Category Archives: Philosillyphizing

Pursuing the never ending quest for knowledge.

It's Been Quite a Ride

What follows is my last journal entry of the second millenium.

Yes, I’m one of those nit-pickers who insists that the new millenium begins on January 1, 2001, and not January 1, 2000. You begin counting at one, after all, and there was no year zero. The second millenium ends tonight, and the third begins tomorrow. Accept it, and move on.

So, this is the end of the year 2000, the end of the twentieth century, and the end of the second millenium. It’s also the first day of my thirty-fourth year on the planet; I was born on New Year’s Eve (not all that close to midnight, I’m afraid), and that means that today, in addition to marking the end of the year, century, and millenium, I turn 33 years old. That makes today an especially good day for reflection.

So, here I am at thirty-three. What have I accomplished? Consider how other people have been at age thirty-three:

  • At the age of thirty-three Alexander the Great had conquered much of the known world (known to the Greek at any rate) and was well on his way to establishing a great empire;

  • At the age of thirty-three Jesus Christ had pretty much established a new religion, radically reforming the monotheism of the Jews of his time and inspiring new hope among the people of occupied Israel and was on his way to being crucified (and redeeming mankind of their sins, if your faith includes that); and

  • At the age of thirty-three, my biological father had been dead for twelve years.

I suppose that I could look upon those accomplishments and feel a bit insignificant. I haven’t conquered any Mediterranean countries. I haven’t redeemed mankind’s sins. And I haven’t died. What in the world have I been doing with myself?

More than some, I suppose. And less than others.

This past year has, for me personally at least, seen more changes in my life than I’ve had in the past decade. I’m engaged to be married to the most incredible woman I’ve ever known, after years of believing that I was destined to be single all my life (I had, in fact, become quite comfortable with the thought of being a 79-year-old crazy bachelor playing chess in the park with the other crazy old bachelors). I’m well on my way to being a homeowner (a friend of mine, who will be best man at my wedding, says he’s looking forward to seeing how financially conservative I will become in the next couple of years after so many years of being so liberal). And I’ve made a successful transition from one career field to a radically different one. In truth, I’m starting my 34th year as a totally different person than I was a year ago, and a much better person for it.

It has been quite a ride.

The past millenium saw quite a lot of changes for the world as well — we went, in just a thousand years, from a collection of pre-medieval agrarian societies to a large, relatively integrated, information-driven global civilization. Quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself. I think that we all ought to be very proud of ourselves. Granted, most of the biggest changes have only happened in the past fifty years or so, but it’s still a major transition.

I’m excited about the coming millenium. I probably won’t be around for much of it, unfortunately, but I’m optimistic about the future, both my own and the world’s in general. I honestly feel that while things have been pretty good up until now, overall, the best is yet to be.

Starting with the new year, century, and millenium, this journal will get a new name, and, possibly later on, another new look. To both of my regular readers, I wish you a happy, safe, and prosperous new year. Be well, be happy, and take good care of yourselves and of those you love and of those who love you.

Grinchin'

The thing I hate the most about being sick — and today I’ve been hit with a double whammy of a mild cold plus a mild stomach flu; nothing exciting in and of themselves, but the combination is exhausting — is that I have a tendency to feel really lonely. Lying in bed, looking forward to the next time I can use one of my inhalers or take another aspirin, is not something guaranteed to make me feel happy or real good about the world around me. It’s better, of course, now that Jennifer’s around, but when she has to go to work, it’s still easy for me to get lonely during the day, even when there are four or five overly affectionate cats to keep me company.

It was easy to cope when I was a kid or even when I was a teenager or even in college: I’d just flip on the television and watch whatever weird shows were on during the day. I’d avoid the talk shows, of course, but daytime TV used to at least offer alternatives to the junk — reruns of old comedies or old movies during the day. But now there aren’t old TV shows during the day, and old movies are exclusively on cable or videotapes. And with the VCR and TV in the other room, I haven’t even been watching movies anymore.

Watching television wasn’t the only way I’d amuse myself when I was sick as a kid. I spent a lot of time reading, too. Now that I’m older, and television just doesn’t hold the appeal that it once did, I find myself reading more when I’m sick than I did when I was a kid. And the loneliness that afflicts me when I get sick becomes mixed up with a strange feeling of nostalgia.

Today I was sick, and lonely, and nostalgic; so I pulled up some books that I’d enjoyed over the summer and that I was planning on re-reading anyway: the Harry Potter books. I think it’s probably because the Harry Potter books remind me so much of the books I read when I was a kid, or of the stories I used to make up for myself (and sometimes still do); or maybe it’s just because these books are so good. Whatever the reason, I found that curling up with these books today felt like hanging out with old friends. And re-reading them, I found levels in the stories that I hadn’t noticed before; subtleties of foreshadowing that I appreciated, politics among the other mages, and so on. J. K. Rowling really is a good writer.

