Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: July 2016

Being able to talk in decades.  §

So here it is, the wee hours of the morning. I’ve been awake for a very, very long time and it was a day during which I labored very, very hard outdoors in the heat for hours.

I should be exhausted. I should be asleep.

But I’m not.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2005

I’m thinking about years, all those years stretching back into the past that are long gone.

So many memories. Skateboarding down waterslides in the park. Picking pumpkins in a Coca-Cola shirt with hair almost down to my waist. Road tripping on highway 101, stopping at every little beach. Playing video games for hours in International House in Chicago before the school year started. Being on a tour bus with a bunch of band members. Bringing noodles home from a Chinese take-out on the upper west side.

The memories don’t fade; they’re as vivid as they ever were. But somehow the calendar tells me that they are farther and farther away. It’s been twenty-five years—a quarter of a century—since we lost that skateboard at the end of the waterslide. It’s been thirteen years, nearly a decade and a half, since that night in Chicago.

The facts register but the mind refuses to understand. How can these things be ancient history when they are as clear as if they were yesterday? How can I be “the same person” and yet so incredibly different?

— § —

The mystical dimension of life is under-appreciated in our culture. Some things can simply not be comprehended rationally; the only way to get an accounting of them is to accept and to sense.

— § —

I don’t know what this post has been for, and I still don’t know why I’m awake. I do know that I’m a strange mix of sad and okay these days.

I’ll be glad when this is all over. I have never been so exhausted in my life—despite appearances.

Identity politics front and center.  §

The thing that strikes me most about this season’s political conventions—and I’ve watched them both in their entirety—is the degree to which they are both about the same thing, and at the same time utterly devoid of actual policy discussion and details.

Gone are the days when candidates would lay out a policy agenda. Instead, both claimed to have done so while doing absolutely nothing of the sort. Instead, they each presented a set of bins into which they piled various goods and evils, then said, “and so I will fix everything for you!

But at the core of things, what both conventions did, from beginning to end, was talk about identity.

At the RNC it was about rejected identities. These people are bad. Those people are bad. Some other people are also bad. Terrorists, immigrants, liberals, Hillary. All bad. These are bad people.

At the DNC it was about embraced identities. These people are good. Those people are good. Some other people are also good. LGBTQ folks, minorities, progressives, Hillary. All good. These are good people.

Little else was said. I’m strongly leaning third party for my vote this year. I’m not willing to join the identity politics game. I’m not voting for candidates that can’t even be bothered to make the two fundamental points of governance their focus.

1. What needs to be done.
2. The details of how they will do it.

Maybe they will actually talk details during debates, if we actually get any (given the DNC’s strategy during the primary season, and Trump’s bluster and instability, it’s actually in doubt). But I was very disappointed in both conventions.

A note in particular to the Hillary progressives: I do not care that she is good. I do not care that she likes good people. I do not care that Trump is bad. I do not care that he dislikes good people. What I want to know is what each of them will do. Not what they like (full employment! no prejudice! American strength! national unity!) but what they will do.

— § —

© Jip Bosch / CC BY SA 4.0

One of the things that struck me the most about my years teaching sociology was the degree of difficulty young folks seem to have nowadays in talking about actual behavior and acts. There is a strange ontological gap in their understanding of the world. You ask them “Tell me about the shopping in our culture. What behaviors are included in shopping?” and they say, “Well, you get in your car, and you go buy stuff.”

And you say, “Yes, but what actual behaviors does that entail? What do you do with your body? List the steps for me.” And they say, “Them’s the steps! You shop! Step 1: Shop. You take your body and you shop!” If, however, you ask them “What do you shop for?” they can immediately fill a board with all of their favorite things. And the discussion becomes animated, as each student in the class seeks to impress upon the others the things that he or she is in the habit of buying, because it says something that they want known about themselves—the way teenagers once discussed music with one another. They are well-habituated to the process of elaborating on identity. They are not well-habituated to thinking about other activities.

When you do finally tell them that there are details beneath “Step 1: Shop.” in the act of shopping, they get very confused. When you actually elaborate the steps—entering a building containing goods, securing a shopping cart, walking through aisles, taking particular needed things off the shelf and placing them in the cart, checking items off of your mental or written list, wheeling them to a counter at the front of the store, etc.—they are shocked. “I never thought of that before!”

