Shared funny requires some shared perspectives.

The experience of someone telling me a joke, and me thinking that I don’t get why it’s a joke. So the person explains it to me. And I realize I already understood everything they said. But I still don’t understand why they said it. I see why it’s funny to them, yet it hasn’t become funny to me. Shared funny requires some shared perspectives.

Shared funny requires some shared perspectives.

Steeped in the Same Vast Womb

“I have been thinking of you lately. I am reading a book by Fred Alan Wolf called “The Dreaming Universe”, which is absolutely fascinating! He explains in his writings the quantum reality of the dream world and connects the science in to very vast realms. It gets a bit spooky! Anyway, I am really missing you and feel completely disconnected with my old existence as one of the members of the cast of transformation. Tell me, how is life for you? Where are you and what are you doing in the world? I feel like I have lost certain aspects of myself and seek some remembrance. I miss you and I miss [Her] and don’t know where time has taken me. Looking at some of those old pics makes me wonder what may have happened if I had stayed in Dayton for a bit longer…. I probably would have gone crazy…. but, sometimes now I feel crazy because deep parts of myself are scattered around the world. Each one of my ancient beloveds seems an archetype that lives within me and thrives when those certain elements are near. I cannot explain it, truly, but deeply feel that I am you and you are me. And I don’t feel this way about all beings tripping around this universe…. It is almost that some of us were made from the same fabric and steeped in the same vast womb before arriving here to meet again……”

I will check out “The Dreaming Universe”; it sounds great! Speaking of “spooky”, and being disconnected, have you heard of this theory in physics called “spooky motion at a distance”? It says that any two particles that affect each other when they are close together, will always continue to affect each other, no matter how far apart they are :: once they are connected, they can be across the universe from each other and no matter how far apart they are, they are still connected, they still affect each other regardless of distance. I’ve been carrying around those old film negatives for years and years and they’ve been getting scratched and moldy and they’ve been literally weighing me down as something I feel I must carry. How can I throw away photo negatives of great times? Scanning them all over the last couple weeks and throwing away the negatives has lightened me; now they all fit in a small hard drive that fits in my pocket. Looking at some of them made me nostalgic for a Dayton that once existed in Dayton, that I wish I could go back to, and wonder if I could go forward to something with some of the same elements. Couldn’t I go back to Dayton the city, rent a warehouse to make art in, buy a house in the Oregon District, get a job somewhere to pay the bills, find those people who are still there who I love, enjoy Yellow Springs, wait for the college there to reopen, finally go to school, in Yellow Springs, studying writing with ultra-liberals and finding another ultra-liberal girlfriend from Antioch to create with? Spend time in the woods of Ohio!? I love your way of putting it, that we were made from the same fabric, steeped in the same vast womb before arriving here. It feels that way to me too, and I believe you and I have seen some of what that origin may be like, from a distance far from this world, that we sent ourselves down to. My parts are scattered too, [Love]; I have lived in so many places and done so many things. On the other hand: I have lived in so many places and done so many things!! I think for some people it never goes anywhere; for some people it goes somewhere and stops; and for some people it goes somewhere, then keeps going and going and going. I think they’re all fine, they’re all valid. I’m in an in-between period: my job went away after three years I put into it, and I’m writing this from my mother’s living room in Pennsylvania. I’m going to do Nanowrimo in November and write a novel :: Mom and I are both doing this. After that I don’t know. My nostalgia is great, it’s strong, it’s compelling. And looking at old pictures of me, me when I was younger, does put me in touch in a realistic way with a part of me that is totally still there, and reasonable for me to be in touch with! I think for me it went somewhere, and now it’s going to keep going and going and going. I don’t know where, literally or figuratively. I came here from Tucson, where I lived for six months in a wonderful apartment, and where I stopped drinking alcohol completely, and now haven’t drank any alcohol for the longest amount of time since the first time I ever did, about twelve years ago. That’s a part of me that’s in touch with a *much* older/younger me! I may go to New York this winter, or Philadelphia, to seek a place where I can have more at my fingertips. And someday, I know after my recent, latest drive across this country, I will buy an RV and a little piece of land in Utah or Montana or maybe Arizona, and sit outside in quiet. But that’s years from now. Love you, Zha =) (And Matthew)