I’ve written about the Harry Potter books before, so I won’t repeat what I’ve already written here.

But bear with me, I’m going somewhere with all of this anyway.

Two weeks or so ago, Jennifer and I went and saw The Grinch at a local movie theater (Jennifer’s recounting of that particular evening is much more eloquent than I could ever be). It was a fun movie; Jim Carrey is, in my opinion, underrated as an actor (I think he ought to be doing more serious parts like The Truman Show); and Anthony Hopkins is a suitable replacement for Boris Karloff as the narrator for the story. Naturally, the writers expanded the story; it’s hard to turn a short Dr. Seuss book into a 90-minute movie. Most of the expanded story fit into the spirit of the tale, some of it kind of grated, but on the whole it was good. And, I thought, it had a good message about the over-commercialization of Christmas in general.

Said message, of course, being rendered more than ironic by the insane amount of merchandising which has surrounded that movie. Honestly, I think that Theodore Giesel, Dr. Seuss himself, must be spinning in his grave. I don’t remember him licensing much more than educational products when he was alive. Still, I suppose his estate needs to get their money somewhere.

Of course, it’s not just the Grinch who’s been the focus of so much marketing and merchandising this year. Just two weeks ago, we went to do some Christmas shopping and stopped in Barnes and Nobles; and I found myself practically drowning in the sheer volume of Harry Potter merchandising that had seemingly exploded out of nowhere in the space of a few short weeks. When I stood in line until midnight in early July with Jennifer to buy Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a birthday present for my niece, I didn’t see the Harry Potter mugs, calendars, T-shirts, keychains, clocks, and bathrobes that are available now. Of course, with the movie just about a year away, this sort of marketing and merchandising can only be expected, I suppose. Still, it’s a bit distressing.

The Harry Potter books are good, and I firmly believe that in spite of the Muggles of the world who try to sue the author (over the use of the word "Muggle"), or the nutty teachers who try to ban the books, these books are actually good for kids. Kids learn to use their imagination, they read, they learn the importance of friendship, and so on. But what do they learn from the merchandising and the marketing? That it’s good to spend close to $70.00 for a "special edition" of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone? That you need to have the Harry Potter’s Collectibles Guide to make sure you have the latest parephrenalia in order to be as cool as the other kids?

I know that J. K. Rowling certainly licensed all of these things. And I imagine that she’s more than a bit overwhelmed by her sudden wealth. And I certainly don’t begrudge her success. But I have a sneaky feeling that Harry Potter himself might not approve, and that all of this money-making is something that his mean-spirited uncle, Vernon, might have nodded approvingly at.

Still, though…

That midnight-blue bathrobe with the House Gryffindor seal on it is really appealing, and I compare it to my own tattered bathrobe and think how much of a Muggle I am.

Muggling Through

It seems that every time something good comes along, something else comes along (usually in the form of a money-hungry lout or a misinformed idiot) to try to spoil it. The great comic book Spawn, for example, might be forced to cease publication because some football player took offense at the name used as one of the villains, and is suing for more money than Todd McFarlane can pay out without shutting down the title. That’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about.

Now, Jennifer has recently converted me to being a Harry Potter fan. I had gotten the first book from my dad as a Christmas present just this past year, and started reading it — but sometimes when I’m reading a book, I get easily distracted by other things, and I just sort of put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aside for awhile, intending to pick it up again later, and just never did. However, when news about the fourth book came out, Jennifer decided that she wanted to read the first three, and she thoroughly enjoyed them. And I couldn’t help but notice the Potter-mania that was going around, especially as the release date for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, came closer. Then my sister informed me that my niece really wanted the fourth book for her birthday; and so on the Friday night before the release, I found myself standing with Jennifer at Borders, waiting for one of the coveted unreserved copies, while kids dressed up like wizards cavorted and adults — some looking exhausted, some looking enthralled — gazed eagerly at the counter and employees made periodic announcements about special giveaways that would be given out with the first fifty copies. It was actually fun, in a way. I had stood in line for six hours to be one of the first people to see Star Wars Episode I, and this was kind of similar. But this hype was for a book, not a movie, and I’d never seen this kind of hype for a book before.

So last week I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again and started re-reading from the beginning, not bothering to try to find where I had left off before; and over the next two or three days I read all three of the Harry Potter books, then borrowed Jennifer’s copy of Goblet of Fire and read that (that one took me four days, partly because of the length and partly because I found that I had very little time to devote to reading even while Jennifer was gone in Ohio for her family reunion).

The hype was worth it. The Potter books are certainly not brilliantly-constructed fantasy the way that The Lord of the Rings (or my personal favorite, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is, but they are a lot of fun, and well written. And anything which encourages kids to use their imaginations, to explore the world around them with wonder, and simply read more books deserves high praise, in my opinion.