We seem to have that problem now at the national level. Even our best political candidates are unable to think outside the identity box. They are busy constructing a picture of “who they are,” and the grammar that they immediately seek to use in constructing this picture is a grammar of “who others are.” It is all identity, identity, identity. And the post-hoc media analyses continue in this vein, talking almost entirely about the candidates’ identities and about whether or not the candidates have constructed and presented their identities well—and about how each can impugn various parts of the other’s identity.

Identity, identity, identity.

It’s all bullshit, and completely inessential (in the philosophical sense), though our contemporary ideology claims exactly the opposite.

— § —

I am disgusted with both the (D) and (R) camps, with both Hillary and Trump right now. I was already in high school once. I don’t need it all over again. I don’t care who you are or what or whom you like or don’t like. Tell me what you are going to do (without mistaking this for a question about who or what you like) and how you are going to do it (without mistaking this for a question about who or what you don’t like).

Never assume—  §

that you know what’s going on inside someone else’s soul. Because it is entirely possible that you are wrong. We all have our own wiring, and our own position and perspective in the universe.

I believe the other formulation of this is “…until you have walked a mile in their shoes,” etc.

It is easy to misjudge people and their feelings.

— § —

Prudence is the highest virtue of them all.

And yes, virtue matters. More than anything else.

Respect.  §

Much more difficult than earning the respect of others in today’s world is finding people that inspire you to respect them. It is a world of bewildered and compromised people out there, very few of which are actually trying. Most are merely lying to themselves and everyone else.

— § —

At some point over the last couple of years, I passed into a different way of being. I don’t want to say that “I feel old” so much as I want to say that I think in ways that are stereotypically associated with older people.

I’ve become a definite part of the “Get off my lawn!” set, the “In my day…” set.

I don’t really know what to make of it, but it’s clear to me that my embrace of many things in the past has turned to revulsion, my tolerance of many things into intolerance.

I have far less patience than I used to have for bullshit, and I never had all that much tolerance for bullshit in the first place.

— § —

It’s also clear to me now just how right my elders always have been and were, about everything. Young people want to believe in fairy tales for self-serving reasons. But as one ages, one realize that one’s rejection and denial of certain realities doesn’t serve the self very well at all.

Quite the opposite, in fact, over the long term.

In the end, you either bite the bullet and accept that the vast bulk of received wisdom is right, or you embarrass yourself. It’s easy to choose the former if you have any sense at all.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2004

There was a time in my life when I woke up every day and went to work at a Starbucks in Santa Barbara, CA.

There was a time in my life when I woke up every day and got down to work in a trailer in North Plains, OR.

There was a time in my life when I drove 45 miles to work every day in darkness on lone, wide highways.

There was a time in my life when I took the subway to work in the Village every day, walking along 8th street and taking in the pedestrian traffic.

How far away all of these times seem now.

— § —

There is a great difference between loving and needing.

There is a great difference between being loved and being needed.

In order to live a happy life, it is imperative to understand these differences clearly, and to ensure that those around you do the same.

— § —

I’m quite serious when I say it. Most people lie to themselves most of the time, mostly because they think of themselves as immortal (which is also a lie that they tell themselves to avoid having to confront their own mortality).

— § —

I’m an unlikely reader of Penelope Trunk or of TAC, but I find myself reading both all the time despite wince-worthy moments because both also routinely speak truths that no one else is willing to even hear, much less acknowledge.

We live in a time in which there is no greater sin than telling the truth, or even beliving that there is such a thing.

It will only get worse.

The nation.  §

Fukuyama was largely right about the “end of history.” I’ve just read his work again, now with the benefits of age and experience.

The collapse of the Soviet Union marked a harbinger for the end of the nation. Not of the nation-state, but of the nation itself. Of meaningful and rooted, rather than tactical and transient, collectivity itself. The “cult” at the core of culture, the shared conceptions of history that have since time immemorial been generative of identity are taking their last breaths in this century.

There is a rear-guard action to try to preserve such things, but it is hopelessly outnumbered and engaged in futile, flailing shots at random targets. The strongest impulses in this direction are probably Isis and, surprisingly, Brexit. Trump, Putin, and other aggregates of political positions that operate within the confines of extant anti-frameworks are weak ones.

