Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lessons Learned

I've been sleeping in a mortuary for the past few nights. Long story that involves a bet I lost, and housing-limbo.. Just kidding.

My best friend has this sweet set up where he answers the phones after business hours/on weekends. And in turn, he and his wife and their lilbabykid get to live rent free in a decent-sized apartment. Pretty sweet. except they are homebodies.

Anyway, a marriage came to town, that town was Houston, so they got to a much-needed vacation. I am covering the phones for them while they're gone. As we speak, I'm sprawled out on the couch(sprawled sounded like the wrong word, and I just realized that for some reason, in my head it means "face down"... which I am not...) trying to pass the time in some other way than washing dishes and cleaning up around here.

Here are a few things I've learned (this is my first live-in shift).

1. Everyone I try to explain this to suggests that I just have the calls forwarded to a cell phone, that way I'd be free to leave.... not that simple.

2. This job is definitely designed for a young (maybe not-so-young actually) married couple.
Phones are to be answered within 2 rings, after the 3rd, it will be picked up by a disgruntled Funeral Director(he's a nice guy, but no one wants to get work calls when they're supposed to be off).
This first rule makes life interesting, especially as a single person.
Though I was given permission to have people over (even throw a party if I want) I'm not real big on instigating anything more than late-night card games with a couple (as in 2 or 3) friends. So I've had a lot of alone time. (family was in town and they came to see me a couple of times). Even with other people here, I'm the only one trained and authorized to answer the phones. This means that any task I undertake(no pun intended) cannot keep me from the phones for more than about 8 seconds. This isn't (usually) an issue when there are two people around who are trained on the phones, but with just one... everyday things must be calculated and planned.

For instance, I realized too late that even a small workout can leave you a bit winded, and if the phone rings, you have all of 5 or 6 seconds to catch your breath so you're not huffing and puffing in someone's ear when you answer the phone.
Also, I'm not big on morning showers. I shower before bed. It keeps the sheets cleaner longer, and I sleep better after a shower. However, after 5pm, I am on-duty, for the first 2 days I didn't plan ahead.
With family in town, I have been leaving in the mornings anyway to go hang out with them, i really hate morning showers so I told myself I would just get back a bit before 5 and shower then. Didn't happen.
Saturdays, I'm on duty at 2 instead of 5, again, I didn't make it back with enough time to shower.

So... I haven't showered since Wednesday. no time before 5pm on Thursday and Friday and, with one person, the Saturday shift that starts at 2pm doesn't end until 8am on Monday(I'm on-duty all night Saturday, all day on Sunday and all through Sunday night).

Another thing. When I went shopping for food for the weekend, I didn't seem to notice that what I was stocking up on was a LOT of dairy. (milk and cereal, Ice cream(for smoothies), quesodilla fixings(shredded cheese, sour cream, canned chicken, salsa), ham and cheese saniches... and Kulfi(sp) that my friends left for me.

That's a lot of dairy. I wish I had realized.... Oh well I think, I'll raid the fridge for something less dairy-y.... Pickles! yay! So I went from an overly dairy-laden diet, to a very pickled diet (no "preserves" joke here). These aren't just any pickles though, they are home grown, home pickled and canned. I finished off the already opened jar (that means I even ate the garlic clove) and went to the pantry for another. The new jar is spiced! yum. I have a suspicion that this one was seasoned by my friend's dad. it's pretty spicy though still quite dill-icious.

I'll probably be feeling the effects of my diet for the next couple of days.

It hasn't been too bad, in all. Only a few calls.... And I owe my friends for all their hospitality, they're too good to me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Poo in the Brownie

Finished Zen and t.a.o. Motorcycle Maintenance, finally. Something to be said for unemployment, when you can really immerse yourself in a good book (and only have to wonder where your next meal will come from).

I forgot about a paragraph about 3 chapters from the end, in which the reader is blindsided by a *our-letter word. A big one. THE big one. and in that same paragraph, the long B word... It's a point he is trying to make, it is not language for the sake of language. It seems the author didn't feel that a more mild, but italicized word would suffice to convey his thought.

