Acceptance in Theory & Practice

I am back in college since graduating with a BA in 2012. I remember back in those original undergrad days my dad repeating things he’d heard about what goes on in universities from Fox News and saying to him, “it’s not actually like that.” Apparently ten years makes a difference. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, while going around the room and introducing ourselves the professor required us to state our preferred pronouns. And there were literally purple haired weirdos asking to be called “they/them.” Just like Fox told my dad.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against purple haired weirdos. I am a weirdo myself, a bald headed, tattooed weirdo, and I prefer the company of weirdos. It’s just that I’m 47. What was weird to me as a first year college student back in 1993 is differently flavored than what is weird today. It takes getting used to. I am not used to being asked for my pronouns. I’m 47, what fucking pronouns do you expect me to give you? This wasn’t a thing when I was young and rebellious.

I felt, for a long time, that simply not being violently offended by gays and ethnic minorities was all the enlightenment I needed, based on the behaviour of the kind of people who were violently offended by them, and that I had a good handle on the weirdos of the world. After all, I grew up in a relatively small Kansas town where there just wasn’t a lot of weirdness going around. Lawrence, Kansas in the early 2000s was also pretty tame in comparison, believe it or not. The relatively small community of weirdos made it so we had to all put up with each other socially. In all the tribal subcultures of the day pretty much everyone was familiar with everyone else, even if they weren’t in your particular clique, and a rudeboy hanging out with goths was very much preferrable to dealing with the “normal people.” So being a part of that I felt experienced, and thought of myself as tolerant.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the transgender community suddenly exploded onto the public scene. I was not prepared for it. I have embraced two things ideologically: a “live and let live” attitude toward what other people do with themselves and a transhumanism-centered political position. Reading about the different ways people percieve of themselves and then go on to present themselves as is one thing, but I was raised by a generation of people who were born before WWII, lived a good chunk of my childhood on an Army post, and grew up in a generally conservative atmosphere. Theoretically I was open to this, but when it suddenly appeared on my radar I had no idea how to respond gracefully. It was the first time a gay dude hit on me all over again.

The first time a gay dude hit on me I was conditioned enough not to react with violence. Some men see being hit on by a gay dude as a threat, and it raises lots of uncomfortable questions for themselves, and it sometimes goes terribly wrong for the gay dude. This was more common back then, I think. It’s what got Matthew Shephard literally crucified. So I was not going to react violently, but for reasons I didn’t really understand I did feel angry about it. Not knowing what to say, and feeling uncomfortable and angry, I just pretended that this was not actually happening and refused to speak until the dude just stopped talking about it. Like, I said, graceless. I didn’t really put a lot of thought into the fact that I did get angry, I just thought it was enough that I didn’t act out on the sudden pressure toward violence that I felt. Why did I feel that way? It’s the difference between theory and practice. And I guess in retrospect I was angry at the guy not for being gay but for putting me in an awkward social position.

I had seen, years before, a documentary on transsexuals. The documentary mentioned the extremely low portion of the population that experienced the mental condition that made them seek reassignment surgery out, and I just felt sort of vaguely sorry for them that they had to deal with not feeling right in their own bodies. My next experience with transsexuals was the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is still one of my all-time favorite musicals. But that didn’t really put me into contact with any transsexuals, largely because, I think, I’ve never been interested in seeing the live showings with all the pantomimes and audience participation. It was/is purely just a movie in my DVD collection, and the transsexuals thereof were comical caricatures. In high school I went to visit my sister, who at the time was a KU student, and saw what was clearly a man in a dress walking down the sidewalk in front of her house, and that was my first time seeing something this “wild” in real life. But it wasn’t wild, it was just someone walking down the sidewalk. It didn’t make a very good story to tell my friends later. “Yeah, I was standing there and a man in a dress walked by. Just, walked by. Totally normal. Probably just going somewhere. In a dress.” Not exciting stuff.

But then, not long after I graduated, this issue was somehow at the forefront of public consciousness and suddenly people I actually knew were outing themselves as trans. And it was like, “Really? Them? How did I not understand this was the case before?” And new people I was meeting were trans, at least one of whom I really had no idea was until I was told. The suddenness of this development was overwhelming. And that was just in real life. Online it suddenly seemed like every third person was trans. I was unprepared for it.

Theoretically, as a “live and let live” transhumanist, I should have been good enough to just take it in stride. Realistically, that’s not how people work when their worldly paradigms are upended. The Matrix had changed, and I was disoriented. I’m from the Great Plains, I didn’t have enough practice with this. I did what I normally do when disoriented: I made some regrettable statements on social media, held a friend or two hostage with long rants about my burning questions, and pissed a few people off. But also, once I calmed down a little bit, I went straight to the source to learn about these people. I talked at length with trans people on an online forum, and asked direct, honest questions and then took their answers at face value. I didn’t argue with them (much) and I worked to try and imagine the world from their point of view. I may have been weirdly obsessed for a minute, but once I felt like I had absorbed enough to recompile my worldview I let it go.

When later on I worked with a trans person I found it super easy to treat them in the way they presented. Using a trans persons pronouns with functional sincerity was no problem. I am not of the opinion that trans X are literally X (medical technology hasn’t come nearly that far) but I am also of the opinion that in better than 99% of social situations they might as well be. Trans X may not literally be X, but they are human beings who deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. If that means “playing along” then I’m for it, because that’s really just accepting people at face value. Until you have a reason not to you should do that with everyone.

