The role of challenge and authority

I’ve talked many times before about how my childhood, and my adult life, have had very little challenge in them. School was easy, blah blah blah.

But today I want to talk about how this lack of challenge also meant a lack of authority in my life. This came up in therapy. I realized that I have never truly experienced authority. Between how willful and defiant I could be and the fact that I was smarter than most adults plus the neglect I suffered, there was never anyone in my life who could assert authority over me.

People who had a very different kind of childhood under strict authoritarian parents might think that sounds wonderful. But it’s not. It’s extremely unhealthy. I never had the feeling that someone was looking out for me. I never felt like there was someone who could keep me from making mistakes. I never felt supported by a set of rules of any sort. There was nobody who could or would put me in my place, and therefore I never knew what my place was.

No wonder I never fit in.

And of course, when I was a kid, I had no idea what was wrong. No child, no matter how precocious, is wise enough to know they need more discipline. Looking back, I can see how much happier I was when I had my babysitter Betty or my teacher Mrs. Rogers in my life because they had strong enough wills and personalities to handle me. But it would never have occurred to me to seek out that kind of person, let alone start acting out in order to bring down the discipline I craved.

Oh no. I was far too sensible and smart and reasonable (and timid) to do that. Less unrelentingly precious and therefore head-forward kids act out of emotion alone, and therefore, I didn’t instinctively take care of my own emotional needs. I didn’t look for what I need without knowing it, I didn’t advertise my pain in order to elicit a nurturing (or disciplining) response from those around me, and I didn’t fight for what I wanted at all.

All because I was so “sensible”. For as long as I can remember, I had a level of self-control that seems downright pathological when examined over a lifetime, especially my childhood. I place a very high value on choosing my actions, and that sounds very noble according to a standard Western table of values, but in practice it makes nearly all healthy expression of emotion impossible.

Because it’s not like I find a way to express those overridden emotions at a later date. When I deny my emotions their expression in the interests of self-control, they remain unexpressed indefinitely. It’s like a form of death of one’s inner life. Not the safe inner world of thoughts and ideas and contemplation, of course, but the far realer world of emotion, instinct, and passion, raw and intense.

That kind of thing might lead to acting without thinking about it first, and we can’t have that.

I am learning, slowly. The world doesn’t end when I go with my gut sometimes. It’s okay to be in situations where I will not have time to think things through. I am more than my intellect.

I don’t know why I was such a self-controlled kid. Maybe it comes with the territory when you are as bright as me – that emotional override switch. Maybe it was my response to the trauma of being sexually abused – to kind of empty myself out and retreat into the chilly confines of the intellect, which kept me from having to feel things so much. Maybe it was part of my desire to please – being all cool and reasonable and understanding made me a “good boy” in the eyes of my siblings and parents – in that it made me easier to ignore. And maybe it was part of my desperately trying to catch up to my siblings and fit in with them.

No matter how you slice it, though, it’s just not normal. It’s like I never really was a kid. I had far too much responsibility for myself to let loose, play, have fun, and just be myself. I ended up retreating deep, deep within myself, and everything I am got transferred into being bright.

And that turned out to be not that difficult for me. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if someone had just taken the time to challenge me. If they had managed to get me excited about it, then maybe I would have learned to look for it myself. I can’t say for sure – due to my option paralysis issues, I am still the sort of person who, if told by some well-meaning person to “just go to the library and study whatever I want!”, would end up frozen to the spot by indecision. So maybe I was never going to be a self-starter.

But still. It would have been nice to have someone in my life who paid attention to me on more than a “is it still breathing? Good. ” basis. No child should be so alone, and at such an early age. Perhaps if I had been a more robust specimen, I would responded to it by developing a kind of feral scrappiness and determination to look out for Numero Uno (because nobody else did).

Instead, I withdrew into myself, and all I developed was an ability to keep going no matter what – but only when I had school as a supplier of external goals and validation. And in a sense I retained that ability to just keep going no matter what into depressed adulthood.

No matter what, I didn’t fall apart, I didn’t go do crazy shit, I didn’t harm myself, and I kept up what minimal obligations I had. I never got irritable with anyone, and of course, I retained self-control nearly all of the time.

Fat lot of fucking good it did me.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

My keys’ Phoenix cycle

So like I have already said, I lost my keys.

And I feel pretty bad about it. I tried to be upbeat about it – these things happen, after all – but once my high from the VFS orientation wore off, the sadness (and humiliation, and anger at myself) set in, and so that is what I am working on right now, emotionally speaking.

But I am not calling it depression, because it isn’t. Depression is a word with far too much baggage attached. I am sad, and sort of down on myself, but I know that I will work through it and get over it, just like I got over flaming out in Linguistics.

It’s just failure. It’s not the end of the world. I lived a life without failure for twenty years…. because you can’t fail if you don’t try.

But that’s way too high a cost. Now, I do things. I try. I invest. And if it crashes and burns, I will be bummed out about it for a while, for sure. But then I will get over it and move on. Tomorrow is another day and now you know what you did wrong, so you won’t do it again.

In life, there are but two things : success, and education.

Besides, I didn’t do anything particularly wrong. My one mistake was putting my pants on inside-out, which is admittedly a fairly silly thing to do. But they look pretty much the same inside out as they do right side in, and besides, I was quite sleepy as well as very excited and nervous about the orientation, so I was not in my proper frame of mind.

