Monday, October 10, 2016

Hard to watch

It was an allegory, playing out in real time: Male Aggression was represented by a hulking man in a suit, yelling incoherently, threatening to lock up the woman in front of him, throwing her marital issues in her face, and seething menacingly behind her as she spoke.

Female Ambition was a composed but ultimately tired woman in a pantsuit, rattled in this arena with no predecessor to serve as guide, and being forced to confront every piece of her soul that she'd sacrificed to get there, punished both for her husband's transgressions and for playing by the rules (which in politics are crooked).

But when Trump said he admired Clinton because she won't give up, that was Donald Trump speaking, not the demon that has overtaken him to feed off the hatred of change. And that was Hillary Clinton who quietly listened to him say it, not the earthly warrior on a do-or-die quest to break the final glass ceiling. The last few minutes were the only redeeming factor...and it wasn't enough.

Something died in America last night, and all of us watching turned off our televisions worse off for having seen it happen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The marvels of modern technology

Over the weekend, I upgraded my phone to iOS 10. Intrigued by the new messaging features, I promptly (and by "promptly" I mean "accidentally") texted my mother two of what she called "strobey hearts." Grateful she'd been the last person to text me (and thus the person whose conversation I opened to test the texting app...there are many people in my phone for whom sending two strobey hearts would not have been appropriate), I closed the messaging app and moved over to my photos.

New to the photos app is a feature that identifies faces, which you can then link to the contacts stored in your phone. Inexplicably enthusiastic about this, I spent quite a bit of time identifying everyone's pictures and linking them. But when done, it didn't appear that the pictures were visible from the contacts app, nor was contact information available from the pictures app. So I'm not sure what the point of that exercise was.

The third stop on this whirlwind tour of electronic exploration was to upgrade my iPad. Upon doing so I quickly discovered that none of the tagging I'd done on my phone had carried over. So again, I'm not sure what the point of that exercise was.

The last Apple product of mine to get my attention was my computer, the very one I'm using to write this entry. The computer upgrade was slightly different than the mobile-device upgrade, and, not knowing what to expect (but expecting big things nonethless!) I opened the photo app here.

Despite all three devices sharing the exact same set of photos, my computer grouped faces entirely differently than my phone and iPad, and on top of that, it didn't seem to know what the hell a face was.

Here are some things my computer thought were human faces:

This collection of running bibs

This tire

This pile of acrylic paint

My parents' cat

My dad's hands holding an owl

This bookcase

Britney Spears' stage

This hotel lamp

This hand-in-jacket

This Emergency Drinking Beer

This Christmas ornament

And me as a little kid watching myself pee
(along with whatever the hell the thing in the next photo is)

Confused, and not fully trusting the process, I tagged only myself on my computer, rationalizing that I'd wasted too much of my life already identifying people in photos whom I would never forget the names of anyway.

But before we get too harsh on the desktop upgrade, allow me to add that after all was said and done, the computer count stopped at 47 pictures of me. On my phone, where most of the tagging was done automatically, the count is 63. Even though, again, it's the exact same set of photos.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The world of now

As I sat there waiting for the vice presidential debate to start tonight, I wondered how we got here — "we" in this case being me and "here" being in my living room waiting for the debate to start.

I said I was going to stay clean this round, but my resolve turned out to be weaker than that which was working against it this political season. This isn't normal politics. This is junk food politics. This is the election equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies. Instead of staying away, I've instead spent my lunch for weeks now scarfing my food while consuming the politics subreddit, watching late night talk show clips, and, when I want to eat my vegetables, retreating to Nate Silver's sanctuary of cautious rationality. I can't look away. Or maybe I don't want to. This is a race tailor-made for the Netflix era, distinguishable from scripted television only in its absurdity. To quote Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

Earlier today, trawling the internet, I came across a Washington Post profile of a Trump supporter, a woman caught between her circumstances in life and her anger toward them. She had long worked in a man's world. She had long been treated disrespectfully. For a fleeting moment, she had a chance at being recompensed, but then she was screwed over. It wasn't fair. A lot of her life hasn't been fair. She has latched onto this election because this is the first time, perhaps in her entire adult life, that she feels she's not alone. She believes things about our current president and about the state of our county and the state of the world that are incomprehensible. But this election has shown her there are others like her — it's opened up such a world for her that it's not that she's unwilling, but that she can't see that the man she's pinning her hopes on is an augmented replica of the very men who drove her to this path of anxiety and distrustfulness in the first place.