There are political and ethical questions surrounding the trans movement. Some of their problems just aren’t for me to address other than to be as supportive to them as I am to anyone else. What I’m more interested in is my own reaction to it. In theory it’s just an expression of morphological freedom. The mental health angle is outside my wheelhouse, but as a transhumanist I should not just support the emergence of changing trends but also expect it. Not a specific transhumanist trend, but that they are coming. And they are coming. And I’m not as comfortable with it as I’ve pretended to be in the past. This boom in the visibility of the trans community has taught me that. The first time I got hit on by a gay guy taught me that. Various other things that I don’t have time to mention here taught me that. I am not the person I want to be, but I am working on making myself that person. I am working on making my practice line up with my theory.

I think my process with the trans movement was mostly positive. There are a couple of people who are no longer friends with me because of the chaos involved in the beginning, but I never really cared for them as people anyway, and I hold that I am enlightened enough to not like a person for who they really are on the inside despite their othered social status. (LOL)

So going back to the pronouns thing which inspired me to write all this mess. In theory I am OK with people choosing pronouns. Culture is what we make of it, it is a human invention, we can change what we want to about it, and anything that is now normal was at one time new and frightening. In practice I am a grumpy middle aged Gen X dude who is weirded out by the idea that I would have to tell someone that I am a he/him person, because that has been the paradigm for forty-seven years and the Matrix only just now started this process of reset.

The saying of name/major/pronouns started on the other side of the room. I hoped that the people other than the obvious pronoun rebels would just not participate and set a precedent for me to gracefully avoid it, but the first guy failed to state his pronouns and the professor made sure to make him do it. I guess this is what made me uncomfortable with the whole thing. I am an old guy and I feel like I should not have to participate by default. I should feel OK offering my pronouns if that’s my thing, but I should also feel OK just not fucking doing it. Everything you need to know about my pronouns could be said by my reluctance to give them. Nobody would ever mistake me for a woman, and I am not trying to present myself as one. I’m a bald middle-aged man with a moustache. It doesn’t take much for me to look like the regional manager of a mid-sized corporation. I can put on a tie and go anywhere and have people assume I’m in charge of something. There is no doubt that I am a he/him. So getting asked is off-putting. It made me feel defensive. It made me feel like I should give a rebellious, snarky response. I toyed with the idea of saying “my pronouns are Your Majesty/His Majesty” or “thee/thy” or some equally combative thing. That was my first impulse.

But the reality of a university classroom has always been that you are going to have a hard time if you are combative with the professor, no matter what their deal is. This was something that seemed important to her, and my resentment for having to participate was not inline with my personaly theory. It’s a small thing. There was none of the stuff people use as extreme examples online. No “bunself.” No “xir.” None of that. Culture is a synthesis, and I think that at this moment in time there isn’t much tolerance for those sorts of things outside of niche social media. He/Him; She/Her; They/Them. This seems to be the prevailing actual usage, though I will admit my first hand experience has been limited so far. If someone with a straight face asked for completely new pronouns that nobody else had real experience with I don’t know how I would handle it at this time. It seems to be not much different than my snarky thought to demand to be called His Majesty. There needs to be a popular movement behind a particular neo-pronoun for anyone to take it seriously, and I just don’t see that there is such a thing.

Also, “they/them” is something I’ve used, and I think a lot of people used, apolitically as a generality for decades. It flows more naturally than “he or she” when speaking of an unknown someone, even if it is technically incorrect grammar. And when speaking vaguely of a person it sometimes seems interchangeable to me. In that respect I feel that they/them gets a pass. Even if I am suspicious of anyone who specifically asks to have a vague, genderless pronoun used for them. Trans I feel like I’ve handled, gender fluid I am still critical of. I have not been able to speak with anyone in depth who identifies this way, and even among the lgbt community the concept seems to be viewed with suspicion. But, it will get sorted out in time. I do not forsee as likely a situation in my life where supporting or rejecting the idea is important.

Anyway, when it came my turn I said my name and my major. I left it at that, hoping the professor would just let it be. Look at me. I am a man. Why is this a question? It’s a question for the same reason the teacher is asking us what name we want to go by. Like a lot of people I do not go by my given name. I have a nickname I prefer, and I really feel irritated when anyone but my family calls me by my given name. I remember when most teachers didn’t ask for what name we preferred. In general if your name was William and the teacher called on you for the first role call instead of “present” you just said “Billy” if that’s what you went by. Unlike gender there is no biologically rooted cultural norm for name preference. There are no recognized visual markers for what makes a person an Andy versus an Andrew. But anyway, the teacher/professor is interested in being sensitive to gender identity. The population of gender-atypical people isn’t really large enough to justify it, but it’s a political and social hot button issue. So demonstrating that you are sensitive to gender issues by asking a student for preferred pronouns is also demonstrating that you are open and accepting to your students no matter who they are, where they are from, or what their deal is. I believe that I could make the argument that forcing me to provide pronouns publicly after I attempted to not do so is exactly the sort of insensitive the professor is trying to avoid. But… do I really care? Is making a scene about it a practice that is in line with my theory?

The answer is no.

The professor, either not twigging to the fact I deliberately left it out or, more probably, making a statement about her views of inclusiveness by forcing me to go through the ritual, prompted me for the pronouns the say way she had the first guy who tried to not participate. I just said “he/him” and life went on. It came up again in the class I had today. This professor seemed to offer his pronouns as an afterthought, as if there was a meeting where higher-ups said this is what you should do and he was just complying with this “advice.” But going around the classroom a precedent was set for avoiding giving them, and I just didn’t participate. I said, “my name is Max” and gave my educational background and left it at that. I felt my educational background was more important than my pronouns. I am obviously still uncomfortable. My theory says it’s not a big deal, my gut is annoyed by it, but my heart is trying to deal. I guess it is way more important to the people who answered “they/them” than it is to me, and to me it isn’t really all that important, despite me working out this long blog post about it, so why not accommodate the two or three people in class who are apparently wrestling with their identity. College can be ridiculous sometimes, but it’s important to be nice.

