Friendly Canadians / Rude Americans

I was in line for passport check at the pre-screening for the US border and someone from the back of line asked people individually if he could go in front of them because he had a connections. Everyone said yes and one lady chimed in, with a pretty self inflated tone that of course we will because it’s Canadians here and Americans wouldn’t even acknowledge him or let him pass. I kinda rolled my eyes because I feel that’s just an inflated stereotype and being full of yourself for the tribe you belong to is pretty silly. So needless to say I was feeling pretty high and mighty with my self awareness.<


But just the next day, I pulled a chair away from the rest to sit off to the edge of the room to be away from the noise to take a phone call and this guy comes straight for me. Pretends to not notice me and bump into me and then goes “Hey dummy you’re in the way, move your chair back to where it was”. Now to give you context, the whole room is empty except for a few tables and chairs. This guy had to purposefully go out of his way to fake run into me.

I know 2 data points don’t make a sample size, but for a second I was like… ugh… why did I even try to defend this…..

You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone

There’s a silly cliché / quotes that says

“You don’t know what you have t’ill it’s gone”.

Probably a repo guy

And as cliché as it is. I think it’s true.
It’s probably linked to hedonic adaptation, where things that used to make us happy don’t after a while. Winning the lottery wears off, getting a raise wears off, that new “thing” you bought that made you so happy, wears off. etc etc.

I suspect that might be why things like retreats or lent are so effective to get people to be grateful. If you go without something or someone for a while, you appreciate it more… At least until you re-adapt again 😉

How Am I Not Myself?

My second favourite movie is I heart Huckabees (First is Memento). It bills itself as an existential comedy, which you know, fits my genre. It explores some of the absurdities with life, meaning and nihilism. One great line in it is when Lily Thomas’s character asks

“What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?”

I heart Huckabees

And the answer Judd Law’s character gives helped me with a big struggle I had with my mental health.

For many years I worried greatly about how my behaviour changed when taking my meds. I wasn’t as pessimistic, I didn’t ruminate as much, I didn’t spend as much time thinking about how the world is fucked. I struggled with it because there’s an easy trope to fall into and it’s of the tortured genius. It’s easy to point to great thinkers in the past who were tormented.

There’s also a bunch of folks online who think taking meds and “fighting” their mental health struggles makes them sheep. It’s easy to think this. Just think of Brave New World, 1984, and most dystopian books. The thinking is that if you move your focus away from everything that’s broken, if you don’t stay focused on the wrongs on the world, on the flaws of humanity, you can’t solve the problem.

It’s a very appealing theory. It means that all that suffering you’re doing, is not in vain. You’re not wrong to feel this way. It justifies the pain, both the past pain and the present pain. It means all that time I suffered wasn’t my fault for not changing myself, it’s everyone else who is too weak to sit with the darkness.

I’m not even sure who, but I think it was an aunt who, when I was 17-18, gave me a quote from George Bernard Shaw.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”.

George Bernard Shaw

When Judd law is asked “What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?” he answers

“How am I not myself?”

I Heart Huckabees

Both existential detectives then keep repeating and pondering “How am I not myself?”

And once it sinks in, once you realize the absurdity of saying or even asking if you’re not yourself you in a sense free yourself from all expectations.
You cannot be anything but yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be pleased with yourself. That you can’t improve yourself. Just that there is no need to worry if you’re yourself. Because you can’t be anyone but yourself.

(And yes, this means that, even given the good intentions, I’m not a huge fan of the “not myself” mental health campaign which implies that you can or should be someone different.)

Sometimes a Kettle isn’t just a Kettle

I’ve started drinking tea to replace my decaf coffee and we had given away our kettle in one of our “we don’t use this, so let’s give it away” cleanse, so we needed a kettle. Now, I tell myself I’m not a fan of consumerism and I don’t think the world needs more stuff in it, we already have enough stuff. So I went to value village to get a kettle.

We go there and we look at the kettles and they are all dirty white and are about $15. We had been using a friend’s kettle and it didn’t seem to have auto shut off, and well given my memory, it’s something we need. But kettles don’t really have model numbers that you can look up to see if it’ll auto shut off.

I don’t know to what extent it’s the auto shut-off, the fact that they looked dirty white or what, but I was just like… I can just get a kettle I know will work from Amazon for $15.

So when I get home I start looking and then looking way too much into kettles and reviews of different kettles and end up buying a new $35 kettle. And guess what, it boils water just as well as the other ones did I’m sure.

