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

To Hell with it All (And Wipe that Grin off Your Face)

Damn it, I am going to go to Europe next year!

I’ve been planning a trip to Europe for nearly two years now, ever since I last visited my friend Steve at his home in Simi Valley, California. While I was taking the train back up, I read a book on World War Two, and thought about history a bit. I also began to think about my life (dangerous pastime, that!) and about all of the things I had and hadn’t done. A trip to Europe seems like a very natural thing for me to do, especially while I’m still relatively young, single, and child-free.

So, I began to save my money; I put aside $300 per month into my savings account, and even took on an additional part time job to supplement my savings. I bought guidebooks and maps and talked to people who had been to Europe, and began to plan these things out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. A couple of poor financial choices all but eliminated my savings, and when I got to the point when I was supposed to buy my tickets, I realized that I had been dipping into my savings each month to buy non-essentials, and was left without enough money. So, I pretty much gave up on the idea.

In recent months, I’ve been putting money aside again, into my 403(b) account that I have with the University. This is a better plan than a simple savings account, for several reasons: the interest rates are higher (if you invest well); because it’s pre-tax, putting aside $300 per month actually works out to something like $250 out of your paycheck instead of the whole $300; and, most importantly, it’s hard to get at this money. You need to go through a lot of red tape to get at that money, preventing impulse purchases of, say, a zip drive or a new stereo or VCR. Ostensibly, the plan is to put aside this amount of money and then take it out when I have enough to pay of the loan I took out for this computer. Then, once that was done, I’d start putting money aside again, funnelling money that was going to the computer loan into paying off others of my few debts, and so on.

The hell with all that, though.

I’ve decided that instead of paying off the computer right away, I’m going to take out that money next year and fund my trip to Europe. I’ll be 33 years old when I get there, but what the hell? I’ll have enough money saved up and enough vacation time squirreled away that I’ll be able to afford a 3-month backpacking trip in Europe without too much financial pain. And if my proposal goes through at work, I’ll be able to put aside more money per month, and stay even longer.

Of course, paying off your debts is important. I’ll be making regular monthly payments onto my various loans and debts even while I’m saving my money; I just won’t have them paid off as soon.

It’s back to this priorities thing; will I put a higher priority on a life-nriching experience where I will be able to travel, see a good chunk of this rock that I share with 6 billion others of my species, and the opportunity to meet incredible people and have amazing experiences? Or will I be a Good Citizen and deny myself an opportunity for growth to pay off a debt?

Well. I believe that I certainly have my priorities straight.

Wipe That Grin Off Your Face!

I’ve been in a great mood of late. Well, I’m normally a pretty happy person (or, at least, I try to be), but lately, even in the face of a couple of minor setbacks, I’ve been able to maintain my positive mood.

There’s no particular reason for my uplifted mood… and why should I need one, anyway? God — or whatever deity (or lack thereof) that you choose — has been good to me. I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who love me and whom I love (even if I’ve had to end communication with some of them for the sake of our mutual sanity); I have a good job that I enjoy; and more.

Part of this is certainly that I’m beginning to work on reaching some of my long-term goals. I’ve managed to stick with the exercise/diet program that I started a couple of weeks ago, for example (and knowing that being in shape when I go to Europe will heighten the experience has certainly been an incentive for that). I’ve also made contact with the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

All in all, I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life, and I’m very grateful for that. I’ve had rough times, but who hasn’t? The world is an amazing place to be in, and I’m happy to be here.

Think I’m being irresponsible with my money, or that I’m unrealistic in my outlook on life (or do you know of a reason why I should be unhappy, depressed, and upset with life)? E-mail me and feel free to let me know.

Until later!
-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

Propriety, the Naming of Names, and a Domain of My Own

Well.

So I have this friend who teases me frequently about not updating this journal. "You know, you really oughtn’t put up a link to a journal page that doesn’t exist," my friend chides me. And today: "You know, one of the points of a journal is that you update it frequently."


So. Okay. Fine. Herewith, an update. Dedicated to my good friend and to all of the other people out there who help me keep on my toes.


Naturally, this journal began with the Best of Intentions, but sometimes it’s hard to follow through. My other good intentions were followed through on, at least: I finished the proposal I’d been working on, and I’ve been working out regularly, and even keeping those eating habits under control (sort of). But this journal will obviously be the downfall of my moral integrity.


For what it’s worth, there is a reason for the delay. My thoughts have been occupied of late by a particular issue which seems to have dominated much of my interactions with people of late. I would have put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, or client to server, or whatever) and shared the issue with whatever regular readers wander through here, but I feared that doing so would probably only make the situation worse; there are just some things that mustn’t be made public. Propriety demands that I simply keep my mouth shut; or, at least, my fingers off the keys.


What is this issue? you say. Click here and maybe I’ll tell you.


Thus ends the discussion on propriety, for now.

On the Naming of Names and a Domain of My Own

So I name things.

It’s not unusual. My friend Lisa named her car, a beautiful Camaro, Dionysis. My car, a 1992 Geo Metro which is probably on its last legs, is called Spiff. I named Spiff after Spaceman Spiff in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Why Spiff? Well, just as Spaceman Spiff, as one of Calvin’s alternate identities, could take him to strange and exotic planets in the distant galaxy, so could my car take me to strange and exotic places in the country. Granted, it hasn’t taken me anywhere more strange and exotic than Yuba City or San Jose, but it’s still an honorable name — at least, in my own opinion it is.