And I might still get the damn keys back. I have put in a report (or whatever) to the transit systems lost and found department. They are (of course) not open on weekends, so that’s all I could do. But I gave them a fairly detailed description of the keys, including the tag that says “FRUVOUS”, so if someone turned them in, they should be able to find them.

At first, I thought the first place I took my wallet out (which is when they would have fallen out) was our Skytrain station. But then I realized that no, it was in the bus that took me to the Skytrain station. The station is only 2 and a half blocks away, which I can walk, but I needed the psychological boost of getting there by bus. )

And that bus was a 405, and I know what time I got on, plus I would imagine the system knows the exact bus I was on when I used my bus pass, so… information wise, it’s a solid case. The only loose variables are A = Did I lose them on that bus, and B = if so, did anyone find them and turn them in?

So I think my odds of recovery are…. decent.

Nevertheless, I called up the building manager, went to his office on the third floor, filled out the form to get a replacement electronic key fob…. and paid him the $50 for it.

Ouch. That will be coming out of the education fund. I am pretty sure that most of that price is, shall we say, punitive. I mean, it’s just a little plastic thing with an RFID (or maybe near field) chip in it, plus the tiny tiny cost of encoding it for our apartment. I am pretty sure the rest of the $50 is a blend of cash grab and giving you a very good incentive to NOT lose the damned thing again.

According to our building manager, it will take three business days for my new fob to show up, so I will probably get it Wednesday. In the meantime, I will have to arrange with Julian to have him be here between 4:45 pm and 5:30 pm every day, as that it approximately when I will be getting back from school.

What a fun bit of extra stress and worry to add to my first week at VFS!

If my keys DO show up before Wednesday, I will see if I can cancel my request and get my money back. If not, I will offer to sell the fob to Joe for $25, as he doesn’t have one. He uses a clicker to get into the parking garage, and gets to the apartment by taking the stairs up to the third floor and then getting onto the elevator there.

So he has incentive to want his own fob, and buying it from me would save him $30.

Also, I thought this was a dreaded five week month, but I just counted weeks again, and I think I was wrong. It’s a regular four week month for us people on assistance, and if that’s the case, then my financial picture just got a whole lot sunnier. I might not even bother dipping into the education fund to get my $50 back.

So all in all, this whole debacle sucks, but it can be handled. And learning to overcome difficulties is way, way better than trying to avoid them at all costs. And every time I hang in there and solve these kinds of things instead of freaking out and giving up and making someone like poor put-upon Joe solve my problems, my confidence and my feeling of safety both strengthen and grow.

It’s all about looking for that positive ego input, and accepting that you will have to invest energy in going to get it. That you will have to do things that will be scary, hard, or worst of all, require hard work, and that the most dangerous addiction of all is to be addicted to giving up.

I can’t tell people where to find the inner resources to do those things. I found my drive in my incredible stubbornness and rebellious desire to not be controlled, contained, or restricted, and those in turn are driven by a deep well of primal rage.

For others, it might be some kind of soaring inspiration leading them to a better version of themselves, or maybe a promise to an old friend, or a lover that makes them want to be a better person. I don’t know. Everyone’s source will be different.

But it all starts with realizing, accepting, and believing in your own part in your own misery, and then vowing to change it.

It costs you some ego, but it opens up the world.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

What held me back

I have been thinking a lot about persona lately. I think I have some ideas about what factors have been keeping me from finishing my personality development and overcoming social anxiety :

  • 1) Social isolation. Duh.
  • 2) My insistence on total honesty and/or authenticity. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to turn into a facile liar or anything, but I think that I would be best served learning to allow myself to be socially defined and confined a little bit. That could go a long way towards diminishing that deep sense of vulnerability that is the fundamental basis for social anxiety. Feeling less vulnerable means feeling more safe, and feeling more safe means less anxiety, and less anxiety means better decisions. Which leads to my next obstacle :
  • 3) Trying to never make mistakes. Another of the foundations of social anxiety is a severe over-response to awkward moments. The socially anxious react to minor moments of awkwardness and disconnection as if they are enormous errors of life-wrecking trauma, and this robs them of their ability to handle the situation in the normal and adaptive way. Healthy people can shrug those moments off because they know they are not the end of the world. In fact, they know that such things are inevitable and that they happen to everyone.

    Thus, they can put these moments in their proper perspective. The socially anxious, on the other hand, because their perspective is so out of whack, can only react to them in the maladaptive way, which is to try to make sure they never, ever, ever happen again…. which, of course, leads to even further anxiety and even poorer decisions.

    The only hope is to get a grip on oneself and, with positive self-talk, bend oneself towards not just knowing that these reactions are insane and don’t line up with reality, but believing it.

  • 4) A deep down sense of shame. Turns out you do not need religion to end up with one of those. You just need poisonously low self-esteem. Self-esteem so low that it approaches the theoretical minimum, where there is absolutely no negative statement about you that you will not believe. I spent a long long time thinking I was a toxic level of horrible, unwanted and unlovable, a burden to all who knew him and repulsive to all who might meet him. I felt like the world would be better off without me and that nobody would really mourn my passing. It would be more of a relief than a loss to people.

    And so forth and so on.

    But now I know that I am actually a heckuva guy.

    And every day, I get a little better at believing it, too.

  • 5) Lack of role models. Looking back over my life, I realize that there weren’t a lot of fully socially complete people for me to learn from. My parents didn’t have friends. My siblings had friends but they did most of their socializing away from home. When I had friends, I was too socially freaked out around them to be able to learn from them.

    So what role models I had did not do me much good.