The realization that this is now me. That I am the kind of person who will buy a new kettle instead of getting a used one bothered me a bit. Is that who I want to be? I guess I’m not really sure… But it seems to be who I am…

Meta Blogging Thoughts, Memory and Song Lyrics

One thing I struggle with these blog posts is that I have a tendency to ramble on. The post on memory really could of gone in multiple direction. What got me thinking on the topic is actually that I couldn’t find the song with the lyrics I had in my head which were “And I wonder if you think of me too”

I’m figured out that the beat I had in my mind was from:

I think the part I was humming was “I don’t know if you feel the same as I do”. Really there are many parts in the song that are very close and it would easily fit in with the rest of the song.

Regardless, while writing the post on memory I was like… no one gives a shit about me humming the wrong lyrics. I should write something (put on monocle) erudite (a word for smart you’d in academia).

So then I was like, I can link it to the hypocrisy post. Or wait! I can link it about how we create our past selves and we fabricate a past that will justify our actions and somehow slide in that everyone needs to watch Memento. Seriously though, if you haven’t seen it, it’s my favourite movie of all time.

I think part of the problem causing this is that I somehow feel an obligation to have good content here. But I’m not exactly sure why…. For my 30 followers? For the 12 people who read the posts? It’s not like I’m trying to become an influencer or build my mailing list or something. It’s just legit random thoughts…. And yet…

Hypocrisy is the worst sin

Hypocrisy has been on my mind recently. Both in how it impacts my perception of others and how I try to recognize it more in myself.

When I think of fall from graces (mostly in politics) it’s not actually the action that person did. It’s how that action clashes with how they’ve presented themselves. The “locker room” talk from Donald Trump is a good example. It would of sunk many candidates, but it didn’t clash with what he said. In that respect, he wasn’t a hypocrite.

I think about this often. I worry that I’m a hypocrite in many respects. For example, I worry that I’m a hypocrite on climate change. I don’t do as much as many folks. I’m not saying I’m just going out there burning oil or anything. Oh wait, yes, I literally am. We use home heating oil to heat our house. Out where we live it’s almost the only option. We have plans to change to an electric heat pump, but that’s likely to be in 2021. So until then, we’re burning oil.

I also fly to the south every year. Yes, it’s for my health, and taking the train, or bus, down to Mexico isn’t really feasible, but still, the carbon cost is high. All that to say, there are many things that would make me a green hypocrite.

Another instance I’ve been noticing is in terms of others who either share some of my flaws or share some of my past flaws (in action or in thought).

I seem to have a very hard time having compassion for people who act or think just like my 25 year old self acted or thought. Not to mention people who, like my current self, are disorganized, not always on time, get distracted by shiny things, take on too much, are too hard on themselves etc etc.

I think that last one is particularly painful because of how much it exposes my current hypocrisy. I don’t have a fix for this. Yes, I’m trying to be more aware of it, catch it sooner and faster and “redress” as quickly as possible, but I think I’m far from where I could be.

All I can do is to try to make the feedback look of action to realization to change in behaviour faster every time.

Proxy metrics aren’t always bad

One thing I’ve realized is that if I want my goal to be to get in shape or to lose weight, I’ve done some good and bad incentives. And interestingly enough, the bad ones were the outcome based ones.

In almost all situations, proxy metrics become a problem. They are often abused and we tweak things for those metrics instead of the real outcome we want.

But with humans, especially myself, it seems the proxy metrics are easier to follow.

My current example is with weight management. At first I had a goal of staying within a target range until date X. That didn’t work. But what does work is rewarding myself for everyday that I stick to what will help me achieve my goal (in this case I’m rewarding myself every day that I don’t mindlessly eat after 8 pm).

It’s interesting how the focus on outcomes works so well in some contexts and so poorly in others.

Mistakes will be made, but not by me

Note: This post references an event that happened in the past.

In concept I love the idea of failure as a means of growth. It’s how you iterate on products, on what you like, on who you are. I also feel comfortable taking responsibility for those failures. If we’re in a team setting and something goes off the rails, I feel comfortable taking responsibility publicly or outside of the team because I feel confident that the failure is not a reflection of who I am. It’s just a thing that happened.

There’s a different kind of failure. One that goes down to shaking your core belief of who you are as a person, one that breaks your internal narrative. I had a few of those growing up, and they always made me sick to my stomach. I would because physically ill, at times for months at a time when something triggered a memory of what I did. Something that triggered the memory that my internal monologue was a fraud.