Steeped in the Same Vast Womb

DNA of the First Day

I’m so stupid for giving people the benefit of the doubt. When I learned that company source code was being hosted from an employee’s house, I experienced that through my fantasy world, in which this was a hiccup that would be addressed on the way to this growing up to become a real company. Instead of seeing it as it was: an indicator of a systemic pattern that will never change. That is a sign that that company’s DNA includes being small-time. If I was realistic I would have either accepted being part of a small-time company, or quit, way earlier than I did.

You can always tell the nature of a relationship by how you met. You might not be able to interpret it until much later, but the DNA of the future is foretold at the origin of every union. I would never understand how Julian related to me, for years I didn’t understand its essence, until I put myself in his shoes on the first day we met. For years I was confused by why this guy was jealous of my relationships with women, why he was paranoid that I would steal the attraction of women he was with. Then maybe seven or eight years into our relationship, I finally understood the simplest thing: when he met me, in high school, his experience was like this: he always had a crush on Tuesday Walker, since middle or elementary school, and they never got together, but he still liked her, and they were friendly, or friends. They at least ate lunch together, and they were both smart, and weird in the context of their schoolmates. Then one day, on one of the many first days of school, Julian goes through the cafeteria searching for Tuesday, who he knew would be sitting at a table for six, by herself. He gets there and who does he find? Tuesday, and this new kid named Matthew who Tuesday seems to like, in a way that she doesn’t like Julian. I may not have everyone’s inner monologue exactly right, but I think this situation, and this point of view, essentially describes the perceived dynamic for Julian for what would become the next eight years of our relationship. With woman after woman (or girl after girl at the time), Julian was jealous of me, he thought I was up to something. He told me once he thought I had a better relationship with his girlfriend Amy than he did. I was like “I’ve hardly even spoken with Amy. You live with her.” But he insisted. And a climate of jealousy and suspicion characterized Julian’s approach to me for many years, even though it was unjustified.

None of this is to say that what happens on the first day is the complete and total reason for what happens later. Julian, for instance, was a jealous person before I came into the picture.

However, you can tell the DNA of a relationship by its first day. A commonly-held example of this is reflected in the advice that you should not enter a relationship with someone with whom you are cheating, as one who cheats with you will also cheat on you. But it’s true in a broader sense. What was your first impression, yes, but more: what was your first day like with this person, or on this job? What was your first lunch like? What was your interview like? The DNA of what happens later is there, and at some point, looking back, how that is true will be clear.

My interview with my last job was wonderful. The owner and I sat and talked for longer than we had scheduled, the conversation was fluid. We related genuinely. We shared similar technical viewpoints. I believed in his vision and he believed in my ability to help. But in this relationship the first day is actually two days. Because the person who was to be my supervisor, their Chief Software Architect, was not in the interview. Probably because the owner knew that if I met this supervisor, I would not have taken the job. Interview with the owner: damn near perfect. First day on the job: red flag city. A supervisor who stands at the whiteboard pedantically imparting particulars of the artifacts of his supposed genius, with no receptivity to collaboration, demonstrating en bouffant that he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to impersonally discuss technical matters with peers—this person feels threatened simply by others’ participation). Boom. First day. Everything I needed to know, but that would take me three years to accept as really true. Externally true, collectively true, unaffectably true—time to quit your job true. Time to cut your losses and run true. It was there at the beginning, in my face—clear as a bell, but not to my ears.

