats fighting each other in the basement crawlspace under a house. They’re battling each other to the death over spoils that must seem all-important to them (say, a bit of granola that fell down a furnace vent), but in fact the real action in the house is much larger and elsewhere, and is entirely unaware of the rats—and wouldn’t care to worry about them if it somehow did become aware.

— § —

Anyway, back to video games.

Post finishing Zelda, I was at a weird loose end. I’d acquired this Nintendo Switch and it seemed silly to use it just to play a single game and be done with it. So I hit the Nintendo e-Shop to see what else was on offer (and on sale) and came up with Hades, which I am continuing to play regularly. And now I’ve acquired another half dozen or so titles—whatever is on sale in the shop for $2-$4 in a given week.

So I guess I’m gaming again, at least by my measure. And I think I am enjoying it as much as I ever enjoyed academics—especially the part where I don’t feel guilty about it any longer. (Well, at least not in the same way.)

That’s the 2021 factoid for the night.