When I read it, I thought "oh man! he nearly had an entirely squeaky-clean book... why this?"

But even at that moment--in that moment--I recognized his technique and I knew why. It didn't take away my disappointment though. I would rather have read a full page of explanation than the F-word, as effectively and fitting as it was. It's something that I despise in myself, when I feel quite strongly about something, I get quite inarticulate about it, and if I feel especially passionate about it, I will probably highlight my statements with some strong words. I don't like the fact that I have trained myself to revert to shock value to emphasize my position--it makes me feel totally inept with words (usually a bit after the conversation). I think most of the time it's because the choice words come to mind, and I search for an alternate, give up, and the go ahead and swear. That is evidence of my ineptitude. And the clincher is that it is my OWN fault, I've trained myself.

Now, as to the title of this particular post... since finishing my book, being somewhat irked (this time around) by the single use of strong language, I have been thinking on the analogy of the poo in the brownie. If you haven't heard it, it goes something like this (it's more of a visual aid.. but I'll try to paint it clearly for you here.)

Imagine you have been given a pan of brownies. Scrumptious Brownies. they smell like a Brownie-scented Glade Plug-In in Heaven might. You can see that they are the perfect consistency; a paper-thin caramelized crust on top, and moist and chewy fudge beneath.
You want to relish them entirely so you ask "what's in them?" The response comes: "Flour...Sugar...Eggs...Vanilla.. Cocoa powder, more sugar... Oh some Poo... whipped milk chocolate frosting, a hint of mint, some--"
"WOAH!" you interupt "did you say there's Poo in these?"
And now you must make a decision. "Do I really want to eat these brownies?"

What would you answer?

The answer is obvious. The delectable brownies have been ruined. Never mind who put it in there, or why... it's not something you're going to ingest. I think I have done the analogy justice here. Lemme know if I'm wrong.

Now, I want to take a step back and take a good look at this analogy.

1. The tray of brownies can represent anything at all. For my purpose, I will call it the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

2. The poo represents something that offends. In this case, foul language.

3. All of the other ingredients represent wholesomeness.

I hope you'll follow me on this, it may rub you the wrong way, but I think there's truth in it.

I have been considering whether the analogy is a strong one, or simply a logical fallacy. I have concluded that it is the latter.

You see, even though I've read Z/MM before, reading it opens my mind to so much that I tend to take for granted. It helps me to see things in a light that furthers my understanding of not only the concepts in the book, but of nearly everything around me. I have a renewed appreciation for many many things in my life. And, I would say that it helps me move toward an appreciation of the things in my life that I, for now, am not open to.

Having read this book just prior to starting school again, I feel ready to face the challenges of academia because I have been given perspective--scope. I can focus on the real goal and not fret the technicalities and routines.

In short, this book changes my life every time I read it. I guess I mentioned that last time around, it led me down a road that I assumed was headed for a new kind of enlightenment. In reality it was one of those seldom-traveled mountain roads that took me right back to square one. But what a journey it was! okay... I'll talk more on that later. Back to the topic at hand.

This book (I highly recommend it, but only when you are prepared to immerse yourself in it), is actually exploring the very topic we are addressing here: "Quality". I'm not exactly going to borrow the thesis of the book here, but I do want to state something about quality. Quality is NOT Perfection. Maybe it may be said that Perfection is the ultimate quality, but quality is not a measure of perfection, or this world would have no quality.

Sorry this is all so scatter-brained, this is just how my brain works.

Let's take the Poo analogy and summarize it.

"A tray of brownies looses its appeal to a person when its contents are made known to said individual, who has an internalized standard of wholesomeness".

Does this sound fair? If not, please submit a more fitting summary. I am not trying to use any trickery here. That, I believe, is the point of the analogy. But I submit to you that it assumes too much, and that a better analogy is in order. This analogy, this object lesson, assumes this:

A subject's (brownie's) wholesomeness (worth) is determined by the absence of unwholesomeness(poo).

