21 December 2014

SNAFU Actually Does Mean Something, You Know

It should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all me, that the day after I wrote the last post, my laptop gave up the ship.  I'm not sure exactly what happened.  It had been running clunkily for some time, but there was no problem I was able to identify and virus scans detected no problems.  Several blue screens of death later I decided it was time to replace the machine.  The old one had its own special problems anyway; the cooling fan had burned out within a year of purchase, and I'd recently spilled some tea on the keyboard and fritzed out the touchpad, so I was using a USB mouse.  (I'd like to point out that the tea-spilling was cat assisted, but it's totally the type of thing I'd do.)
And then of course it was several days before I could replace it.  Naturally the next day was the day I had to turn in a big project in an effort to save my grade in my English course, so I spent much of that day in a dingy computer lab trying to make myself care about my grade enough to turn in work slightly better than awful.
I did not, in the absence of my computer, spend time each day writing in a journal or anything.  Why would I do that?  That would require work.
The new computer seems to be okay mostly, but the wireless adapter is clearly garbage, can't find a strong signal if I'm sitting next to the antenna and drops out all the time.  On the one hand, yaay, force me to be productive instead of surfing the internet!  On the other hand, what the fuck, you know?  Anybody know anything about replacing/upgrading wireless receivers in laptops?
Now I'm struggling to figure out what exactly went wrong with the previous computer.  I plugged the hard drive in to this new machine to extract the valuable data from it and unfortunately, a significant portion of the data appears to be corrupted.  I don't understand how this came to be, since the data didn't seem to be corrupted before the blue screens of death.  In Windows Explorer now, I can see the folder the file I want is in, and I can see the file.  But when I try to copy it from the hard drive to the new computer, it tells me that the file is no longer in that location and can't be copied.  Weird.
Some of the files that won't copy--no doubt a lot of them, in fact--are of no importance, but there are a handful of things there that would be nice to have back, including among them a bunch of edited files for a game that would take probably twenty to thirty hours to recreate.  It's not that I can't do that...but gosh, that's a lot of time to spend for something that ultimately is not worthwhile.  Plus there are some pictures and stuff that I would like to have back.  Not sure what to do about those, but I'll try to find someone who can help.
Is it worthwhile to recreate all those game files?  I don't know.  On the one hand I enjoy playing the game more with those edits.  On the other hand the time invested is pretty high; redoing it all seems like a waste.  How do you value time spent on something that is ultimately unproductive?  I enjoy the game, certainly, it's good recreation, but at the same time so are lots of other things.  Maybe I should just download a copy of SimCity 4 again and roll with that.

08 December 2014

Is longform blogging dead?

A friend recently asked this question on Facebook.  I noted that at the very least my own longform blogging seemed to be dead.  But the question did get me thinking. 
Meanwhile another thought occurred: when I’m writing, I generally feel better.  I’ve noticed this before but I’ve never meditated on the problem.  Do I feel better because I’m writing?  Do I write because I’m feeling better?  What the hell do I mean by better, anyway?  Isn’t this more clear in my own head than it is when I put it down on “paper” anyway?
The answer to the last question is “Yes.”  Not a surprise.  I always write for an audience, not for myself, even if, on balance, the audience I have in mind is a whole bunch of identical copies of me. 
Lately I’ve become obsessed with chicken and egg questions—what is the cause of this or that tendency or behavior pattern that I want to correct.  It’s a very handy obsession, because it’s so easy to convince myself that I can’t take any action toward changing said pattern I want to correct until I understand precisely where it comes from. 
This is a load of bull.  I’ve been seeing a therapist, just for a couple of visits to sort through some questions for myself.  My anxiety is getting worse as I get older and it’s holding me back more than it’s protecting me; I’d like to know what I can do about it.  But I feel compelled to start by asking where it comes from.  On this question my therapist’s views are clear: what’s the fucking difference?
It’s one thing if you have some hidden desperate family secret you’ve been repressing for ages, but for me, I had a typical, unexceptional childhood, marked out by certain patterns that probably affect my behavior but which don’t rise to the level of tragedy, or even to the level of mattering to anyone other than me.  So why does it matter to me? 
The bottom line is, it shouldn’t.  I don’t need to know exactly whether the egg preceded the chicken or vice versa, all I need to know is that I can fry the eggs up for breakfast and roast the chicken for dinner.  What matters is not where a behavior comes from but whether it’s worthwhile now, and if not, how to change it.  Change can come without an explicit understanding of history. 
So, do I write when I’m happy and feel like my life is going well?  Or does writing make me happy and help my life go well?  Well, who cares?  Can  I write?  Yes.  Do I want to write?  Yes.  Why don’t I?  Um…. . .  .  .   .   .    .    .     .      .       .       .