Similarly, my computer, Lucien, is named after a character in a comic book. Specifically, Lucien is named after the Librarian of Dreams in the Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman (if you haven’t read this amazing series, you really should). Just as Lucien, the Librarian, was the keeper of all of the books which have never been written, so my computer keeps for me all of the books, short stories, artistic masterpieces, and proposals which are floating around in my head. The computer is like a librarian for me, and contains many of my dreams. Hence, Lucien. A very appropriate name.

And now I’ve purchased a domain name: mossroot.com.

I hear you. "Why Mossroot?" Good question. It’s a strange name, I admit; moss doesn’t have a root structure (not to my knowledge, but, then, I only got a B- in Botany), and it’s kind of a nonsensical word.

Well, it’s like this. In my misspent youth (and for a good part of my adulthood, including the present) I played a lot of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I calculated once that I ran over five hundred games as Dungeon Master, including a number of aborted campaigns that simply didn’t happen. I created a lot of non-player characters that I thought were really great, even if the players weren’t that interested in them.

One of these non-player characters was a dragon by the name of Mossroot (honestly, I don’t know where that name came from — it sprang into my head and stuck, and I thought it rolled off the tongue well). Mossroot was not a typical dragon: instead of gold, Mossroot hoarded books and knowledge; instead of staying in his lair protecting his hoard, Mossroot explored the world. Since my plan for my website is to make it a portal for exploration of a sorts — the arts, the sciences, and even world culture — I thought that the domain name mossroot.com would be particularly appropriate, even if it is an in joke that only I would get.

Along with this domain name comes an additional 50 MB of webspace, giving me a total of 90 MB. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with it all; it’s been suggested that I could possibly run a MUSH with it, but that’s probably not going to happen; after all, I’ve never played a MUSH in my life, and I doubt that the good people at JPS.net who are hosting my domain would look on such behavior kindly.

In Conclusion…

Reading over this entry, and my last one as well, it occurs to me that I’m a bit of a chaotic thinker and writer. This entry just kind of goes all over the map; as does my last one. I’d like to tone my writing skills, so that I can focus a bit more.

I have to say that I’m somewhat in awe of people who are able to write cohesive, comprehendible essays in their own journals; Jennifer is a fun writer, and I enjoy reading her journal entries; and the same goes for Lisa.

Perhaps it comes with practice.

At any rate, you’ve come to the end of this entry. As always, I hope that I haven’t bored you terribly; and, of course, I hope to have another one up soon.

As always, if you have any complaints about this journal entry, or if I’ve inspired some deep thoughts in you (or if you have suggestions as to what to do with so much web space), feel free to e-mail me.

The Best of Intentions

So, it is with the best of intentions that I start up this on-line journal. And why not? Some of my best friends are doing it, after all. But I can tell already that updating this journal on a regular basis at all is going to be a difficult chore, at best.

But today is a day of good intentions. Here I sit at a bookstore/cafe in Davis (one of the obscenely large mega-chains that have pretty much rendered the "mom-n-pop" bookstore extinct — and don’t give me any crap about how the mom-n-pop’s could stay in business if they really wanted to; Borders has a much larger advertising and facilities budget than Joe’s Books and Stuff), feeding caffeine into my body and working on at least two different big projects. One of them is The Novel, which I’ve been working on since late December. Well, actually, you could say I’ve been working on it for about three years, since I wrote the actual short story that this novel is based on three years ago. But my goal since I began this novel as a serious project has been at least 500 words per day; my Good Intention today with regards to this novel is at least another 500 words.

The other major project I’m working on this evening is a proposal for work. As an hourly employee for a government institution, I’m really not supposed to be doing this on my own time. However, if this goes through, it would be such a big boost to my career that it would be well worth the time I’m spending on it; and to hell with FLSA regulations about hours worked, time away from the office, and so on. So my Good Intention with regards to this proposal is simply to finish it. Tonight. Before my meeting with the manager tomorrow afternoon.

Another of my Good Intentions, by the way, is to stop procrastinating. Any day now. I swear.

Another good source of Good Intentions is lifestyle changes. "Tomorrow," I say on a daily basis (for example), "I begin my diet and exercise program." Well, yesterday I said "Tomorrow" for the last time (I hope); and this evening, I went to the hospital, got a full exercise evaluation by a trainer (who also measured body fat in some, ah, embarrassing places; and then she wondered why my heart rate seemed to be rather high). This program is a sure target for Good Intentions, with plenty of incentive: it’s costing me $120 per month, so I’d better get my money’s worth. The only way that is going to happen is if I follow through and actually pay attention to the lessons on eating well, go to the workout sessions, and stay in touch with my doctor. Of course, with Valerie (not her real name) as a trainer, my incentive remains quite strong.

I am looking forward to this program. I participated in it once before, about two years ago, and managed to lose a decent amount of weight in a reasonable amount of time. This time around, I figure I’m an appalling 70 pounds overweight; at a healthy rate of weight loss, I could lose it all in just over a year. That is a goal — a Good Intention — well worth following through on.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Which brings me back to the topic of this journal. My Good Intention is to add to it on a more or less regular basis. I hope to keep it interesting, without being whiny or supercilious or just plain bitchy. I’m full of opinions, thoughts, and feelings on just about every subject under the sun, and I plan to go through them all at one point or another. I also plan to format this journal nice and neat, and even to write a Perl script which will let me update it with the greatest of ease (thus simultaneously ensuring that I update this regularly, and improving my programming skills).

You’re invited to send me an e-mail to let me know if I’m boring you utterly, or if there’s something about this journal which excites you to no end.

Best wishes,
Richard

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