I often associated that feeling with my anxiety. They were just overblown reactions to events. Having a better handle on my anxiety now, I thought I was done with those days. Nowadays when something bad happens, I know what I did and I understand my actions and the events that lead to it. Even when making mistakes, which I still regularly make, they don’t make me rethink who I am as a person, they are just mistakes.

Recently I did something that, from a 3rd party perspective, would probably be characterized as being in bad taste. But given the context, one I knew of, and had just not thought about at the time, was devastating to someone else.

I was stuck in my own head, thinking only of how current events impacted me, how I reacted to them, how I felt about them, how I could tell myself a story to make me at ease with the events that happened. A shitty self defense mechanism that jokingly downplayed someone else while up-playing myself. A few things made this even worse that I didn’t realize at the time and didn’t even think of it until it was flagged to me. I then thought it was bad but, perhaps as a self defense mechanism, told myself it wasn’t that bad. I told myself there was a confluence of events, it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t wholly responsible, multiple things came into play for this to happen, you know?

When the realization of the effects of my actions fully dawned on me, I felt that same feeling I felt so long ago. I wasn’t sad or angry…. I was disgusted.

I was disgusted by the juxtaposition of the story I tell myself, that I’m compassionate, that I help others, that I, overall, make the world a better place with the impact of what I said had, and will probably keep having on someone else. I robbed them of their safety, I robbed them of the ability to enjoy a moment, enjoy a memory, by poisoning it. When something like what I did would happen to me, I would ruminate on it for days, weeks, even months. I know the effects of what I did, and it is so diametrically opposed to the story I tell myself that I became ill.

Another part of me feels ashamed and embarrassed to even be thinking of how this impacted me. Just another demonstration of the shitty behavior that lead to this. I want to apologize, I want to fix things, but I don’t know how to convey that in a way that doesn’t focus on what the impact has been on me. Quite the selfish apology wouldn’t you say? I wish I had a time machine to undo what I’ve done.

I felt embarrassed I didn’t even realize what I was doing, that I was cutting in a wound I knew existed. Why had I not considered others when I spoke then? I know a few of the reasons I tell myself, but they are all trivial, they don’t undo anything, they don’t fix anything, they won’t even help ease the pain I caused in others. It’s all just stories I tell myself to minimize my actions. To try to tell myself that this event doesn’t condemn me to be the terrible individual it makes me feel like I am.

Even an apology feels shallow and empty at this point. Just Another selfish act to help ease my pain. To help me rebuild this narrative I tell myself about how, on the whole, I make the world a better place. The problem is, I don’t know of a better solution. Self inflicted pain and torture won’t make it better for them, it’s just more internal narrative fixing. How can one apologize and make amends after this?

I can only see a consistent set of small actions, repeated over an extended period of time, towards them and towards others to try to pay down this debt. To try to help heal as many wounds as I can because I can’t heal the one I inflicted.

Nondualism

I’ve always liked the idea of nondualism, I do sometimes struggle with it. I forget, I “other”, I assume bad intent, I lack compassion, etc.

Lucas wrote about it here: https://lucascherkewski.com/study/franklin-other-us/ which was a good reminder.

I find the problem is when I’m in the moment I often forget it. I might get back to it a bit later. Realize I lost it and then be compassionate in the past tense. I’m hoping it’s like all exercise, the more I practice it, the better it’ll be.

Remember the Past to Appreciate the Present

I really loved the Mass Effect video game, the whole trilogy in fact is amazing. One thing I still remember clearly is finishing Mass Effect and having this song come on during the credits:

From the start of the guitar to when the lyrics kick in, the song always spoke to me. While I was perhaps slightly better than in the past in 2008, it was still a pretty big mess. The feeling of longing, nostalgia and what I’ll call hopeful despair that I took from the song really made an impact on me at the time.

I identified with the lyrics, I had always up to that point struggled with being able to be a “full” person on my own. That I shouldn’t need anyone else that I used as a crutch. My happiness, my wisdom, my actions, they shouldn’t rely on there being someone else there with me (in particular as a romantic partner).

And I need you to recover
Because I can’t make it on my own

M4 Lyrics

A few books got me to accept the impossibility of that task. That humans were not built to be that way (by this I mean, being alone, not that the traditional concept of relationship is for everyone).

Once in a while the song comes up in one of my playlists. And it reminds me, in an almost nostalgic way, of the times when I really didn’t have my shit together.

Sometimes it’s good to remember the past to appreciate the present.