22 May 2014

Seattle, baby

He looks like a homeless version of any member of Aerosmith, sitting under the awning of the dry cleaners and shouting



14 May 2014


I had a dog for three weeks. I no longer have a dog, but that's not something I'm writing about here now or maybe ever.

But I had a dog, a dog named "Sunshine". "Sunshine" is an odd name for a dog that I'd own, largely because I'm not a 6 year old girl, but I am a pessimist. But also it's not exactly a common name for a dog either. But she came that way, and I figured one fewer change wouldn't hurt.

So about a week after I "rescue" her, I'm walking the dog on the streets surrounding my office. It's a little after lunch. I hear a woman's voice, presumably from a car judging from the rate of speed at which it faded away, yelling "SUUUUNNSHIIIINE". I immediately turned around and tried to find the source but was unsuccessful.

And it's weird. I'm not from Seattle, I didn't grow up here, or go to school here so I don't have a large network of acquaintances. If I were in my home town, I could conceivably expect for some classmate or cousin to call out my name and I wouldn't be able to place the voice. But for someone to yell the name of the dog I've had for all of a week, and had taken to work one time, well that's the domain of a limited group of people. I feel as though I could easily recognize the voice of any of my friends and I also think that they would tell me if they saw me. As for female acquaintances that would know my dog's name, I've run through the possibilities and the only person who I think it could be would be a neighbor. The time of day makes that seem very unlikely.

So after thinking about it a little more, there's another wrinkle. Maybe the person who yelled out the dog's name didn't know me at all. She's a distinctive looking dog (says everyone who's had a dog, about their dog). Maybe a previous owner recognized her. I have no idea what the dog's history was, so who knows. But especially as a previous owner myself now, it's remarkably weird to think about.

09 May 2014

Genius Friend

I had a friend who I thought was a genius. I ceased to be friends with him when he did something that showed a reprehensible lack of empathy.

I realized he was a genius one day when we were drinking at a dive bar after work. He, a colleague, and I were at the bar. He and his colleague were mostly talking among themselves and I was talking to the bartender about a local music act. Eventually the colleague left, and my friend joined the bartender and me in conversation. We continued to talk largely about music, but she dropped a reference to her boyfriend, well not really a boyfriend, don't call him that. As though we would.

The heralded non-boyfriend showed up, and our bartender's eyes lit up. She was immediately and totally enthralled by him. As she fawned over him, my friend and I continued to talk. The level of our beers got lower and lower and the bartender showed absolutely no interest in attending to this. There was a palpable, unspoken sense of resignation between us.

I left to go to the bathroom. When I came back everything was on its head.

My friend was talking to the bartender's non-boyfriend, who was absolutely captivated. The bartender was storming around behind the bar, visibly annoyed about no longer receiving any of his attention. Taking it in, I felt a strange sense of glee--a sense that I had seem something amazing and unexpected; a sort of reversal of a power dynamic that I had no idea was coming.

I wanted to leave, just so I could get out of earshot and ask my friend what happened. When we did leave, I gushed about the genius of it. He had exploited the bartender's insecurity--her feeling that her interest exceeded her potentially future boyfriend's--by driving him away from her, at least temporality. He drove her from a position of glee to one of simmering anger and self-doubt while elevating himself from boredom to amusement. Complete and thorough peripeteia. Even some notion of justice being served. He didn't have much to say about that, only saying how easy it was to flirt with boys. His thoughts seemed thoroughly focussed on the mechanics of his actions, not on the consequences rendered.

And it's not though I regret that I felt that his actions were genius. I actually don't think I've changed my mind at all. Let's divorce the action from the individual; let's suspend our notions of morality for a second. What he did was perhaps the most effective way to take control of a situation that would seem, at surface level, entirely beyond our control. He took actions that entirely shifted the world in his favor, granted to the direct and immediate harm of another person. But, ignoring that last clause, it was genius.

A couple months later he again took actions that shifted the world in his favor, to the direct and immediate harm of another person, and it did not seem genius at all.

And that's problematic. Can I be a person with a well-formed and consistent sense of morality if I can take two actions which match the same pattern and find one genius and the other reprehensible? I suppose I can claim a small moral victory by at least understanding and giving some weight to the notion that actions have consequences that may hurt others. I suspect that at least the latter eluded my genius former friend. But that sucks, right? Behaving in a non-sociopathic way lands you with this moral ambiguity when forced to value actions that pit one's happiness against the happiness of others.

Let's assume I'm not morally bereft. Let's say it's fine to have very different opinions of these actions based on the magnitude of the consequences. So then there must be some acceptable threshold of prioritizing personal gain over consequences rendered towards others. It's just not something to be taken lightly but it's ok to think long and hard about the repercussions one's actions have on others and decide that some amount of harm is worth it, right? So mentally I must have drawn some line. But it's beyond conscious grasp, so ill-defined, that if forced to confront it in one's own decisions, on repeated viewings, it never looks the same way twice.