  • 6) The wrong environment. During my most recent therapy appointment, my therapist asked me if there was another time when I had felt as alive and reborn as I do now. And the only time I could think of was my first time going to college. There, I had friends, I had classes, I was discovering the joys of philosophy, I lived with my brother, and overall I was a pretty happy dude.

    It was the right environment. I wouldn’t find that good an environment again until I met up with my current set of friends around a decade ago. And even that was not really the same, not because there’s anything wrong with Joe. Julian, and Felicity, but because it lacked the challenge of classes and university life.

    So it’s no wonder that I couldn’t get my life back on track until I went back to school. University was where I left off, and it’s where I picked back up again, more than twenty years later.

And I am sure there are many more. After all, I’m a deep and complicated guy, and therefore simple solutions don’t suit me.

I have also been struggling with that whole ego thing I keep talking about. The problem, in a nutshell, is : how does one develop an ego proportionate to one’s abilities when those abilities are, to be frank, quite extraordinary? Without going completely insane with delusions of grandeur and/or megalomania?

Surprisingly, the solution appears to be getting some actual, tangible ego boost. Like getting accepted at VFS, for instance. Now that there is something solid to support my ego, I have an anchor for my ego, and I no longer feel like I am going to go crazy if I try to actually develop an ego because now, my abilities are somewhat defined. So I can go to VFS feeling more secure than I have in a very long time because just by getting accepted, I am getting the validation I have needed for so long but were too ill to collect.

Monday could not come soon enough for me. I am actually a little disappointed that on the first day, we’re just going to be doing a sort of “getting to know each other” thing and not getting into actual classes. I wanna work, goddamn it. Give me homework! Assign me assignments! Make me learn stuff! DO IT NOW!

I’m so weird.

I’ve just reached the point in my life when I can fully understand that work and effort aren’t the enemy, they’re salvation. Like my therapist said, maybe all I have really been missing is challenge. I have never had it. I wasn’t challenged by school, and I was smarter than all my teachers. And because I was so socially isolated, life didn’t challenge me either.

Now I face a real challenge, a crazy intense year of education that will push me to my limits.

And all I can say to that is, “Finally!”

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

About my orientation

I am now well and truly oriented.

Went to my VFS orientation this morning. It was rad. The presenter was a cool guy who looked like the statistical average of Nick Offerman and Zach Galifinakis. He is an actor who has played many roles, but the one I care about is playing a villain on… STARGATE SG1! OMG I love that show. I have to figure out which one he was.

And boy, if I had any doubts about the stature of the institution, they were quelled when I saw how many people from outside North America there was amongst the students. People come from all around the world to get the education I am lucky enough to be able to commute to in 45 minutes.

Thus I am extra stoked to find out we are getting a bunch of VFS swag on Monday. I am very eager to advertise my new status as a VFS student to the world.
In fact, now that I am in, I am kinda curious about how many people didn’t make the cut. Not proud of that, but I plan on making this ego trip as long and enjoyable as I can!

<--->

Home now. The previous stuff was written on the Skytrain home and at my local pharmacy.

Man, did today involve a lot of walking. My feet are still sore. In order to get from the place where we did the orientation to where they were taking our Student ID, we had to walk two block, then go down six flights of stairs, then through a simply amazing quantity of building, and then, of course, I had to do the whole thing in reverse, going UP six flights of stairs.

Then I emerged from the building with no idea where the hell I was. (I don’t know downtown very well yet. Should look into that. ) So I had to walk to the Skytrain station too, asking for directions every couple of blocks.

I am easily confused and I need that kind of constant validation.

Then the bus home missed my fucking stop, so that added another block and a bit to my walk home. And now it looks like I lost my keys by, get this, putting my pants on inside out.

Yup, I did the whole orientation thing with my pants on inside out. Luckily, these pants look almost exactly the same inside out, and the only way you can tell is that my pockets don’t look right, and if you look very closely (go ahead, I don’t mind) you would have noticed that the main button is on the wrong side.

But I can’t find my keys, and I remember putting them in the anti-pocket. But when I checked for them later, they were not there. I hope it’s just that they fell out right after I tried putting them in and I was too sleepy to notice. That would mean they are still in the apartment for me to find.

Otherwise, I might have to get new keys, and while getting keys cut is no big deal, replacing the electronic key fob that opens the front door of the apartment building costs $50, so… ouch.

I have the money in my education fund, but still. I would rather not have to spend it, and honestly, I would rather avoid the embarrassment as well. As a former latchkey kid, I feel great shame for even forgetting my keys, let alone losing them.

But that’s just petty little stuff. Mostly, today was awesome. And I got so much done! I got home in time to get to therapy almost on time, and after that I went to the eye doctor’s to pick out my frames, then got dropped off at my pharmacy to get the ol’ pill refill re : my psych meds.

See? Told ya I was medicated!

(—)

Clearly, the universe was not done fucking with me yet.

So I order some KFC online, like I have done a bunch of times before, and think nothing of it. Dude shows up, I pay him (with tip), everything is on go.

Until I open my box o’ goodies, and instead of my usual 4 piece meal (with gravy, fries, coleslaw, and a cookie), there’s just six pieces of chicken. Overcooked chicken.

And I am very pleased with myself, because I only contemplated letting it go for a couple of seconds before saying “Nope!” and called up the KFC. The lady who answered was very sorry (or at least, faked it well) and told me I could keep the six pieces of chicken and my proper order would be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Netflix was completely failing to connect. I tried over and over (and over) again, and… nothing. Just one error message after the next. We are now at Stresscon 3.