But in the end, the nation and history will end, and there will be no collective stories left to tell—only individual biographies that can be told only subjectively, and are subject to revision in retrospect and changes in practical terms at any time.

This, the loss of our elders, of our families, and of our stories (as opposed merely to our narratives) is the final disenchantment of the world.

Gender (and race) and the left.  §

© Adam Jones / CC BY SA 2.0

One of the hypocrisies of the current American left that most rubs me the wrong way is a kind of gender inconsistency that plays identity favorites.

If an adult straight male is being referenced, gender is essential, identical to who he is, and can never be escaped or changed, like a conviction. It will forever be the reason that he is both guilty and dangerous, carrying with it all the evil and sins of his forefathers. His maleness must be referenced early and often as a warning and a rebuke.

If an adult female is being referenced, gender is essential, identical to who she is, and can never be taken away. It will forever be the reason that she is both a saint and a heroine, carrying with it all of the righteous martyrdom of her foremothers. Her femaleness must be referenced early and often as a badge of honor.

If an LBGTQ individual of any age is being referenced, or gender in the abstract is being referenced, gender is completely nonessential, has nothing to do with who someone is, is an anachronism to be forgotten, and really doesn’t matter at all. It should be tossed aside and never spoken of at all.

Or, to put it in more nuanced terms, for male-gender-normative straight people who are also biological males, sex is essential and is seen as fully determining a deeply negatively sanctioned gender. For female-gender-normative people, the sex qua biology is entirely irrelevant it is their gender that is essential and deeply positively sanctioned. For everyone else, neither sex nor gender are essential, and it is the act of their rejection that is positively sanctioned.

In short, sex and gender aren’t the theoretical positions they’re claimed to be, but rather vary in meaning and importance precisely as much as is needed to convict certain identities and canonize others.

Very similar shenanigans are played with race and whiteness vs. blackness vs. all others.

Both gender and race on the left secretly vary in ways that have entirely to do with a particular kind of convenience—whether or not the individual(s) at issue have been “othered” with respect to the left or not. And there is definite, aggressive “othering” on the American left—of biological, gender-normative males and of non-renouncing caucasians. (Yes, you can renounce—for example, Elizabeth Warren’s focus on her Cherokee heritage, rather than on the fact that she obviously has enjoyed the practical benefits of whiteness.)

This all sort of gives away the game in ways that are not benign to anyone, no matter their race or gender. What really matters is a kind of expediency in service of tribalism. This is why so many on the right are quick to claim that the left is “hateful,” much to the left’s bewilderment.

The afternoon ugh factor.  §

Well, I haven’t felt this rotten about things in days.

Today is tough. Really very tough. I wish—so very wish—that things were different. That we could be a family again. That we could roll back the clock.

But, of course, time stops for no man.

— § —

Why this, all of a sudden? I have been in good spirits. Was I just in denial? Is this just the natural cycle of things? I don’t know. It’s one more thing in a mountain of things that I’ll never know. What I do know is what I said a year ago. It’s all a tremendous waste, pointless in its utter disregard for what is right and what ought to be. That, I suppose, is the nature of the universe.

Having dogs and cats.  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Here is what you need to know about having dogs and cats.

It is not all fun and games. Facebook is lying to you.

Here is what will happen. You will go to the store to get some food to prepare for tomorrow. You will spend more than you think you should on a few good cuts of fresh meat. Because people in Provo are completely handicapped in mysterious ways that cause them to move slower than water freezes, it will take you much longer to wait in the very long line of about three people than you ever thought possible.

So, when you get home, you will have to pee. You will run in utterly preoccupied and want nothing in the world more than to pee. So you will put the package of fresh meat on the kitchen counter, way up high, where it appears to be safe, as you have done a million times before to no ill effect, and you will go to pee. You will be gone for no more than a minute and a half or so.

— § —

Now at this point, dear reader, you are no doubt thinking that what I’m going to say is that you will come back from the bathroom and find that your pets have eaten your meat.

That is what I would say if pets were sensible things. But they are not in any way sensible things. No, no, no, common sense is for approximately twelve percent of the human population only.