Sounds fair. It sounded fair to me for a bit. But something about it doesn't work.
Let's take this same logic and apply it to something else...

"A person's goodness is determined by the absence of bad." Or, in other words, there is no such thing as "redeeming qualities" you are the sum of the bad. Now, you're probably thinking "does he really think he can use logic to justify eating Poo Brownies?" I assure you, that is not the point I want to make.

my point is, it isn't reasonable to assume that undesirable attributes ruin desirable attributes. They can, definitely, take away from the desireability of something, but it is not a given fact that they (undesirables) ruin the good.

That's why I think the analogy needs reworking. The quality brought to my life by Z/MM is not fecal browny. I won't allow the correlation to the Poo analogy. Is foul language, in my book (my own book, "personal values") at the level of "poo"? probably not. Is foul language Poo? Sure, I wont refute that. Is it possible to blot out a bad word in a book? Yes (more on this in a moment). Is it possible to remove poo from a batch of brownies? no, it is not(unless the poo is added on top, and not blended into the brownies, in which case, I suppose the question one must ask himself is "Am I comfortable eating decontaminated brownies?" .. for me, the considerations would be the size of the tray, the location where the poo had been, and the quality estimated quality of the brownies, considering their former proximity to poo).

So, we have an alternative to the initial Poo analogy, and that is one where the poo is not necessarily an ingredient of the brownies, but an undesirable addition to an otherwise perfectly good batch of brownies.

If we take away the poo, and all the frosting it came in contact with, we're left with a blotch in the icing that serves as a reminder of what used to be there, which affects the appeal of the brownies. Now to get back to the proposal of blotting out a bad word. You can take a sharpie marker and strike the foul language from a book, but any semi-intelligent person would know not only what the blot means, but(most likely) the particular word that has been stricken. Has the solution been effective? Not entirely. Is the poo gone? It might not be as simple as that. The ability for one to correlate a spot of patchy frosting to the removal of something entirely detestable leaves us with what I guess could be called "mental residue". The brownies could be entirely uncontaminated, but the knowledge of what was removed still remains.

My parents would often screen what we watched and read for this Poo. My mom would use a sharpie marker in books, and the mute button or fast forward on films. Music (since she hated it anyway) was simply banned. An example of removing the poo from the brownie: my mom took me and my brother to see Titanic in the theater. When the nude scene was due, she had us stand outside the theater doors while she monitored it for when it was okay for us to come back in. Turns out there was not a whole lot of history to be learned from the movie. But (and now everyone will know my secret) that was the film that initially sparked my interest in film making.

I think I jumped the gun on putting down my thoughts on this matter, I have just expended all of the energy I have on the subject, so when my thoughts are put in order, I will lack the gusto to rewrite this.


As I left my brother's house, around 1AM, I stood in the driveway and gazed skyward-- Maybe a dozen stars and a perfect half-moon. The sky looked like an inkwell with a drop of Elmer's School Glue, or a drain pan full of oil with a glass of milk stirred in... too light to be black, bu no other color.

I drove down the backroad and turned onto the main one, Headed for the stoplight, but decided to take a right instead of going straight. This way leads to a nice rural spot, and I tend to gravitate to those places when I have a lot on my mind.

Green light, Green light, red light, green light. Over the overpass, under the underpass. Now headed for the black expanse to the West. I look out my window and up at the sky again, now the stars have begun to let down their guard, they must just not like City Folk. Warm air, no breeze. the streetlights disappear entirely. Occasionally a pocket of cool air wisps off the water, it's relaxing. I take the last curve and the gates come into view, I could trip the sensor from the other side and sneak out into the marina, but I'm not feeling up to it. And besides, there will be a fog of memories all about the place, and I don't feel like getting lost in it just now. I take a right and head back north, then follow the road to the east. Just as it straightens out there is a gate to a pasture on the left, I notice it almost to late and brake hard to turn off the road. I kill the engine immediately, and the radio with it. Fine Young Cannibals, but that's two nights in a row, so I don't even finish the line in my head. I step out of my 4Runner, the door takes two arms and a little bit of back to get closed these days. You should have seen the cause, if you put a 4runner in one end of a ravine, it comes out on the other converted to a jalopy. I cleaned it recently though, and I'm pleased that my flannel "sleeping bag" is neatly rolled up in the back. I grab it and jump the gate. I was going to venture into the pasture, but I don't even have time to be dissuaded by cow pies and critters, The gravel is good enough for me. I came out here to reminisce, though I dream of moving on. there are a few more memories up the road, and I chose this spot to avoid them, I'm not feeling especially invincible.

