New Years New Years hooray for New Years
Well well, look at that…2014. Going to take me a few months to get used to writing the new number.
I remember back in 1997-1999, I was a little punk kid (ok maybe not THAT punk of a kid for reasons stated after this parenthetical) who was overly concerned with the Y2K bug (see…science/tech geeks have limited punk appeal). I was honestly and significantly worried that society was about to collapse—or that, at the very least, our economy was about to take a tumble.
I had read lots of articles and coincidentally started learning the art of the informed diatribe—something I’ve stumbled into on many subjects in the subsequent decade. Whether it was in front of family members, friends or parents of friends, I would often get the ear of an interested adult and enrapture them in 5-15 minutes of impassioned conversation about the impending end of the world when the clock struck 1/1/2000.
I had enough wherewithal and actual data to seem like I knew what the hell I was talking about—all of us Y2K believers did. It just made sense, right?
And it turned out to be total bupkis. That was the end of that.
I even remember a TV movie that tried to cash in on the paranoia. Jennifer Lopez had a video where the power went out for a few seconds, but then reconnected to a flurry of oomp-oomp-oomp-oomp dance beats.
In my thousand years on this earth, I’ve seen a lot of New Years. People get ramped up about this or that, someone has a kid, someone gets a divorce, there’s a new car, new something else…whatever. There’s plenty to get wrapped up over. Mostly it turns out to be nothing.
Sometimes people make resolutions at New Years. Sometimes people don’t (and lob a long explanation of why resolutions are terrible). Mostly, though, people go on living.
And so, that’s what I’m looking forward to—the whole living thing. I’m going to enjoy life more. Truth be told, I already am. God loves me, the folks love me, and I have a group of friends that grow me into a better man. So I’m good. More than good. I’m fantastic—especially considering that every year after Y2K has been a bonus, right?
So happy New Year! I get the feeling 2014 is going to be pretty awesome.
Bar Scene Wildlife: the Brutally Lonely
When evening plans fall through, I often head out to a local bar and pass the time. I don’t have TV and of course I don’t know how to read, so books are out. Being out and around people is as good a pastime as any.
I’m no psychologist. I’m not a behavioral scientist. I have no official qualifications that would land me on anyone’s spectrum of experts when it comes to analyzing the reasons why people say or do what they do…just unofficial qualifications.
I have a metric crap-ton of time logged at bars. Often alone. I went through a few years of chatting it up with women-folk when eyes would meet, but not anymore thanks to smartphones. Everybody just buries themselves in FB status updates and checkins when not immediately around people.
So, apart from the normal groups of friends, the only thing for the single guy at the bar to see is the soft glow of electronic devices on detached faces…or the solemn dispositions of the only other people available: the brutally lonely.
As this entry is number two of my anecdotal discussion of the American Bar Scene, I decided to describe a common type of bar patron: the brutally lonely. These gents tend to be a little older—old enough that they don’t bury themselves in technological distractions when there’s a pause in conversation. They are either chatty regulars, knowing all of the bartenders by name, or they’re the more buttoned-up, “just off of work” types. They’ll be alone—sometimes forming loose tribes at the ends of the bar, away from the clustering throngs of pre-made groups. Sometimes they’ll just look forward or at the TV. Sometimes they’ll be turned around to watch people.
The gregarious ones will start to chat if you’re close by. The reserved ones will take a “hi” or bit about the weather to smile and perhaps start in. You usually have to bait out the reserved ones, though sometimes they’ll turn out to be more gregarious with a small effort.
Regardless, once you show yourself as a willing ear and engage one of the brutally lonely, you’ll have some real talk. Sometimes it’s a fire hose of information. Sometimes you’ll have to employ some interview techniques to keep things going.
You’ll hear about wife troubles, women troubles (or wife and women troubles), troubles with their kids, troubles with the law, troubles with their jobs. You’ll hear about betrayals, cheating spouses, how one of their daughters just had an abortion, how their son is in prison, how a partner stole money from them or even a tearful telling of the loss of a truck to the repo man.