So, of course, some people have to try to ruin it. One author from the east coast is suing J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, over an alleged trademark violation (you can read more about this at The Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club); and the Harry Potter books are actually banned in some schools in at least thirteen U.S. states (more about that at Muggles for Harry Potter). The lawsuit kind of makes sense, if you squint in an intellectual sort of way (though I think it’s tantamount to A. A. Milne being sued over the use of the word "Piglet" as the name of a character); but I’ve never understood the reasoning process behind the desire to ban books. Okay, some books (such as The Turner Diaries) are deservedly jeered and most bookshop owners with an ounce of decency wouldn’t carry them; but what is the logic behind banning books like Harry Potter? The perpetrators claim that the books undermine traditional Christian values and that they promote Wicca and paganism (though I can also see how Wiccans and pagans could find elements of the Potter books that are offensive), but, again, you have to stretch to see it.

Part of the reasoning that I’ve seen for banning the Harry Potter books claims that these books teach children that the world around them is worthless, that people who can’t use magic are losers and not worth paying attention to; I have to disagree. Of course, all novels are escapist, to a point; but children don’t lose themselves in a novel and then despair that their world isn’t like that in the novel. On the contrary, children read novels about heroic deeds and create their own worlds to match. The characters in Harry Potter — especially Harry Potter himself and his friends — are brave and heroic and courageous, and I believe that these are values that we ought celebrate children learning. And the lessons that children learn while acting out their own stories as heroes are carried over into their own lives — at least, that was my own experience as a child, and that’s what I see in children around me today.

So my thought is this. Everyone knows that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the power to see or make magic in our world; some of us retain some of that ability, though it’s usually just a ghost of what we possessed in childhood. And some of us become so bitter at the loss that we can’t imagine that children still do have that power; so we deny that children have that power, and we try to bring them into our own world, just as bitter and jaded as we are, long before they are ready. "This is the real world," such people say, "and there is no place for magic or wizards or other fairy-tale nonsense."

But in reality, the world is a magical place, and full of wonder. Those of us who have had the misfortune to grow up can’t see most of the magic or wonder anymore, and so we have to Muggle our way through a world of taxes, difficult job transitions, broken cars, insurance, noisy neighbors, and so on. I’m glad that there are books like the Harry Potter books to remind me, at least, of what else could be out there.

It’s a shame that there are other people out there who feel like they have to spoil it.

If Only I Weren't So Nice…

One of the most fundamental axioms of my life is this: that no matter who you are, and what you are doing, there is someone in the world right now who, for whatever reason, is pissed off at you.

Is that a depressing thought? I don’t think so. I’ve never been depressed by that particular thought, because I always knew that it was perfectly possible for someone to like me and still be angry at me. Personally, I don’t get angry at other people very often, but it does happen, and sometimes I even get angry at the people I desperately love. It just happens, and life goes on.

What does take me by surprise, though, is learning that there are people who actively dislike me. My reaction to that sort of revelation is usually something like, "What! You mean there are actually people out there who aren’t thoroughly charmed by me? How is this possible?". I occasionally worry about it, but when I realize that there are people that I dislike, it only is logical to assume that there must be people who dislike me.

But never before have those people who dislike me gone out of their way to actually get other people to dislike me as well. Unfortunately, this is the position I find myself in now. Someone that I was once close to has chosen to actively dislike me, has slandered me on their website, and has even gone so far as to tell outright lies about me. I’m not sure what this person’s intentions are, but as far as I can tell, their goal is to drive a wedge between myself and my fiancé. Fortunately for everyone involved, this particular goal has failed.

Watching this other person and how they behave when I’m around is instructional to a degree. Having never been the subject of such ire before, it is interesting to see how it works. But, at the same time, it’s something like watching a train wreck or a bad accident on the highway. I know where to go to find this person’s "anti-Richard" tirades, and even though I promise myself that I won’t look at them, it’s like peering at the broken, mashed cars on the side of the highway when driving down I-680.

It’s also instructional for me to observe my own reactions and emotions in response to this sort of thing. I had always imagined that if someone behaved like this towards me, I would be very upset and sad and angry at the other person. Instead, what I’m feeling is a combination of, well, pity and annoyance. I feel pity for this other person, because I’m sure that there are better things they could be doing, and because this person has not only alienated me, but others that used to be their friend. It seems to me a very self-isolating exercise, and very depressing.

At the same time, I feel annoyed, knowing that there are people who are out there, reading this person’s on-line journal, finding out all kinds of falsehoods about me, and getting the wrong impression of me. I don’t worry that much about this; I’m reasonably sure that if someone read this other person’s journal, then met me, they would discover the vast disparity between what is written and what is real. And I also feel annoyed that because this other person has focused on my relationship with Jennifer, Jennifer and I must cope with it. Yesterday, I felt obligated to correct for Jennifer some of these lies that had been told about me, and that took energy that I didn’t really wish to expend. Fortunately, Jennifer is much wiser than this other person, and much wiser than me, and knew the truth without my having to defend myself.