I lay down on my bag and try to welcome some peace, but I try to hard and I find myself trying to shake off the feeling of being a phony. I'm honest with myself when no one is around, so I accept the fact that I have been brooding, and now I have come out here expecting to catch a muse, or a vision of the universe in a timeless sense. I wanted to feel like King David, and instead I feel as hopeless as a country singer-- attempting to say something deep, or at least witty, and instead creating a travesty. I decide instead that I will just try to be in the Here and Now. On my right--toward the lake--crickets and bullfrogs are behaving like barnyard animals, trying to talk over everyone else.. maybe that's more like a room full of teenagers.... On my left, The juxtaposing sound of cattle and the rumble of the interstate. The show has started, and I realize that I'm not going to see the full spectacle, not here where the city lights are still putting off a glow. I could have gone up the canyon, but neither my jalopy nor I have what it takes tonight. I'll have to settle. I settle in more and try to guess when the next good shooting star will cross the sky. I'm way off, but at least I have time to turn my head. The city lights really do a number on a good shooting star, whereas up in the mountains, you can see the trenches left behind--a bit after the tail has burned out--a good shooting star, down here in the valley even the big ones look like they'd buff out. There are a couple of the really good ones, the ones that start out orange or red and then burn white, and then back to a red. or the ones that appear to skip across the atmosphere, like a nice flat rock on a calm pond. That's what those "trenches" really look like... like a fisherman's line when he gets a bite. the line rips through the surface as the hook sets, and you see its path in the the water for an instant after.

I really miss the contented feeling of sleeping under the stars, with the uncertain threat of meteors, but also with all those gases between them and us, like a corral fence against a mad bull, or a thick blanket against biting cold, or a mother's embrace against anything.
I really miss sleeping around a fire, watching the embers oscillate slowly with the breeze, as if they were pulsating, breathing. and watching the ashes rise on the heat of the flames, the sparks crackling and darting out against a milky-black sky... kinda like a shooting star.

The Mosquitoes are in full effect, but I'm content to watch a while longer. I decide not to trust myself to remember these sensations and pull out my cellphone to draft some key words, but though I turn out to be better than i thought at typing blind, I am still distracted by the task so I put it away. Most of these shooting stars are just highlights in the glow of the city lights. they hardly stand out as more than ghosts. Sad that I can't find it in me to drive out in the desert, or up in the canyon to really be able to see the show... but I remember that it's the peace I came here for, and I try to get it back again. These celestial nightlights are truely amazing, but I fail to manage to forget myself and be absorbed by them. I'll try again next year. I get to my feet, and watch one last Really Good One before I head back the way I came. The stars begin to disappear as I approach the grid of streetlights, there are 3 or 4 bites on my forehead, and I can feel them ever so slowly swelling, but all in all, I think I'm going home with some lasting peace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I have 8 books on my end table and I'm reading all of them. I just did the math in my head, and it looks like I've read 901 pages, and have about 2116 left. Wow

Monday, August 3, 2009

Slow Motion Heartache

I've been investigating something about myself. Not sure if when I've explored it that I will actually share it with you, Dear Reader... --What am I talking about? you're reading it now!

While "Heartache" isn't a word I like to throw around, it's also not the end of the world. I guess I should find a word that isn't so widely abused by pop musicians and high school poets, but I'd rather just give you my definition before we proceed.

