Plato’s Facebook Page

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Coincidentally I #DeletedFacebook about a week before the shit hit the ceiling fan for ‘Ole Mark the data shark Zuckerberg and a whistle got blown on Facebook for allowing the data of about 50 million Americans to be traded second-hand to Cambridge Analytica who then used it third-hand to profile and target voters in the 2016 election for the Trump Campaign. The reasons I quit Facebook were many, but one of them was that I had determined the platform to be an uncontrolled catalyst for propaganda and misinformation and I simply have no capacity for such noisy nonsense in my life.

Now that there is de facto proof of at least the vulnerability of the platform, if not its absolute toxicity, part of me wants to give a round of I told ya so’s to a few people who seemed to think I was a paranoid madman for rejecting what they treat as a golden information technology of the modern era. Alas, I cannot hand out those told ya’s since it would seem a lot of people in my realm of knowing cannot be contacted or communicated with unless it’s on Facebook. This addiction to a singular platform of information glut being experienced by a large mass of Americans (as well as all citizens of the industrialized world) might be worse than I originally thought.

Strike that. The way Facebook apologists treat the platform is not with reverence. They don’t really tend to put it up on a pedestal and worship it. They merely serve it and seem to become confused by those who walk away from the service or suggest there is a reality beyond social media. I started to realize this (or, rather, continued to realize this) a couple of months ago while driving in traffic.

During a rush hour in North Phoenix while en route to pick my kids up from school, I noticed something out of place in the traffic ahead of me. There was a car, an early 2000’s economy sedan, sporting a Facebook decal on its back window. Not a cheap, carnival hand-out bumper sticker mind you. This was a decal. Each perfectly spaced out letter of the word Facebook was autonomous and placed precisely level on the lower passenger side corner of the back windshield. Someone put time and effort into creating and placing this vehicular adornment. It struck me as odd to see the Facebook logo this way, but it didn’t hit me why until I was able to think about it for a moment later on. I realized the reason the decal seemed odd and out of place is that Facebook bumper stickers aren’t something you regularly see. But why don’t we regularly see them? The reason is that no one has pride in their service to Facebook.

Facebook isn’t a band or a politician, it’s not a social movement or a personal statement, it’s not a love of dogs or cats or fairy magic. Facebook is something that most Americans use (about three-quarters of adult internet users have an account) but nobody has any real sense of pride over. Those are user dynamics shared by heroin and meth addicts, by the way. The reason you don’t regularly see Facebook bumper stickers is the same reason you don’t regularly see bumper stickers for crack-cocaine or high-risk sex with prostitutes, it’s not a healthy behavior and on some level the people who engage in it probably know it. No one goes around saying, “Fuck Ya! I LOVE heroin!!! It’s THE best!” and likewise no one goes from cocktail party to cocktail party talking about how great their lives are as a result of their Facebook use. Except for maybe that one person who was driving the ’03 Saturn near the I-17 and Union Hills exit that day I saw my first and last display of public Facebook affinity.

Also in sharing with the behavior of junkies, about the most animated a Facebook user will get about the service itself is when you tell them you intend to get clean from it. Junkies hate it when someone stops using and proves their habit is a choice. The comments range from the affectionate No, don’t go. I love your posts! I would miss you!! to the to mid-range I would quit Facebook but I can’t because I would lose contact with friends and family to the more extreme Fine, just turn your back on the struggle. Must be nice to have the privilege to ignore the injustice of others.

These rationalizations when boiled down are exactly the things junkies say to other junkies when the other junkie starts to walk away. Don’t sell out to “the man,” man. It used to be all about the music we created, what happened to you?!…and other such nonsense as well.

The whole ordeal reminds me of the allegory of Plato’s Cave. Plato, in his work Republic, describes a cave in which prisoners are bound by chains facing a wall. The prisoners were born this way and have never known any other form of existence. This is simply life for them. There is a light behind the prisoners that casts shadows on the wall they’re facing. The shadows are likewise the only reality the prisoners have ever known. The shadows are created by the real world passing in front of the light and behind the prisoners out of their view. The prisoners create definitions, understandings and in fact their entire worldview based on the shadows…but the shadows are only impressions of reality, they are not real.

One day, one of the prisoners breaks free from their chains and escapes the cave. After a great deal of brightness, pain and confusion the liberated man begins to experience and solidify his understanding of the real world. He starts to understand the relationship of physical objects to the light and that the shadows projected onto the wall of the cave cannot compare in complexity and tangibility to the three-dimensional objects that create the two-dimensional images.

Amazed, he returns to the cave to share his newfound wisdom with the prisoners still trapped inside, but his efforts are in vain. Not only is he unable to break the chains of the prisoners or adequately explain the really-real world behind them or that the shadows they see are merely projections, but the prisoners themselves become resistant and hostile towards him and his attempts to shatter their false sense of reality. Plato here suggests, quite accurately, that ignorance is defended at great lengths in the minds of humans.

To be clear, Plato’s allegory of the cave was part of his campaign against democracy and support for a ruling class of educated elite philosopher kings. His implication is that the ignorant masses have no place in the decisions of society because they don’t hold a realistic understanding of what society is. Any re-purposing of the allegory, of which there are countless, should be taken with that context in mind. Nevertheless, there is something fitting here, over 2,000 years after Plato’s writing, in a culture that is growing ever dependent on the two-dimensional projections of reality on the flat surfaces in front of them. The really-real world behind becomes less real, and the suggestion to simply look up, look around, connect to the objects creating the shadows is met with confusion and, sometimes, hostility.

Plato chose a side in the argument between democracy and republic, and it shows in his cave description. He doesn’t take the time to state who put the prisoners in the cave and doesn’t offer much of an effort to overcome the defenses of ignorance. But that doesn’t make him wrong, only biased and therefore short-sighted. He was only selling one side of the coin. The great trick of Plato’s Cave is that everyone tends to believe they are the one who has escaped it and everyone who doesn’t agree with their worldview constitutes the prisoners locked inside. The irony here is, by convincing ourselves we are the escapees we create a self-fulfilling prophecy to become our own captors.

Since Plato’s Cave has been re-purposed countless times, I see no harm in re-purposing it and redefining it again, and so here it goes.

