Monthly Archives: April 2014

It’s A Small World

A funny thing happened to me yesterday. My girlfriend and I were visiting her parents in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. I was running something back out to the car when who should I run into but one of my professors from grad school. It turns out his in-laws live in the same community. Small world, huh?

There’s more to this story, of course. After all, I can’t just write about an amusing anecdote without some sort of psychological baggage, can I? Well, this wasn’t just any old professor of mine. He’s also the internship coordinator for the entire architecture school. One of his jobs is making sure his students can get their careers going as quickly and easily as possible.

So of course, he asks what I’ve been up to since I’ve graduated.

Seeing as I’m an honest person (and he’s the kind of person that would draw honesty out even if I wasn’t), I tell him. I tell him that I’ve been working retail, keeping the bills paid, but I don’t really have any prospects in the architecture field right now. According to him, however, the market is picking back up. He suggested I contact him, set up an appointment to go over my options and opportunities. I took his card, and said I would indeed follow up.

Why does the universe take such perverse pride in ripping open old wounds?

I’ll admit, I’ve basically written off architecture at this point. Heck, on the bad days I wonder if I’ll ever make it out of retail. I’ve tried to get out, as so far every attempt and interview has failed (obviously, or I’d have moved on). So a large part of me had given up, since there’s only so many times your hopes can be crushed (or slowly eroded) before you move on in an attempt to save what dignity and positivity you have left.

But running into my professor, especially that professor, forced me to reconsider my declaration of defeat. Is there a chance that I can still get a job in architecture, even with my skills as rusty as they’ve become? I’d like to hope so. Is architecture something I still want to do? Well, I’d like it if my $38,000 graduate degree wasn’t a complete waste of time, money, and energy. Am I ready for what’s likely to be, given my previous experience up to this point, round after round of rejection? I don’t know.

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of complicated feels stampeding through my psyche right now. I’m going to meet with my professor, of course. I just need to work up the courage to do so. After all (famous last words), what’s the worst that could happen?


P.S.: Sorry there wasn’t a post yesterday. What with the anniversary party, decompressing after a long week of work, and getting home in time to watch Agents of SHIELD, it was around 8h30 before I realized I had forgotten to write. Oh well. Even if it doesn’t matter to you, reader, consider this an apology to myself. And hey, at least I’m not opening this entry with an apology! That’s an improvement, right?

On Belts and Teachers

Even though I’ve been a martial artist since I was seven years old, I don’t take much time these days to think about the philosophy of martial arts. But a recent article by Syr Gemini called “The Black Belt Myth” got me thinking again. It’s a very interesting read, and while some of the concepts were ones I had come across before, it did help put things back into perspective.

In the article, Syr Gemini addresses the popular culture myth that a black belt is some exalted master worthy of a place amongst the greatest mountaintop sages. But rather, a black belt is someone who has achieved a “basic level of competence.” In my own martial arts experience, we were taught that a black belt is not necessarily a “master,” just a “master of the basics.”

I also appreciated the fact that he addressed the perception as black belts (or knights, or dons, or other “master”-level practitioners) as teachers. While a high rank implies a certain level of competence, it does not in and of itself instill an ability to teach or be understood. Not everyone can teach; some people just can’t break things down into easily-digestible chunks, or be critical in a productive manner while still being encouraging. I do disagree, however, with his sentiment that non-black belts (or squires, or cadets, etc.) should not be teaching. When I was practicing taekwondo, it was common for more advanced students to assist in teaching lower-ranked ones. While a black belt instructor still led the class, this was viewed as a good way to develop leadership skills, as well as gain a better understanding of the curriculum. After all, if you ever want to really make sure you understand something, try teaching it to someone else. I also think that, while not everyone is a natural teacher, most people can bring a unique perspective to things that may make more sense to some students than others.

Like I said, this article really made me think about being a black belt for the first time in a while. I was only 11 years old(!) when I tested for my first degree black belt, and I don’t think I truly understood what that meant. I continued training, and I’d like to think I gained a better understanding of that as time went on. But one thing I haven’t really done is think of knighthood (the SCA’s closest equivalent to a black belt for heavy fighting) in that context.

Knighthood, at least from my perspective from the outside, is an interesting hybrid. Of course you have the martial aspects, which correlate strongly to the black belt’s “mastery of the basics.” But there is also a cultural prestige associated with the award. Knights are viewed as leaders and teachers, upholding the ideals of chivalry and the Society itself.

I guess one thing I’ve struggled with is thinking of knighthood like I do being a black belt, especially as a “master of the basics.” I often feel I’m not “good enough” to be a knight, since there are much better fighters out there than me. After all, if it’s a martial award, shouldn’t a candidate display the proper level of marital prowess? I’ve slipped into the trap of thinking of knighthood (or being a black belt, or don, etc.) as being a “master,” rather than a “master of the basics.” And those are two very different things. Mastery implies that the journey is done, that the accomplishment has been achieved. Mastery of the basics, however, implies that the journey, rather than ending, can finally begin. And that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Paralyzed By Choice

How did I become so busy?