When I say Heartache I don't mean tears and suicidal thoughts, or anything like that.
It's actually very simple: Heart + ache. Perhaps a little more abstract than simply descriptive, since it is (for me at least) a physical symptom of a mental process, but at least it's not a misnomer like "Heartburn".

Again, I just want to be thorough here. I had an idea of what I wanted to say before I even began this post. I hadn't come up with a title for it, and the one I used wasn't exactly thought out, so everything up to this point has been just that.

Guess I'm rambling, avoiding my own topic. I hope you understand what I mean. I'm sure you can relate. It's an ache in my chest, and it usually accompanies a feeling of loss-- I suppose it is the physical "feeling" of loss. So it follows a realization. It's the purest example of emotion. If I were a computer, the realization would be the end product of my calculative process. It would either flash this "answer" across my screen. Or, if this "answer" was only one part of an equation, then it would remain as code until the end answer had been calculated. I suppose this end answer would be the calculated "meaning of life". but then again, I'd be a computer... And I'm rambling again. But I do want to explore this later.

So, about this title... why didn't I just leave it blank until I had said my piece? Instead, I've started myself on a couple of little tangents and side trails instead of starting this hike. this "Chautauqua", if you will*.

An alternative title occurred to me as I've written "breakdown of a breakdown" but that isn't what I want to talk about, it just sounds witty (to me).

I've given up on exploring my original topic, this title thing has gone too far, and I realize you have better things to do. Pity though, I would have liked to maintain this same lighthearted tone in my original topic.

I suppose I'll go on with the computer concept, and add a subtitle to this post "what is emotion and why?" :)

Wow. I suddenly need to start a new analogy. Simply because I added a sub-title. This title-prior-to-completion-of-discourse thing is a good way to derail any sort of orderly train of thought. But this blather has a certain therapeutic value-- an analgesic effect on the very heartache I was about to write of-- so I'll continue. you may leave now, if you'd had enough, I don't quite have my fix.

What is emotion? Like I said, it is a physical feeling that accompanies a mental function. this definition is my own, and I may have to expand it later and riddle it with exceptions and such, but I think that pretty much sums it up. It is the difference between a study-hall calculator and a the teenager using it: they are both receiving quite an abundance of information, buttons are being pushed, sometimes they are abused or misused... they have a lot in common**. But the calculator doesn't have emotions. In this regard suppose it's in the air which has it better.

So why? this is where it gets tricky. Calculators were invented as a tool of efficiency. The calculators cut out all the many reasons we mess up; audio/visual distractions (conflicting sensory input, etc.) concentration (aside from external stimuli: thoughts of "this mortgage high school experience is going to be the death of me!" and such) forgetfulness ("formulas" and crap) and, last but not least (at least in my case), emotion. I'm not saying that math is an emotional trial for me in the sense that it ends in tears or heartache... I'm just referring to that damp forehead sort of frustration, the kind that builds on itself as you get more and more vexed with the problem.

Calculators have it made. They don't have to worry about anything but input, essentially "hardwired" processing, and output. Then again, if there were no more to a life than to make calculations, life would get pretty meaningless pretty quick. So, if you think about it, Calculators have it pretty rough.

I don't suppose there's much else to say, than that we are how we are because without emotions, we would be calculators. Every word, act and thought would be executed only in response to stimuli, but without consideration of the stimulant itself. We get the human experience, in all its splendor and gloom, ecstasy and pain.

Emotions are meaning. And not the type of meaning that words have, emotion is true meaning. Emotions are signifieds, something words and symbols cannot ever completely capture.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading.

* - I'm currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance again, and with new eyes. I didn't realize that it was going to show through in this writing, and I definitely wasn't trying for that... But you tell me: are there less commas in this post than average?

** - It occurred to me that neither is capable of finding answers without the other. difference (aside from emotion) being that where a calculator is usually sleek, smooth (aside from the pizza-grease fingerprints) and systematic, the teenager using it is usually pizza-faced, bumbling and erratic.