No one is fully outside or inside the cave. We are all inside and outside the cave. The cave is our own mind and in each and every one of our minds there is an ignorant prisoner convinced they understand the world. Our role then becomes not to convince those around us to either free or abandon the prisoner in their cave, but to work only on identifying and dispelling the two-dimensional shadows held firmly as reality by our own prisoner. For me, and many others, those shadows have been coming from a tricky little cave called Facebook. Deleting it doesn’t mean I have stepped out into the light for the final time. But I don’t think it hurts the process.

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BookBlog: Man’s Search for Meaning

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When I was in high school I played the part of Peter van Daan in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. The director of that production, one of my high school theatre instructors, told us it’s not uncommon for people to refrain from clapping at the end of this play. They sometimes simply stand and walk solemnly out of the theatre, carrying with them the story they had just received. I have that feeling about this book.

It’s not a book to be applauded. By all measures of human decency it’s not even a book that should exist. But it does, because humans are often indecent. What this book is is a book to be received and carried on as a reminder of the indecency and the perseverance of humanity. It’s a book of deplorable tragedy, and unwavering hope. It’s a book about the monsters inside our minds, and the gods inside our hearts. I am not happy I read it, it’s simply good that I did.

That’s it. There’s really nothing more to say. I’ve stared at the keyboard long enough and erased enough summary introductions to figure that out. I’m simply walking away, carrying the message I received with me.

The Psychological Injustice of the American House Cat.

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The last couple of months my family has been working to rehabilitate a psychologically traumatized house cat named Nori (not pictured above). This cat came to us by way of my ex wife’s house where it had been living underneath the bed of my 14 year old son for the last year or two due to a frictional relationship with the two dogs that also live there. The dogs, for whatever reason, seem hell bent on eating the cat and the cat saw little reason to venture out of my son’s bedroom and cope with the chance of being eaten. Obviously this cat’s biological needs were all taken care of within the safety of my son’s room. There was food, water, a litter box and the safety of a bed the dogs can’t get under and a bedroom door that remained closed most of the time.

One night a couple of months ago, my wife started telling me the tale of Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat living in constant fear over at my ex wife’s house (my wife and ex wife have a great relationship and could appropriately be described as friends, which is a benefit to our lives and the lives of our sons that I think cannot be overstated).

“The dogs keep trying to eat her, and she has been living under the 14 year old’s bed for so long, and it’s just not healthy to have a litter box in his room and…”

I went ahead and skipped to the predictable end of this conversation and just told my wife that we should move the cat over to our house to see if we can fix this situation. There’s no guarantees we’ll be able to, but I see no harm in giving it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? The cat ends up living underneath the 14 year old’s bed in our house instead of his mother’s house? No change for the cat, no change for the 14 year old. Just a difference of scenery. Perhaps we’d still decide the cat needed to find another home so we could get the unhealthy litter box out of our son’s room? Okay, certainly a possibility but again there’s no harm in trying something different.

It’s not like we have an animal free house. We have two dogs and two cats, as well. The success or failure of re-homing Nori would largely be dependent on her ability to strike a balance with the other pets in the house. But what the hell, lets give it a try, so we moved the cat over.

It was decided that we would keep the conditions in our son’s bedroom much as they were at his mom’s house in the beginning; Nori would have access to food, water, a litter box and have a safe space underneath our son’s bed and his bedroom door would remain closed so the cat would be free to venture around the room without being bombarded by the other animals. The first step was just to change the cat’s address, and little else.

This went on, more or less, for several weeks. Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat was given a bedroom where she wanted for nothing, save the freedom to roam, which quickly proved itself to not be a very strong motivator. We forced meetings between Nori and the two dogs, who were of course interested and slightly aggressive, as Nori herself seemed to be a little aggressive towards the dogs. I started to wonder if Nori wasn’t the problem piece of the puzzle the whole time and maybe the dogs at my ex-wife’s house were just responding to a feisty, pointy threat in their den the best way they knew how.

There was hissing and growling and biting and scratching. My left hand received a puncture wound from needled cat teeth one evening while holding Nori down, trying to just let them get it out of their system for a bit. After about six weeks or so there really didn’t seem to be much progress.

We put up a baby gate to divide our son’s room/cat cave from the main house, which we hoped would allow the animals to get closer to each other without actually being able to attack each other, which may have helped a little but it still wasn’t driving much growth or change in the cat’s affinity for living under the bed. We decided that more drastic measures were necessary.

The reason that Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat was not experiencing the emotional growth necessary to join the family, put a couple of dopey dogs in their place and stop using a litter box uncomfortably close to where my son sleeps at night was that she had no reason to. She was safe in my son’s room, she was comfortable, she didn’t need to adapt even though she may have wanted to. So we created a necessity for change. We removed her food from the room. Not the water, not the litter box, just the food.

As far as we could tell, Nori didn’t eat for at least a week. She started attempting to venture out of the bedroom in the middle of the night, but the dogs were pretty in tune to her movements and would wake up like a finely tuned motion detector system and chase her right back. A few times we put the dogs outside and pulled Nori out of the bedroom and placed her next to the cat food, but despite having not eaten for many days, she still didn’t seem emotionally strong enough to eat out in the open. So we removed the water from the bedroom as well.

Now, contrary to what humans in modern society might think as a result of the hangriness they get if they are late to lunch or, food pyramid forbid, actually have to skip a meal, it takes a really long time for a mammal to starve to death. Not as long as a reptile or an arachnid, but it’s still not a quick process. It takes weeks for a hydrated and previously well-fed mammal to actually reach a point of harm or death in the absence of food. But water is a different story, so this did represent a significant increase in the potential for harm. Regardless, change needed to happen and there needed to be a catalyst to drive that change. We also started locking her out of the bedroom while we were home and able to supervise interactions between all the animals.

Nori quickly found and memorized a few key hiding places where she could audibly register her complaints about the situation, but still be safe from the prodding noses of the dogs. Our two cats, by the way, couldn’t really care less about Nori. They weren’t in any hurry to socialize with her, but were perfectly content to hang out on the other side of the house while the crybaby cat in the living room threw her little temper tantrums.

So now Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat was generally relegated to the five inch space between the side of our living room couch and the wall. No food or water in her safe space cat cave, and certainly none in her five inch crack. It was getting on to about two weeks the last time we knew for certain she ate and a few days without water, that we could tell. She may have run some successful stealth missions to the food and water during the night, but if she did they were few and far between and only during the times when the dogs were most heavily knocked out.