Sometimes the stories are pretty severe. Sometimes I don’t know if they’re just making it all up. Either way, it’s a bit of raw exposure to the person. Even the ones who I think are lying are telling me something about themselves: that they feel the need to concoct this incredible story to chat with a stranger.
They’ll say they feel irrelevant at their jobs, they fear their wife will never want to have sex again, they feel that this diagnosis is just the start of something bigger. And they’re at the point where they tell gobs of information to a total stranger.
The overarching theme through most of these stories, though, is loneliness. Sometimes they’ll just come out and say it.
“I’ve never been so lonely until I got married,” one guy said to me earlier this week.
As an aside, this lonely-while-married thing is a concept I only recently wrapped my head around. I mean, I knew it happened—I’ve seen some nasty, NASTY breakups and divorces in my time (the military marriage/divorce cycle can be insane). I guess I’ve always focused on the idea that having someone around would be less lonely than sitting alone in the house. I’m still naive about a lot of stuff. Still have lots to learn. Had a guy tell me once, “You don’t really understand how marriage should work until your first divorce.”
Anyway, there was a video that was being passed around recently called “The Innovation of Loneliness” (link). It wasn’t one of those “ZOMG changed my life” sorts of videos, but it was pretty good.
It touches on the old concepts that hyper-connectivity is actually just the illusion of connectivity. It also quickly mentions Dunbar’s Number (link), which perked up my ears.
Dunbar’s Number was discovered by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He proposed that human’s can only comfortably maintain about 150 stable relationships…which is interesting since many of us have ten times that many “friends” on Facebook, right?
Neolithic villages would grow to about 150, then split. Roman army units would be limited to about that number. Companies after the 16th Century typically function best when limited to groups of that size. There are others that peg the number at closer to 300, but the general idea is that humans can only handle a relatively small number of connections. Once additional ones are made, others atrophy.
The video goes on to say that here in the West, people are celebrated for their individuality—individual achievement, individual acumen, individual capacity. Collectivism is seen as anathema.
The video concludes that we’re more lonely than ever because of things like social media and technology. How the contest to be celebrated individually and connected virtually leaves us empty shells of unengaged potential and miasmic loneliness.
So perhaps all this technology and Internet stuff is why they’ve reached this point. Perhaps we’re all destined to spin and spin in our frenzied busyness just to end up farther apart. Perhaps these guys are just a symptom of deeper social issues.
WHO KNOWS? I can’t say. I still feel for these guys I see at the bars, though. I don’t know what to do with them other than just be there to listen. Maybe that’s enough.
The talks are innocent, just venting. There’s usually no mention of meds or suicide or anything crazy. We’ll chat. Sometimes we’ll go into spiritual stuff. Sometimes I’ll just let them say their piece. Most of the time I learn something (even if it’s what not to do) and I feel my life has been enriched in meeting someone new.
And it’s less lonely than sitting at home, at least. Or is it?
Man, at what point do I just become one of these poor bastards? Maybe I need to invent another category of bar patron to put myself in….
(Update: Someone mentioned a Louis C.K. talk about loneliness that just posted. Thought it was apropos. Check it out HERE.)
I plan to have no plan
Penn Jillette (from Penn & Teller) and a Hollywood executive producer named Mark Burnett (creator of TV shows like Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, etc.) were among the people who spoke at the various keynotes during the 2010 Blogworld Expo. Both of them, when asked how they achieved their success, essentially gave the same answer: I just did it.
They aren’t the first VERY successful people whom I’ve heard say this. In fact, I’ve heard it so often that it makes me feel like an idiot.
“I don’t know…I just did it?” Ha, that easy, eh?
On the other hand, I’ve heard from the next couple of levels down. These are the people who aren’t quite there. They have to always pitch themselves. They’ve had some semblance of success. They’ve gathered a larger-than-average pool of Twitter followers, whatever. They appear at conferences and seminars too, pushing their new blog/site/business, begging for followers/retweets, handing out “buy my stuff” swag. They have theories and coin phrases. And while they’re being recognized for their successes at certain venues, they haven’t “made it” by many long shots.