— § —

What I am going to say is that you will come back from the bathroom after a brief interval to find that your meat has not been eaten at all, but rather that your tall dog has reached the countertop, seized your meat, torn it to shreds, and spread it around the kitchen and carpeted hallway. He has certainly not eaten it, not even a mouthful. No, it has all been reserved for the floor. He prefers instead to eat the styrofoam and the absorbent pad that were under the meat.

One might imagine that the cats would take care of the eating-the-meat-shreds-and-blood-off-of-the-carpet job, but no, that would also be attributing sense to cats that (contrary to what other cat owners may claim to you in a filthy lie) they simply don’t have.

No, having been raised on a diet of grocery store cat kibble, your cats will have no idea what to do with raw meat that they did not themselves see move and kill with bare claws. Rather, their instincts tell them that any “found” meat is merely roadkill. So, naturally, your cats will be on their backs rolling in the meat and blood, getting nicely and evenly covered, as is only proper, as the dog finishes scarfing down the last of the delectable yellow styrofoam and pad.

And you (this is the part about the owner, yes there is one) will not spend the evening cooking fine cuts of meat for yourself and your children on the morrow. No, no, no. You will spend the evening with two jugs of disinfecting wipes, a bottle of bleach, and a carpet cleaner, disinfecting countertops, wood cabinetry, linoleum, carpet, and cats while worrying and wondering if there is any remedy needed for a dog that has ingested uncooked styrofoam and gel pad.

You will go hoarse yelling in all directions to keep pets away from the area as they encroach in turn from every direction to take advantage of the scent properties of perfectly good roadkill while you maniacally try to clean. You will also wonder why you ever bothered to get pets in the first place and why everyone on Facebook and iFunny lies all the time about how cute they are.

When you are finally done, you will take out the trash, put away the wipes and the bleach and the carpet cleaner and then make your way to the kitchen to reflect on what you will cook now that your meat has been put to good use by the household animals. When you arrive, you will find them all sitting in a circle begging haplessly for dinner.

That is what it is like having dogs and cats.

Tonight’s thoughts, part I.  §

I’ll write more later. I have a few things to do. (Funny way to start a post, no?)

But I am moved to write right now as well.

The very best technical concept that I got out of life as an academic is Lyotard’s, that of the differend.

Stick with me here because I’m gonna take this in a very non-technical direction. But it’s a useful concept. In layman’s terms, the differend is a kind of insurmountable gap in communication. It is relevant to the situation in which two very genuine parties may be trying to communicate, but simply can not do it. It may be a matter of language. It may be a matter of gesture. It may be a matter of habits of thought that are beneath language and gesture.

© Aron Hsiao / 2008

But that gap, between one and another, that gap of non-communicability is called the differend. It comes to us in conventional wisdom as the idea that sometimes translation simply can’t be achieved. Both sides can work toward communication, can engage in translation using better or worse technique, may even imagine that they have both understood one another, and yet in fact they haven’t.

This isn’t a universal condition; it doesn’t occur in all exchanges or between all actors. But Lyotard points to the fact that it can exist, that there are some things that simply can’t be “said” between two people in the way in which we imagine “saying” (i.e. with simplicity and understanding and clear commensurability of cognition) to work.

It is the “between two people” part that matters.* It’s not that “there are some things that can’t be said,” period. It’s that there are some people that cannot intelligibly communicate certain ideas with one another, with or without translation. The individual universes of thought and feeling that they inhabit do not overlap enough about a particular concept or idea for any translation, of any quality, or of any volume, to be possible. Translation depends on the premise that two people share enough that you can find words in one universe to represent the same things in the other universe. This doesn’t work if there is nothing similar in the other person’s universe to refer to.

The differend is a gap between the communicative universes inhabited by the people that are attempting to communicate.

* Okay, so I’m oversimplifying here, he actually talked of the incommensurability of constellations of meaning in two disparate language games, but for the lay-account, in practical everyday life, this most often comes to us as a difference between two people steeped in different language games, so I feel as though I can get away with this. Minor interlude complete.

— § —

Apropos of this (here’s where I take the turn), I am, and have always been, a deeply spiritual person.