If I weren’t such a nice guy, I would actually take the time to write this person an e-mail, or even confront them in person: "Do you realize how pathetic you are?" I might say; or, perhaps, "Isn’t there something better you could be doing with your time?"; or, "Do you honestly think you’re fooling anyone?" I honestly don’t know what this person’s motivations are (unless it’s jealousy, or revenge for an imagined wrong); but I do know that confronting this person would certainly do no good.

So perhaps it’s not even that I’m such a nice guy; perhaps it’s simply that I’m lazy, and don’t have the inclination to figure this person out or correct any misperceptions that they might have. I do admit that I hope that this person reads this journal entry; I can imagine the smug look on their face, as they think to themselves, "Feh. What a moron. If he were nearly as intelligent as I, he would realize what an asshole he is."

At any rate, it seems obvious to me that this person, even though they were once very close to me, is certainly not worth any attention or concern from me. Even this journal entry is too much. There is that part of me, perhaps a petty and angry part, which hopes that this person has read this entry far enough to read the following words, which I have never said to anyone, and which I had earnestly hoped I never would: I understand the anger you feel over hurts you imagine I have given to you, and forgive the insults you’ve given to me. But going out of your way to hurt and offend the people I love is going too far. It’s not my place to forgive you for that; but it is certainly my place to tell you that you are no longer welcome in my life; that I hope for healing and happiness and health for you, but that I will not contact you or respond if you try to contact me.

In the past, I’ve chosen to break contact with people that I’ve known would cause me harm or insanity. This is the first time I’ve chosen to do this with someone because of lies or deceit on their part. I feel grief for having felt the need for it, but, at the same time, I feel some relief.

Come back next time, when I’m sure I’ll have more cheerful things to write about.

Cinderella Need Not Apply

When it comes to relationships, I am not a Nice Guy. Or, at least, I try not to be.

Every now and then I browse through the personal ads on various sites on the web. I don’t answer any or place any of my own because of some bad experiences I’ve had (details available only in face to face conversation, I’m afraid), but it’s interesting to read through them and see what people think they want.

How many ads from women, for example, do I see that claim they want a "fairy tale romance"? Quite a few (I don’t have numbers, but this is a personal page so I’m not obligated to prove anything). A "fairy tale romance", I think, based on conversations I’ve had with women who want them, is one in which Prince Charming rides in on a shining white stallion, sweeps the princess off of her feet, and the two of them ride off into the sunset forever.

I am convinced that people tell themselves "stories", with themselves in the starring role, which explains the world to them. Sometimes these stories are helpful and healthy, and sometimes they are downright harmful. I’ve met many women, for example, who tell themselves the "Rapunzel" story, in which they are the beautiful princess who is locked in a tower by evil forces (sometimes these forces are cruel parents, sometimes a heartless society, and so on), waiting for the perfect Prince Charming to come along, rescue them, and take them away to live Happily Ever After. The Rapunzel women never leave their towers; they wait their whole lives for Prince Charming to come along.

A variant of the Rapunzel story is the Cinderella story. Women who tell themselves the Cinderella story at least get to leave the tower, but they still need to wait for a Fairy Godmother — sometimes the Fairy Godmother comes in the form of a great job, or a windfall of cash — before they think they have a hope of going to the ball where Prince Charming will meet them and sweep them off their feet, and take them away to live Happily Ever After…

There are other stories, of course, but the main theme is that the woman is the hopelessly misunderstood and helpless, downtrodden, and misused Beautiful Princess who will one day find Prince Charming and live Happily Ever After. The problem, though, is that Prince Charming is never perfect (he ends up being unable to keep a job, or laughs a bit too loud, or spends a little too much time watching football). And "Happily Ever After" is a mythical state of being, in which a romance lasts forever, and there is never any fighting or negative feelings, and the head-over-heels in love state of mind never fades. Unfortunately, there is no such state of being, and the feeling of "being in love" will almost always fade.

Generally, I think of such women as "Fairy Princesses", and I’ve had far too many experiences with them. Fortunately for me, very few such encounters have turned into long-term commitments.

To be fair, men also tell themselves these sorts of stories. It’s harder for me to find fairy-tale counterparts for men, but I’m sure they’re out there. Some men I’ve met, for example, tell themselves a story in which they are a misunderstood Prince who must battle a horde of hags until he meets the True Fairy Princess. These are the men who go through life in a haze of misinterpretation of the women they meet, and each relationship they get involved in invariably ends when he founds out his partner is, after all, only human (I have to admit that the story I tell myself is probably a variant of this one). Some men cast themselves as a male version of a Fairy Princess, and wait in some tower for Princess Charming to come along.

Then there are the Nice Guys(tm).