Why does it make me angry? Because it’s new, because it goes against decades of worldview, because the whole subject is highly political, and because I just don’t like being made to talk about private things about myself. Being asked for my pronouns feels a little bit like being asked to declare my sexual preferences. “Hi. My name is Max, I am an Animation major, and I am into shorthaired tomboys who play sports and have visible abs.”

Why aren’t more people?

That’s what it feels like to me. Oversharing. Things people I just became acquianted with shouldn’t want to know, and that I don’t really feel like sharing with most of my friends anyway unless it’s to make a humorous point. Is it ridiculous to feel like my privacy is being invaded when pronouns are a part of everyday speech? It feels that way to me, mostly because, I guess, I am uncomfortable with sharing about myself in general (insert comment about my dumb blog here.) I don’t want to be the center of attention. I don’t want people bothering me. And asking for my pronouns is bothering me. I feel like, “take one look at me and hazard a fucking guess. I will definitely correct you if you’re wrong, but you’re not going to be unless you’re just being an asshole about it to try and prove a point.”

But this is just the way I feel, and feelings change as people get accustomed to change. Like all feelings I am entitled to it. But bitching about your feelings is what chicks do, and I’m a dude, so we’re done with this particular line of thinking.

And I guess I’m done in general. If those girl abs up there are yours just email me and I’ll take them down if you want me to. I found them on 4chan and nobody provides attributions there. The image was modified, so fair use I guess, unless you really want to be mad about it.

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Atheism, Nihilism, & Me.

I don’t see either of these things as something that I ever wanted to embrace. I see them as philosophical problems to be overcome, and nothing really to be celebrated. Of course I say that while at the same time having been very influenced on the topic of atheism by Christopher Hitchens. My whole life I’ve been trying to find something that wasn’t there, and I suppose that atheism is a kind of giving up on that for me, rather than a position for me to dig in and defend. Nihilism I guess is an outgrowth of that.

I suppose I need to start off with defining what I mean by these words. There is a lot of political passion wrapped up in these words that makes the idea into different things for different people.

By atheism I mean that I have never been satisfied by anyone’s arguments or proofs for the existence of a creator being that I cannot see, and primarily because it usually follows that this thing they want me to believe in is also proof of their authority over me as well as all kinds of other things that don’t seem to logically follow. I suppose if you made an argument in a supreme being or creator without any of the rituals or commandments of religion, that is without relying on “revealed” truth but kept to logical arguments, I might come around. I might even be inclined to want to believe it. Nobody ever stops there, though. One minute you’re talking about prime movers and uncaused causes but you let your mind stray for a few seconds and suddenly this god has a name, a chosen people, opinions about how you cut your hair, and also there is a very special hat you need to wear. I just can’t go from “someone had to create all this” to “come join me in this little room and describe to me all the times you’ve masturbated since last we met.” I use confession as an example because I was, believe it or not, Catholic for a while. Not a born Catholic, but sort of a phase I went through after 9/11 and then gradually decided was not all that it had been sold to me as. I just spent a year working in a conservative synagogue and could easily descibe lots of other nonsense. Because it always seems to come to that. One minute you’re sincerely wanting to contemplate or discover the great truths of life and the next thing you know there is all this other stuff that seems wildly arbitrary and not a little bit silly to someone who wasn’t raised into it. And I was not raised into it. My grandmother made a couple of attempts, taking me to church with her and making sure I had a child’s picture Bible, but without someone forcing me to go, forcing me to accept the authority of the church and the authority of their traditions, I never willingly participated. So in that aspect I suppose I expect religious people to approach me with their reasons as if I were an uncontacted tribesman from the New World that they are not allowed to whip or otherwise bodily threaten. And they can’t do it. At my most receptive to the idea of organized religion the most pious I ever was happened at my actual confirmation ceremony, and it was all really downhill from there. I had taken the adult conversion classes and had been interested in their ideas, but afterward kept on reading and kept on questioning and eventually it all sort of got blown apart. And not to pick on the Catholics, I also tried this with Buddhism in much the same way, only this time I never bothered to take the step of officially joining, I just never went back after the introductory classes.

What logically follows is “if there is no intelligent creator, then what is the meaning of all this?” Nihilism was a slow knife, gradually sliding into my brain as all the arguments for God X, Y, or Z drained away. What do I mean specifically by “nihilism?” I mean that there doesn’t seem to be a meaning overall. There are little meanings all over the place. There doesn’t seem to be a grand, unifying meaning as might be embodied in the person of a creator. Meaning of this kind is what religion presumes to deliver. What is the meaning of life? So that when you die you get to go to heaven and be with the creator and sadness and sorrow will cease to be. Because life seems to be toil and suffering. There is a part in the beginning where in better societies the children are protected from the harsh realities of life, and in the best versions are prepared to deal with them. Things get worse following puberty, but by middle age you’re peaking and things seem OK, but then the aches and pains of old age start to creep in and you can’t help but notice that all the older people you know are quite literally falling apart and eventually dropping dead, and nothing about that is pleasant to look forward to. When our loved ones die they don’t come back. And so it is natural that we fear these things, and religon provides mental relief from existential dread and the sorrows of loss. I like the idea of heaven. I want to see my grandmothers again. I want to meet my grandfathers. My parents are still alive but when they inevitably die I will miss them terribly and the thought of being able to see them again would be fantastic. And like any problem that people have, there is someone selling you an answer to that. And we want to believe, or we’re scared not to, or we were raised from a young age to never seriously question it, so again, we go from “yes, it is logical that there is a creator god” to “and also if you don’t do what I tell you to do he’s going to kick your ass forever.” But I’ve never really had that problem. My problem is that since none of those religious arguments were ever convincing to me, then everything else in its absence seems arbitrary.

