Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

The sum of his geography.  §

Every day it’s the same, kids or no kids.

I wake up full of ideas, but with no time or justification to do anything about them. I always plan to get to it in the evening.

After the work is done.

After the kids have gone to bed.

After the urgent maintenance items.

And so on.

Hours tick by. I refine the ideas, develop them as I do whatever else it is that I’m doing. I become progressively more impatient about the arrival of the day’s end, when I’ll be able to apply the ideas that’ve occupied so much of my thought throughout the day.

Then, finally, the day is over. The kids are asleep, or if I’m on my own, the pets are fed. The clutter is minimally tidied.

I’ve got the iPad and the keyboard in front of me… and I’m blank and struggling just to stay awake. Doing anything substantive seems out of the question.

Respiration itself almost seems out of the question.

— § —

Far from making up ground—professionally, personally, financially—I’ve been steady losing it for at least two years in some cases, and for far longer in others.

It is a long downward slope that I’ve been accelerating along for some time now. Not pressing the gas pedal myself on the way down, mind you—but nevertheless coasting without power toward the bottom of a hill of unknown length, picking up speed as I go.

— § —

True to form, I fell asleep. Now it’s about three hours later than it was before. QED.

(This is not a new phenomenon. This is parenthood. This is also one of the things that made the ex very angry—as though the fact that I was exhausted at the end of every day was a personal slight against her.)

— § —

Earlier today I was reading an article somewhere, and it quoted someone that I’d never heard of, with something akin to this:

“A man is effectively the sum of his geography.”

And of course now I can’t find it, so I can’t give a proper citation or reference, or even know if I have the basic quote right. But whether or not the quote is right, I think the concept is right.

You are the sum of what is in your local, social, and economic geography—nothing less, but certainly nothing more. This is the basic problem with my life, and why I was much happier in Chicago and New York and far less well in Los Angeles and now especially Utah.

It’s why in the former places, opportunity and success seemed to be everywhere, while now I feel as though I’m effectively dead-ended.

What was my geography in 2008?

  • An area with dozens of major college campuses within a half-hour’s drive, including the largest by enrollment in the United States, and three of the most storied, in NYU, Columbia, and the New School
  • Literally countless businesses, from the smallest in local bodegas to the biggest engines of finance in the world, along with all of the supporting cast, organizational, individual, and administrative-bureaucratic that goes along with them
  • A nearby population that’s the most diverse in the world (literally true in the case of Queens) and hosting the world’s top artists, writers, thinkers, innovators, and top everyone else
  • An infinite variety of goods, services, infrastructures, and small-scale milieux
  • Nearby, the entire eastern seaboard, the Atlantic Ocean, the United Nations, etc.
  • Daily personal contact with a massive cast of professors, graduate students, and urban professionals of a variety of stripes, many of them very prominent in their fields, as well as with working class folk of a variety of stripes

What’s my geography now?

  • An area with one secular college campus within dozens of miles—not a top or selective campus but in fact a glorified back-woods community college that has majors like airplane mechanics (not as in physics, but as in changing the engine oil on twin-prop planes and so on)
  • No business to speak of apart from big-box retail, and a total business population—in terms of registered interests—that a single person could easily inventory
  • A local population of middle-middle class white Mormons that live in single-family dwellings that are all more or less identical and that are not, in the traditional sense of the world, highly sociable, ambitious, or involved in the world in any way
  • Limited-to-no goods, services, or anything else
  • Nearby—well, what? I suppose the nearest prominent thing, about 25 miles away, is an Ikea; in terms of inspiration, this is a pale substitute for the eastern seaboard, the Atlantic Ocean, or the United Nations
  • Daily contact with a small handful of very nice but otherwise unremarkable Canadians, with whom I work doing mundane tech stuff entirely by telephone

Point being—things suck because the set of resources upon which I am able to draw for my personhood—things I’m able to leverage or think about, social networks I’m able to participate in, etc.—is an incredible poverty of everything, leading to an incredible poverty of imagination and opportunity.

This is what’s wrong with middle America. It’s a kind of black hole for ambition, inspiration, or opportunity.

I woke up in New York every morning excited to be alive. I wake up here every morning and try to think of something—anything—that I could do today that wouldn’t be exactly the same as what I did yesterday.

If I didn’t have kids who were rooted in this area, I’d have been out of here years ago. And there are times when I absolutely curse my ex for forcing the issue on leaving NYC, and wonder what sort of self-crucifying idiot I was to ever leave it, particularly for someone else.

I know that there are a lot of “get over it” and “see the bright side” and “attitude matters” folks out there, but the fact is that there is a real difference in possibilities and conditions between here and other places that I’ve lived, and I agree that a person simply cannot be more than the sum of their geography; it is impossible.

Yes, one has to move on and live. But there are such things as catastrophic, life-derailing mistakes, and moving back to Utah was one of mine.

It will lead me to someday teach my kids to never, ever, ever make big sacrifices for “love.” Anyone who asks you to make them—or will even accept the fact of your making them—never loved you in any beneficial way, and never did.

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