Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Good-bye 2016.  §

I’m actually starting this in August, because I feel the need. But the headline already feels right to me. “Good bye, 2016.” Because if ever there was a year that I want to say good-bye to, it’s 2016.

So. Here’s the recap. In 2016, I:

  • Turned 40 years old.
  • Had the special red wagon I built with my kids stolen out of my back yard.
  • Recovered the wagon under sad and suspicious circumstances.
  • Had the custom bike I built with my own hands and carefully selected parts in NYC stolen off of my driveway.
  • Did not recover my bike.
  • Installed a video security system.
  • Got divorced. It was a long time in coming, and results from the grave mistake that was the marriage. Now I understand better when people say that “there was just no way to work it out.”
  • Took my daughter to her first day of kindergarten.
  • Lost a hundred pounds. Literally. (Everyone says that they don’t see it, at least not at that quantity; they forget that I’m six feet tall and a hundred wears very differently on me than it does on someone six or twelve inches shorter.) I’ve always said that when I’m under stress or unhappy, I put on weight, then when the negativity and stress start to fade, so does the weight. See the item above.
  • For the first time twenty years, did not do any of: write a book, teach a class, pursue academic work, freelance as a writer.
  • Consolidated 17 years of blog entries across about eight separate CMS systems into this one, single, 17-year blog CMS.
  • Pulled decades of old data off of DVD-RAM to save in newer formats.
  • Rediscovered spirituality.
  • Was often sad. Was also often happy. It was a year of ups and downs.
  • Watched all of Inspector Morse, all of Inspector Lewis, all of Prime Suspect, and all of Poirot.
  • Resumed yardwork.
  • Painted parts of the house, began a slow remodel.
  • Abandoned American “progressivism” entirely, as it’s become nonsense.
  • Began reading again.
  • Fell in love with horology. Okay, that’s a lie. Fell in love with wristwatches.
  • Had my mid-life “crisis.” Or at least started it. Time will tell when it ends.

— § —

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

The hardest thing to do this year has been to look back and admit to myself things that were mistakes. Everyone loves to admit their mistakes in a shallow way, but no one wants to admit deep mistakes. I don’t mean that people don’t want to admit them to others, I mean that people don’t want to admit them to themselves.

Here are some of mine.

  • Dating in New York. Getting married. I knew better, and I knew myself better, and I gave in anyway. Complete lack of discipline that has been definitive in what my life ultimately will come to be, and not in a positive way.
  • Leaving New York. Again, this was a way of building a steel trap for myself and then stepping right in it and lopping my feet off. For no good reason. Divorce was going to happen anyway. It may as well have been in a place where I was at a structural advantage, or at least breaking even, rather than being done in such a way that I will be at a structural disadvantage for decades.
  • Being too nice and failing to set healthy boundaries. I still can’t overcome this. Some of it is upbringing. “Why are you so nice?” I get asked over and over again. I don’t know. If I did, I would change it. It continues to represent a series of mistakes that rolls on and on.

— § —

Top article of 2016, unexpectedly:

Evolution Made Really Smart People Long to Be Loners

This is not, strictly speaking (or in any manner of speaking) a highbrow article. But when I read it, I cheered. Not because it called me smart (it did no such thing; it didn’t reference me at all), but because it made the case that there is nothing inherently right or inherently rational with wanting to socialize all the time, nor nothing inherently strange or mentally ill about being perfectly satisfied doing things on one’s own, as I’ve always been happiest doing them—even big things like extended travel.

And here’s what the article didn’t say. If you’re smarter and more knowledgeable than average, and especially of you’re these things and kind as well, social life is expensive. Your experience of the social world is one of being in demand—which can be nice—for a lot of unpaid work—which is not so nice. Everybody says that they’re happy to have you around, but when you are around, you spend most of your time solving problems and doing favors and improving other peoples’ lives. When you’re young, this can feel nice. As you age, it becomes exhausting, then at some point annoying.

Because they find that you are able to solve most any problem and know something (and usually many things) about most anything, you become the sharpest, most generally applicable tool in the shed, and thus, people unwittingly begin to use you that way, rather than merely appreciate your company. When they turn to others in the room, the conversation is about a variety of things, but when they turn to you, their first impulse is to go over the list of things they’ve been needing your help with and ask if you can’t please spare a moment and then pay you two dozen complements and by then—sadly—they’ve run out of equitable time to share with you so they move on to someone else in the room and that’s what you’ll get, mate.

And by the time you leave an event, you’ve got requests from half a dozen people.

Worse still is the percentage of time that you are unable to help, not because you were unwilling or because they didn’t ask, but because they were either unable to interpret the help that you provided or were convinced that you were wrong and didn’t know what you were talking about because they lacked the capacity to understand what you said or the terms, processes, etc. that you outlined. This has the frustrating effect of not only sapping your social time, as outlined above, but then—as a result—reducing your social status despite the fact that you were generous with your help and that you were, actually, right but that they’re not clear enough thinkers to understand that.

I’m not suggesting (at all) that smart folk out to receive a medal for being smart.

I am, however, suggesting that as the years go on, smart folk tend to gradually say to themselves, in response to invitations or movements toward time spent together, “Why? It’s frustrating and it takes a lot of my time that could be much more effectively used elsewhere.”

What this article does, for the first time I’ve read it in mainstream print, is hint at the idea that the highly educated, highly skilled, and/or highly intelligent person tends to feel more alone when spending time with other people (but for a few, whom they’ll usually keep in their circle of contact) than they do when spending time in isolation. Time spent with others drives home the notion that nobody in the room shares much in common with or will (ever) understand them all that much. When that’s your experience of social life, and it is—but for on the urban street, where it’s far better because there nobody knows to ask for your skills and chat is superficial and playful, where you can be appreciated for your wit and can share a good number of smiles—then you’re as likely as not to eventually wander away from it and toward other things that you find to be more fulfilling.

— § —

Favorite books read in 2016:

Hillbilly Elegy
Exit Right
From Wild Man to Wise Man
Get Me Out of Here
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough

Yeah, not a highbrow list (sue me). But an enjoyable one. I am missing academic reading, though. I think that 2017 will likely bring it back into my life, somewhat. I’m currently working on:

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
A Secular Age

— § —

Characterizing at month-long granularity:

January: Cautious optimism.
February: Hopeful optimism, at times near euphoria.
March: Collapse.
April: Pure caution, seeing things through.
May: Introspection and resignation.
June: All business.
July: Acceptance and carrying water.
August: Reboot.
September: Starting the climb.
October: Gaining confidence.
November: Conceptualization of the new reality.
December: Looking forward.

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