Let me explain. There is a misconception out there that nihilism is a position unto itself. These are usually the same people that think atheism is itself a religion. Nihilism, as I understand it, is an obstacle to one’s peace of mind. It’s the problem posed immediately after the religious “leap of faith” moment. Because every organized religion has to come to that moment, the point where you have to admit that none of what the priest is peddling is verifiable and you say to yourself, “I choose to believe this nonsense anyway.” I am unable to do that. I tried. God how I tried. It is not in me. So after you’re left with the question, “what now?” Camus famously put forth that the big question then is do you commit suicide or find a way to continue living? Religious people hold that a nihilist who doesn’t want to die is proof that nihilism is somehow a false doctrine. Which doesn’t make sense to me, because nihilism is not a doctrine, but again, a question to be answered, and a question for people who have rejected religion as the answer. I have been trying to find my own meaning ever sense the deeper meanings proposed by other people all seemed inadequate.

Religion? No, for reasons I’ve already touched on. Maybe there is a god and maybe he wants certain things, but I just cannot trust the people trying to tell me about it enough to make the necessary leap of faith. Even the sincere, decent people.

Hedonism? Another habitually mischaracterized idea. I like to feel good, but as a worldview it seems too simple, and as a lifestyle potentially self destructive. When I was younger I veered toward the extreme end of hedonism, and truthfully it was as unsatisfying as religion.

Stoicism? I’ve probably read the least about this, because Marcus Aurelius’ book was dead boring for me. Maybe I don’t get it, but ascetism seemed to be some kind of part of it, and I enjoy my stuff too much. Maybe I need to look into this more, I don’t know.

Absurdism? I struggle with this one. All I get out of is black humor of the kind I learned serving in the military or the ironic fatalism of corporate humor. Those two things are ways of dealing with the inevitable and the painful, so maybe that is a sort of absurdism? I don’t know. I remember the moments when bad things were about to come down from on high and we all just laughed and said “here we go again!” But I can’t sustain that. I was never a good soldier, and I was not a successful corporate drone. Is absurdism supposed to make you happy? Or is it supposed to just get you through the day? Stoicism seems to be that, to just take the bad shit and roll with the punches, so is absurdism the same thing but with an emphasis on humor? I wish I knew.

I liked a lot of Buddhism initially. There is a lot of stuff people have adorned Buddhism with that I can go without. But the idea of universal oneness makes a kind of sense to me. Karma, reincarnation, levels of enlightenment, different planes of existence based on where on the reincarnation scale you are… all of that just seems made up to me. Buddhism embraces contradiction and contemplation, at least, so even though I never joined a sangha or believed enough to take any of the refuge vows, I do think I gain some kind of benefit from Zazen meditation. But that is not an embrace of the unprovable and ineffable, it’s based on how it makes me feel, of the effect it has on my mental state. Prayer in the Christian sense never did that for me, but meditation certainly does. I claim, sometimes, to be part Buddhist based on this. It’s pretty American of me to take what I like and ignore the rest, but what the hell? I am an American.

I have said quite recently that I hit a point in my life that I stopped giving a shit, and that I have lately been chasing a certain feeling. I suppose that’s my religion for right now. The whole Heathen thing? I never stopped that, but I never went into Heathenry believing that the Aesir were literal beings. It’s a cultural ritual for me, as well as a personal one, and based on the fact that people who have strong ethnic identities are in general happier and I’m just trying to game the system.

But nihilism? I don’t embrace it and I don’t hold it as a position. It is just that I am struggling to overcome it. Nihilism is a storm-tossed ocean and I’m a castaway trying to keep my head above water. I’m not suicidal, so if you read this and you’re a friend or loved one of mine, don’t worry about that. In fact if it ever looks like I’ve killed myself tell the police I was definitely murdered or suffered a bizarre misadventure, because suicide is something I would never do. But here I am at a time in my life that I don’t believe that I will ever find an answer.

I do not believe that I will find an answer to nihilism. Or to life. Or anything like that.

I think I’m probably bound to spend the rest of my life using bits and pieces of religion, hedonism, stoicism, and absurdism to just get by. I’m not unhappy, it’s important to note. Happiness comes and goes as the days and nights come and go. I am not at the bottom of some pit of endless depression and sadness. Certainly, I have said I find it hard to give a shit about anything anymore, but put that in the context that I find happiness in everyday things and that my family is a constant source of comfort and joy. Acceptance that there is no answer, and if there is I shall never find it in this life. That’s basically what my brand of atheism is. Some day I am going to die. I don’t want to, and if medical and technological advances make it possible to extend my existence beyond what is naturally alotted I am definitely going to reach for it. But it is certain, even in that event, that I am going to die eventually anyway. It’s irritating and unfair and meaningless on a larger scale, even though it means everything to me personally. If that happens and there is a deity I’m certain I will be able to answer for my life, so what need do I have of priests, rabbis, or whatever?

I don’t know what the meaning of life is.

I don’t think there is one.

I’m tired of all this snipehunting.

That is all.