Slowly, but surely, she began to increase the sphere of her acceptable being beyond the crack between the couch and the wall. She stopped running and hiding at the mere sight of the dogs, allowing them to get closer and becoming increasingly less feisty and pointy in her response to them. The dogs in turn softened their approach. Necessity was driving growth, and growth was creating change. Success, as motivated by discomfort, was beginning to set in. But we weren’t finished.

Our two other cats are not complete house cats. Since gaining a backyard, we have started allowing them to roam free and we often keep our back door open while we are at home (and while the weather is nice) so they and the dogs can come and go as they please. For Nori to be fully socialized into our pack, she would need to be okay with a house that opens up to the outside world as well. Our end goal was to prepare the cat for the house, not the house for the cat. Last night, after a few days of even more gradual increase to her sphere of comfort, Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat apparently found the open door and was gone. She was nowhere to be found anywhere in the yard or around the house and we weren’t even really sure when she left. Our 14 year old simply looked up from his video game in the living room and she was no longer there.

The family was a little worried. Through the yard and over the fence was a much larger step than Nori had previously taken to expand her territory and if she was running from fear then it was possible that by the time she stopped she will have lost her way. Regardless, there was nothing to do about it except go to bed and hope for the best.

We woke up today and I spent some time looking around the outside of the house in the dark with a flashlight to see if she was maybe hiding in a tree or under a bush, but to no avail. It became time to leave for the day, lock up the house and drop the kids off at the school bus stop, so I gave up the search. I went out to the back patio one more time to call in our other two cats, who typically prefer to not be locked outside all day (although sometimes they don’t come in and are stuck in the yard until someone gets home in the afternoon). There was Nori the psychologically traumatized house cat sitting smug and calm on top of an ice chest on the back patio.

She’s still a little skittish around me, the big mean guy who took her food and water away, the big mean guy her pulled her crying and clawing out from underneath her safe space in her comfort cave, the big mean guy who held her down and forced her to experience emotional distress for her own good, but my 14 year old son was able to grab her and get her back in the house for the day. I’d say that she is well on her way to a full recovery and a happy life as a cat with an infinitely larger world around her.

House cats are not natural. After 5,000 years of attempting to domesticate the feline species, I think it’s more than safe to say the felines won and remain nearly as wild as they ever were, even if selective breeding produced a few ornamental variations. Your fluffy little Tinkerbell is actually a wandering territorial predator that suffers physically and psychologically when not allowed to roam. We can lock the doors around them, provide them with everything they need to live, remove all the snarling dogs and indifferent cats from their environment, keep them nice and safe and secure, but that’s not what’s good for them. Life grows in the presence of struggle, and atrophies in its absence. Our drive to remove all struggle from life comes from a place of caring and compassion, but whether we are talking about cats, dogs, plants, children or adults, there seems to be a shared common dynamic among the life on earth; comfort leads to lethargy and emotional instability. Conversely, discomfort is a catalyst to positive growth and emotional resilience.

This is a story about a cat in my house, but it’s a representation of more than just the cat. There is a culture in our society that has evolved to treat humans like house cats. We provide all the safety and comfort and subsistence we can, and that comes from a place of caring and fear of the dangers that are outside the back door. Danger does exist. There’s no guarantee that children will come home from the playground unscathed. There was no guarantee that Nori would find her way back to the patio. Hiding under the bed in a constant state of emotional panic, isolated from the world around us is not a better alternative, as comfortable and as compassionate as it may seem.

The Men they will become.

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Parenting is weird. Especially in the modern age when each generation is virtually indistinguishable from all previous ones. I imagine there was a time, before the industrial and digital revolutions, when raising a child could pretty much be done exactly how you yourself were raised (building on lessons and failures from the past). Life really didn’t change all that much for people before technology started taking off on its exponential growth. Not to say that people in the past didn’t have their challenges in parenting and that there was some sort of magic book to follow, I just imagine that there isn’t as much to pass down these days as there used to be. My parents had no playbook for what to do about the internet, fake news, YouTubers and social media challenges (I hear kids are eating laundry soap for some reason?).

But some things can be passed down which is why it came as no surprise to my father when I told him that, despite regularly asking our two boys if there is anything they need clothing or toiletry-wise only to be told that everything they had was “fine,” that everything they had was not, in fact, fine, and that they needed some serious back to school clothes shopping in January (that probably should have been done back in August). Parenting lesson learned; never trust a teenager to self report a situation that they tacitly know will trigger a trip to the store for socks and underwear. I also now understand why Christmas time always came with a couple unexciting presents of basic clothing needs. Turns out Santa wasn’t trying to give me the shaft after all, and the holiday was just a good way to time an annual replenishment of certain items.

I discovered this need not because my sons finally came clean about it, but because I myself was in a situation where I needed to borrow a pair of socks. The flu season threw us off our regular laundry game and I needed to grab a pair from my 16 year son who was at his mothers house for the week at the time, so I went into his room to grab a pair. Despite the fact that his shoe size is now two whole sizes larger than mine, I found the socks that he had to be too small even for my feet and about as thin as a paper napkin. My wife and I decided that the time for intervention had come and resolved ourselves to a full clothing inspection once they returned home on Friday for the next coming week (as is routine with our week on/week off custody schedule with my ex wife and her husband).

When we returned home with them that Friday, I instructed them to put all of their clothes into piles on their bed and make sure they had a piece of paper and something to write with so they could make lists of what they were going to need. I told them to remove anything that didn’t fit or that was full of holes and place it to the side, a donation pile for items that are too small and a throw away pile for items that were not serviceable. This reminded me very much of inspections in the military, but I saved them the grief of rolling their socks and t-shirts into six-inch rolls and organizing all items to a standard display pattern. Call me soft, call them spoiled, but I try to not push military training on them, even if they have been dropped for a few sets of push-ups when all other methods of communication failed.

Come to discover that, not only were the 16 year old’s socks too small and thoroughly worn thin, the 14 year old only had one pair of socks that he had apparently been wearing for a week at a time, washing on Fridays when their chores before returning to their mother’s house include doing all their laundry, then repeating the process for who knows how many months. Other discoveries were on the order of holes and stains on shirts, jeans that were purchased one or more growth spurts ago and shoes that seemed okay while they were standing up, but were falling apart upon closer inspection.