When these “almost but not quite” people talk about success, they recount the thousands of ways they expand their influence. They recount formulas for maximizing viewership. They talk about selling ads, Excel spreadsheets, projections, ad-words, keywords. They’re always self promoting. They’re always working. They claw success and fame from life like a starving farmer ekes his years from poor soil.
So there seems to be something else in the works. It seems that hard work only takes you so far when it comes to influence. Some people just have it. Some have to fake it.
Perhaps it’s like Shakespeare (and what isn’t?) “…some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It’s like there’s a marked difference between the genuine achievers and influentials in the world and the rich guys you see in pyramid scheme late-night commercials.
However, it also makes me think of something Abe Lincoln said (and what doesn’t?) “…give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Maybe the major successes of the world have something else they do? Maybe it’s something that’s so ingrained in their behaviors and dispositions, that it just seems like common sense to them?
Hell if I know what it is outright, but I’d like to think they know how to listen—they know where to apply their limited force on the world and cause a shift.
Penn talked about adapting and learning different skills and doing different things as he saw them. Mark talked about hearing different ideas and going with ones he thought were compelling. There seemed to be a lot of “Wait, then act” motifs to their life stories.
…which flies in the face of the “always on, sell, sell, sell” obnoxiously aggressive sales approach I hear from others.
So maybe, instead of asking the Penns and Marks of the world, “How do I get to be as famous as you?”, we should ask, “What do you value and how do you pursue it?”
Seems like one of those, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” sorts of things. And that’s cool, as I’m all for naturally accruing influence in life. Scheming and following formulas to mine fame comes across as disingenuous.
Three parts. Not musical, though.
Part 1: The Absence
Admittedly I had blogs I wrote in my head during these last few weeks. Well, okay, not “written” but had the gist of them hammered out during the work day. I’d get home, often exhausted, and would look at the blank web browser. I’d think, “Should I go to the blog and hack out a few paragraphs?” “Naw,” I’d then think, “I don’t want to get into it.”
“It” being talking about life. “It” being talking about work. There are those from work who read this here blog in ones and twos, to be sure. Not that I had anything bad to say about people—it doesn’t get a person anywhere to bash people outright, especially from under the skirt of the Internet (yes, she’s a lady and she’s sexeh). It’s just the whole conundrum about writing about work. Should I? What else should I write about, then? Work has kind of been most of my life. I don’t have any exciting hobbies. I can only try to play softball (note to self, write post about softball).
What else is there to write about other than work? Social media theory? Ha! I hardly get any chance to read, let alone comment on that sort of stuff now that I’m in corporate America. There’s too many meetings to go to. And, honestly, when I get home, logging in to Google Reader and seeing the 1,200,000+ unread items is depressing. I’ve heard others talk about that. It’s one of those features I think actually dissuades people from using Google Reader. Maybe I should write a note. Like they could flip the feature around and talk about how the two posts I read today was a full 100 percent more (ZOMG w/ exclamation point) than the previous day’s reading. That sort of thing might get me out of bed in the morning in the hopes of getting around to Google Reader right before I get back into bed.
So all that to say, by the time a few days got between me and blogging, the gap sort of fed itself. It was like seeing how long it took for a flickering candle to eventually sputter out, or a car to run out of gas. Ok I don’t do that. Maybe not that example. Or it was like seeing the sun fully slip under the horizon. Better, yes. I watched it, saw the days compound and sort of just let things go.
Pretty bad of me, right? Well, that’s the thing about the Internets, people are jerks.
Part 2: The iPad
So, as an impulse, I bought an iPad a couple of weeks back. Don’t think I did it to prove I was alive or whatever shopaholics claim is the muse for their condition. I just sort of decided to buy one. For me, the build-up was a two day process. I heard how frikkin’ amazing the damn things were from clergy, coworkers and nature itself (Dreamed about an otter using an iPad. That was my sign. Otters, dude. Yeah.). I arrived at work the next day, decided to get one and bought one that evening.