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The Ghost of Gains Past

When I turned 40 I looked at myself and didn’t like what I saw. I don’t mean spiritually, I mean physically. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t turn 50 as the same fat, tired, and weak dude that I had become. I made it to 42 lifting weights and doing cardio on a regular schedule. And then I started chasing money and promotions in the job place, and my whole life began revolving around what I did for a living instead. I kept shitty hours, barely slept, ate junk food from vending machines, and stayed buzzed on caffeine drinks so much that on the weekends when I didnt’ need them I got withdrawal headaches.

I tried getting back into weight lifting while I was at the Home Depot. I started taking pre-workout and was hitting PRs and having crazy workouts. Then one day at work a couple of people told me I didn’t look like I was well, and I went to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror, because as soon as they said it I realized I didn’t feel very well. My face was red and my ears were purple, my heart was hammering in my chest and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears.

The doctor told me my blood pressure was super high, and on top of that the cholesterol in my blood was not good either. Here I was, a middle aged fat supervisor working himself to death, and for peanuts. It was better than I had ever done in my life before, but it still wasn’t great. It wasn’t what I had aspired to, and it was already killing me. Everything I had learned about going hard from the military and from playing sports was conspiring with my unorganized personality and tendency to be monomaniacal in my pursuits and it was killing me. Depression wasn’t helping, either. There are plenty of people who do those jobs and don’t have the problems I did, I know. But I will say this, every one of my peers seemed to have the same black humor about it. For me to be successful in that life my personality required lots of sacrifices that perhaps normal, well adjusted people don’t have to make. Again, I know this is a me issue more than anything. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that what I was doing was inherently difficult, just that for me personally it took a toll on my soul.

Finding my place in life, finding my station in life, working out the difference between what I want to have and how hard I want to work, this hasn’t been easy for me. I’m too old to really have a professional career, I think. Like I’ve said before, the corporate myth of work-life balance isn’t something they’re really going to help you with anyway. Since resigning from my last managerial position and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with myself to maximize my life I have returned to the vow I made at 40. After all, I have everything I need in a home gym: a cage, a set of barbells, iron plates, and dumbbells. I’ve even got a treadmill for cardio, and a lat pull down attachment for my cage. I have literally zero excuse to not do it.

The Ghost of Gains Past haunts me. As I’m struggling with starter lifts it’s reminding me that I used to lift heavier. As I’m walking on the treadmill it reminds me that I used to run wind sprints and speed run the stairs at the stadium. It reminds me that if I stop this time I will have outgrown my XXL shirts by the time I reach 50 instead of putting on muscle. It’s a bit like going back to Mario Kart after five years off and not being able to catch my own ghost racer in speed trials. It fucking sucks.

I’m not going to try and keep a regular progress blog this time. It didn’t really help me last time, but I suppose I am going to talk about the subject here from time to time. I am just refleceting here on the fact that I made myself a ten year pledge, and now I’ve got three years to accomplish it. Like everything else I do I’ve squandered my head start and waited until the last minute to get seious about it. I sometimes tell myself that I work better under pressure, but that’s not exactly true. The truth is that I only work under pressure, because without pressure I don’t seem to actually work at all. If I can change one thing about myself it should be that. But here we are, back at square one again.

Still, I would rather be a perpetual beginner that just give up on something. The thing about the Ghost of Gains Past mocking me for having been better at 42 than I am at 47 is that I know that I can do this because I was well on my way before. What it is my goal exactly? Hard to say. I guess you could say that I want to look like I lift weights without having to take off my shirt, and for people to know it without me having to tell them. That’s vague, but achievable, even for an older guy like me. Can I do it before I hit 50? Even if I don’t, I am still running off the promise that I won’t be a physical wreck by that milestone. The Ghost of Gains Future is beckoning me.

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On A.I. Creativity

One of the big things going around right now is training AI to create art. You can give a trained network prompts and get extremely interesting images and less interesting but still interesting bits of fiction. It’s come a long way. A lot of people are wringing their hands about the death of human creativity, or at least the death of humans getting paid to be creative. As a writer, and as a 2D and 3D designer/cartoonist in training this impacts me. I have some thoughts on it, of course.

Thought One: All Hail the Basilisk!

Thought Two: SOMEONE is going to have to train and/or prompt the AI and edit/wrangle its creations. This is a different skill than doing the initial creative work yourself, but every creator goes through revisions and editing. A new creative operator class will be needed, I believe, to listen to the client/marketing committee and figure out the best way to get the AI to give them what they want and then revise, compile, edit, whatever to get to the finished product. I expect that there will be people who do this as a hobby, as well as people who do this professionaly. Which is already how things are in the creative community.

Thought Three: The fanfiction community is going to get nuts. As this technology improves and becomes more accessible I can totally see more hobbyists getting into creating movies, cartoons, and books with the end results being at least visually exciting. Big Corpo like Disney will still reign supreme over your average consumer type, but creative communities like Newgrounds and Deviantart and, I guess, Livejournal, will have their own television series and movies produced by weirdoes like me who previously just did short Flash animations and written short stories or whatever. Imagine, instead of an internet that just has one Homestarrunner style metaseries there are hundreds to thousands of that same quality and much, much higher. It’s going to be crazy, I am pretty sure.

Thought Three and a Half: I lurk television and film discussions online, and one of the big gripes that people have is that the mainstream content creators like Netflix or whoever either give up on interesting shows after one season or cram so much propaganda and social agenda into a show that it renders it unwatchable. Accessible and powerful creator AI bypasses this. The democratization of content creation. Or the anarchization of it, and if that’s not a word it should be because I am pretty sure you know exactly what I mean.