Best Plumbing

Usually when you hear someone scream 'god dammit!' just past 11 PM on a Friday night you sort of snigger because you suppose it's some kindred spirit wandering home from the bars.

But then you see a light in the back of the box truck. It's one of those headlights a miner or a jogger would wear. 'Best Plumbing' is written on the side. You hear tools drop. Even now, the responsible adult world is happening too.

You write your proposed last sentence multiple times. It's unclear how you feel.

03 May 2014

On Reflection

Something I miss from, let's say, the late high school early college era of my life, are personal journals on the internet. Your LiveJournals, Xangas, WordPress instances running on a repurposed 486 desktops; shit like that. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I get the feeling it's getting sparser out there. I don't know anyone with a regularly updated one. Clicking the "Next Blog" link at the top of this site has led me to mediocre at best baseball blogs, collections of photographs terminated sometime in 2009, blogs about someone's huge and painfully religious family, but very few things that I would consider to be a person publicly reflecting on the events of their life and their feelings about them.

Now let's not get crazy here and consider anyone's high school LiveJournal to be high art. But fundamentally, these type of journals tend to be very reflective and I find reflection to be a compelling and maybe even beautiful thing to consume. Part of my enjoyment of it could be non-sexualized analogue of voyeurism, if such a thing exists. You end up getting insight to what can be very private elements of someone's life: what things have made them happy or sad, their doubts, their hangups. And you're able to do this without paying the price of expressing any interest or having to ask probing questions. It's especially poignant if you're familiar with the person in question. You get to peak into their thoughts on shared experiences or find out about elements of their life that you did not know about. And all this is laid before you: normally private thoughts, publicly free for the taking.

But that doesn't really answer the question of why I find it to be this enjoyable thing. I think it helps me build a more complete mental model of people, especially people that I know. I find the contextualization of behavior--really just acting differently based on who is around--to be a very frustrating quality. It interferes with the ability to understand how a person operates and what motivates them, what are the important tenets of their life. Mystery sucks, predictability and consistency are golden. Some behavioral contextualization is probably necessary for society to function; still, it annoys the shit out of me. In a public journal, the behavior is presumably less influenced by surroundings as a person is likely alone with their thoughts. This is far less annoying.

So where'd it all go? Probably the easiest explanation is just time. As students maybe people had more time to explore and record their thoughts. With more severely limited time reflection falls off the end of the list. That's not at all interesting to think about, though.

I wonder to what extent modern social media plays a role. With things like Facebook and Twitter serving as outlets of expression, is journaling online no longer as appealing? If this is true, I think it's kind of a shame. There's a certain polish that a Facebook status or Twitter update has. You're looking to make a short announcement in an attempt to get attention in a sea of other short updates. Whereas in a long-form online journal, there is much less of an emphasis on grabbing attention. Twitter and Facebook tend to show people at their best. Journals show people at a level that's potentially more honest and unrefined.

Another component may be a sense writing one's private thoughts publicly is a childish thing. What today seem like merely strong emotions today may seem embarrassing and misguided later. Sharing insecurities is probably unwise when it's trivial for someone to find them and possibly exploit them. I've felt this way in the past, destroying a college-era blog primarily because I would be embarrassed not by the things I had written, but by the things I contemplated writing and decided the next day was glad I didn't write about. A better example of this is the LiveJournal of a friend of mine. Heavily embarrassed by personal information that he shared he gutted the journal and very infrequently shares the details from this era.

Thus, in attempt to see ourselves as having grown beyond that, leaving this childish behavior behind, we cease to behave this way publicly. And that makes a great deal of sense to me. Sometimes I view the reflection that I do here as melodramatic. Multiple people have pointed to the writing here as concerning: evidence that I am not happy or not even satisfied with the life that I live.

But that I dispute. What we strive to accomplish through writing--just having written language--is to actually break down and understand complicated, ambiguous things. Mostly, the things that make us happy are not complicated. Writing about them serves nothing but to preserve them, and more than likely they will be preserved in our minds anyway. It's the complicated things--the events that we don't fully grasp, the things that make us feel ways that we can't express in few words, the weird unspoken parallels that exist between events-- that benefit from being written down. We take our thoughts and actually transcribe them into a wholly different form of expression. Though that process, we come a little bit closer to understanding. It's evidence that we're actually trying, and often failing, to comprehend the world around us.

So of course we're going to look vulnerable, unpolished, and childish. That's what we're supposed to write about. That's what makes people actually interesting. So why not do it in public?