Throughout the whole process I still had to push back against the “everything is fine” assessment coming from the kids who were still trying to sneak unacceptable items through the inspection process. “No, those jeans are not fine. They are six inches too short, put them in the donate pile. Why are there no socks here? What do you mean you only have the pair you are wearing? Okay write it down. You need socks and underwear and jeans and…” you get the gist.

So with their lists made we all four, the 16 year old boy, the 14 year old boy, my wife and I, piled into the car and headed to the department store so they could get what was on their lists. We explained that it would be up to them to shop for what they needed, try things on, then let us know when they were ready to check out so we could rejoin them in the store and pay for the items. We were not going to hover over them, select items for them, give them our opinions on the fit of items or anything else that we won’t be there for in the next few years once they are fully launched into adulthood. We were merely financing this operation, and not much else.

I saw another opportunity to hand down a lesson as we were driving away from the house and started speaking to them through the rear view mirror. I wanted to push back against this tendency they’ve grown to report everything as “fine” even when it is not. I understand that in their minds everything was, actually, fine. They intrinsically had no problem with the state of their clothing. To them, holes were just holes and stains were just stains. An awkward fit probably didn’t even register to them. So I began to speak to them.

“As you both continue to become young men, there are ways you need to learn to take care of yourselves. That is, you need to learn these things if you are going to become the men I want you to become..”

My wife at this point, hearing the word men, interjected as she saw what she felt to be a gender disparity in my statement.

“It’s not just men…” she slipped into the conversation.

I paused. Then I remarked, “They are young men. There are no young women in the back seat.”

My wife conceded her moment of asserting gender balance and remarked that it was true, I was not addressing a mixed audience, and I continued my spiel to my sons about the young men I wanted them to become. Young men who know when to throw away ratty-rags of socks and underwear, young men who know that old stained t-shirts are okay for house clothes, but not acceptable for public wear, young men who know explicitly that their appearance and the way they present themselves matters in this world. If I had a daughter, I would have probably said something similar with the words young woman added, but I don’t have a daughter and I see no reason to balance my pronouns until a day comes when one or both of my sons tells me they are deciding to become a different gender. Which, if that day ever comes (statistically not likely, but possible) then that will be the day I start handing lessons to my daughter(s). But that day has not come, and it will probably never.

In the back of mind I started thinking about this. We discuss so much in society these days, especially in the more liberal ideologies, about raising our sons to be non-toxic males. We talk about teaching our sons about consent and about respecting women and how not to rape, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Boys need to be taught how to become better men than the men who came before them, and we regularly do have those respect based lessons and check-ins from time to time. But I think that if we are truly to change the masculine culture for the better, then we need to replace it with a better masculine culture. We cannot just wash over masculinity with pronoun balance, replacing all the hes and hims with nondescript thems and inserting shes and hers when there are no women in the audience. We have to be able to change what it means to be a good man to include the type of respect that women want and deserve. We can’t just kill masculinity leaving a void where a problematic gender used to be. Lasting change is not going to come by teaching a generation of boys that masculinity by its very definition is toxic and that they simply need to fight their apish urges and adhere to a cultivated master don’t list of behaviors. First and foremost, cultivating boys this way is never going to be universal. Not everyone is going to decide in unison to parent in this manner, and many will still let boys be boys, even if that means some of those boys end up being shitty to women. Raising submissive boys who are afraid of their own psyches will only create a culture of men who will be easily controlled by the toxic men who were permitted to grow unencumbered and wild. The apes that bang their chest the loudest have a tendency to dominate not just the female apes around them, but the less chest-bangy male apes as well.

I think we can have both. I think we can raise boys to be strong, be kind, be respectful and to be assertive. We can raise boys to not just be better men, but to also lead the path to a better masculinity; one that is not simply psychologically belled against bad behavior, but a masculinity that empowers itself, empowers femininity and wins against other types of toxic personalities. That’s how we create lasting change to a culture. That happens when we take the time to teach our sons about the men we want them to become. Not just the people, the adults, the humans or the citizens we want them to become, but the good, strong, respectful men we want them to become. Ones without holes in their socks, or assault in their hearts. We cannot empower one gender by muting another. We have to do the work to replace what isn’t working with something better, and empower all genders to become stronger than the apes that came before them.

We had a good experience at the store. The wife and I wandered around, purchased a couple of items we needed and waited for them to finish their shopping. They got everything they needed and a couple of things they wanted. Asking for what they want is another lesson we try to instill. Then we all went out to a restaurant to grab a bite to eat.

My sons have long been trained to be very polite, especially in restaurant settings. They say “May I please have…” and “Thank you.” when ordering, and this often is noticed and remarked on by the server. It was noticed and remarked on by our server this day, as well.

She was noticeably refreshed at such politeness from young men, surprised when she found out their ages are 14 and 16, an age that can often come with an extra helping of bad manners, and told us all that she has never, never had two young men be as polite as my two sons were. I told her that the trick was that I never gave them a choice, and now, years later, the behavior is simply ingrained and natural. I used the opportunity to reinforce my earlier lesson; that the world responds to the men they show themselves to be. That’s simply how humans work. The service was excellent, and I didn’t pay attention to how the server treated her other tables, but I tend to think we got a little extra special treatment and the refills came a bit a quicker than they otherwise would have. My sons thanked me for showing them the right way to be, which made me very proud of the men they will become.

I can’t help but think of the server’s remark that no other teenagers, not one, in her experience in her job exhibited the politeness and respect that my sons did. We live in a post #MeToo society, where we will continue to have conversations about the past, present and future of masculinity. When I hear that our culture of adolescents are lacking the basic ability to assert respect and kindness, I can’t help but think that I’ve discovered a big part of the problem. It’s not enough to simply teach our boys what not to do. We have to teach them what is right to do.

Again.

I think I’m starting to see the pattern here. Write, stop, write again, stop again, start again, stop again… The process feels something like running for a long distance (something I haven’t done in a long time). All you have to do is get up and running, run long enough that running becomes the new normal. The same goes for writing. The same goes for a lot of things; reading, working out, going to class, cooking at home, building model ships… You do it until not doing it becomes strange. I think ( I hope) that’s the point where you can be free to flow and go forward with whatever it is you are attempting to accomplish, treating it as a way of life rather than a chore requiring an emotional jump start. I think this is what the are referring to when they say someone has “Hit their stride.