Then I get the expected phone call from the delivery guy who messed up my order, and I expect him to say “I have your proper order now, sir!” or the like. Instead, he says “So we got something wrong, Mister…. er…. Michael!”

Clearly, he said Mister, then realized, in a panic, that he only had my first name. Clearly we’re dealing with an Einstein here. Then he mumbled something completely incomprehensible, then mumbled about letting me have what I ordered for half price.

Stresscon 2! I let him have it. I said “Um, I am pretty sure you are supposed to give me what I actually ordered for free!” And verily, there was iron in my voice. He apologized, and then asked me if what I wanted was what I had originally ordered. Um, yes?

And I told him I was pretty hungry, so…. hurry!

So, on an assertiveness level, I broke a lot of new ground. I refused to let the situation lie and I kept asserting myself till I got result.

But on an aggravation level, it was something I really, really did not need. On any other day, I would have been my usual cool-guy, hey-these-things-happen self.

But after all I have been through today, both good and bad, it was definitely the wrong fucking day to hit my shit button.

Motherfucker is lucky I didn’t go to Stresscon 1.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

Ruled by numbers

No particularly salient ideas tonight, so, let’s chew the whole “quantitative thinking” thing again.

In casual conversation recently, I said that I thought the world needed all the liberals who are good with numbers that it can get. And that’s absolutely true. There is something about the sort of quantitative thinking I talk about (a lot) that is anathema to liberals, just like the enlightened and compassionate and morally nuanced thinking we liberals employ seems to be a cup of hemlock with no chaser to the conservative mindset.

As far as I can tell, the main difference between the two camps is empathy. There is something about the typical quantitative mindset that rejects empathy. Perhaps the root cause is that the sort of person who is attracted to quantitative fields is someone who finds comfort in how logical, perfect, predictable, and sensible numbers are.

In other words, how inhuman they are.

This sort of person rejects empathy (feeling what others feel) as illogical, unpredictable, and even unfair. They only trust the answers that come from numbers, and the truth is you can go a very long way with numbers. You can, for instance, get rich off being good with them. So in that sense, they can avoid the sort of stimulus that would force them to grow empathically and retreat further and further into their internally logical world of numbers, mathematics, and a blinkered and cowardly definition of reason.

Of course, their personal lives will not be as easy to control without empathy.

On the other end of the stick, the typical qualitative mindset finds the world of numbers to be cold, alienating, and even evil. They only trust that which is intuitively correct, and base their morality on this. Things must feel right, and it is this feeling that defines their ethics. If an answer disagrees with this feeling, it must be wrong, no matter what. These sorts of people, usually unconsciously, vehemently deny that numbers have anything to do with what is right or wrong. So they construct their morality with the underlying assumption that what is right feels right, and once you know what is right, the numbers can always be interpreted to support it.

This is, of course, untrue. Numbers matter. Reality has all sorts of limitations that don’t give a shit about what we want. They just define what is possible.

Both sides are equally blind to half the equation, but being a liberal-leaning hybrid myself, I would much rather try to explain numbers to qualitative types than try to explain empathy to quantitative type people. Liberals, at least, accept the validity of numbers in some situations.

From my position, it seems obvious that one must take both into account. As a Utilitarian, I am entirely comfortable with determining right or wrong via quantitative means, when possible. On the other hand, as a deep Humanist, I truly and deeply believe that it is empathy, understanding, and communal feeling that makes us truly human, and none of those are easy to quantify.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t matter so much if both sides were equal in power. But they are not.

The quantitative people rule the world. It’s one of the side effects of capitalism[1]. Money is numbers, after all, especially in this era of digital transactions. And money rules the world. The cold quantitative people have far too much power, and liberalism is stymied by its aversion to numbers.

Hence my remark about the need for liberal people who are good with numbers, like myself. We are the only people with our hearts in the right place while also being able to exercise the kind of power over the world that quantitative thinks allows. Much evil in this world is hidden behind a veil of numbers because these bastards are counting (so to speak) on the fact that the people trying to stop them are unwilling or unable to enter the world of numbers, even if it means allowing great evils to be inflicted on the innocent.

Anything to avoid doing math, right? We’d rather let evil people do whatever they want. Because math is boring and icky and hard and mean and stuff.

At least, that’s how it seems to me. So what liberalism needs is people who can invade the quantitative world of numbers, finances, and so on and steal all the secrets hidden in plain sight by evil people so smugly sure that the numbers will keep those pesky liberals at bay that they don’t even bother to hide their crimes.

Imagine how satisfying it would be to go to some evil fucking corporation not with protests and passion (which they easily ignore or reject) but with facts and figures (their native language) which they cannot ignore and proving to them that, on their own terms, they are bastards.

That wouldn’t just be a way to get them arrested. If done right, it could impact the whole financial world by removing all their layers of justification for their sociopathy and laying bare just what inhuman pieces of shit they have been.

And all it takes is liberal minded people who are perfectly comfortable in the quantitative world to stop outside of the box and beat the bastards at their own game and by their own rules.

That is both my greatest hope and greatest source of frustration. Like I have said before, I hate having to choose between benevolent incompetence and malicious competence, but those seem to be the only options. I am liberal, in one sense, because obviously well-meaning fumblers do less evil than competent sociopaths, but there are times when I wish there was a third option.