And some chunk of the people that know me well will say that I am the most spiritual person that they know. Sometimes it is wonderful to be wired this way, and sometimes it is a serious inconvenience in life. But it is what it is. I live and have always lived in a world of signs and wonders and geologic time, not in a world of simple, concrete facts and highly objective UTC.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

But there are other people that know me well that have always believed that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. That I am the most rationalistic, unimaginative, repressed person they’ve met.

How to square this circle? I put it down to the differend.

There is an incommensurability of thought and language about the world and the magic in it, for myself and for some others, that is difficult to overcome. When I tell someone that the blue light of dusk falling between slats in the window blinds is my prayer, some take me to be demeaning prayer, and their own relationship with it. After all, I’ve just compared it to window blinds. I am clearly making fun of them or being dismissive &c.

What they don’t see and I often think they can’t believe is that I see that light, that dusk, in its eternal cycle, in the dying of a day, the rotation of a celestial body, and the window—its deep objective being as a thing of both separation (demarkation) and unity (flow—of light, of air—plus merging, openness, light, sight), and I see the two operating together, and it takes my breath away and I am moved to tears and I see God and feel connected to heaven and I descend into deep thoughts, murmurings, repetitions, and reflections inside myself, sometimes for hours.

Windows, rivers, ferris wheels, carousels, snowstorms, analog clocks, polished optics, road trips… All of these things I’ve called my prayers. Some people that know me understand that these are, in fact, my prayers, and that in them I experience the divine and aspire and at the same time release myself to the extent that I’m able to be a part of them.

For the others—I don’t know that it will ever make sense.

The same thing goes for association. For me, spirituality is necessarily experienced only in solitude. For others, it can only be experienced in association, in the company of others. Even in the midst of a congregation, the ineffable for me has always been an inner experience, something different from and distant from human interaction.

— § —

I post this because like everyone, I wish to be understood, especially by those that I know. Of course, that’s why I post everything I post. That’s why we say everything we say.

And of course, one immediate response to this is to say, “but you just said you prefer to be alone!”

That, again, in the face of all of this, is the result of the differend. Because of course in my own soul, I’ve said and felt nothing of the sort.

— § —

Life is complicated. And simple. The being part is simple. What is, is. The desire part is complicated. What isn’t, isn’t for an infinite variety of reasons, some addressable, some not.

The end of curiosity.  §

I used to have it. Morbidly, in a way. Now, I just don’t want to know.

— § —

I saw WASP ugly today, a good reminder about why a certain kind of middle-class white folk has the reputation that it has.

A little boy of four (mine, as it happens, but this is beside the point) fell off of his tube in a lazy river in a crowded public pool. He didn’t want to fall off, and it scared him more than a bit (luckily his dad was there to grab him a moment later).

It happened to make a splash. And some of this splash landed on an upper-middle-class looking woman, thin, blonde, forty-something, well made up and in a new swimsuit. She was also sailing down the lazy river.

And she let loose with a “Seriously! Seriously?! Take it to the kiddie pool!” while looking back and forth between myself and said four year old, fearful now of both the water and of her. To which her silverback, perfect-hair husband with the slightly hairy chest and great fitness body responded, also while looking at us, “I don’t know why they let them in here.”

Apparently they’d decided to live out their Cabo san Lucas dreams at Lagoon a Beach and we spoiled them with just a bit of water in a public pool. Must have mussed her spendy makeup and hairdo.

I picked up said boy and said to the man, with more than a bit of a stare, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

— § —

The ferris wheel is the greatest amusement ride ever invented. Riding on a ferris wheel is like meditation, or like touching heaven. Ride on it at night, at the end of a long day and as the close of the evening, and something magical happens.

There are few more edifying and reflective spaces or moments in life. I’d put it up against any church.

Trying to understand time.  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2007

I’ve always been a fall and winter person. Inside and out, without compromise. Over the course of my entire life I’ve looked forward to fall and winter every year during spring and summer, with anticipation building to a crescendo sometime in August.

Not this year.

I’m more than a bit bewildered. I’m caught between equal parts reverence for the coming seasons, apathy about the passage of time, and worry about the unknown. Last fall was too much a fragmentary blur for me to remember almost anything about it. It came and went and was the farthest thing from my mind.