So, yeah, anyway, here’s a low-threat way to face down an anxiety and set the pattern to face down more in the future: write!  Something, at least, every day if possible.  Why shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to come up with a theme, I never had one in the past.  I just need to write.  And so write I shall.  

30 October 2014

An Old Story

I'm applying to study in Costa Rica during Spring Break next year.  The application asks a number of questions, among them the following:

The nature of study abroad programs often entails unexpected changes in schedules and activities as well as changes due to unfamiliar cultural norms. As such, an individual studying abroad should possess patience, the ability to be flexible, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Thinking about patience, flexibility, and adaptability, describe an example in your life where you demonstrated these qualities and discuss how it might relate to your experience abroad.

I'm sure they were looking for something short and sweet.  I wrote this.  Then, of course, I forgot to finish the application and the deadline closed and I was all upset, and then, glory of glories, yesterday I got an email that they'd extended the application.  Yaay!  So now I can apply and maybe have an awesome time in Costa Rica next March.  Anyway.  I reread this little ditty and it reminded me of a very wonderful trip I took long ago.  I thought it was a charming enough story, so here it is:

I was visiting Carnac, France, and had spent an afternoon walking amongst the stones, and was due to catch a bus back to the train station in Auray, about 20 km up the road.  I stood at the stop where I had gotten off the bus that morning...but of course the bus was northbound, now, and thus on the other side of the road, and though there was no bus stop sign over there the bus did not stop for me.  It didn't stop at all, in fact, just drove on by, since no one was waiting by the road.  This could be a serious problem; I had very limited French language skills, no personal contacts at all, and no idea how I was supposed to get where I was going--I was expecting to spend the night in the Quimper, a two-hour train ride away.  What to do?

I hadn't been by the center of town, but I assumed there might be a tourist information center, so I started walking.  I walked back through the standing stones and around the north side of town, because I had no idea which direction to go.  Finally I saw a street sign indicating the center of town, and I headed that way.  On my way I passed by a sign in someone's front yard: taxi.  I didn't stop.  I went into town and saw the museum dedicated to the stones (closed, as it was an off-season weekday), and the tourist bureau, which was also closed.  The sign said it would re-open in a couple of hours, but by that time my train was going to have left.  I was starting to think I needed to find a place to stay the night, and then I remembered the taxi sign.

I walked back up the road.  I didn't speak French and didn't know this person and couldn't have been farther outside my comfort zone, but I knocked on the front door.  In halting French I explained that I missed my bus and needed a ride to the train in Auray.  I'm sure it came out like "no bus I was missing Auray train station.  Please."  The gentleman looked at me, then put up a finger, telling me to wait.  He reappeared after a moment with a young girl, maybe 12 years old.  "English?" she said.  I explained what had happened. Then I stopped myself and explained it again more slowly.  She smiled and translated for us.  Her father would take me, it would be 40 francs (this was in the pre-Euro days, when a franc was worth about 1/7 of a dollar), but he would need two minutes.  Then he disappeared.  His daughter stood in the doorway and looked at me.  "Did you lose your way?" she asked.  I smiled nervously. "I just didn't make it to the bus on time."  "I won't be able to ride to Auray with you," she said, and then disappeared, leaving me standing at an open front door.  Was I supposed to go in?  Stay out?  Close the door either way?

Soon enough her father reappeared and with a great deal of gesturing and smiling pointed me toward the car, which said TAXI on it in foot-high letters; evidently, assuming that anyone who doesn't speak your language is a bit slow is a trait that crosses cultural barriers.  We got in; he said grandly "Le gare d'Auray!" with a fluttering hand motion like a plane taking off, and we departed.  He talked much of the way, and eventually I started trying to respond, with gestures and flourishes mostly.  He would repeat things if I didn't seem to understand, and I would respond in English, and he would look at me instead of the road and really examine me like he would find the meaning of the words written on my face.  Then he'd look back at the road, swerve suddenly to avoid whatever was in the way (something always was), and laugh uproariously.  It was without question the best cab ride I've ever had.  I still don't know what we talked about, but we made great sport of the traffic and agreed that McDonald's (McDo) is not so good.  We made it to Auray with about 10 minutes to spare; I gave the man 100 francs and we were each on our separate ways.