I’m currently trying to get this stride going on a lot of things. I want to write more, I want to write till my fingers can find the keys without thinking. I want to write until I no longer have to go back every few words to correct typos caused when my desire to flow clashes with my technical skills as a keyboard cowboy. I want to read more. I want to read until I can get lost in what I’m reading without bouncing back to check the clock to see how long I’ve been reading. I wnat to stop my brain from calculating how long I should be reading and determining when I’ve read enough and can move on to other things. I want to get lost in my tasks. I want to expose myself to more cold. I want to train my body to withstand the elements, I want to trek mountains in my shorts. I want to wake up earlier. I don’t sleep in, but I want to wake up earlier, if for no other reason than to make time for all the other things I want to do. I want to breathe more, I want to stretch more, I want to live with more intention. I want to eat better. I was eating pretty well for a while, intermittent and extended fasting with ketogenic dieting (with the allowance for volatile controlled caloric binge on weekends). I want to train more. I haven’t been to a taekwondo class in a month.

I could blame things for my lack of doing. I haven’t written more because I don’t know what to write about. I haven’t read more because reading hurts my eyes. I haven’t sought the cold more because it’s winter and the warm is especially inviting in the winter. I haven’t trekked mountains because I don’t live near any, and I have been sleeping longer than I want to. I haven’t been dieting and fasting because of the holidays. There’s too much tradition and good food around to be selective. I haven’t stretched in the morning because I spend that time sleeping. That’s bullshit. It’s not time sleeping, it’s time getting out of bed. I naturally wake up sometime around 4am, but rarely get out of bed before 6am. The rest of the time I just lay there thinking about all the things I could be doing, if I wasn’t still doing nothing. This sleeping thing seems to be presenting itself as the first thing that needs to experience an adjustment.

All the excuses are exactly that; excuses. All the paths to everything I want seem to be paved with the same stuff. Just do it. Do it till not doing it becomes the thing that feels strange. Run until not running becomes an alien thought.

Truth.

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At the moment my 15 year old son is up in his room, showered, dressed, fed and ready for school… an hour early. Why? Because he lied to me about a homework assignment on Tuesday so I’m waking his ass up an hour early every morning for the rest of the week to write lines on paper over and over. The line is:

Lying will only hurt me, the truth will set me free.

If this sounds like a harsh punishment for a simple and common 15 year old’s crime, then let me stop to note that we didn’t start here. We started with rational discussion;

Please don’t lie about your homework assignments, Son. We can help you with whatever problems you are having, so long as you are honest about them.

“Okay, Dad. I will.” (he didn’t)

Son, you really need to stop lying about homework assignments. It’s okay to not understand something. It’s not okay to not ask for help and simply blow off the work.

“Okay, Dad. I’ll be honest from now on.” (he wasn’t)

Then we moved on to real consequences;

Alright, now, SON. I don’t know why you still can’t be honest about your schoolwork, but now there’s going to be extra chores to teach you a lesson. You have to start being honest about these things.

“Okay, Dad. I will tell the truth” (he still didn’t)

Dammit, SON! Why are you STILL lying about your….

Well, you get the point. There was an escalation that got us here. I didn’t just jump to Bart Simpson at the chalkboard style punishment.

I understand that on a biological level he’s destined to attempt to get away with shit like lying about his homework assignments. The risk vs. reward centers of his brain are all fucked up right now. In the moment of confrontation when he’s being asked about his schoolwork, his developing mind is very strongly telling him that there’s nothing worse at that moment than being forced to keep working on homework when he could just tell a lie and be free from now until the impossibly abstract future moment (2 days from now) when the grades catch up to him and he’s found to have been telling tall tales about his situation.

In meme form, the exchange goes something like this:

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And I say it takes 2 days for the truth to catch up to him but really it can take even less than that. If his teachers are on the ball with entering grades that day, I can sometimes know before he gets home from school whether or not he got a big fat zero on a homework assignment that was due that day. There’s a little room for the process to get faster, but not much. Not without the implementation of pre-crime principles whereby he’s psychically judged on his intentions to complete and submit assignments, and I doubt we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.

In a way, I kind of feel bad for the dude. Today’s situation is not the situation my dad had back in the 90’s when I was in high school. My poor dad just had to wait for the report card to come out to figure out how shitty I was doing and how many times I ditched class. Back then the internet was basically just for watching porn and trading stocks. The worlds oldest professions are still the breakthrough ones, it would appear. I had the luxury of doing what I wanted in-between report cards and dealing with the consequences all at once at a later date, which were usually pretty light. My dad and I would argue, I can’t really recall a single word that was said, but I do remember the volume at which they were spoken, then the storm would calm and the cycle would reset. I don’t recall any actual repercussions, only loud volumes for ultimately short periods of time. My kids get no such luxury.

Part of me thinks it would be better to be less hands-on, to let him fail if he’s going to fail. I didn’t graduate high school and I turned out alright…eventually. It’s the eventually part that keeps me on him like a hawk, at least through these high school years. I screwed off, never went to class, never did any work, failed a lot and was facing the fact that I was going to have to go to high school for 5 years just to have a shot at passing. I dropped out 2 months into my (first and only) senior year. I was in the military a year and a half later. I was in Iraq a few years after that. I don’t want those hard roads for my sons.

I want different hard roads for them. Life can’t be all video games and buttercups and I’m not trying to raise special snowflakes who need safe spaces, but neither am I going to allow them to fall down proverbial cliffs that could be easily avoided. Or, at least  reasonably avoided. I was 29 years old and a war veteran before I got back to school, got a higher education and climbed into a higher tax bracket. I do want that kind of success for them, but not the way that I achieved it. There are more paths to antifragile reward than through a combat zone. I want those paths.

I also understand, probably better than the average human, the value of failure. I’ve been torn down and rebuilt enough times in my life to understand that one can come back from catastrophe with a ten-fold rebirth strength. But in the case of my children, I don’t think now is the time for that. Not in the teenage years. Not in high school.