But underneath the paranoia and fury there's something about this woman I get. Without condoning her justifications, I sympathize, empathize even, with her frustration, with her longing for validation, which are neither Republican nor Democratic in origin, but deeper and profoundly human. I can see some of myself in her fear because I've felt a version of it myself. This entire election cycle I've been thinking that the way I feel about Donald Trump must be the way so many people feel about Barack Obama. And then I think, but no, because my fears are real and theirs aren't...but of course they think the same about me. If I was scared of our president, and if life had dumped on me at every turn, and if I didn't have the support to pick myself up, who's to say I wouldn't think a little more like the woman in the article does? The tragedy isn't in the Republican nominee; it's that her story is commonplace enough to have elevated him.

To talk about that, however, is throwing substance into a race that is flourishing without it. Another thing I've been thinking about this cycle is how our nation would cope if the race was boring, or if the outcome was never in question. Presidential elections are both prime entertainment and big business for those in the position of feeding them to the masses. The first presidential debate was the most-watched in history.

Tonight's debate, however, is unlikely to set any records. Watching two politician-looking men debate the issues in a traditional way during a vice presidential debate feels...antiquated. Or, at the very least, tedious in comparison to the fireworks I see each night on the evening news. My attention has slid from that screen to this one as I write this...

And again I wonder, how did we get here?

Graphic source.

Monday, October 3, 2016

In contrast to the last post...

...(which I honestly did mean every word of but was a little twee even for my usual drivel) I went back to the dentist late last week.

After the life-changing root canal that I haven't shut up about since March, you'd think my teeth would be in top-notch condition, but I had another tooth that was bothering me. Fearing the worst, I laid back and got the news that...

...I'm grinding my teeth so much at night that I've worn away the enamel on the tooth that's bothering me. I've worn a night guard for years, but it's losing the match against the destructive power of my clenched jaw.

So yes, I wrote a peaceful and warm list that read like a crush on October. But the important flip side is that I then went to bed and continued to subconsciously mutilate the hardest part of the human body. Positive and negative. Light and dark. Yin and yang.

Life is a balancing act, and one I'm not sure I always accurately reflect in expressing myself — not in my work life, which sometimes overwhelms me to the point of shutting down; not in my personal life, which sometimes brings enough pain I can physically feel it; not in my health, which I prioritize but in a way that falls short of the devoted rigor people attribute to me; and not in my creative pursuits, which too often leave me feeling as if I've failed.

And yet just as surely as these things are true, there are times when I would deny any of it was an issue, and would mean, to my depths, that everything was copacetic. Like, it's all peace and tranquility. Like, it's a list about October.

In many ways, I have never felt as grounded as I do right now. And I am grinding my teeth away at night. These are not antithetical statements. They are two equally genuine parts of the same reality.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Here in Memphis, it sometimes feels like we plunge from the middle of summer straight into winter. But if fall has a month, it is the one that just began.

Though I'm more of a springtime person myself, I'm also an optimist, so here are a few reasons I'm looking forward to the month of October:
  • jackets being of use again
  • the smell of fires in fireplaces drifting through the neighborhood
  • hot tea on chilly mornings
  • Tour d'Esprit (which was this weekend!)
  • Poldark on Masterpiece
  • reading ghost stories around Halloween
  • Halloween
  • the crunch of leaves beneath your feet
  • the sound of wind through newly-bare branches
  • waking up at your normal time, but it's dark, so you feel like you've secretly got a jump on the rest of the world
  • cool, steady rains
  • runs that leave you feeling strong
  • houseplants coming back indoors
  • the quiet as lawnmowers are retired for the season
  • the sudden lack of humidity
  • pumpkins
  • long-sleeved T-shirts
  • the feel of change in the air
  • the way the sky looks on gray days
  • lighting candles in the evening
  • the sound of the last crickets, holding on
  • layered clothing
  • sleeping with the windows open
  • Rhodes Homecoming (no one goes on the off years, but we all reach out every year to ask each other anyway)
  • the musty warmth of turning on the heater for the first time
  • clear nights when you can see the stars
  • patio weather
  • spiderwebs
  • this line being true for the first time this year: "We are nearer to spring than we were in September."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On permanence

I did some minor redecorating in my apartment this week, and one of the things that came down was my Heath Ledger Sin Eater (aka, The Order) poster, which was one of the few pieces of wall art I bought specifically for this place when I moved in a decade ago.