Now I will likely have some time and space to live. But what does it mean? What does fall look like in my life anymore? What is its meaning? I haven’t been a student for a very long time, and I’m no longer a teacher, either. It’s no longer the season of beginnings and opportunities. With my family fractured, it’s also not “family” season or “home and hearth” season any longer, especially with the kids now of school age.

I am beginning to understand that I have a long road ahead to return to the life that I want. It will take years that I don’t really want to have, but have no choice but to have.

But in the meantime, I’m unsure. I’m apprehensive. I still have a soft place in my heart for fall and winter, but I also feel as though this is not a year in which I’m going to be able to enjoy them properly.

I can hear the peanut gallery yelling, “live in the moment!” already.

That’s why they can’t afford the good seats, frankly. Facebook wisdom is one thing that I know I won’t have to cope with this fall, as my Facebook use has dwindled essentially to nothing.

I see a lot of professional work and a lot of book reading ahead of me as the days get shorter.

— § —

I look back at photos of us and I don’t recognize anything that’s happened since about 2010. It’s like we used to be completely different people.

What happens to those people over time?

How is it possible that people change so much, and so entirely? And yet this is what everyone does.

There is a bit of conventional wisdom that says that “no one ever really changes,” or that “a tiger doesn’t change it’s stripes.”

What utter bullshit. All it takes is a decade to turn a person into an entirely different person, with different preferences, different habits, different dreams, a different personality, and a different appearance.

In fact, the opposite is true. No one ever really stays the same. A tiger can’t keep its stripes.

The incredible ephemerality of people—of people all around you, including those closest to you—is one of the strange, wonderful, and tragic mysteries of human life.

The sadness.  §

© Mitchazenia / CC BY SA 3.0

I always know when it’s coming.

They stop, often mid-sentence, as if frozen in ice. Most often, they are looking at something around the house—something that they haven’t noticed or looked at in a long time. And suddenly their eyes are more like those of middle-aged people that have lost in some important way—distant, reflective, with a hint of deep sadness.

And then, finally, as if in a trance, it comes.

“Dad, do you remember when—”

“Dad, howcome—”

I struggle with these moments more than I struggle with anything else in life. Not because answering is difficult or because I’m lost or confused, but because it tears me apart inside to see them increasingly world-weary, wise, philosophical, and sad—not kid sad, but adult sad, beneath the surface. Wistful. At ages four and five. Childhood is supposed to be about something else.

But in today’s world, it simply isn’t.

— § —

Just like that, backyard campout is over. Six nights, as it turned out, of backyard camping in a row.

And then, without a hint of discussion or disagreement, after last night insisting on yet another night in the tent with no particular end in sight, tonight both of them chimed in at the same time, just before bed, “Let’s sleep inside tonight!”

So inside we all are.

I have to confess that I feel just a bit wistful myself about the fact that our “backyard campout” has finally and suddenly come to an end. It will be something that I remember about this particular year and this particular summer—and, in the end, about their childhoods—for a long, long time.

But, as fate itself knows, all good things must end.

Learning from the kids.  §

© Ezra Wolfe / CC BY SA 2.0

It has been a busy week. Work is hectic, and with child care at home and running the kids to and from preschool added to the mix, it can feel as though there’s little time for anything fun.

So, determined person that I am, I tend at times like this to put “fun” on the to-do list.

And today, after a busy day of work and school and then martial arts study in the evening, we climbed into the car and began to drive to our evening “fun” outing. Upon which the kids said to me, “Can we just go home and have a popsicle?”

At first I began to respond with the standard, “But don’t you want to…”

But then I stopped. And, as I drove, I silently asked myself the all-important question. “Why are you so determined to do this? The kids want to go home and have a popsicle. They’ve just told you. That, right now, is what will be fun.”

So I didn’t finish my sentence after all, and instead we went home and had a popsicle and then roasted some hot dogs over a fire. And all were happy. And there you have it.

Sometimes the to-do list and the “schedule” are not more, but less, than meets the eye.

— § —

It is also another tent night. This becomes consecutive night number six with the kids in which we are sleeping in the back yard in a tent.

Night one happened because they’d been asking for ages when we could “camp outside,” with those requests having become more or less constant and very, very insistent over the course of June and early July.