I think I’m getting better at navigating forward based on early clues, probably only because more and more situations have at least some similarity to some situation in my library. I love Rishi and I hope she is doing well, but it would not at this point take me three years to know I needed to break up with her. It would take me a week. Or maybe one day. The properties of the bell curve make it so that nature’s ability to throw diverse problems at me diminishes as water goes under my bridge. There is always surprise, but (at least within a major paradigm) there is always less and less of it. The next time I’m having lunch with a girl and her old friend comes up to join us, I will have my eyes open. The second a woman I love acts abusively toward me, I will be aware. And the next time I’m in a job interview where the management has concealed a key employee, I will know to ask why.

DNA of the First Day

Expectation, Observation, Disillusionment

I was in the grocery store tonight when my mom handed me a plastic bag. We were in the oats and grains and trail mix and gummy bear asile. She suggests I put something in a bag. I come back to the present, find the pistachio bin, and explain that I was thinking about disillusionment. And with the nails most definitely in the coffin of my 20s, I like the alliteration of the words “disillusionment” and “decade”.

You have to be illusioned to be disillusioned. I think it would be sad not to be illusioned; it would mean death and a lack of imagination. It would mean a lack of vision. People have to have illusions of what their world can be if they want to be intentional about proceeding forward in it. People without this type of illusion are not modeling a way I want to be. But what’s the best balance for me among idealism and realism? I know that one of my main psychological dynamics is to 1) have unrealistic expectations, 2) discover that someone or some thing does not live up to my unrealistic expectations, 3) get mad at the person or thing. Knowing this is helpful, but knowing it doesn’t translate into problem-solved. It’s not, I think, completely rational to adjust your expectations to the reality of the world—expectations can be a powerful force for change. To have no expectations, not to fight: I’m sure I’m not built that way. Isn’t frustration, indignance, an acceptable cost for the benefit of having a pulse?

I don’t look up to those who accept the world the way it is; I never have. Maybe that’s from my parents, who are political, religious movers-and-shakers and have been since before they cooked up me. We grew up with activist writers sleeping on our couch, we grew up going to protest marches in Washington, we grew up with Mom going for a while into war-torn El Salvador. Dad sacrificed an executive career and salary to produce literature to educate people on political issues and voting choices. When Mom and Dad thought we were in the wrong classes, they spoke with the school and got us in the right ones. When Dad thinks a room on his house is too small—wide enough but really should have been a little longer…he cuts off the side of his house and lengthens the room. Upbringing alone explains why I might consider the world a place to be changed. In my immediate and extended family, there is a strong current of activism. We don’t bite off other people’s truth hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve often been disillusioned with my professional and educational cohorts. English teachers who handed out crossword puzzles, supervisors who got fired for surfing porn at their desks, software development organizations who talked a lot of pattern and process but couldn’t produce a product, sweet-talking CEOs of twenty-person corporations who didn’t pay their employees on time. (And everybody’s ok with this?)

The keener observers of me point out that I judge others harshly, and I judge myself harshly, and that the two are intertwined. Definitely if you’re doing one of those you’ll be doing the other. Do I not want to give myself a break because I know then I would have to give others a break, and I don’t want that because I have a real need to lay the verbal smackdown on folks? Do I not have a nuanced enough understanding of the dynamics between expectation and judgement? What is the point of having expectations if there is no consequence of them not being met? If there is absolutely no response, no adjustment, when expectations are not met, then are the expectations still of use? Is it that I am missing an ingredient—that expectation and judgement need to be part of the mix, but that compassion and love are present in my recipe in insufficient proportion? I think probably it is not a deficiency of love in my case that is the problem. If I didn’t love the one who let me down, what about that situation would upset me? Could I solve my expectation/observation/disillusionment cycle by not loving the person or institution in the first place? To ask that question is to confuse expectation with love. But I think unraveling the tangle of those two concepts is not done without some stickiness.