Women — especially the Heartless Bitches of the world (i.e., the Real Women) — probably know who I mean by the Nice Guy. These are the guys who worship women, who place them on pedestals, who do everything they can to please a woman and completely ignores his own wishes and desires for the woman he’s set his sights on. One such Nice Guy told me, "All women are angels"; another said, "All women are angelic creatures who could not possibly ever be corrupted". Honestly, setting women apart like this really is degrading, in my opinion; it implies that women are not human.

These Nice Guys have no backbone, no spine.

This is why I try not to be a Nice Guy. For one thing, I’m certainly not perfect enough to be Prince Charming; I won’t even try. I won’t place a woman on a pedestal. I won’t worship a woman. I’ll freely get angry and pissed off at a woman if need be, and happily admit I’m wrong when I make a mistake. I don’t believe in Happily Ever After, and I can’t live my life pretending that I’m there. But I can do my best to treat a woman with honesty, respect, and dignity, just like I treat any other sort of human being. I can learn from my mistakes and do better next time around.

I’ll never be perfect, of course. So any Fairy Princess looking for a Prince Charming had probably just look elsewhere.

(Just to address a rumor that I heard over the weekend: No, I am not dating anyone. I am not currently in love with anyone, despite what some people may think. It is true that I have been on a few "dates" with a couple of different women since ending my last relationship, but I’m not actively pursuing anything serious right now. Hope that clears things up.)

A Correction

In my last journal entry, I mentioned a Pablo Neruda poem which began "Today I am going to talk about pain" and ends "Today I am simply in pain". Man, was I ever wrong!

First of all, it’s not by Pablo Neruda; it’s by Oscar Vallejo. Second, it begins, "Today I am going to talk about hope". And third, it isn’t even a poem, for crying out loud. It’s an essay.

My apologies for any confusion this might have caused.

Today

I’m in an unusually introspective mood today, so today I’m going to talk about something different. Today I’m going to talk about grief.

There is a Pablo Neruda poem which begins, "Today I am going to talk about pain", and ends, "Today I am simply in pain". While I don’t consider myself a pain-ridden, angst-infested person, there are times when I need to think about pain and grief.

I am, on the whole, a positive, optimistic person; I have a good attitude towards life, having learned that the only way to really enjoy life is to choose to do so. But every now and then people will say strange things to me: "Richard," I’ve been told, "you are one of the saddest people I know." A former girlfriend once told me that she could see that I had a lot of sadness inside of me. And so on. (Of course, I’ve also been told, "Richard, you have a great attitude", and "Richard, you’re the bravest person I know" — but those self-aggrandizing statements are for another time.) So I’ve wondered what it is that people see in me that makes them say that I’m a sad person, because I don’t, on the whole, feel sad.

Then again.

What I do feel, often, is grief. It’s a strange feeling, something that I frequently have trouble quantifying or describing. I have not suffered any major tragedies in my life outside of the loss of close family members; nothing more than anyone else. My childhood was a good one, and I had a great family. I like my life, and I look forward to the future.

So, why should I feel grief, especially to a level that is detectable to other people at times? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think I’m beginning to get a sense of it.

Grief comes from loss, or the awareness of loss. I look forward to the future with eagerness and joy, but I’m aware that all of the good things that I have now and that I will experience in years to come will, at some time, come to an end. I love my mother deeply, but I know that one day there will come a time when I will realize, "I haven’t thought about my mother in months, and she passed on years ago." Or, one day, I will have a family of my own: and I know that there will come a time when I’ll look into my son’s or daughter’s eyes, and realize that I no longer know that person. It’s a powerful feeling, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

Is it a stupid or a silly feeling? I honestly don’t think so. It may seem absurd to feel grief for events or pains that haven’t happened yet, but, at the same time, I think it has served me well. I have become acutely aware of the times that I have lost people close to me, or failed to say "Goodbye" or "I love you" to someone who is leaving me forever.

Say your goodbyes when you can, tell them you love them while you still have them with you.

I suppose that I have at least two choices in the face of this neurosis of mine. One route — which I think would probably be the easier — would simply be to avoid contact with everyone, to avoid loving wherever possible, to become a solitary hermit, to withdraw completely. This would certainly ensure that I never lose anyone that is close to me, simply because I would never have anyone close to me.

That, however, does not seem like a good idea to me.

The other choice is to feel the fear of loss and plunge ahead and be close with people anyway. I may feel pain when I lose a close friend or lover or child or pet — but, all the same, my life will have been richer for having had that closeness in my life. I become very close to my friends, although I may sometimes have trouble expressing that, and I know that I’m really quite blessed to have those friends and family in my life.

What brought on this introspective mood? Part of it was thinking about an old friend that I’ve lost touch with; this person used to be my best and closest friend, a person with whom I could share my deepest feelings, fears, and hopes. Then… something happened. I’m still not sure what; but this person apparently decided that I’m an asshole, and subsequently severed contact with me. Conversations with people who knew both of us very well convinced me that the fault really lay with the other person and not with myself; but the loss lingers. I enjoyed the time I spent with this person, and I regret the loss. But perhaps the end of that friendship was for the best anyway. (Trust me, you don’t know this person.)