One that takes the best elements of both sides of the divide, and in doing so, creates something far more than the sum of its parts.

But what the hell would we call it?

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. And if you think that’s an argument against capitalism, ask yourself what caused less human suffering : rational capitalism, which created the modern world, or ideologically driven communism, which let millions starve because they substituted ideology for math?

Two ways of being fat

We will start off tonight’s blogginess with this fascinating article.

The gist of the article is that they did a study on a group of 12 obese people where they all started by fasting for a day then eating a diet which was 50 percent of their usual caloric intake for six weeks. They found that some of the participants lost weight faster than the others, while others barely lost weight at all. And they had done such an impressive job of controlling for all the other factors that they believe that their results point to a fundamental different in people’s metabolism.

In other words. science is once more shocked and surprised by how a given group is not exactly alike. Sigh.

Anyhow, the two ends of the metabolic spectrum are “spendthrift” and “thrifty”. The spendthrift metabolism does not react very strongly to a drop in caloric intake. It keeps on “spending” calories as if the drop-odd never happened. The thrifty metabolism, on the other hand, slows down in response to fewer calories, and thus the benefits of dieting are blunted, to say the least.

This seems sort of obvious to me, but a lot of obvious things turn out to be dead wrong, so this study was good science.

This result jibes nicely with my theory about how the genes for obesity survived because they were actually very good genes to have if you are going to have to live through the winter before refrigeration was invented. The “bear” body type was ideal for that, because the big appetite (including the partial suppression of the ‘full’ signal from the stomach, and more expandable stomach in general) meant that my forebears (ha) could store up a lot of calories while there was food (the summer) and then survive the long winter on that stored fat.

Add in factors like : back then there was no way to avoid getting a lot of exercise; being heavy but healthy makes you very good at lifting, carrying, hauling, and pulling; when it comes with a height advantage as well it gives you great power in hitting things really hard by putting your weight into it, making you quite powerful in battle, and so forth and so on, and you get a body type that was bloody marvelous for most of human history.

It actually makes me wonder if there was a grain of truth in the whole “fat bully” character in media from the olden times. If this body type also comes with a height advantage and possibly an instinct to dominate and possess, as well as extra strength, then maybe in the days when the schoolyard was far more primitive, you really did have the fat kid turning into the bully. Perhaps the body type even came with a rough sort of leadership instinct.

The fat banker or other fat rich person stereotype might well stem from the same thing being translated into the adult world. I mean, what a better metaphor for someone who has taken far more than they can possibly use is there than a fat person?

I am not saying we deserve the abuse, I am just speculating as to its causes.

The thrifty metabolism fits in neatly with the notion of “those who survive the winter”. Bodies that can adapt to the caloric drop-off of winter by slowing down the metabolism are even more likely to survive the winter than the standard model.

And what behaviours would best serve this mode? Moving as little as possible, of course, so as to make that caloric storage go as far as it possibly can. Sleepiness, lack of motivation, a strong psychological block that makes unnecessary activity seem like a profound evil… all of these things correspond to a “prepare for winter hibernation mode” triggered by obesity.

But winter never comes.

This makes me wonder if the right approach to weight loss for some people would be some way of simulating an entire winter, leading to a “spring” where the metabolism comes to life again. I’m not sure how that would be achieved, but I imagine the right manipulations of light, temperature, and ambient noise would be a good start.

Imagine the sales pitch : “Come to our Slumber Camp where you can eat whatever you like, then get the best sleep of your life, then wake up thinner and full of energy!”.

In fact, I have thought of long term sedation as the world’s simplest diet. A couple of weeks under gentle general sedation would make it literally impossible for the patient to eat the wrong foods, and you can’t get fat off a medically controlled IV giving you the calories you need.

It would be like a crash diet, but way less risky.

I also think that would work for the chemical dependence part of addiction. Why have the patient be awake for the withdrawal symptoms? But I bet both plans would be met with strong opposition because of people’s latent belief that the fat and addicted (same thing) should have to suffer for their perceived offense. They would cloak it in phrases like “certain things should have to be earned”, but I bet they wouldn’t be saying that if they got a raise or won the lotto or they got a new machine at work that makes things way easier for them.

And some of the people saying that would be doctors, especially with us fatties. I have said before (though probably not here) that doctors tend to have the same prejudices and disgust for fat people as everyone else, and that means that deep down, they hate us too. That’s why you can bring literally any ailment into them and they will say the solution is to lose weight.

That’s because they don’t see you as a person. They only see your fatness. And they want to get rid of you, so they tell you to do the one thing they know you won’t do. Or maybe you will. Either way, they don’t have to face your disgusting fatness again.

People really do hate us.

And we’re just doing what our bodies are telling us to do.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

One week from today

One week from today, I will be home from my first day at VFS.

I try not to think about VFS too much, not because I am scared about going, but because of the exact opposite : If I think about it too much, I get overexcited and end up making myself ill.

That sounds like something that shouldn’t be possible, doesn’t it? That a person can get so excited about something that it makes them ill? When I really look at it, it seems like some kind of curse laid upon me by someone who thought I was too goddamned perky.

If not for this weakness of mine, I think I would be a far more effusive and enthusiastic person. It’s the sort of person I would like to me, more or less. Someone who feels free to express what they are feeling as hard as he can at any moment. Someone who inspires others with his unfettered expression of enthusiasm and sheer belief in others. Someone who dares to be emotionally loud.