Didn’t make a big production out of it. I didn’t make an announcement. Didn’t update my Facebook status. Didn’t see the need to really call it out. I guess part of that was my embarrassment at claiming I would not get one—that I already had a Kindle, a laptop and a will to live, so an iPad just didn’t do anything for me. And yet, maybe I needed a new type of will to live. Maybe I needed a media consumption “will to live”. I heard an iPad would reinvigorate my love for interacting with rich content—which itself sounds both intriguing and revolting in a “is this where I am in life?” sort of way.
Now, for my remaining two readers’ (hi Mom, Dad!) benefit, iPads are a pretty big deal where I work. We are a company that is absolutely infatuated with hip buzzwords like “innovation”, “synergy”, “thought leaders”. And our hearts are in the right place, but sometimes it’s a bit much. We develop apps for iPhone and iPad like it’s our job…which it is, but regardless, our company has an almost unhealthy love and indirect endorsement for Apple products. iPhones and iPads are handed out to leadership and select managers/leaders like candy. Scores of directors, VPs, AVPs, SVPs, EMGs, DSKWEs, EWKWOIJGDOSDIs and whatever else walk around the building with their issued iPhones, iPads and wax eloquent on how their lives have morphed into living technological haiku, all because of the tech-kensei status bequeathed to them from the very POSSESSION of such implements of awesomeness. The ‘tic tic tic tic’ of iPad keystrokes is a five point palm exploding heart technique on my soul!
So of course I wanted one! JEEEZ!
And it is pretty cool, except for the part where I may not be allowed to use it at work. We’re reeeeeeeeeally sensitive about keeping all corporate things confidential. Not to be confused with military intelligence classification. I have a government clearance. That’s easy breezy. They just hand those out. Doesn’t count. Our policies are moar hardcorez! Nothing can be trusted!
So I may be asked to not ever bring in my personal iPad to work at some point. Which is a bummer, since all the cool leaders and managers and anyone worth a damn have theirs to get ahead in life. The plebes fail.
Part 3: The End
Of the post. Ah, that was cheap, wasn’t it? Okay, scratch that.
New Part 3: The Beginning
As you may or may not know (again, to my readership…Mom, Dad), I was hired at my current gig to be the chief blogger, senior community manager and corporate conversationalist. Fancy words for “Guy who writes, trains and empowers others to participate in social media.” Dunno if all that will come to pass. There’s an awful lot of day-to-day grind stuff that needs doing. And new stuff shows up every day—all that “life” and “news” stuff that bubbles up. So, there’s no real way to get on top of it.
There is hope, though.
There’s an unfilled position for someone to be the “communities and collaboration” leader…which, to those paying attention, sounded exactly like the job I was hired to do. This one will get paid a lot more money, though, so I’m hoping maybe I’ll be under that person? Or maybe I’ll be reassigned? Regardless, one way or the other, I won’t have to fret about not doing the job, because I’ll either be doing it for the person it charge of it or letting someone else do it. There is a third option, to be revealed by God’s providence, but those are the cards I have at the moment. Pocket threes and someone raised before the river. Jerks.
And, as a parting shot, please don’t take the cynicism for unhappiness. That’s just my shtick. I’m cool with whatev. I’m happy not babysitting troops—not worrying they’ll get swindled at pay-day loan spots, not get tossed in the slammer, not piss hot, not lose accountable equipment. I do miss the manager/leader stuff sometimes, and look forward to the day when I can be a leader in the normal world and not have to counsel someone for being the “phantom pooper.” But for the moment, I’m fine with life sans fecal crises.
The long pause (life without Internet)
Since September 16th, I’ve been without Internet access at home.
Now, I realize that people lived for centuries without the steady stream of 1’s and 0’s from our Gore-inspired Information Superhighway; but I would insist they never really lived.