If I know you will be deficient, can I love you? By grace I can love you in that case. But this is where we need more than one word for love. For if I know you will be deficient in some area that I need in order to relate to you nontrivially, in a way that is characteristic of what I actually have to offer, then basically I can love you like a person loves a dog but not like people love each other. What if what I expect of you is not that you will be perfectly kind to me in every moment, but that you will always be able to put aside your ego and discuss statements and observations dispassionately? If I cannot expect that of you, then I cannot love you as a peer. I can love you in the sense of grace, in roughly the sense that I would love a dog—which is to say: very much! Extremely much, but of a limited type, or of an alternate definition. Is it the same to love my favorite dog as it is to love my favorite person? Parts of the definitions of those loves overlap—maybe some of the most important parts, some of the most characteristiccally love-ish parts. But even if I dismantle the expectation/observation/disillusionment cycle by removing the expectation (such that I could observe without experiencing disillusionment), isn’t there a real distinction to be made between someone or some thing I relate to in a more or less contrived way based on the scope of my allowed expectations? Isn’t it really like, even among “people”, there are species of difference between the quality of relating that is happening between various pairs? I never get mad at my dog for not being able to collaborate with me on projects because the shape and size and odor of the dog, while I love it enough to let it sleep with me in my bed, is so easily understandable as “a dog” that my programming selects the correct scope of my expectations on it? While with “people”, even though we use the same word to describe them all and even though they all have the same number of chromosomes, people’s developmental variety and knowledge catalogues and thought skills are so widely diverse that in some senses one to the next we are very like distinct species. That “species” is perhaps the best metaphor we have to understand their differences in capability—which differences in capability are a major basis for differences in what is rational to expect from them.

With most animals, recognition of the animal’s species is enough to be able to select appropriate expectations for the animal. It is easy for me to recognize a cat versus a dog, and once I know which species describes the animal I am dealing with, I select appropriate expectations for that animal, and we get along fine. I don’t expect cats to be exceedingly social and I don’t expect dogs to poop in a box; usually that’s exactly how it works out, so our interactions proceed without incident. With people, recognition of the species is not of much help. Even the measures we use, beyond body shape, size, odor, to try to recognize what kind of thing I am dealing with—measures like degree of education, history of experience, job title, family history, are of relatively little use when dealing with people. Can I expect, once I meet someone with the title of CEO who has an office with 20 employees and the office is in Manhattan, can I expect that person to have set up a payroll system such that employees of that company get paid on time? I cannot expect that. It’s not something I would think to ask in an interview: do you pay people on time? With a dog, sure there is the occasional one who will poop in a box. But the variation in capability and behavior (and therefore the variability in what is rational for me to expect) is so great in humans, that I don’t think it makes sense to use the metaphor of species to refer here to what is the same in us. Sure, we may be the same species in one taxonomic sense of the word, but there are senses of that concept that are implied by the word which are absolutely not applicable to our species. What is, in one sense, “our species” is, in some senses, not a single species. We are not the same, in the domains in which so many of us spend so much of our time existing nowadays. Our relevant differences don’t have to do with number of chromosomes, body weight, body size, or anything to do with our bodies; and our chromosomal and other physical differences have such little variation across the species compared with the magnitude of variation in those domains that do matter so much to us these days, that the idea we’re all the same species (based on not much variation in chromosomal and physical differences) is not really all that useful an idea. So what, I’ve determined you’re human. Now what? Does that really get me very far? Not in most of the ways that count today.

I have to get into my mind that while in many ways members of our human species are held to the same laws as each other and are scientifically and politically considered the same, that in the ways that matter to me—evaluating their viability as conversation partners, lovers, and collaborators—we are so different as to make the idea that we’re of the same species, absurd.