I bought it back then because, oooooh, Heath. Less than two years later, it became oh, no...Heath. In the ensuing years, it transformed yet again - slowly, but unmistakably - from memorial to nostalgia to remoteness to irrelevance, a fate shared by many of my surroundings.

Present-day irrelevance isn't a bad thing. It in no way diminishes the meaning that was once there. It simply means that change was given the space to happen.

Carefully, I rolled the poster into a loose roll and added it to the collection that resides in one of my closets. It's a collection I treat reverently. I take it out from time to time and flip through it so I can appreciate it...but then it goes back in the closet. Once you hit closet status, you almost never make it back out to the wall.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We are what we think.

A few years ago, a friend of mine called me from an unfamiliar number, which was weird since I already had three numbers for him saved into my phone. When I asked how many phone numbers he had, he steadily replied: "Enough."

"Enough" is also the number of journals I keep, and today I'm pulling quotes from the Buddha journal. "The Buddha journal" may sound like something that contains peaceful reflections about the nature of existence, but that's a generous interpretation. It's basically just the fourth Breakaway journal (journals 1 - 3 have been overly-flatteringly excerpted here) with a picture of a Buddha statue on the cover.

So here are some quotes I like from the Buddha journal, which all come from the 2016 calendar year, and I can't imagine they'll mean much to anyone who isn't me, but that's okay.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Let's talk about food

Whether it's actually true or not, I like to think of myself as someone who is willing and open to try new things...and I find this is helpful when it comes to nutrition because a person can't get from breakfast to dinner these days without some new diet study coming out.

For the first twenty-five or so years of my life, I didn't pay much attention to what I ate. My parents were health-conscious and fed my brother and me well when we were kids. But when left to my own devices, I primarily lived off of frozen dinners, saltines, and Sprite.

At some point that changed; I don't know how or why. (Probably just age, but it's not important to our story, so it doesn't matter.) And at some point after that, it changed a lot. For instance, for many years now, aside from alcohol, I have not drunk anything but water and decaffeinated tea. Does this make me a better person than you? Who knows? But it certainly makes me a boring person to go to Starbucks with.

Eating something terrible, no doubt
For about two years, not long ago, I switched to being mostly vegetarian. Then I read that eating meat was really good for you, so I started eating it again. Then I read that some fat is also good for you, so I stopped buying things that were "low-fat." Then I read that juicing was awesome for you, so for a year and a half, I juiced once a day. Then I read that juicing strips all the fiber out of fruits and vegetables, so I reverted back to mainly eating whole produce. Then I read that carbohydrates are horrible for you, so I started counting carbs and reducing my pasta and cereal intake.

And then, last weekend, over the Labor Day holiday, I realized just how sick and tired I was of most of the things that I eat, since I have a tendency to eat the same things over and over until I read something that tells me I'm doing irreparable and permanent damage to myself by eating those very things (at which point I start eating other things). So I ventured into the world of food blogging, and what I found was that there are a hell of a lot of bloggers out there who are freaking hardcore when it comes to their food.

I was looking for something new to eat for breakfast and for lunch, and I stuck to Whole30 and Paleo recipes, not because I think either of these diets are such a good idea, but because they were uncharted waters for me. Not being interested in adhering to them every day for every meal didn't mean they didn't have something to offer.

So after finding a couple of promising recipes, I whipped up a batch of egg-sausage-and-tomato things to heat up for breakfast each morning, and I made a chicken salad with avocado (instead of mayo) to wrap in lettuce (instead of bread) for my lunch. This took hours. It was more time than I've spent in the kitchen in one go in my life. I felt deep pride by the time I was done. And everything smelled delicious. But unfortunately, everything did not taste delicious. Truth be told, everything tasted a bit like cardboard. That is, of course, the number one pitfall of super-healthy eating: much of what tastes the best in our modern world is exactly that which does the most damage to us. I choked both things down all week, but I'm not sure I'm up for putting in the effort to make those particular recipes regulars in my rotation.

In conclusion, and in summary, my life did not change with my diet this past week, but it was worth the experiment. The information available about food is infinite, and it's contradictory, and it's constantly changing. Just when I think I'm doing well, I find out I'm not.

So, as with all things in life, in nutrition I aim to adhere to the mantra of everything in moderation. 