Seriously, a life without electronic mail? No Google Maps? No Google, even? No online library card catalogs? I can hardly imagine a world where my life isn’t punctuated several times a minute by the need to be online. It is ubiquitous. Access to data is everywhere. Movies, restaurant reviews, buying groceries, renewing my driver’s license…all of it is accomplished online. Hell, my master’s program is totally online, which made my recent Internet drought all the more painful.
Yesterday, finally, my Internet Service Provider, through happenstance only, plugged me back in. Like a fever breaking, I at once felt relief as the flickering green light on the router told me I was no longer alone. Life had been on pause. I would come home, now in a new studio apartment, and stare at the emptiness that used to be filled by Facebook, YouTube, Baker Business College, City of Heroes and the blog.
I go out a lot, so it wasn’t SOOOOOO bad. But still, it was almost Zen in its stillness. It was a chance to prioritize, look to the future and all that. It was terrible.
Because I, as a person, have fundamentally been changed by the technologies I use on a daily basis. I can’t imagine a world without Netflix, eBay, Google or Amazon. It is a world I wouldn’t want to live in. It would be a step backward. And when I look at social media, in all of its intricacies, I see this sort of online world expanding. It’s almost as if there are two parallel worlds—the online and offline, that we live in. We spend the majority of our time in the real world perched in front of a liquid crystal display, peering into the online world. It gets to the point where we feel more at ease—more complete when in this fake world. The portrait of the offline world begins to fade as we spend more time on the details of the online world. Isn’t this nuts? Our digital heartbeat is growing stronger.
So how did I survive? My friends would ask me, half jokingly, half knowingly, if I was going crazy. I’d read more books, I wrote more, but then it was six in the evening, and I wasn’t tired, so no early bed time. I don’t get cable, so I couldn’t phase out into passive television. Nor would I want that, anyway.
So the Robinson Crusoe romantic dream of a life lived without its normal trappings is crap for me. I needed the Web. It perhaps did not need me, but I felt the pang of its absence. Now that it’s back, I feel a bit like Tom Hanks after returning from his exile on “Cast Away,” comfortable with catching my own fish, but back in the world of instant information cuisines by the gigabyte.
And, like Hanks’ character in that movie, I sort of glossed over that chapter in my life—those agonizing few days where I was offline at home. The molehill mountain had been climbed and past. No one cared to hear what life was like alone on that island, and it in fact made them feel ashamed for fidgeting in the luxuries of our lives.
Here, the adventure started and stopped. I’ll forever remember the time, back in 2009, when my digital heartbeat stopped, and I was on the cusp of oblivion. I’m back now, though, so let’s get back to it.
Life’s in the betweens
Controversial, I know, but I usually put schoolwork second while I was in college.
Uber peep Seth and I had traditions. We’d often head out in the evenings to a convenience store (not necessarily convenient as it was a bit far, as I recall) to get a Jones soda. Jones makes those quirky-flavored sodas with the unique photos…
Anyway, we’d put aside our schoolwork to spend some time together, talking about life, liberty, whatever.
A lot of people stopped by my room back then too. I’d make it a habit to put down my books and talk. Usually it was girl-related, sometimes God stuff. But, regardless, I’d make time to talk things through. Sometimes the talks would last well in to the night. There was still mountains of classwork to do, but I got to know a lot of people during those talks.
For me, life experience was much more important than GPAs. Not to say I didn’t do well, got a little “with honors” sticker on the ol’ diploma, thank you; but I was zealous in not letting tedium take me away from the genuine moments of humanity that grow in between the stuff we consume ourselves with.
In the West, we focus on the destination—the end state of things. College equals diploma, which equals job, which equals money, which equals stability. Religion equals beliefs, which equals salvation, which equals a ticket to paradise.
But what is missing is the journey. To the Eastern mind, the trek is far, far more important than the destination. It is much better to experience and endure the race than to simply cross the finish line.
And I agree. What’s the point of anything without the journey? Might as well skip to the credits of every movie we watch if we just want the ending. It’s the struggle—the minute by minute drama that inspires us.
For some, being rich is the end goal. They just want money and to hell with how getting there will grow or change them. For some, it’s getting married, or getting divorced, or getting a degree, or a type of car.