Thought Four: I want to use it myself. One of my hobbies is 1970s and 1980s mecha and cyberpunk anime. Eventually our Lord and Savior Discotek is going to run out of series to bring over to the West on blu-ray (not to mention they are only doing limited runs of some titles that are already “collectible” again) and it would be nice to feed the right prompts into a creative AI and get new material in the style and aesthetic of those precious, bygone days.

Thought Five: With many people the compulsion to create is powerful. I feel this like a tidal wave at times. Plenty of people are going to simply keep creating the old way just for the sake of doing it. Maybe even “Authentic Human Content” will be an expensive and sought after thing. After all, to continue training these machines to create they have to be fed human created content to go off of. I have read, and I don’t remember where, that machine creativity breaks down over time if it includes a certain level machine generated content to train itself, so there will be a need or desire to feed these creation machines more and more human generated content. So there is that. Don’t quote me on this, though, because I don’t remember where I read that article.

Thought Six: As I have said before, I am training to become a 2D/3D designer and cartoonist because it’s something I WANT to do, and not because I expect to go into it as a job. I would love to have a creative job, but I’m not pinning my hopes on it. I’ve got some demons to exorcise by hammering them into a form that others can enjoy. I’ve pretty well written off finding joy and meaning in a bill paying job. What I’m after right now is the sort of job that I can pay the bills with the minimum amount of thinking about what goes on at work, so that I can not only pay for my off-the-clock hobbies and pursuits but also enjoy them with peace of mind.

And that’s it. I’m not afraid of AI content creation. I’m not afraid of AI at all. If anybody worries me it’s governments, religions, and other agenda-havers training an AI to do wicked things. But someone training an AI to create a movie or tv series? Nah.


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It’s been a while.

WordPress looks different. I’m not sure I’m posting the way I want to. Guess I’ll find out.

It has been a while. I graduated KU in 2012. I worked for a while as the Office Manager of my friends restaurant. I got some decent experience creating and publishing ads, even did a single piece of animated work I was proud of for an online ad. I’ll get back to that last part.

Competition got really hard when things like Door Dash and Grub Hub started up, some bigger corporate chains moved into our neighborhood too, and the squeeze meant I had to find somewhere else to make money, as my position with the company was something of a luxury. I went to Home Depot and turned my forklift and lumber experience into a supervisor position. I got the overnight freight job and settled in there, learning how to run a team and manage workloads. Then covid happened to us, and everything turned into a wild ride. It was about this time that I bought a motorcycle.

I wanted to ride again, and the 2-stroke scooter I bought when I got back from England in 2010 of course had an airleak and I just didnt’ want to mess with 2-strokes anymore. So I thought I would go to different motorcycle dealerships and look at what they had. I had my eye on a BMW G310GS, but I wasn’t exactly sure where they were selling BMW motorcycles. I ended up at Rawhide Harley just to look around and ended up buying a Sportster Iron 1200.

Which I liked quite a lot. But what I learned was that the sort of riding I really enjoyed was long distance type stuff. Which should not have been a surprise to me. The best rides I went on with my scooters was when I lived in Orlando, Florida. I used to ride out of the city and go through orange groves and stop at the weird little marinas to look at the boats. Sportsters are fun little bikes, but after about 30 to 45 minutes your really want to get off one. Or at least I did. The seat was terrible and there was no storage. I started looking at what it would take to make the Sporty more comfortable and better equipped to haul stuff, and then I decided that instead of trying to make a bar hopper into something it was never meant to be, I should just go ahead and buy a bagger. Which I did:

Meanwhile I’m slogging away at Home Depot, grinding away every night trying to be the corporate trooper that they needed me to be. I loved my team, loved working with them, didn’t even mind conceptually what I was doing. It wasn’t like when I worked at the liquor store selling rotgut to alcoholics. People were wanting to build better lives for themselves and coming to Home Depot gave them the tools and material to do that. I can be OK with that. I was part of a “high performing” cadre of workers. We all pretty much started in the same hiring “class” and went through the same process to end up supervisors and otherwise upward-oriented people. And we were all grinding it out every day and night to make things happen. The demands and realities of the pandemic were taking a toll on me. I had a goal, to go “dayside” and take control of the department I started in: Lumber and Building Materials. That would give me two of the three necessary department experiences to shoot for further promotion. I was also considering moving over to the Distribution Center. I took a motorcycle vacation right when the pandemic was starting to heat up in the Midwest.

I rode the Pig Trail in northwest Arkansas, which is a hidden gem of a route. It was a very nice time. When I set out, Arkansas was OK. At some point it became a virus hotspot, and when I got back to work they made me quarantine for another two weeks of paid leave. I was not to go back to Arkansas during that time.

Of course nobody had said anything to me about Missouri. And this picture here represents the only bit of Illinois I set foot on.

Anyway. I ended up figuring out my job well enough, and putting up with enough horseshit with a smile, that I got the move that I wanted, and I came back to my old department as the bossman. I believe that position was a parting gift from the outgoing Store Manager, since the position was held vacant until I got there. Or it could be, I guess, nobody else wanted it, but there it is, I had it.

Another year goes by and I’m ready for vacation again, and this time I head off to Deal’s Gap to ride the Tail of the Dragon.

Which was fun. One of the coolest parts of it is that there are so many motorcyclists there. It felt kind of like some of the larger scooter rally rides I went on, just way more laid back. All the people I talked to were very friendly, and hanging out at my motel’s patio was nicely laid back and comfy. Then I decided that the Tail of the Dragon was pretty short for a destination, and started hitting up the other rides that are around there. The Cherohala Skyway is nice, and there’s a big dam out there that’s kind of cool to look at. I decided that I was leaving by way of the Blueridge Parkway. I wanted to ride the length of it, and then see what happened. I should mention that in 2020 there were so many hurricanes that they ran out of names to give them. As I was going up along the Blueridge Parkway an Xbox huge stormfront was moving in, basically chasing me. I was basically a day out in front of it when I left the Deal’s Gap.