So, what is the point of this whole story?  Only this: keep an open mind and be willing to do uncomfortable things.  Travel requires as much.

31 May 2014

Just a morning rant

This working poor stuff has long since worn thin; earning enough to cover bills and naught else is really not enjoyable, and this morning I just need to vent.

Earlier this year after I'd bought the house and settled in things were looking good: my job paid well enough for me to actually eat out from time to time, go have beers with friends like once a week, that sort of thing, and I had put together a savings plan and some financial goals for the year, and it really looked like it was going to work.  I wanted three months' expenses set aside in one account, and in two other savings accounts I was putting money so I could travel (two exotic trips, to Virginia and Ohio), buy a sound bar (I'm tired of listening to music through my television speakers, so I don't listen to music any more; my ex-wife sold my old speaker set at a garage sale and I can't for the life of me imagine why I let her), pay for a personal trainer certification course, and other small things.

And the thing is I just about got all three accounts filled up.  The two-months-expenses one is good.  The savings for travel and other things are basically where I want them; I overestimated travel expenses and other costs so that, even though I'm about 10% shy in both accounts, I think I'll be good.  And I've got some cash stashed away for the travel expenses that probably more than makes up the shortfall.

Of course, I could just turn all the money out of all three accounts and finally pay off the goddamn credit card (I finally made the last payment on the second one earlier this year, hooray), but what is the point of this life if I can't get out of town once in a while?  Well, that's the nature of low income.  You don't get to do the stuff you want.  Piss.

And of course, I went and bought a new mattress a couple months ago.  Wasn't planning to do that, either, but it became obvious that my old mattress was the cause (or at least a cause) of my back and neck pain.  And it was expensive, and I'm still paying for it, and it was sooooo worth it.  The new mattress is fantastic.  I love it.  It hasn't helped with the anxiety and stress that keep me from sleeping well most nights, but I don't wake up in pain any more, and it's hard to put a price on that.  But there was a price on it, and I'm still paying it.

Nonetheless, with a new roommate helping me pay for the mortgage and bills, my savings accounts look good enough that I've been seriously shopping for a new bike.  My current bike is a ten-year-old mountain bike, but I don't trail ride any more and don't care to.  I'm going to use the bike as a daily commuter to campus, and have been thinking it would be nice to have a more efficient one, something designed for roads where the high gears are actually, you know, high gears, and where the top speed is better than 20 mph at full tilt.

Road bikes are expensive.  You can find some really cheap ones on line for as little as $300 from Bikes Direct.  And they are worth $300.  According to most of the reviews they'll get you about 1000 miles.  They are intended as "intro" bikes for new riders who will either ride for a while and decide they don't like it, or will quickly want to upgrade to a better machine.  I'm not the target consumer there; 1000 miles is somewhat less than one year's commuting (assuming I bike in 4 days a week), which means sometime next spring I must either buy another $300 bike or replace all the components on the old one.  That just doesn't make sense.

And I thought to myself, you know, I just spent $350 I didn't have on a brake job on my car.  My whole goal here is to put more miles on the bike around town in the next year than on the car.  Shouldn't I at least consider spending more than $300 on my daily commuter?  That doesn't seem unreasonable, right?  I plan to ride this thing almost every day and use it as my primary transportation.  My car cost me 16 times as much and I have to put $40 worth of dead dinosaurs in it every week (which is over $2,000 a year) and pay hundreds more in additional maintenance a few times a year, just to keep it running.  Cars are terrible investments.  By comparison it would be crazy not to buy a good bike.