How do I proceed with this? Do I think of people in archetypes, boxes, holes, arrays, and rainbows of scope, creating the equivalent of animal species, specifying to myself that this person is a {conversable,trustable,smart} and that person is an {antagonistic,inane}? Of course we all do this type of categorization automatically. What I’m wondering, is if massaging my thoughts to consider these categorical differences as justification for some internal categorization of people as of distinct species, would help address some of my problems with expectation. We all already categorize like this all the time. What I want to know is: might it help me address issues arising from expectation if in my own mind I teach myself to understand these differences as reflective of categories for people on the order of species. Not to justify small-time genocide, in saying because someone is of a certain species I won’t hold them to certain common laws and expectations—that commonality would be analagous to the overlap that exists between the love that I can apply to a dog and the love that I can apply to a peer—but to justify, to me, the distinct treatment of various “people” in those more esoteric domains. Without some such justification, it’s hard for me to allow myself to individualize expectations for specific people; isn’t it reasonable to expect that, say, any collaborator who is employed alongside me, is able to discuss technical matters without ego? I have tended to think that is a rational expectation. But I’m wrong. It’s not a rational expectation of all human beings, or of all people who get paid more than $100k/year, or of all people who have PhDs, or of all people of any description I can think of. A much more diverse taxonomy, and one given the weight of species, is needed in my head if I want to be able to feel good about the quite rational act of applying individualized expectations to people I encounter.

Expectation, Observation, Disillusionment

What Color Were They?

—i wish we had more time together last yr when you were in town.
—I wish we did too, that was hardly any time for us
—no it wasn’t
—I think of it often though
—good i am glad
—I was trying to hold onto as much input as I could while I saw you, so I could remember clearly :: it mostly worked
—did it what color were my panties?
—I don’t just mean about the sex part! what color were they…hmmm…don’t tell me….red?
—wrong :(
—pink? black? they had a bow!!! I remember that!
—lol … what color were they?
—black with white polka dots that laces up the back… thong
—maybe you can show me again sometime. to jog my memory.
—mm hmm

What Color Were They?

Can you write a book and a blog at the same time?

I think if I’m unemployed the answer may be yes. I remember reading on William Gibson’s blog, I think, that he wouldn’t be writing on the blog for a while because it was an either/or situation and he wanted to focus on a book. Maybe that was someone else’s blog. I’m going to do Nanowrimo this year though, so I may try both for a while.

Also I feel freer to write something online, something public, now that I do not have a job. This is always the case. When I had my first public site around 2000, the internet was still a child and it was interesting to ponder why and whether one would have a public site (a “home page”) to tell the world about [the private?] you.

We’re way past that now. You assume your employer or date is googling you, assume it. Specialized background-check apps exist to screen your online hookups. In ten more years, what it means to be an individual will be totally different than it was ten years ago.

I find some aspects of this ridiculous; they are ridiculous from my point of view. I remember asking, in a blog post before my last job, “Can I keep my job and my personality at the same time?” One former employer, in a phone interview, asked me “So, what’s the deal with all this gay poetry?” Gay poetry? Ohhhh…this lopsided schmuck must be referring to a poem I wrote that has the phrase “gay teenagers” in it, which he, or some employee of his, found online before my interview. I should have sued him for mentioning it in an interview (is that possible?—might be). But I’m not about suing people. My question is this: am I required to discuss poetry with a person who doesn’t read or write poetry? If that former employer had been a broad enough person to have written a poem, or to have published a poem—or even: to have been able to read a poem—then I would have much more enjoyed discussing poetry with him! (If he was able to read and comprehend poetry, he would know that that poem, while technically containing the word “gay”, was not about gayness—unfortunately this subtlety was lost on him.) Instead, from my point of view, I am suddenly in a conversation about poetry with someone who doesn’t know anything about poetry. How is that fun for me? From that guy’s point of view, he’s in a conversation trying to figure out if I’m gay, or if I’m weird enough to write poetry, or if I’m reckless enough to attach my name to a poem that might be published, because he wants to guard against too much weirdness in his company. Or he’s just a lopsided schmuck.