So I’ll keep dragging his ass, like a stubborn mule, through the last couple of years of his primary education. I’ll insist that he get some sort of higher education, I don’t care if it’s an AA of basket weaving at the community college, just something to set himself apart from the masses of HS diploma donning faceless applicants. Then I’ll release him into adulthood so he can fall on his face, the way I did, and get back up, the way I did, to become better than he was before on his own, just like I did. My hope is that the effort to get him through it all now will present him with a level of struggle and reward that I’m only now in my late 30’s getting to, so hopefully he will be able to achieve things that I may never. I suppose that’s the hope of all parents. In the meantime, I’ll sit and drink coffee while he writes lines over and over, hoping that this is the time it sinks in;

Lying will only hurt me, the truth will set me free.

Writer’s Block.

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Can’t write today,
Nothing’s coming.
Got too much work to do,
Too many calls to take.
Can’t write today.

My thoughts ain’t clear,
I got no muse.
The words don’t come,
No matter what I do.
Can’t write today.

My marriage needs focus,
I was cruel Saturday night.
I have to mend fences,
Have to set things right.
Can’t write today.

The world’s a fucking a mess,
So sick of the madness.
Assassinations, Attacks,
Ascensions to Power,
All packed into yesterday.
Can’t write today.

Too much panic,
Too much fear.
Plenty of topics,
None too clear.
I won’t be writing today.

My calm is broken,
My insides shake.
I got no focus,
No point to make.
No writing today.

The kids need attention,
The bills need paid.
The path is endless,
And I’m not terribly brave.
So I can’t write today.

I’ll try again tomorrow,
Then I’ll have something to say.
I just wish I could have written,
Something today.

Casual Monday.

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Certain things change drastically when you get your shit together, go to college, finish a degree and stop working in bars and restaurants. One of the major shifts that I’ve noticed is how the holidays effect my day-to-day life. As my life inches further away from being comparable to Cheers and closer to something more in the line of Leave it to Beaver, this whole season takes on new meaning and emotion.

For those who haven’t spent considerable amounts of time working in the service industry, allow me to explain what the holidays meant to my previous self. The cooler weather in Phoenix alone brings the busy season for hospitality workers. This is, I have been told, opposite to the way things work in parts of the country where cooler weather is not as welcome as it is here. We have a snowbird population that swells the city headcount considerably in the winter months. This, regardless of the holidays, already makes it a busier time of year for wait staff and bartenders. The holidays do also add to that.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a huge going out night. People seem to treat it like the kick-off to the holiday season. Short work week, 4 day weekend, perhaps people have traveled from elsewhere and arrived in the city early enough to see old friends before being locked to family for the remaining time. Whatever the reasons, Thanksgiving Eve is probably one of the busiest bar nights of the year. It’s no New Years Eve, but it does get quite busy.

Thanksgiving day is dead, but other than that the time between Thanksgiving and Xmas sees a noticeable increase in bar and restaurant sales. This makes the holiday season a prime money making time for anyone whose income comes mainly from  tips. The money, however, does not come easy. A lot of the people who go out around the holidays really only go out around the holidays. These are people who tend to still think 10% is the industry standard gratuity, who don’t understand concepts like rush hours, large party reservations or the headache of splitting checks 15 different ways. Wait staff go to great lengths to train their regular customers on how to make their jobs easier, and this training all goes to shit starting the 3rd Wednesday of November and doesn’t return to normal till January 2nd.

But, even though the money/work ratio gets kind of nasty the overall take home is generally increased so it’s not all bad news. Stressful, yes, but also rewarding. The real stress comes from also trying to be a person experiencing the holidays while simultaneously being a person whose work life is getting its ass kicked by the holidays.

Thanksgiving Eve is great, bars and restaurants are busy, there’s money to be made. But there’s also Thanksgiving itself to deal with the next day. Maybe you worked the bar till close at 2 am, floor swept, money counted and trash taken out gets you home by 4 am. Mom text you earlier to say that everyone is getting together at Aunt Helen’s at 11 am which is just an obscene hour for you given your professional night owl ways. You feel obligated to make an appearance because, as your moms states in her guilt trip, “We don’t know how many Thanksgiving’s Aunt Helen has left.”

So home by 4 am turns into bed by 5 am, awake at 9 am to make the trek to the suburbs for the sake of Aunt Helen’s golden years enrichment. You may still need to be back at work sometime around 3 pm. Thanksgiving Day is a shit day to work in a bar, so all the extra money you made busting your ass the night before just becomes a wash in the two-day average. So you get to throw down a plate of food and leave before dessert to drag your 4 hours of broken sleep back home to get ready for an unprofitable night.

The boss knows Thanksgiving is a shit day, but won’t just close the place if they think they can make $10. That, and they’ve probably lined up some deep cleaning chores to take care of since you’ve got the time. You’ll be moving equipment and cleaning a years worth of grime and buildup, probably slicing yourself on a broken chard of glass behind a refrigerator glued to the wall with maraschino cherry syrup. Also,  you’ll be getting paid a whole $5 an hour to do it.

After Thanksgiving you have Black Friday. Busy perhaps, but full of people who are just in an awful mood. The ones who have been shopping all day are embattled from the experience. I myself have always refused to be a part of that madness, so I can only imagine what it’s like to go through. It’s not all bad though. If you’ve been diligent throughout the year, you’ve cultivated a core set of well-trained regulars to hopefully give you some relief from the seasonal masses.

For the weeks leading up to Xmas, you bounce back and forth between overworked booze-slinger and holiday reveler. After all, you’ve got your own shopping to get done, friends and family to see, parties to attend to and everything else that others seem to just be strolling along through. This is where the stress ramps up. Sleep is reduced and energy expenditure increased. I’ve worked bars where busy shifts were literally comparable to playing 6 hour games of racquetball. When you can’t make all the functions or stay through all the courses of the meal, the guilt trips from friends and family increase. It always amazed me how the non-existence of Paid Time Off in the service industry escaped all the people who couldn’t understand why I didn’t just take the day off. Time in that job field directly equals money. Time off means zero money. Perhaps the day you skip was one of the bad ones, but schedule writers take notice of those who weasel their way out of bad shifts. Repercussions for such behavior were certain.

There’s a slight calm after Xmas now that all the shopping and most of the parties and get together’s have occurred, but it is a calm before the storm call New Year’s Eve. This is the culmination of the Holiday Season, the closing ceremonies. If you’re a young go-getter of a bartender, you might be excited to work New Years Eve. You’ll get dollar signs in your eyes at the high sales-potential and, if you’re like I was when I was younger, just be looking forward to how fun it will be to be busy all night. These nice feelings about the potential of this evening are soon ruined for anyone who actually works a few of them.