I cannot adequately put into words what riding along the spine of the Blueridge Mountains was like.

The hurricane started to catch me as I got to the northern end of the mountains. I had plenty of time left of my two week vacation. I had toyed with the idea of going to Washington DC or even the coast, or going even further north through the national parks. I was so tired when I stopped at this trailhead. My Heritage Classic was super comfy, and with the overhead cover of the trailhead sign I could sit there basically dry and let myself drift for a while. There was a trick of the rain, or an echo, or maybe I was half sleeping, but for a while I swear I could hear faint singing coming from the forest, like a mountain top choir singing hymns just for me if only I would wander down the trail to find them.

But I’ve seen O Brother Where Art Thou? and I wasn’t getting suckered by any Sirens. I slept in a cheerful little motel right at the northern mouth of the Parkway that night, still not sure what I was doing. I woke up the next morning and checked the weather radar, and things were looking extremely grim. The hurricane was no longer a day behind me, it was like an hour or two behind me. I’m bombing out of the mountains, and I’m being passed by locals who were clearly upset that a flatlander was trying not to kill himself in dodgy conditions and uncomfortable terrain. Really, I am from Kansas. These roads felt perilously steep and curvy for an interstate, and to top it off the hurricane was hard on my heels. Hard patches of rain were coming and going, and I spent some time under bridges and overpasses through some of the worst of it. I bought gas in a little mountain town that seemed to be just a single general store and a dozen ancient houses, checked the hurricane’s progress, and rode like hell trying to outrun it. It caught me again just outside Indiana where I ate dinner at a hole in the wall pizza place, then I slept in the sketchiest hotel I had yet been to (the places I’ve slept on these trips are a whole different story of their own), and finally made it to the flatlands again in Indiana.

I found myself in Saint Louis pondering how much time I actually had left of my vacation, and decided that another ride through Mark Twain was due, and then, why not, another trip to Arkansas. I rode the Pigtrail for a second time, delighted a motel clerk when I told him I was back for a second year in a row, and eventually rolled back into Kansas and into my home territory, and finally home.

Nine days alone on the road.

I was exhausted from my road trip, but it was a comfortable sort of exhaustion. It was a state of mind that I find difficult to describe, but it was rather meditative. The act of riding a motorcycle requires constant attention. The act of riding a motorcycle hundreds of miles for days on end is a physical feat. All the many hours and miles of emptying my mind of everything but the feel of my machine and the awareness of my surroundings, it did something that I’ve never achieved sitting zazen. The nearest experience I can relate it to was sitting in my gun ring for days on end, swinging back and forth on the strap that I think is supposed to be a seat but I never bothered to ask, quietly enduring the weather and maintaining my .50 and watching the world go by from the top of my humvee. It’s a state where you simply exist, experiencing the environment and reacting only as necessary, tired, sore, but beyond thought for most of the day.

I got back to Home Depot and I felt pretty much the same way as when I got on the bus to leave Fort Sill and the army behind me forever:

I just did not give a fuck.

I went through the motions, trying to fit back in, but somewhere on the road in that nine days I was gone all the little coping mechanisms, self-delusions, and grim determination it takes to be that corporate trooper melted away. It had taken me three and a half years to build it all up, piece by piece as I needed it. Every single one of the thousand cuts I clenched my teeth and smiled, and I took them one at a time, and I contorted my personality to make it all work. I used to joke that my orange apron was like a Mickey Mouse costume, that I was just playing a character when I was at work, and I got to be myself when I clocked out. Only that wasn’t exactly true. I took it home with me. The corporate trooper I was trying to be showed up early and left late, and sometimes came in on his days off, and sometimes came in just to buy something and ended up doing the little dance just because I was there. I had no idea how much I needed to share my misery with my team to get by. Going “dayside” meant having to shoulder it all alone. And now I didn’t give a fuck. I was going to work, stopping at my folks house to eat, going home and basically going straight to bed.

And then my precious little orange fluffball Tomo got cancer. I had to hold her as they injected the chemicals that put her to sleep and stopped her life. I leaned back in a chair and held her on my chest, the same way I held her when she was a kitten. She never got out of the habit. She went from being this tiny thing I could hold in the palm of one hand, who curled up tight over my heart, to this giant orange ball of hair stretched across my chest and neck. And that’s how I held her when she died. And I think that was the last of it for me. I took the next day off work, but I never mentally or emotionally clocked in again. I became angry that in Tomo’s last couple of years of life I spent so much time at work. I was angry at myself for putting in overtime instead of going home to be with her. I was angry at myself for coming home so exhausted that all I could do was fall asleep in my chair instead of petting her or playing with her or just letting her sit with me together. There was more than one day that I came home, sat down in my living room chair, maybe took off one shoe before falling asleep, woke up the next day, and went straight out the door again without doing anything but putting on a cleaner shirt than the one I slept in. I was angry at work, and I was angry at myself. I was heartbroken and there was nothing I could do to change what had happened. I sometimes feel guilty that I have had so many pets in my life, but I have never felt such love and sadness for one of them as I did when Tomo died.