But I can’t. I have to restrain myself. If I don’t, I get sick. And even if that wasn’t true, people just can’t handle me at full intensity. They become frightened, confused, even hostile. I can be very powerfully real, and by that, I don’t mean I am passionately authentic or any of that shit.

It’s more a matter of presence. I have come to the conclusion that I have a very strong presence, and that the only reason I didn’t realize it sooner is that I have spent my life “toning it down”. Partly that was the message I got through my upbringing, and I don’t really blame anyone for that. I definitely needed to know how to turn down the volume on my personality at least some of the time. It is not their fault that I took that way, way too seriously and want overboard in the other direction.

No, that was the fault of my confusing combination of being extremely shy and a total ham. That sends a weird mixed message to the world. Pay attention to me! No, ignore me! No, do both at the same time!

And then there is the primary trauma (being sexually assaulted when I was like 3) and all the secondary trauma that I endured because of how weak and fragile the primary trauma had made me. That, and skipping kindergarten, pretty much set me up for social failure.

Life is very cruel to wimpy men. We are severely punished for our weak gender performance. In fact, I think men are punished far more harshly than women. Both genders are made to feel worthless if they fail to perform their gender to society’s standards, but it’s mostly us men who get beat up for it. And the rage directed at wimpy, soft men is far more intense and violent than that directly at ugly or unfeminine women. People treat wimpy men as offensive failures who shouldn’t even live.

Women get that too, sometimes, but trust me…. it’s mot the same.

I am guessing that this is especially harsh for wimpy heterosexual men, as they have to brave the near certainty of merciless vicious rejection if they even dare to suggest that them and women even belong in the same sentence. Being gay, I have never had to cross that burning bridge, and to be honest, while there are cruel and bitchy lookist gay men a-plenty, the gay scene in general is too small for it to be all that picky, and well, obviously wimpy men are more welcome in a community full of them.

I can honestly imagine genuinely (as opposed to performitorily) butch men having some trouble in the gay scene for being so… intense.

I have scene the massive casualties taken by straight male nerds by a world that makes it very, very clear that they are the worst possible kind of man for a woman to date, that even the slightest association with a man like that causes a woman to lose all status and would cause her friends to question her tastes and her sanity, and in general all repulsive to the point of toxicity.

A man dating an unattractive (by society’s standards) can at least tell his friends he’s doing it for the sex. What’s a woman dating a low-status man supposed to say?

Anyhow, I have wandered off topic in my inevitable but charming away. Back to my presence of personality.

I have wondered if there are situations where turning it all the way up would be appropriate. Like in the entertainment industry, for instance. If I am trying to convince someone at a studio of whatever sort to hire me as a writer, it might be safe (and effective) to turn up the personality power and convince them I am the smartest, most awesome writer ever.

And certainly, were I to dabble in acting between writing gigs, I suppose shining as hard as I can for the camera can’t hurt. It could be that I have screen presence when I go full on like that. And what the hell, the world will always need fat guys to play bikers, vikings, nerds, sweaty chefs, middle aged husbands, and so on.

I wouldn’t want a career as an actor. It’s not my primary interest. I create, I don’t interpret the creations of others! But in the highly unlikely event that one happened to me, I guess I wouldn’t say no.

I like and admire the craft of acting. I have had fun the times I have been an actor. I don’t like having to learn my lines because I don’t like memorizing, but I can deal with that.

But no matter what, I would prefer to be the person writing the lines, not the one saying them. Some day, I hope to be like my hero Jim Henson – the head of a whole media world made of things my friends and I have put together with love and care and which bring magic into the lives of millions.

If I could do that, I would feel like I had finally done right by the universe, and I could be at peace.

Until then, though, I want to work hard and have fun!

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

Neither do I

You have no idea what I am going to write today, and neither do I. Some days, there’s just nothing in particular going on in this capacious cranium of mine, and so I just have to wing it. So let’s step into the unknown and find out what is on my mind together.

I’ve encountered my depression, despite my earlier resolve to avoid it. Changing habits is always hard, and my tendency to vacillate between the computer and the bed is a habit I have formed over multiple decades, so it is quite the struggle to overcome it.

As a result, I have found myself in a state of suspended purpose, unable to remember why it is I do… anything. That’s not good. This is the true battleground : finding a way to inject purpose into my own life. I have lots of ideas for how I can keep myself busy and engaged. Ideas are never the problem with me.

It’s the hard emotional work of pulling myself out of my old groove and striking out to break new ground and create new mental pathways in my mind. To not just let gravity do the work for me, flowing to the point of least resistance, which usually means doing the same shit over and over again.

I have to at least recognize that following the old patterns isn’t making me happy. It is, in fact, making me sad. And irritated, and frustrated, and prone to thoughts of doing crazy shit just to break the tedium. That’s how I spent way too many years and I am sick to death of it.

That means I have to open myself up to the pain of this frustration, even let it build to the breaking point – the point where it forces me into new action. Some of my best artistic moments have come from that kind of breaking point, and it’s the sort of think I should treasure, and preserve. Nurse it along so that it becomes less of a painful shattering of inner calcification and more of a healthy, natural process of inspiration and joyful action.

That means I have to keep fighting my own inertia, and the side of me that always wants to change nothing and hide from the world. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, so why hide? Exposure is not danger and even if it was, danger is not damage. Risk is not death. I am moving into a new mental space and leaving that pathetic “head buried in my own tail so I don’t have to see the world” version of myself behind.