I can get a very good road bike that will last me for many years and be an efficient and useful daily commuter from the bike shop on my delivery route, for about a grand (or half the cost of gas for a year). If I hadn't had to replace the car's brakes I'd have a third of that price in savings right now.  But I don't.  And if I hadn't replaced the mattress I'd have the rest of that money in savings right now, too.  But I don't.  And again, while I don't regret either of those purchases (it's hard to regret replacing your car's brakes, you know?) it does make it tough to justify spending any money at all on a new bicycle when I have an old bicycle.  It doesn't really meet my needs, but it exists.  If I'd paid off my divorce debt entirely already and not gone to Mexico in the spring on last fall's savings, I wouldn't be worrying about this, I suppose.  It's not that I've spent money on things I wish I hadn't; it's that I wish I hadn't NEEDED to spend money on some of those things.

It's been seven years now since I earned enough money that I wasn't constantly doing this simple calculus.  This is why I'm going back to school.  My job prospects seem limited to the exact sort of dead-endery I've been doing the last several years.  Oh sure, I could have stayed at the factory and after five years been earning more than enough, but the intervening time would still be fraught with this constant cost-benefit analysis and the necessary choices to give up things I want to do for things I have to do.  And I don't want to work in a factory on the night shift for the rest of my life.  Or drive a FedEx truck.

And I'm rich by the standards of my neighborhood!  Hell, many of my neighbors make 2/3 of what I make, or less.  I know how they manage it; I know I could manage it.  I've done it.  I don't want to anymore.

But what really got me pissed this morning... I mean, these things are all true, and that's what life is, and I live with that every day because honestly it's way better than the alternative, so it's really not something I normally feel the need to rant about.  It's frustrating, finances are frustrating when you don't make much, but it's hardly impossible.  There's lots of stuff I'd like to do and lots of it simply will not get done, probably ever.  Living with that reality is shite, but it's shite I'm used to and it's what most people deal with on one level or another.  What's interesting after a few years of this is how different the things I want to do but can't are than they used to be; when I was comfortable (back in my USAF days) I wanted to rip out my kitchen and take a rally-driving school in New Hampshire, things with five and two thousand dollar price tags, respectively.  Now I want to finish putting ornamental grasses in the front yard and take a trip to Cedar Point, things with $100 and $450 price tags.

No, what pissed me off this morning is piss.  Specifically cat piss.  On my nice couch.

It's not enough that he pissed on the guest mattress some months ago.  He got himself locked in the guest room while I was on an overnight trip, and obviously at some point he had to pee.  Okay.  He peed directly on the large pile of clothes (including a suit and several old flight suits) and also peed in nine other discreet locations around the bed.  The entire mattress is trashed.  I haven't replaced it yet because I can't justify spending hundreds of dollars on a mattress that's going to get slept on at most ten nights out of the year.  I need to find a $100 mattress somewhere, maybe Sears Outlet or Big Lots, but with those places I also have to get the damn thing home.

But the couch?  Why my fucking couch?  What is the bastard's problem?  He's done this once before, after we moved into the apartment in Greenville.  I chalked it up to his being scared in a new home and went out and bought this current couch, which is frankly better in every way anyway (but wasn't too expensive).

It's not a medical issue.  He goes outside most of the time, and is perfectly capable of using his litter box; he also doesn't habitually pee on furniture.  But all three couch cushions right now smell like cat piss.  I don't know when he did it or why, but suffice to say he had no reason to.  He gets fed more than enough and any time he wants it; has a clean litter box; gets to spend most of his day outside if he wants or stay in if he'd prefer; he even has a new human around to give him extra scritches and cuddles.  The thanks I get is a comfortable and essentially brand new couch that now smell like fucking cat piss.

I can't afford a new couch.  But I can't even sit on my nice comfy couch any more because of the smell.  Where the fuck is that money supposed to come from?  Seriously.  If I was really poor I'd just have to live with it, but thankfully I can at least fathom the idea of taking all the money out of savings to replace something that was brand new two years ago and should have been able to last twenty more.  And of course that's put the kibosh on the new bike idea, if not on Cedar Point as well.  So it goes.

Money is always spent before it's earned.  Maybe earning more isn't the answer.  Maybe I shouldn't go back to school at all, but just sell everything I own and backpack around the world on tramp steamers and stay in hostels until all the money runs out and I mooch off of relatives and friends for the rest of my life.  That sounds pretty nice, actually.

So who has a couch I can crash on?