In the biz, we tend to refer to this evening as Amateur Night. This is the night where you see a massive jump in the raw count of party goers. These people, to put it bluntly, are simply not good drinkers. A lot of them only  go out on this one night a year, inevitably black out and so by January 1st they’ve already forgotten any social lessons they may have otherwise picked up during their party time. Any lessons they do remember the next day will slowly be forgotten over the course of the year and they will show up next December 31st like a brand new bad drinker. This gives a different connotation to the New Years Baby icon. The babies I had to deal with came in the form of grown men and women crying and vomiting because they thought 6 shots of Fireball in the car outside sounded like a fun way to kick off the evening.

People tend to stress themselves out on New Year’s Eve, as well. There’s so much self-imposed pressure to party the right way. It’s an amazing, albeit stressful, thing to witness. People stress themselves out about what they wear, where they go, what they drink, when they drink it, who they drink it with, who they kiss at midnight, yadda-yadda-yadda…and when this inevitably blows up in their faces, it can be like having a room full of intoxicated bride-zillas. This phenomenon occurs in both men and women, but the bride-zilla comparison was the only other instance I could think of where a human attempting to create a perfect moment falls apart in emotional ways when the perfection doesn’t happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for these people, which is the really interesting part. They don’t understand that it is exactly their pursuit of the perfect midnight moment that keeps them far away from enjoying the evening, and, of course, trying to explain this to any of them just falls on def, drunk, ears. You just gotta roll with it.

So the shit show to end all shit shows is the cherry on the top of the shit show holiday sundae for people who make their living in food and beverage service. We all die a little by the end of it. Depending on the gig you’re working, you could still walk away from it all with a decent amount of cash. The money will be sprinkled with blood, sweat and tears, but at least there was some sort of reward for the abuse.

Now contrast that with my post-college, business casual Scottsdale office life. My week this week is short. HR sent out an email on Friday letting us know we could dress casually all week (which I love) giving me a nice little Casual Monday today. My weekend coming up is long, 4 full days to do whatever I want. Non-food and booze related industries tend to slow down this time of year. People take vacations and offices run skeleton crews. I’m going to be one of them, in fact. I’m taking 40 hours of PTO starting the day after Xmas and leading up to New Years. I’ve gone from the holidays being the busiest, most stressful 5 weeks of my entire year to the exact opposite. I get to kick my heels up, spend time with the kids, do any shopping I might do at my leisure. Oh, and I also expect an annual bonus to make the whole thing sweeter. I no longer have to save all year to make Xmas happen for the kids. Not that my kids are overly materialistic. I’ve raised them to value experiences more than things. But whatever presents I do buy or trips we take them on can easily be paid with additional income that is given to me just for working hard all year. Never you mind how much my bonus is, but it is enough to change the December game for me.

I don’t feel I’m being boastful about my improved economic and work/life situation. I’ve earned my spot here. I fought for it. I don’t feel bad for enjoying it. I also try really hard to not forget where I came from and what it used to be like for me. Now I am one of those people going out more, seeing friends and family with less worry, spending more at bars and restaurants. I am one of the well-trained regulars now, and it feels good. So long as I don’t lose my memory of what it was like to live the other way, I will keep not feeling bad about enjoying my success. If you’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of a waitstaff person, then take my word for it when I say they are getting ready to go through some shit for the next several weeks. Be nice to them, and tip them well.

Happy Holidays.

Title Game.

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I’ve never been much of a sports fan. My mirror neurons have just never fired up the same way I suspect they do in other humans while watching sports games. There was a shiftless period in my life right after the army when I had a bunch of time and money on my hands, so I started to get into baseball. It lasted about a season and a half. Mostly I just liked going to the games. It was the event of it all. I could pick up tickets on a random day off (of which as a nightclub bartender I had many) and sit in a park drinking with friends while a baseball game was going on near me.

The good thing about baseball is you don’t typically have to glue yourself to the game. More often than not, you can just ignore it, converse with your friends and the other fans around you and listen for the crack of the bat to let you know when it’s time to focus back onto the field for a few seconds before returning to your socializing.

As such, I could never really get into watching the games on television, and certainly not if I was alone. It was the social aspect of it all that I was actually experiencing. The sport was just a framing reference. It provided context for the human event.

I never acquired an ocean of statistical knowledge or got to know the history of the players various paths through life; which teams they had played for before, who had rivalries and scores to settle, or any other of the million bits of information that true fans hold in their minds in mesmerizing and intellectually interesting ways. I did, however, pick up the core concepts of the game. I know how it’s played, and have a decent sense of the game-behind-the-game. There’s a psychology to it all. It’s more than just a mechanical process of hitting a ball with a bat as hard as you can. The players are playing each others minds as much as their bodies. Perhaps even more so. There’s something akin to chess in the game that I also find interesting. Perhaps other sports are like this as well, if you really get to know them. I’ve simply never taken the time.

So I’m not a super fan, but I do know a little something. I knew the Cubs and the Indians had made it to a historically significant World Series, although I knew nothing of the season that got either of them there. I got glimpse of the headlines on social media, although never was inspired to click on any of the articles. The headlines were enough.

Cubs Series Blah Blah Blah, 108 years since Blah Blah Blah

Indians Series Blah Blah Blah, 68 years since Blah Blah Blah

Really everything I needed to know about it is contained in those two sarcastically paraphrased pseudo-headlines…

I knew that there was a drama unfolding in the first 6 games of the series, and that it had all come down to game 7. I caught wind of the unfolding score of the game through the side of my social media eye; I can always count on the stream of posts and tags to let me know if something important is happening. I wasn’t, however, rushing home from the office to glue myself to it in anyway. It seemed like the Cubs were going to pull it off with an early lead and good for them. They were, after all, the team with the longest dry spell. It seemed justified they would be the ones to break the streak first since they put in more time, right?

Catching wind of the tie-up of the game, and the encroaching 9th inning, I understood that there was something even more momentous than the series itself about to happen, so I turned on the TV and decided to get into it a little bit. I do like television history, even if our streaming lives mean there’s less of it these days. We don’t really ask each other, “Where were you when it happened?” anymore. Probably because we aren’t prepared for the answer to be, “Watching on my iPhone from a toilet the next day.” But back to the game.