A new job offer fell into my lap, and I jumped at it. Leaving Home Depot felt like breaking up with a crazy girlfriend. There was so much relief that I didn’t know I would feel until it was all over and I was feeling it. I maybe came across as a little desperate during my final interview, but the next thing I new I was a Facilities Manager for a local synagogue. I celebrated by finally getting the bike I really, really wanted:

FLHR Road King Standard. I traded my Heritage Classic in for this before I even set eyes on it. They had to ship one up from Texas because I purchased late in the year and my local dealership didn’t have one in stock. For almost a whole week I didn’t have a motorcycle, and I had never ridden a Road King before. I didn’t know if I had made a huge mistake or not. I had gone thousands of miles on the bike I traded away. I had Rhinehart pipes on it and it was broken in perfectly. It sounded great, took off with force, and was very comfortable. Had I made a huge mistake? I worried for about five days. Getting on the Road King it immediately felt different. It had a higher, more upright riding position (or at least it felt like it.) Better ground clearance. Different steering geometry. I was worried for nothing. I was grinning ear to ear before I had gone a mile from the dealership. It was perfect. Or at least it would be. Show me a stock Harley LMAO.

I tried at my new job. I hired a friend of mine as an assistant manager. We set up a routine, and I was making a really decent salary. I liked helping out with the shabbat services, enjoyed conversing with the Hazzan, who seemed delighted to explain different religious things I was helping with, and like helping people get the tools and materials to make their lives better, helping a community observe traditions and build community is a lot more fulfilling than some of the things I’ve done for money. A lot of the things I’ve done for money, really. But I still had to put on a face every day. I couldn’t muster up much give-a-fuck outside of the days I rode my bike to work (even though I really like my pick-up truck.) I ended up moving from a cubicle in the administration area to hiding in my workshop, and I really began to resent just about any interaction I had with the school side of their operation. I had wanted a job to retire from, but this was not it afterall.

My assistant manager had an existential crisis and started taking online classes while looking for another job. He encouraged me to do the same, but I was resistant at first. He had a crazy idea for us to start a business together, and that we should train ourselves for it. The more he talked the less crazy it sounded. He was excited for the new things he was learning, and that reminded me of how I used to be. At work I had turned almost paranoid and reactionary. I had developed conflicts with other personnel there and felt spiteful and angry all day. I knew it was not really their fault. I knew it was mostly me. I knew I was unhappy. And eventually I came to terms with the fact that I had to leave. I was on autopilot, coming in everyday, avoiding other people as much as I could, preferring to stay late and do my work when nobody else was around, and getting into that same pattern of come home, fall asleep, wake up and go right back out the door. It’s not living being like that. And of course my assistant manager was looking for another job and was going to find one sooner rather than later.

On the very last day it was possible to do so, I applied to go back to school. I picked up the classes I needed from spots that had been dropped by other students when their tuition came due. I was in the JCCC Animation program. Which brings me full circle (remember when I said I did an animation for an online ad at the beginning of this blog?)

I get to learn new things and be creative again. It’s hard when you’re grinding away at work and you’re responsible for a bunch of things that you don’t really care about. I don’t exactly know how I ended up how I did. There are a lot of people who used to know me that would be surprised (or possibly dumbfounded) at the idea that I have turned myself into someone extremely qualified to be a responsible company man. Getting a new job has been irritating. All of my experience and skill makes me the perfect candidate for very well paying jobs that I very much do not want to do anymore. I have recieved more than a few inquiries from head hunters who would like to give me the same job I just resigned from, and the fact they’re talking about even more money does nothing for me. Chasing a higher salary is exactly how I made myself this stressed out to begin with. And let me tell you, once all the pretentious ambitious has been washed away by unlooked for introspection of the lonely highway, it ain’t coming back.

I’m an artist and a writer and I live to create. I don’t know why I ever thought I could be a corporate trooper. I don’t know why I ever wanted to, other than it seemed like the easiest way to get more money. And I’m not shitting on the money I made. I got a nice pick-up truck and a nice motorcycle out of it. But I can’t sustain that mentality, and I obviously don’t want to anymore.

I’ve had so many mid-life crisis moments that I may have earned a record. It started when I first joined the military. I HAD to do it. I’m glad I did it, but I clearly was not cut out for a military career. This feels circular in that way. It was something that I really thought I wanted for myself. It was something that gave me invaluable life experience just for showing up. The lessons I learned while I was in have stuck with me for life. And I think the time between my graduating KU and turning in my resignation at the synagogue is the same. I couldn’t be the person I thought I needed to be when I was a soldier, and I could’t be the person I thought I needed to be when I tried to become a career manager. Neither can I be the relentlessly optimistic person I tried to portray myself as when I first started this blog. There is no happy ending. But I think I’ve figured out what I need to be happy on a day to day basis. Am I going to get a job in animation once I get my degree? Probably not, no. And if I did professional animators, at least the ones who work for the big studios, work like dogs and that’s not something I’m interested in. This is purely selfish, and purely about living the life I want to live. I don’t want to give my whole life over to a career that I hate. Instead of a career, I guess I’d rather have a job that allows me to live the way I’d like when I’m not there.

I’m doing this because it’s a next level of art that I’m interested in doing. I have done animations on my own for my own enjoyment before, and getting formal training in that is basically because I want to do it the way my mother makes fine art. She does it because she’s an artist, and it’s what artists do. My writing is similar. I haven’t given up on getting more things published, but I never really thought I’d make a living doing it. Animation for me is another way to tell a story, and right at the core of my being I believe that’s what drives me. And who knows? Maybe my friend from the synagogue and I can collaborate in exactly the way he initially proposed and we CAN make some money. But if not, c’est la vie and je m’en fous.

What is our real takeaway here? I am restarting my blog because I am back in school. I am determined to create more art to share and more adventures on my motorcycle to relate. I had a lot of fun doing it the first time around. Now I’m here to make that fun last.


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