That’s how it began. After the first night, I was rather sure that I was done with it all, and that it was time to fold up the tent, take the sleeiping bags to the laundromat, and return to “normalcy.”

But they asked for another night. And then another. I presume that at some point, the novelty will finally wear of and they’ll be ready for a bed again.

In the meantime, I’m more than surprised at just how good all of this outdoor time has been for me. With the events of divorce and the responsibilities of work otherwise having more command over my life and feelings than I’d like, I thought that the last thing I really needed were many nights outdoors in a tent.

Turns out that it’s the thing I needed most. Looking back over the last week and a half, I’m not sure how I’d have survived indoors, in a bed, clinging to “normalcy.”

© Robert Knapp / CC BY SA 3.0

Instead, here I type, in utter darkness, slight chill in the air, listening to crickets and the snoring of children as they come together in a kind of primal orchestral arrangement. And I feel calm and exposed to the world and at one with things greater than myself—the air, the hills, the stars, the kids.

This is what we all needed, apparently, but only they knew it.

— § —

I grew up hearing that “you learn so much from your kids,” but I always took it to be a kind of empty platitude—either that or a veiled reference to cuteness, as in you learn just how cute kids are and just how much you really, really love them.

But in fact you also learn certain things about life from your kids. Not always for the first time, but certaily for the first time in a long time. Because kids haven’t yet had the sense that they were born with beaten out of them by the institutions of society, by peers, and by significant others.

We all arrive in middle age as a pack of maladjusted liars, these traits having been inculcated in us by forceful and keening others who sought to make us just the opposite in one of life’s great paradoxes.

Unpolluted by good behavior and proper thoughts, kids know what’s true perhaps better than most adults do. And, in their innocence, they are also unencumbered with respect to simple pronouncements of truth.

There is certainly a fine line to be walked—after all, they will have to navigate the same waters of the world that all adults have, by middle age, navigated—but there is much to the idea that it’s often a very good idea to listen to and follow children, if you can pause for a moment to recognize and accept the unvarnished, unconscious wisdom in the things that they say and do.

— § —

And so here we are, surrounded by cool air and crickets after an evening of popsicles and hot dogs, all of which the kids recognize as implicitly valuable.

Though they’re always happy to pay lip service to such things, I’d wager that few adults, when push comes to shove and in the midst of adult life, actually recognize and act upon the value of such things in the same way.

Their loss.

Summer.  §

Another night in the tent. The kids are totally uninterested at this point in any return to an actual bed. I’m not nearly as enamored with it as they are, but I can manage in the interest of a good time.

Tonight it’t hot and muggy, the opposite of the way things were last week.

— § —

I’ve been thinking back to past summers. Adult past and pre-adult past. And what I’ve realized is that it’s been a very, very long time since I had an unencumbered summer—or indeed an unencumbered any season at all.

© Someone in the family / 1980

I thought I’d gain some sense of life back when I finished school, but I didn’t. Because though the problem has long been external demands placed upon me, it wasn’t school or work making those demands after all.

For many, many years, loyalty and integrity have dictated that I essentially live my life for others. I have spent decades patiently managing myself so as to help others to achieve and pursue the particular lives and lifestyles that they wanted to lead. My own dreams and preferences have largely not counted for much, to myself or to them.

I think back to the early 2000s and even to the late ’90s and I see this state of affairs clearly.

This is bad. I don’t want to reach the end of my adult life having largely lived it for other people, and in ways that I didn’t generally agree with. It’s not that I’m against putting other people first—far from it—but the degree to which any and every facet of my being was compromised, by so many different people, over so long a period of time, is troubling.

It’s not all about oneself, certainly, but one’s life shouldn’t necessarily be “not about oneself at all,” at least not when the point of such sacrifices isn’t the greater good but is just one or two other people who, frankly, didn’t actually need the help.

Workday.  §

I got up before 7:00 this morning and I worked all day, straight through, until 10:30 pm this evening. Without a break. Not even a lunchbreak.

By the time I was done, my hands were trembling.

Intense, lengthy work sessions like this always have a strange, paradoxical effect on me. On the one hand, I feel wonderful and triumphant. At the very same time, and in the very same bones, I feel equally frustrated that this is how we spend our lives.