01 January 2014

Happy International Introspection Day

I like getting the first of January off. It’s the most introspective day on the calendar, and one I think most people take part in. There’s a reason it’s a national holiday all over the world.
Often I’ve looked back over the previous year in horror or disappointment, but 2013 was different for me. For the first time in a while I took control of events this year in a way I often avoid. It’s been good. And as I look around at what may be coming in 2014, I see a lot of sprouts from seeds planted in the past year. Things are working pretty well.
I decided in 2013 that I was going to go back to school. Not only that, I decided where to go and what to study. I decided I wanted to own a home again, own land (I still say all I really need is a big field with a kitchen and bath), be able to make it my own. And here I am, in a different city in a different state in my own living room. I raked mulch and cut the grass today. I organized seeds and made arrangements to get a few yards of compost delivered. Last year I planted several trees I’ve been growing in pots for the last few years.
I’ve had a delay in my school plans, but it’s just a delay, and that, too, is my own doing. It’s not like I planned to fail a class this spring so I’d screw myself over later, but at least I know where the issue is, whose fault it is, and what to do to fix it. I can quite comfortable look at 2014 and say it’s the year I will go back to college, and that’s a good feeling.
Not that 2013 was perfect. Not that I did everything I wanted or should have done, or refrained from doing everything I should have avoided. No year is perfect. It would have been nice not to fail that class this spring but there you are. I might have hoped to move into my home earlier, to pay less for it. I would have liked to pay off my credit card debt sooner, and fully (there’s still a little chunk sitting there laughing at me). I really wanted to go home to see the family but never made the trip. And the job I’m working…well, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
Still, on balance, 2013 was one of the better years I’ve had of late; we’d have to go well back into the last decade to find one that went as well. And so it comes to look forward to 2014. I have some travel planned already, which is good, and I have a steady paycheck to start the year with. I have a class scheduled for the spring that should be tons of fun (and where I should get a solid A, which I need), and look forward to starting full time in the summer or fall. I have lots of plans for the yard, for the vineyard and the sorghum patch and the vegetable and herb gardens.
But some things do need to change. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions because I think too many people (myself included) tend to look at them as a New Year New You proposition, and nobody and nothing changes overnight. But there are things I need to work on. Budgeting is a problem, so I’ve come up with a list of financial goals—amounts I want to get stored up in my savings accounts to pay for stuff like travel (I have two trips planned, three more in the planning stage) and a new sound bar (I’m sick of listening to music through the TV speakers), and to have a nice three-month cushion in the main savings account. And I have a plan to get there.
I need to carve out time in my days to meditate, something I didn’t do often in 2013. But I’m not going to say I want to meditate for 20 minutes every day. If I could do that starting today, I would have started months ago. I figure if I can manage five minutes a day that would be a good start, but even that could be tough so I’m saying five minutes a day, at least four days out of the week. That’s an attainable goal, and by the end of January if I’m managing that, I can add minutes or days in small steps. That would be nice. Habits take time to build.
I need to write more. That should be easy since if I write 10,000 words all year I think I’ll double my 2013 output. This here is a nice start, and to keep things simple I’m going to start by trying to write a few stories, vignettes about the Air Force, deployments, the farm, maybe some other things. There are some open mic nights in the area for storytelling, spoken-word creative nonfiction. I really want to go to one, but I need to work on a story to tell. I have plenty. I shall spend some time writing them down. This is a much simpler task than working on Lauderdale or another novel or story, since the characters and plot are already set and I need only to work on the craft of writing.
And finally I intend to earn my Personal Trainer certificate. I’ve been talking about it for eight months, it’s time to take action. One of my savings goals is money for the CPT study materials and test; I’m leaning toward going through NSCA to get my certification, as it’s a more respected organization than NASM while being less expensive than ASCM. I have just about enough money in savings right now to start on this, and I plan to take the plunge this month. It’s time. If things work out right, I could study for a few months, test, and with any luck have a job in the field by summer.
Certainly there are plenty of other things I could stand to work on; self-improvement is not really one of those things that has an end-game. I have got to do something about this tendinitis; my right arm is on fire just from typing this (well, and assembling drawers today which required screwing in about 100 little screws). I’m terrible at maintaining friendships over any meaningful geographic distance and feel awful about that, but I don’t know what to do. For that matter I don’t relate well to people seated next to me, but I think that’s just me. If I was meant to relate well to other people I’m pretty sure I’d be better at it. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.
Also, I want a puppy (or a nice shelter mutt). Everybody wants a puppy, right?