You cannot prevent losses in your life; you cannot prevent the pain that they will cause. But you can strengthen your appreciation and love of the things that you have, and face a future that will be filled with more blessings, most of which you have no clue of today.

That may be why some people have told me that I’m a very sad person; or, perhaps, I’ve missed the mark completely. But these are my own thoughts on this.

Once again, I hope I haven’t bored you or embarrassed myself utterly in this semi-public forum.

Richard

Throttling the Day

You can’t convince me that there is a single comic strip that is better than Calvin and Hobbes. The interactions between Calvin and his tiger companion are splendid, the artwork is fantastic, and the themes and storylines are wonderful. When Bill Watterson retired in 1996, it was, in my opinion, a great loss; heck, when it happened, I was still reeling from the loss of The Far Side.

What I really love the most about Calvin and Hobbes is the basic philosophy behind the strip… or, at least, what I see as the basic philosophy behind it.. Calvin, the impulsive, creative, hyperactive kid with the imagination that runs overtime, knows that there is much more to life than school, work, and dealing with your parents. While Hobbes, on the other hand, reminds Calvin that those other things are important too. What’s important to me is keeping up with your responsibilities while not forgetting to actually live your life, enjoy it, and have fun with it.

Life, I think, is meant to be enjoyed. After all, when you get right down to it, what else is there to do with it? In the words of the immortal sage Bugs Bunny, "Don’t take life too seriously; after all, you’ll never get out of it alive."

I’m puzzled by people who say that life is drudgery, that it’s meant to be drudgery, that life is meant to be endured, and so on. It makes me wonder what they’re waiting for. Something that I had to learn is that the life I’m living right now is my life, not a dress rehearsal for something else. Making plans is good, preparing for the future is important, and setting and achieving goals is important as well. But while your goals are coming to fruition, you need to realize that your life is still going on.

"Life", my mother told me once (quoting someone else I’m sure but I don’t know who), "is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.

So. Enjoy your life. Take advantage of what the world has to offer and do the best you can to improve yourself and the world around you, while never forgetting to enjoy what you have and be grateful for the gifts that you’ve been given.

Enjoying life is often a choice that you have to make. It is, in fact, something I struggle with every day. However, I have known some people (have even dated some of them) who seem determined to make life a wretched experience; even if you have all of the riches that you want, all of the friends you can possibly have, and everything you think you desire, you can still choose to be angry, miserable, or sad (though if you do, you probably won’t have that many friends after all, thereby further justifying your angry feelings about life). The fact that enjoying life is a choice is the only explanation I have for why I can see very rich people can be miserable, or why some very poor people can be so happy. Research, in fact, has shown that one’s enjoyment of life is pretty much independent of material wealth. (Remember that bit of dialogue from A Christmas Carol: "Merry!" (said Scrooge) "Why right have you to be merry? You’re poor enough!" "What right have you to be miserable?" (answered Fred) "You’re rich enough.").

Seize the day, goes the adage. As Calvin would say, don’t just seize the day; seize the day and throttle it.

I’m not advocating being selfish, being a hedonist, or ignoring the pain and suffering that pervades our world every day; I’m advocating making the choice to make the most of your own life, which means enjoying it as best you can (which, in my opinion, does involve helping alleviate some of the pain and suffering in the world).

On a more practical note, I’ve recently turned 32 years old. This is a pretty good age; still young enough to seriously plan a backpacking trip to Europe (though I doubt I’ll ever be too old for that), but old enough to know what my priorities and responsibilities are. In about 7.75 years I’ll turn 40 and probably begin a new stage in my life. Recognizing that, I’ve made a list of things I plan to do before I turn 40:

  1. Take a backpacking trip through Europe (currently in the planning stages)
  2. Act in a Shakespearean play
  3. Volunteer in a literacy program (now happening)
  4. Get married (but not necessarily start a family — that can wait until I’m in my 40’s)
  5. Go to Australia and New Zealand (after I get back from Europe, of course)
  6. Get a great job as a web developer for an educational institution like the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
  7. Write and publish at least two novels
  8. Write and publish my non-fiction book Shakespearean Mutations
  9. Heck, become a Shakespearean scholar
  10. Produce a television series on public access television (I have an idea for a series called The Commons which I’ve been developing — something influenced by Twin Peaks with elements of Stephen King and John Irving)
  11. Get involved in the production of a movie
  12. Volunteer at a children’s hospital or similar organization

I’m not sure how interesting or important this all will be to anyone else. But it’s pretty interesting to me, and I suppose that’s what really matters in this personal vanity page, eh?

Until next time, of course, I remain,
Your obedient and humble servant,
Richard

Promises, Promises. Plus, what I want to be when I grow up. And heartless bitches online.