There’s even more I want to say about that. Do people giving interviews and running companies realize that not only are they annoying me by inviting me into conversations on subjects about which they know nothing, but that they are also cataloguing to me a set of liabilities against their company and employees? Do you think I want to work at a place where all that people understand is simply poetry, or simply programming, or simply graphic design? What sane person would want to work alongside people who are paralysingly deficient in all but one of {language skills, visual skills, music skills, technical skills}? On the one hand, you can say I write gay poetry (which, to you, is weird and scary). On the other hand, I can say you’ve never been paid by a literary magazine for the right to publish a story you wrote (which, to me, is pathetic). It’s a liability to your company that you employ one-sided people. And one-sided people are never really good at that one thing. You can’t be really good at one thing if you’re only good at one thing. It’s lauded as accomplishment in this time and place that someone is soooo good at that one thing that they are good at it to the detriment of others: the engineering prodigy who scores soooo high on the math portion of his SAT that he gets into Case Western—even though he failed the English part. (Psssst: that’s not a good sign—for the kid or the college.) I would not hire that guy, and I don’t want to work with that guy. (And by the way, I was in the science fair with that guy, and my project won.)

I’ve mainly done programming work, and I’ve never met a programmer who was any good who didn’t have other loves. The best programmers I’ve known play in [good!] bands, have Tom Wolfe books on their shelves (yes, at work), and have bent my ear to tell endless stories about how they did LSD in middle school. I don’t have among my accolades that I play in a band or have Tom Wolfe books on my shelves or that I did LSD in middle school. I can tell you this, though: people who read Slashdot every morning are shitty programmers. I love to read technical stuff. I read RFCs like a motherfucker. I happily read programming books I’ve already read—typically I read the same manual twice in a row to make sure I got it. But I also read the Superficial—I need to know about Lindsay Lohan’s blurry nipplesneed to. (That’s something that impressed me about my last employer—if we were meeting in the conference room while Britney ran over a photographer’s foot, my boss and his partner knew it instantly.) I need Foucault. I need pop psychology. Somehow, in a way that is counterintuitive to most, caring about Lindsay Lohan’s blurry nipples as well as a smattering of other subjects makes me a better engineer than someone whose most endearing conversational gambit is to quote thrust-to-weight ratios from the Nissan website (you know who you are: I love you, but you’re a fucking idiot). People like that can write code, but their code lacks QWAN. It lacks that je ne sais quoi. Those people’s code, and their lives, are like asymptotes: improvable, but with zero hope of ever getting there.

What makes people like that terrible to me is that they will always exclude me from their club. What makes people like me terrible to them is that—while they couldn’t have said it and can’t do anything about it—they know the thing about the asymptote is true. This isn’t a one-sided smackdown: those twin tyrannies (they are fraternal rather than identical twins) are two distinct types of exclusion. One excludes the unusual. The other excludes the usual.

Even if it means I’m unhirable, I’m going to write openly, as I feel like it, and employers who do not like it may fuck themselves. Do you really want to hire people who offer up no offense? The answer for many of you is yes. So many of the “successful” people I have known in corporations over the last decade—not all, but many—are the programmers, managers, and CEOs who offer no offense: the CEO who (as did the CEO of one Fortune 500 company I consulted) hires an outside firm to tell them who to lay off. No offense there: PricewaterhouseCoopers told me to do it. Or the mid-level manager who is liked by all—but who doesn’t actually do anything. You can tell these successful people by this one trait: they never openly disagree with anyone on anything. That is the tactic required to succeed in many of these companies. I call it weak political bullshit. If you disagree with nothing, you are nothing. One of my film school teachers said he would consider a real person to be “someone who someone hates.” At the time he said it I wondered whether based on that criterion I was a real person—and at the time decided that I was not. Since then I’ve racked up a couple of people in that category. When I look at those people and situations, I try to figure out whether it was necessary that those people came to be at odds with me, and me with them. I don’t want to have people hate me unnecessarily! But in the few cases where a long-term offense has stood between me and another, there is a definite pattern: the only people who hate me are the ones who think they can control me. Who think that I existed in their world for their purposes only. Who tried to fit me into their reality picture (to use a phrase I read from Gibson).

When I try to fit you into my reality picture it is wrong. Morally wrong, if anything is morally wrong. I do that, and it is a mistake when I do. I need to be aware of it and stop doing it! And so do you. To the extreme, forcing you into my picture is the agression of murder, and of the vast murder that is war. We do not control each other (and it’s wonderful!).

Can you write a book and a blog at the same time?