It was like watching every baseball movie cliche unfold into reality all at once. Game 7, World Series, tie game, 9th inning, longest dry spells in baseball history, a moment more than a century in the making…Just as I had been doing in those earlier years of my short-lived baseball fandom, I was really tuning in to the human aspect of it all rather than the game itself. I just wanted to watch the look on everyone’s faces for a while and contemplate their emotional processes.

Being a fan of humans more than a fan of baseball meant I had no dog in this fight. I had no one I was rooting for, except maybe the random old guys in the stands who looked like they were about to have a heart attack at any given moment. I was definitely rooting for those guys. The suspense was terrible, and I hoped it would last. And it did.

The 9th came and went with no score change. Extra innings. Then a rain delay. I wondered how many times the phrase You’re killing me, Smalls! was exclaimed across the country. I hoped it was a lot.

I feel like I could have climbed on to the roof of my condo and been able to shoot a direct azimuth from Phoenix to Chicago by the large cloud of tension I could sense on the Northeast horizon. I’ve never been to Cleveland, so I couldn’t empathize enough with that city to sense its collective emotional being, but I assume it was comparable.

The rain delay ended and the game got back underway. As much as I was checking in with the high emotions of the crowd, I also noticed the relatively calm demeanor of the players. It was commendable to watch professionals being professionals. If they were freaking out at all, as one would expect them to be, they certainly weren’t showing it on the outside. Or maybe they were all just in their flow states and focused on the game without the context being permitted into their minds. I’ll chose to believe the later because it’s more interesting to do so.

The 10th inning played out the way it did, Cubs gained two runs in the first half, then held the Indians at bay in the second half with a snag and an out that gave them all the glory.

And the crowd went wild! (Yet another cliche, but a well deserved one.)

It was good stuff, a good emotional ride even if I was only a tourist that caught up with that last hour of the journey. Again, I had no dog in the fight. I just like watching the people feel things.

It was interesting to watch the reporters start to hound the players right after the game had ended. They all wanted to know what thoughts the team had about the way the game went. I thought, “Just let them have their moment for crying out loud! If I had achieved something half as momentous as that, the last thing I’d want to do is answer a bunch of questions with a damn camera in my face!” I’d probably just want to be as mindful as I could muster and experience everything real I could. The pageantry of it all is just a part of the game, I suppose.

After it all was said and done, I think my wife summed it up best when she said, “I’m just happy that Bill Murray is happy.”

Congratulations, Chicago Cubs. Enjoy the day today. You’ve earned it! I wish I could get on a plane and go to Chicago right now. I’m certain today will be a great day to be in that city.

Just do it.

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To blog, or not to blog. That is the question.

Really it’s just a question of which contemporary authors I’m going to listen to. Some say to only write when inspired, others say to just write and never stop writing. Since both camps have reached some level of success, I’ll have to conclude that there is no right answer to this question.

Honestly, that’s not even what keeps me from writing. To say it is would be fraudulent. The reason I don’t write is because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of sucking. That’s really the it of it. I am getting better at overcoming the fear of the suck, though. A lot of people never get so far as to identify their fear of the suck as the thing holding them back, so in this regards I’m already at least a little bit ahead of the game.

I don’t necessarily want to rid myself of the fear of the suck, either. Not completely at least. I want to push it into dark corners, or bottle it up to keep on the mantle only taking it out when useful, but I think I do need to keep the fear around a bit. When I can muster the strength to beat the fear, there’s always great rewards on the other end. If I kill the fear altogether, will I inadvertently close the path to the rewards as well? Maybe that fear is just another level to be ultimately dispatched with. It’s a tricky minefield.

I’ve also come to learn that I have an internal pessimism that lives inside me. This pessimism keeps me thoroughly unhappy with pretty much everything I accomplish. It allows me to have momentary triumphs when I create something that pushes my previous envelopes into a new size, but the triumph is fleeting and the pessimism quickly sets in and starts telling me what a fucking jerk I am for thinking that I’m any good at anything at all.

This snotty little internal bully creates some pretty thick imposter syndrome sometimes. No matter how skilled I get at things, no matter how many people tell me I’ve done something impressive, I can’t help but think that they are all lying to me in some mass orchestrated prank. Any day now I’ll walk into a trap set in a board room and everyone who’s ever told me I did something right will be standing there pointing, laughing and telling me how it was all a setup just to berate me.

A few weeks ago I actually caught my subconscious trying to convince my conscious that I am actually a special needs adult whom no one has bothered to tell they are a special needs adult. For reference, I have an engineering degree and work as a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company. They obviously don’t give these things to just anybody, and yet, I still found myself with the momentary conspiracy theory that everyone in my life outside of my family constituted an elaborate system of life-coaches (hired by my family) whose entire purpose was to applaud everything I do, no matter how mundane it is, as if it were some sort of great accomplishment and to never let on about the ruse. Oh, and this game also comes with a middle-class salary and great benefits, for some reason.

This is an extreme example of how strong that pessimism monster can be, but I assure you there is no exaggeration in it. It’s non-sensical to even entertain the possibility of such a grand lie perpetrated to save me from knowing what a fraud I am, but imposter syndrome is never logical.

The fucked up part about it is, I can’t completely kill the imposter syndrome, either. I need that as much, if not more than, the fear of failure. It’s all very driving. I am driven by pessimism, fear and doubt. I am also, at times, held firmly into place by pessimism, fear and doubt. As previously stated, it’s a tricky minefield.

If I was ever truly satisfied with the way I am, I would have no drive to get any better. In fact, at this stage of my life I can say confidently that any level of skill or success I do have is directly a product of being the absolute last person in the room to ever accept that I am actually skilled or successful. It’s a vicious cycle.

So I think the solution is to just keep going forward. The fear and imposter monsters will keep getting stronger, and I will have to keep getting stronger to beat them. I’ll work to accept the antifragile dance of the two parts of me, and trust that there’s something significant on the other side. I may never achieve escape velocity into the realm of being perpetually pleased with myself, but that will be okay, and I will be okay. As seen on some random Facebook posting recently, “Confidence is not believing everyone will like you, confidence is knowing you’ll be okay if they don’t.”

Or, as a Twitter contact recently tossed at me, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”