I know, I promised that the next journal entry would be called "First and Primary Responsibilities", but I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.

See, basically, life is just a funny thing. Sometimes you can be just walking down the street, and BAM! something strange and unusual has happened. It might be a new love, or it might be a bus barrelling down on you at sixty miles an hour. In this case, though, it was just a newspaper article that I read this afternoon while waiting for the mechanics to finish putting new tires on Spiff.

This article talked about a UPS delivery man here in Davis who is about to retire. This delivery man had, over the years, developed a reputation for being very good-natured, for always bringing a smile to every place he delivered packages to, and generally being known as one of the nicest, friendliest guys in Davis. The entire city pulled together and put together a big retirement party for him.

Which brings me to…

What I Want To Be when I Grow Up

No. Not a UPS delivery man.

One of the most influential books I’ve ever read was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book was an exercise which suggested imagining your own funeral, and imagining how you would like people to remember you in their eulogies to you. Specifically, it suggested considering how you would like to be remembered by your friends, by your spouse, by your family, by your employer, and by community leaders.

Without going into too much detail, then, here are the answers I came up with:

By My Friends: I’d like to be remembered by my friends as someone who is reliable, respectful, kind, generous, willing to help out, and fun to be with. I’d like to be remembered for my ability to make people feel loved.

Of course, this comes with qualification. No one’s perfect, and I’m certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve failed some friends in the past, more often than I care to remember, and more recently than is comfortable. There have been times when I’ve simply cut off all contact with a friend, just because the two of us were enough at odds to make any interaction unbearably painful. I know I made the right decisions in those cases, but such decisions are always painful, even when they were necessary. Sometimes, even if no one is in the wrong, two people simply… stop clicking. In an ideal world, I’d still be able to keep the lines of communication open with former friends, but sometimes it’s simply impossible to do so.

Then, of course, there are the times when I’ve felt like it was necessary to destroy a friendship in order to save a friend. I’ll never know if I was successful, and I’ll always doubt my actions and try to second-guess myself.

By My Family: I’d like to be remembered by my family as a supportive, giving, kind person able to give wise counsel when necessary, and giving appropriate guidance to my loved ones, and able to make them laugh and enjoy life.

Again, qualification is needed, though. As of now, I have no family of my own (and, I admit, I’m more than grateful about that), though I plan on having one someday. However, I can observe my parents, my various relatives with families, and those friends of mine who have families, and learn from their successes and their mistakes. I’m convinced that creating a successful marriage and raising a good family is a hell of a lot of hard work.

As far as my parents are concerned, I am one of those who admits to owing my folks a large debt of gratitude. They’ve given me a lot throughout my life, and I have always been able to rely on them for help or guidance when I’ve needed it. I hope that my parents are never incapacited or unable to make their own way, but if that happens, I hope that I will be in a situation where I will be able to help them as much as they’ve helped me.

By My Employers: I’d like to be remembered as someone who was able to work with integrity and to the best of his ability, working effectively and well to achieve good results and share in the vision to make the place of employment the best possible. I’d like to think, for example, that my current job does its best to improve the quality of UC Davis, even though I have nothing to do with the educational side of things, which is where the real importance of the University lies.

Yet again, there are qualifications. I’m not always to most motivated, dedicated worker. Just yesterday, in fact, I was told my by boss that I had better get on the ball on a portion of my work which has been neglected, or face some unpleasant consequences. It’s strange how much pride we take in our work; while being criticizes, I felt a strong urge to get defensive, to shift the blame on to someone else, to deny that I had been neglecting this portion of my work. But I couldn’t do that, in good conscience; honestly, while I think I do good work at my job, there are definitely areas that could stand improvement. So, I swallowed my pride and worked out a plan of action with my boss for improving this area of my performance.

By the Community: I will probably never be a "Pillar of the Community". Over the years, I’ve received a lot from the community that I live in; I’ve been given financial aid when I’ve needed it, gotten free medical care from the community clinic when I needed that, free mental health care when I needed that, and so on.

My life has changed a lot since those days, and only for the better. I have a good job with great benefits, which pays my bills with a decent monthly surplus, and I no longer need to rely on the free community serves which are out there.

So, I believe it’s appropriate to give something back to the community. I do what I can, where I can, using the skills that I have. There are people who are much worse off than I am, and I know that "there, but for the grace of God, go I". I don’t mind giving money to homeless people; perhaps it will only go to alcohol, perhaps not (either way, who am I to judge?); I contribute time to an adult literacy program; and I hope someday to volunteer for a children’s clinic or a similar place.

Most of all, like that UPS delivery man, I would like to be remembered as someone who was able to bring a smile to people, to make them feel better about themselves and the world around them. In many ways, I think I’ve succeeded in this goal; I could die today, knowing that, on the whole, the world is a better place for my existence. On the other hand, I leave behind me a few spectacular failures, a few broken hearts, and the detritus and flotsam which are the unavoidable consequences of a well-lived life.