Happy eating. And good luck out there...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tripping the live fantastic

I was asked for some clarification on the last entry. :) (That's what I get for trying so hard to be specific without using any examples that are specific.)

So, we all know about me and 2012 and being 30 and "working on myself" and all that, blah, blah. As that year came to a close, I knew I needed a new job, so when 2013 rolled around, I pulled out my resume and I looked at it from a new angle. I had all of this work experience in a field I wasn't interested in, but I also had a whole other set of skills, so I made my resume about what I could do rather than where I had worked. Then I posted it online.

It was up for only a few days when I got a cold call from a recruiter. He'd just received a job posting. In fact, it was a job at the same company, in the same department, on the same team as I work now. But at the time, I didn't know this department or this team or this job existed. As I read the description, I got really excited because a) I knew I could do the job, and b) this was exactly the type of work I'd been hoping to find.

The recruiter actually worked in an entirely different industry and had received the job posting by mistake, but I guess he was bored or something that day because instead of ignoring the job, he thought what the hell and started going through resumes online. When he ran across mine, he was pretty sure he'd found the perfect candidate, and I agreed with him. He submitted me for the position, and I waited.

You know where this is going - I got the job!

Except I did not. I didn't even get an interview. Complete dead end. The recruiter followed up with me a few times but ultimately told me he couldn't help me since this wasn't his industry. He didn't have any suggestions for other recruiters to work with either - he just didn't know where to direct me. Apologetically, almost as if he was breaking up with me, he called me one cold January morning to say he wished me luck, but this wasn't going anywhere, so goodbye.

Though disappointed, I figured the experience hadn't been in vain, for now I knew exactly the type of job that I wanted and, furthermore, had a specific position at a specific company to aim for. Considering my beginner's luck, I felt confident it wouldn't take long before other opportunities came my way. But we all know this story. Every one of us has a story like this. Most every story I tell on this blog is like this. I didn't hear from anyone else. No other recruiter called me. No other job postings appeared like that first one.

Weeks turned into months and I sunk into a crater of despair. I interviewed for jobs I knew I didn't want. I gave my resume to people who made my skin crawl. I asked for help from people I cringed to think about owing favors to. But I did it in the name of change. I had to get a new a job.

From a list of things bothering me, dated October 2013:

Back then, my days went something like this: I woke up around 7:30 and got to the office at 8:30. I worked until 12:30, then I came home, ate lunch, and spent my afternoon doing whatever it was that I needed to do that day. Sometimes I wrote. Sometimes I applied for jobs. Sometimes I ran errands. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I cleaned. Sometimes I drew in a sketchbook or did a jigsaw puzzle or archived old blog entries or did freelance graphic design work. I never ran out of things to do, and I was never at a loss for ideas. My brain never stopped.

If it was a weeknight, around 5:30 or so I'd head out for whatever run I was going to that night. When I got home, I'd take a shower and stay up doing whatever until 10:30 or 11:00. Then I'd get up and do it all over again.


In August of that year, in one of my free afternoons, I went to a networking luncheon, and that's where I met my future boss. I recognized her name as soon as she introduced herself; another thing I'd done with my afternoons was research the company and team I wanted to work for, and when she held out her hand, in my head, I told myself to keep cool, don't blow this, because this was my future boss. I casually told her I was a writer and only slightly less casually told her I was looking for a job. She told me to send her a resume.

You know where this is going - she hired me! Except she did not. Actually, she didn't even respond. When I followed up, she told me she was sorry, but she couldn't help me. There were no full-time positions available on her team, but there might be a contractor position opening up. Except she couldn't hire me directly for that either, so I'd have to go through a recruiter.

Luckily, I'd already been in contact with a recruiter at the very recruiting company my future boss suggested - I'd been introduced through a friend who'd taken pity on me. Though the recruiter had long stopped responding to me, I hastily wrote her an email anyway saying that if a position came up I was staking my claim on it, it was mine, and just let me know.



Celebrating the new job
(photo credit: Melissa McMasters)
In January, a full year after I'd started this process, the recruiter finally got back to me. She had gotten me an interview. By the end of February, I started as a contractor doing the exact job that I'd read about in that first job posting. I was there only six weeks when one of the full-time members of the team moved away, meaning his position was now open. And you know where this is going - I got the job!

Except I did not.