Often when a person runs out and gets that new car, or runs headlong into marriage, the unhappiness is still there. I think that’s because the person is in love with the idea—in love with the concept of “arriving.”
There’s a scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt is talking to Edward Norton about a conversations he had with his father, growing up. He graduated high school and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Go to college.” He graduated from college and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get a job.” He got a job and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get married.”
Like that’s all there was, a careful series of steps that led to fulfillment. Like happiness would just automatically come.
What’s missing was the process—the sting of life; how we are altered by each day and grown by the people we meet.
I love conversation. Each time I ever talk with anyone, I grow. Each time I ever spend any time with anyone, I grow. After 10 or 12 years of careful introspection, I’ve noticed that there’s never an end to the race. Life always has another hill to climb.
That’s what’s so tragic about people who focus on the destination—the race goes on forever. There is no finish—no magic line that makes everything perfect.
It can be discouraging and daunting if a person focuses on the distance and the unending miles; but if, instead, the company kept was the focus, the journey itself was the joy rather than the promise of some ideal destination, then the sh*t of life stepped in isn’t so bad, ’cause it’s on all of our shoes.
And that’s the secret. That’s where life is, I think. It’s in those magic in between moments that let us discover who we’re in this struggle with. That’s why I never sacrifice conversation for “productivity.” That’s why I’d much rather spend time talking than go out on “a date.”
It may seem trivial, but one is the pursuit of a goal, the other is a careful cultivation of relationship and understanding. And the latter is more meaningful, I think, more genuine.
There it is. May. Last post…February. Wow, how about that?
WordPress has grown more svelte. Nice little buttons and do-hickeys on everything. Looks like they’re continuing to expand their features, which is awesome, considering it’s all free.
A lot of things have been going on in and around Josh Salmons. I won’t get in to everything, suffices to say I needed a break from blogging, obviously.
There’s an interesting dynamic when people around you begin to absorb your blog. I fancy book authors experience this on a deeper level, yet more infrequently. Running into a random person and discussing the intricacies of the kitten in chapter four or the choice of detail on the sunset before the protagonist suffered a setback…that sort of thing; verses having a blogger who just has people pipe in daily and drop a few sentences, constituting a “yea” or “nay.”
In Iraq I was spoiled, concerning readership. No one around me cared about the blog, so only those searching for either my name (friends/family) or for keywords surrounding content found it. Here, students, coworkers and an expanding litany of family, church friends of family, and family of friends all send emails, asking about things.
And that’s great, albeit a little stifling. Have to keep things PG. Can’t really talk about anything that would remotely offend anybody who might remotely be on the RSS feed. For a cynical SOB like me, that limits things to a discussion concerning my choice of a lunch venue.
So, as the winter continued, I allowed the blog to fall asleep. Not that I’m trying to shake loose unwanted readers—everyone is welcome. I just needed a break.
Once or twice I caught the itch—even wrote a couple of posts in the interim. The first tickle of desire came at a traffic light, the second one day at work. Though I hashed out some sentences, it never grew into anything more than a few paragraphs of nothing.
I was worried I had lost the fire.
I heard an author on NPR the other week. She was finishing her fourth or fifth novel—romance writer, very popular and unorthodox, considering she’d just decided one day to become an author. The host of the show read some submitted comments and asked for the romance writer’s feedback. One comment was from a person who was a technical writer (someone who fills the pages of all those operator manuals no one ever reads). The commenter was asking how he could break out of his doldrum routine into create writing. The romance author said she thought this guy’s job was perfect, despite the drudgery of it. His job taught him to produce coherent work, despite whatever his disposition or feelings were for that day. Regardless, he had to write.
There was something to that. And something to this blog, despite itself.
So, here we are, those that are left 😉 We’ll keep at it.
Roommate Adrian just purchased his own copy of some Adobe toys, which is inspiring me to dig out my own. Maybe I’ll start incorporating some Photoshop creations on this thing. More artistic expression will probably be what I need to get out of the rut.