But as the New-Age writer Richard Bach once wrote:

"There is an easy way to tell if you’ve finished your mission here on Earth. If you’re still alive, you haven’t."

I’ve got a ways to go, I guess. But I think that I’m doing a good job.

On a Different Note Entirely:

I feel like I need to put the record straight about something. Doubtless, this will be meaningless to the vast majority of my reading audience (or maybe not; I have no idea how many people actually read this journal).

Yes, I did refer to an ex-girlfriend as a "Heartless Bitch", and I did so while I was dating her. Before you go judging me, however, I ask that you check out the website Heartless Bitches International to see why I would ever do such a thing. Calling a woman a Heartless Bitch is a compliment, in my opinion; it means that the woman is strong, independent, thoughtful, and intelligent.

I did, however, make the mistake of publically posting an essay about what I thoroughly enjoyed dating a "Heartless Bitch" (in fact, you can see what I wrote here, and see for yourself whether I’m an evil, cruel, black-hearted bastard who deserves to have his intestines ripped out). I’m not ashamed of what I wrote — in fact, I think it was quite complimentary. I am sorry that I sent it to the Heartless Bitches website without her consent. That demonstrated quite a bit of thoughtlessness on my part. It was, indeed, a mistake.

Here I go, though, with the small amount of bitterness I am allowing myself with regards to the end of that particular relationship. I no longer consider that person a "Heartless Bitch".

That’s it, though. I refuse to make any further references to that situation in this journal.

Be well. Until next time, I remain,
Richard

Choices, Values, Responsibilities (and other boring shit)

It all comes down to priorities.

And choices as well, I suppose. And consequences.

Recent events have made me think again about these concepts. I believe pretty strongly that just about everything we do, we do by choice; and that every choice we make is a reflection of our personal values. For example, if you choose to eat a ham sandwich instead of talking someone out of jumping off a 30-story building into a vat of boiling lead, then your choice reflects the fact that you value ham sandwiches over someone else’s life.

Pretty simple, I think.

Along with choices, though, come consequences. Going back to our example of the ham sandwich vs. the suicidal jumper, if you choose the ham sandwich, then the consequences will include (a) that you will not be hungry any longer; and (b) someone else will be dead. When you make a choice, you must be prepared to accept any consequences that will come from making that choice. And if you know of the potential consequences before hand, it doesn’t make much sense to be surprised or offended by whatever happens as a result of those choices.

For example: You ate the ham sandwich. Now your friend is dead, having jumped from the building into the vat of boiling lead. There’s no use in being surprised that he’s dead; and, moreover, there’s no point in being offended that he’s dead. It was your choice, after all, and no one else made it for you.

So. Responsibility. I believe pretty strongly in it. You make your choices. You pay the consequences. Your choices reflect your values. So always make sure that your choices, your actions, are in alignment with your values (or, at least, with what you want your values to be — there is often a difference between what we want our values to be, and what they actually are), and that you’re willing to accept whatever consequences result from your actions.

Of course, no one is perfect. You make mistakes. When you do, it’s important to learn from them, and move on. If your friend is dead because you chose to eat a ham sandwich instead of talk him down from his suicidal leap, well, you can admit that it was a mistake, that your values were out of alignment. In this case, of course, remorse is proper, and you should try to make future choices that are more in alignment with your values.

What if you didn’t know that your choice would result in your friend’s death? Then, observe. Learn. Understand how it is that your choice resulted in the way it did, and make better choices in the future. But even then, don’t disown responsibility for your choices, and the results. Personally, nothing makes me madder than someone who says something like, "I didn’t know he would die because of what I did, so I’m not sorry! Hah! In fact, it’s his own fault for dying!" etc.

Naturally, the ham sandwich/friend’s suicide dilemma is an extreme example. Most of the situations we face in life are a lot less cut-and-dried.

So, what makes this all relevant to my life?

Well, this is basically a rant, in response to some choices that I’ve witnessed someone making recently. The consequences are decidedly unpleasant for this person, and they know it, but they persist in making such choices anyway. It saddens me to see the choices that this person is making, and the results of those choices and their reaction… and their continued insistence on these same choices.

Of course, when one has learned behavior patterns throughout one’s entire life, it’s awfully hard to change those patterns and make new choices. But there comes a point when you simply must accept that the problems in your life are the results of your choices; and that you can make better choices to achieve better results.

So, what choices will you make?

  • Will you choose to continue in a dead-end career instead over taking new risks?
  • Will you choose the ham sandwich over the suicidal person’s life?
  • Will you choose your own pride over your friendships? And if you do, will you accept that the loss of your friendships are the results of this choice?
  • It’s all up to you.

Next: "First and Primary Responsibilities, and why I say, ‘Screw it all!’ (and why it’s hard to say it with your tongue in your cheek)"

Until then, I remain,
Your humble and obedient servant,
Richard