I didn't even fit in. I didn't sit with the rest of my team because there wasn't room for me on their floor, so sometimes everyone forgot about me. Four months in, my hard drive crashed and I lost everything I'd done since I started. Then, because of some company-wide policy changes, I lost my desk. I liked some of the things that I was working on, but it wasn't the dream position I was hoping it would be, and I started to doubt they were even going to fill the position of the guy who left.

Once again, I started to sink into a crater of despair.


In those days, my schedule went something like this: I'd get up at 6:15, be at work at 7:30, and leave at 4:00. By 4:15 I was home, and I'd spend the one to two hours between getting home and going out getting ready for the next day. Then I'd go out, either to a run or to the Slider Inn or both. On Slider nights, I'd stay out anywhere from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., talking, drinking, talking, and then I'd come home and crash. My days were long, but I didn't mind them because it felt like I was getting to live two lives. I had my work life and my after-work life. My creativity suffered, and I wasn't writing nearly as much, but I had both money and a life to live outside of what made me money, and that's what I focused on.


In December, just under a year after I started as a contractor, and almost exactly two years after I heard about the initial job, the full-time position on my team was finally made available to applicants. A little over a month later, it was official: I was hired on as a full-time employee.

In 2006, I wrote out a list of what my perfect job would be like, and this one hit every single line on the list and then some. Beyond having my own desk and really being part of the team, I got to work on new projects and was given considerably more responsibility. The job was so tailor-fit to me and my interests and my skills and my history that it was (and still is) a lively conversation point. "What luck!" people say to me.

And I always agree, yes, I was lucky, though I don't think anyone who has made it this far in this story would think that luck was the primary force at work here.

Mostly, I got the job because I put one foot in front of the other until I got where I was going.

From my perfect job list, dated July 2006:

Nowadays, I spend my days like this: I wake up at 6:15 and I'm at work by 7:30. At 4:00 I leave, and at 4:15 I'm home. Then I meditate, and if I'm going somewhere that night, I get as much ready for the next day as I can before I head out. I try to be home by 8:30, if possible, and then I shower, and I'm in bed at 10:00. I read for a while and then go to sleep.

I can't stay out until 2 a.m. anymore; even if I could, I wouldn't want to. It's imperative that I be sharp in order to do my job, and the older I get, the less tolerance I have for both lack of sleep and hangovers. But just as importantly, the older I get, the less I fear that I'm missing anything by being in bed at a reasonable hour.

So that means most weekdays I have anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half of complete downtime - time when I'm not doing something scheduled or preparing for something or catching up on something.

That is not a lot of time.

Forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half is not enough time to sink into a deep creative flow. It's not enough time to get bored enough to come up with a new idea or wander down a rabbit hole of internet research. It's not enough time to think, or to plan, or to do much on a whim.

Some nights I don't go anywhere, and then I have more time. And I have time on the weekends. But nothing comes without a price, and I expend a huge amount of mental and social energy navigating through my weekdays. So recovery time has to be factored in.


I wanted something very badly, and I worked at it until I got it. And now, in that very human way, there are other things that I want. In those little blips of 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half, I've been focusing on those things.

But I've also been struggling, because, to keep beating a dead horse, that's not a lot of breathing room. I only got the job because I had the time to get the job. I paid, with my time, to make the mistakes, to lay the foundation, to make the connections, to think, and to get frustrated, because nothing happens that's big that isn't prefaced by nearly unbearable frustration.

From the book to my running career, I have built every piece of my life through this exact process.

But while I've been sick, I've had more than 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half for myself every single day, and instinctively, I've reverted back to many of my habits that I'd forgotten about, like internet rabbit holes, and writing lengthy pieces that go nowhere with no guilt over the time spent because of fear that something had been wasted.

And in that time, I have not been thinking about the things that I was focused on before I got sick (these are purchases that I'm talking about, by the way; I'm not trying to be overly vague or make anyone paranoid).

So here is my conundrum: I flourish with freedom. I have flourished so well in the past that I have slowly built a wall around myself with all that I've created. I don't mind the wall. The wall is comforting and I'm proud of it and I'm proud of the way that I live within it.

But more and more I've been wondering what would happen if I knocked one of the sides down...just to see what I'd come up with to rebuild it.

Or do I keep building the existing sides higher?

Or do I tunnel underneath?

I don't know, and I'm okay not knowing. But I hadn't really stopped to think about it until I was forced stand still.

*I have no idea why I titled this entry the way I did.