It’s highly ironic to me that someone like me, who turned away from the world for so long, often sees it more clearly than people who have been out there living their lives and dealing with the world. I suppose that is the philosopher’s advantage : having time to really think about things and seek deep truths.

That’s why none of the ancient Greek philosophers had day jobs.

Perhaps the two things are intimately interrelated : we philosophical types turn inwards to avoid dealing with reality, and as a result we get less information, so we have to get the most we can out of the information we do get – so we deduce the hell out of it, like Descartes thinking he can deduce everything about the world from pure logic.

That more or less makes sense, right? I can’t always tell.

And the thing is, as tragic as this turning inwards can be, the rewards can be extraordinary. I am positive that what mental gifts I have come from this deep inner processing. It yields a very deep and intricate understanding of the world whose power is incalculable.

In the right conditions, it makes one an “it getter”, and to be honest, those are the people who run the world.

One weapon against this lack of inner purpose is to connect with one’s sense of play. That’s the route to true honest art, art done purely to please oneself, like a child finger-painting. It requires connecting with your inner child/id, and making art just for the fun of it, without any notion of a secondary purpose.

Nobody needs to “find the motivation” to do the things they find inherently pleasurable. Nobody says “I should probably be eating that chocolate… but I am just not feeling it. ”

It’s what I try to do when I make music. I don’t succeed very often, but I try. Forget everything except stringing sounds together to please myself. No intention – just inspiration.

I’ve been fairly sleepy lately. Hard to tell whether I legitimately need to catch up on sleep, or whether I am just bedseeking and trying to push the fast forward button on life. Both are strong possibilities. Right now, as I type this, I feel sleepy and wish I was done writing my words for the day so I can curl up in bed with some music on and drift off to sleep.

The next thing on my agenda is calling the Ironwood Optical people on the 26th and ordering my new glasses. How exciting! But I am eager to get the new glasses so that I will be able to see better. I am hoping that it will mean that I don’t have to take my glasses off to see things up close any more, and maybe make my world a tad less squinty.

After that, there is the VFS orientation on the 28th. I plan on going. I want every advantage when it comes to VFS, plus I think it will do me good to get a more detailed tour of the place and a better idea of just what will be expected of me.

Plus, of course, it never hurts to show that you are keen and enthusiastic. Which I am, of course. All part of my “dazzle and charm” offensive.

I am going to shine, god fucking dammit!

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

What money just can’t buy

We have all absorbed the message that money can’t buy happiness through popular culture, and to some extend, we believe it.

But only to a highly limited extent. The extent, that is, to which we are thinking of our own situation. It soothes us to think that people richer than us are no happier, or preferably, less happy due to their wealth. That’s why there is always a big demand for entertainment in which high status people endure terrible hardships.

That gives us the double pleasure of imagining we are them (status balm number one) while cutting off feelings of jealousy and rivalry by having these people be demonstrably less happy, either because fate is punishing them for the temerity of insulting our own status with their highness or because their wealth has made them morally inferior to us and they are their own worst enemy (status balm #1).

Incidentally, science only supports one of those, and it’s not the first one.

But the thing is, this applies to all citizens no matter their prosperity level, even very high levels. So before we go patting ourselves on the back because we are obviously at the correct level of status and prosperity, remember that there is someone who thinks you are too rich to be happy, and someone else who thinks people at your level must be miserable drudges…. unlike themselves.

But notice that in this scenario, we are only imagining ourselves to be in our current position. From wherever we are now, it is safe and comforting to think that money can’t buy happiness.

Hence this Beatles song :

But if we imagine ourselves in a much wealthier, more high status position, this belief that money can’t buy happiness vanishes. Ask someone to imagine that they have won ten million dollars in the lottery and ask them what they would do in that case, and you will find that people cannot help imagining that they would be far, far happier. Myself included.

As I have said before in this space, this is because that is what consumer society teaches us. The true deep philosophy of a consumer society is that there is no problem money can’t solve. So when we image ourselves with lots of money, we implicitly imagine all our problems disappearing and every pleasure we can think of being at our fingertips. Even if, consciously, we know that probably isn’t true.

But like I have also said before, money can’t make people love you. It doesn’t improve the quality of your relationships with others. It doesn’t get you recognized by your peers as something special in an of yourself. It doesn’t improve your self-esteem – shit with money is still shit.

In short, it does very little to improve the things that we know, scientifically, lead to happiness. And yet our need to believe that happiness is something you can buy (as opposed to something you have to acquire via other means) that all the scientific evidence in the world could not convince us of otherwise.

So we internalize this consumerist faith very strongly and from the age we first realized money got you things. It runs through to the very core of our being and one only has to question it lightly (by suggesting, for instance, that you – the person reading this – might not be any happier with a lotto win) in order to see hope deep this unquestionable faith runs.

In fact, odds are that right now your mind is busy formulating a response to my questioning of this faith that money would make you happier that would prove that it would, indeed. You are likely thinking of all the things you would do with the money, both selfish and worthy, and are ready to present this as proof that while other people might not be happier with more money, you definitely would because you know just what to do with the money, unlike other people who would do other, less intelligent things.

But that’s beside the point entirely. Everybody thinks they they would know how to use the money right. This is a necessary belief in order to maintain the faith in the power of money. The idea that you personally would not be any happier with millions of dollars is a profound heresy of the first order, and the minds of us products of consumer society simply refuses to even entertain the thought.

It might be true for other people…. but not us!

