Early in the morning.
I’m laying here next to a young girl pit bull who likes to curl up against your body. I’m wearing the dissertation watch. It’s the watch I bought myself in honor of having completed my Ph.D. It’s titanium and echoes the design cues of mid-twentieth-century aviation instrument panels. It’s full of unfinished surfaces and angles and hard edges.
I like angles and hard edges in general, in most anything. I don’t generally find smooth surfaces and curves to be appealing. Most of the time I distrust them. They feel like lies, places where the angles and hard edges have been hidden from view, like suppressed arguments.
— § —
When I was living in southern California, I knew someone that basically had it made. They owned a large house, outright, in one of the most desirable beach-area districts in the United States. They had a decent income, a decent car, lots of antiques in their home. Their kids were relatively successful.
© Aron Hsiao / 2004
And they were just about as ugly and bitter as is humanly possible.
Mostly what they did with their time away from work was watch hours and hours of banal television, eat tons and tons of expensive junk food and take-out, and go to Costo every saturday on a “samples tour.”
There was literally nothing else.
When pressed, they said they’d had a hard life and now they were “living for themselves, on their own terms,” and that they were “trying to have a lifestyle.”
All these years later I still don’t know what that means. It sounds like nonsense to me, like a rationalization they couldn’t be bothered to finish developing. It’s not clear to me how this amounts to “living for oneself,” and yet this is what everyone seems to be doing. It’s the vapid American thing.
“I’m going to go out and eat and buy the things I see in the magazines and post about it a lot on Facebook while smiling and showing off great hair.”
Basically everyone I knew in my California days needed, I thought, years of therapy to be normal. Now I look around at the world and the disease seems to have spread; everyone everyone now seems to need years of therapy to be normal.
People are living hollow lives and they can’t even tell any longer; the angles and hard edges have all been smoothed away and a high-polish surface obtains instead.
— § —
But speaking of, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?
I honestly have no idea. It’s the sort of question that’s profound precisely for anyone unable to answer it.
I think part of the malaise is that in some ways I’ve done everything I set out to do:
- Wrote books
- Got a doctorate
- Taught students
- Got married
- Had kids
That was pretty much the A-list when I was young. I don’t suppose I’d spent much time thinking or planning beyond those things.
Now I need to come up with a new plan, for a much shorter time frame—a couple decades rather than an entire life. But what should be in such a plan? One thing seems to be as good (or as pointless) as another.
— § —
© Aron Hsiao / 2004
Quite suddenly, fall seems to be everywhere.
All of retail has switched over to the fall inventory. At the kids’ Taekwondo club all the talk is about fall and the school year. It got dark before 9:00 pm tonight. Most of the summer activities list has been checked off. It’s been raining.
It’s like the season plane landed and fall got off and took over.
Fall is my favorite season. It’s also the season that most inspires in me waves of nostalgia.
And of course there’s football. Football for me is on that list of things that I thought I’d rejected as a too-cool-for-school troubled teenager, but that I rediscovered later as an adult, as part and parcel of discovering myself and where I’d come from. I love American football.
American football = fall = school = family and friends and holidays = community = comfort.
— § —
But back to fast for a moment.
Fall came fast. It’s not just a matter of suddenness, it’s a matter of the weird abbreviation of spring and summer this year as well.
I know that as you get older time moves more and more quickly, but this is ridiculous. Christmas was just here. It was, like, five minutes ago. Same with the start of kindergarden. It all just went down.
How is it possible that my daughter is about to start first grade in less than two weeks?
— § —
I’ve been on vacation off and on over the last couple of weeks. Three days week before last, and now three days over the past week as well.
It’s been badly needed. In fact, more is needed from the personal mental health perspective, but that’s not how the world works. If nothing else, I don’t have more vacation days to use, or employer patience to test.
So many years of pushing. Pushing, pushing, pushing. Sometimes self-motivated, sometimes motivated by circumstances, sometimes motivated by other people that I cared about or was trying to care about.
Years and years and years without a mental pause.
This time I really actually disconnected from work (as opposed to my usual habit of taking “vacation” and then basically working through it anyway), and there was nobody pressing on me in my personal life, and there were no large projects critically needing attention.
There were some general life problems, of course, that need to be solved, but on the whole, I’ve been able to get by operating at a far lower percentage of maximum cognitive capacity than has been possible for decades.
I do feel a bit rested, finally. Along with that comes a newly insatiable hunger for more rest, adequate rest, but I suppose that’s what death is for. At least if you’re in the middle class.
— § —
Getting things done has always been a problem for me in Utah.
It wasn’t a problem in Chicago or New York, where I took initiative and made things happen on my own. I still haven’t managed to that in Utah. Everything stagnates. Procrastination reigns supreme. Why?
I’m not sure why. I’m hoping that if I keep mentioning this enough, the gears will turn inside my head when I’m not looking and I’ll come up with an answer that rings true to me.
— § —
Few things are as tragic as watching someone else regularly f*** up—their choices, their opportunities, their lives, their selves. Doubly so if they repeatedly mistake said f***ing up for achievement and post it all over social media.
This seems to be an endemic modern disease.