The faith runs so deep that we react almost as though questioning it will somehow make it less likely to happen to us. As if there is some god of money who might be listening in, and they will shrug and say “Well I was going to give them a ton of money, but it won’t make them any happier, so…. on to someone else!”.

That sort of clearly irrational belief is a sure sign that you are dealing with a deep faith, deep enough to inculcate deeply irrational but intractable superstitions in the population.

And again, I am very much including myself in that population. I feel it too!

Given all this, it is no wonder that so many people are unhappy in modern consumer culture. We are taught that more money would make us happier, and when that turns out not to be true (we’ve just established a new normal), we assume the solution to the problem must be…. still more money!

And people will live their whole lives via this delusion. They will pursue more money and status no matter how often it fails to make them any happier. Even after they have reached a level where they are very comfortable and not particularly unhappy, they will still strive for more.

Why? Because they are terrified of what would happen if they were to stop. If they stopped, they would actually have to deal with themselves. They would be forced to realize that the things they really want are simple not for sale and that in order to get them, they will have to do things like deal directly with people as human beings, and do things like wait their turn, negotiate, compromise, open themselves up emotionally, and all kinds of other things they have been avoiding by acquiring wealth.

In short, they would have to become human beings again, no different than any other.

And they would rather die.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

End Chapter One

Well that’s it. My time at Kwantlen is officially over. Took me around 45 mins to do the exam (and it would have been even less if the listening portion (where we identify songs and stuff) didn’t have to take so long) and then it was home again by 9 am (ish). So now I am home, and I have to deal with the fact that my second home, Kwantlen, is behind me now.

I always get emotional at times like this. It used to surprise me, but not any more. I am not exactly a world champion at letting go of things, and even though I am super stoked to be going to VFS, saying goodbye to good ol’ Kwantlen makes me sad.

End of an era, I guess. The era was only eight months long, but I have changed so much over those eight months that it seems like a long, long time.

When I first stepped into KWantlen (Richmond Campus), I was fragile, anxious, timid, and unsteady. Going up and down the staircases to get to the main building (because the only way to have underground parking in Richmond is to declare the second floor to be Floor 1) seemed incredibly taxing, and it was all I could do to keep it together and make it to my classes.

And then there was the whole drama with getting my student loan. Half of that was my fault for not getting the wheels in motion sooner. But I had so much going on emotionally that it took me a while to find the mental space to worry about it.

The other half is, of course, irrationally and gobsmackingly slow bureaucracies. Six weeks to get my photo ID! Six weeks for them to process my disability status form, which they had to do before they could completely my application! That’s twelve weeks, AKA three months, spent just waiting for stuff.

Maybe it’s more than fifty percent their fault, come to think of it.

But Kwantlen was nice enough to wait, and then I got financial help from my sister, and then the loan finally came through after my first semester classes were already over.

It was in the second semester that things really began to change. I remember the moment things changed vividly. I was stressing out as usual about the upcoming semester during the winter break when suddenly things shifted and I said to myself “Wait a minute…. I got this! I’m not going to be doing anything new or different. I will be doing the same things I just finished doing. I have this handled!”.

And just like that, I relaxed in a way I hadn’t done in decades. I stopped stressing about it and confidently entered my second semester with full confidence in my ability to handle it.

It’s impossible to overstate what a huge difference that was for me. It had been a long time since I had done anything with that kind of confidence. My overactive and neurotic mind would produce panic and anxiety over patently predictable things. I lived in a constant state of fear and low level paranoia. No wonder I was so miserable!

And my self-confidence has only grown since then. It’s a slow and unsteady process, to be sure, but every day, I believe in myself a little bit more.

Having been accepted into VFS, and having the writing dude say such nice things about my writing, helps a whole heck of a lot. At last, there are people out there who believe in me. I had lived for so long in a state of suspended potential that I had forgotten that was even a thing. I did my best to believe in myself, and certainly I did well enough in school – Linguistics aside – to warrant that.

I kept reminded that most people can’t waltz through school getting straight As without studying or trying very hard, so there must be something special about me. And later I realized that I have written millions of words and done hundreds of videos and most people hadn’t done that either.

Basically, I am in the process of learning to accept that what I have done has some kind of value. Not monetary, of course, but I have learned a lot from doing it.

And VFS is going to teach me how to refine my work into something professional and slick and appealing. I have been refining my own ore for a long time now, and I am a much better writer than I was before I started blogging like this, but I still lack the wherewithal to go back over things to improve them.

Well, in VFS, I won’t have a choice. I highly doubt I will be able to bowl them over with my usual half-assed sloppy work, and I don’t just want to pass the program – I want to impress the fuck out of everybody there. I am aiming for the stars, here, and you don’t get to where I want to go by half-assing everything.

So I will have to shape the fuck up…. I hope.

I will always be grateful to Kwantlen for all it did for me. And I say that knowing that my education there was not exactly of the highest quality. That doesn’t matter now as I am not going to be trying to apply that education to my work anyhow. And I met a lot of cool professors, learned neat stuff, got to sample science courses (Psych), creative writing courses, history courses, a journalism course, a political science course (ick), and of course, my usual diet of philosophy courses.

I am even glad I took Linguistics. I went through hell there, but I survived, and learned to make peace with not automatically being awesome at something. There are certain things this magnificent mental machine of mine just can’t do, and that’s okay. Nobody is good at everything.

And the fact that I stuck with it to the bloody end when I was struggling the whole time through is something of which I am quite proud.

So farewell, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. You might not be the best school around, but you were there when I needed you, and I have grown much stronger since I started with you.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.