Too often these days, when I have a day off of work, I can’t decide what I want to do. Not because there’s nothing I need to get done, but because there’s so much. Take today, for instance. I need to go grocery shopping. I need to pick up some hardware for a project this weekend. And that’s just the short-term stuff. I have new features I want to implement on the website I take care of. I’m toying with the idea of studying some computer science through one of the free online university offerings. I’ve got a ton of articles bookmarked to read, as well as an overflowing Netflix queue. Oh, and I’ve also got a bunch of video games I’d like to play.

Where does one even start?

This is a recurring problem for me. When faced with a large task (or multitude of tasks), I have a really hard time seeing past the enormity of everything, of breaking it down into manageable chunks. Need to write a 20-page research paper? Then you’re in for a long night, because of course you need to do it all in one sitting. And then on top of that, it’s not the only task you need to do. Inevitably, by choosing one thing to do, you’re neglecting all the other things that are just as important. How can you manage that?

So in addition to the enormity of the task at hand, I am far too aware of the missed opportunities that inevitably result from making a decision. That’s why it’s often easier for me to take the past of least resistance (i.e., playing video games all day in my pajamas) then it is to risk making a mistake.

I imagine the two issues are related somehow. If I could just manage to reign in my view, to focus on whatever the task at hand is, I’d be better off. I wouldn’t have to worry about missing opportunities because at least I’m making progress somewhere, which would in the end let me get closer to achieving all my goals.

But I can’t help it. I can’t help but keep some concept of everything I want/need to do in my head at all times. Sure, I could write it down, I guess. That seemed to help in school, when it came to homework deadlines. But I’ve gotten so out of the habit that “getting organized” has become just one more task on the pile.

If it sounds like I’m venting, I guess I am. But even if I’m feeling annoyed by this personal tendency towards “involuntary big picture thinking,” I’m not letting it get me too down. I’m actually feeling pretty productive today. Case in point: I’m actually writing this entry before it has to post! That’s the first time I’ve managed to do so for more than a week. I’m also feeling like I could actually write another entry for the buffer, or leave the house and get errands run. It’s a fragile feeling of productivity, but I’m going to hold on to it tightly for as long (and as gently) as I can.

But really: how did I become so busy?

Productive Or Happy?

I really need to get my feet back under me when it comes to blogging. The past week or so, I’ve been mostly just writing filler stuff, using so many words to say “I don’t know what to write about.” I’m talking, but I don’t know if I’m saying anything interesting.

But today, oddly enough, I’m okay with that.

I have days where my lack of productivity bothers me. Where I feel the full force of internalized societal expectations. You probably know those voices. They’re the ones that call you a slacker if you sit at your computer all day. That look down their noses at you if you play video games all afternoon in your underwear. That sigh when almost two years later you’re still stuck at your “temporary” retail job. That give you grief for not “doing anything.”

And you know what? Screw those voices.

I’ll admit, I find myself listening to them more often than not. But every once in a while I find a state of mind where those concerns just wash over me. At those times I get the closest to an all-encompassing happiness that I can remember.

I sometimes wonder if my martial arts training, with its emphasis on self-control and perseverance, doesn’t sometimes work against me. Do I really need to be strong and moving forward all the time? Or is it okay every once in a while to just lay back and be a bum enjoy life? That rigor can be great as an ideal, but I’m only human.

And that’s what it boils down to, and what I have such a hard time accepting: I’m only human. I make mistakes. I have limited energy reserves. I can’t do everything.

And that needs to be okay.

I’m not there yet, at least not all the time. It’s a scary thought, admitting you’d rather be happy than “productive,” especially when you’ve been taught that being productive makes you happy. After all, I can write a statement like that, but getting my mind to understand, accept, and grok that is a wholly different challenge. One that I’m not always sure how to tackle.

But I figure enjoying my rare days of clarity is a good place to start.

At Least I’m Writing

I don’t have much to say today. I didn’t do much today. I’m not feeling particularly ranty about anything. I’m not even feeling particularly depressed, which I suppose is a good thing. But that kind of eliminates the easy topics, doesn’t it?

But I’ve made a deal with myself. I have to write a post every weekday, even if it feels like I have nothing to say. Readers of this blog (and those of you who do read regularly, thank you) have probably noticed quite a few entries that have started out as “I don’t know what to write about.” And yet, I ended up writing about something.

So what did I do today? Well, I had the day off work, so I slept in. I even managed to get out of bed. I ate some food to keep myself from getting too hungry. I watched an episode of Eureka. I got around to reading/closing several browser tabs. I read some of the graphic novels I picked up from the library. I spent most of the day in the basement, in front of the television. I completed some quests in Dragon’s Dogma (the fantasy game I’m currently playing). I picked up a bit after the weekend (but not too much). I checked Facebook. I checked Tumblr. I even remembered to write a post.

You may say that it’s easier to just not post than to write some random filler like this. But for me, that completely misses the point. Sure, what I have to say when I feel like this may not be that interesting, but at least I’m writing. I’m following through with a goal (unlike my undergraduate major) that hasn’t turned around to bite me yet (unlike grad school). I’m writing, and that has to count for something.

I’ll admit, there have been days when I haven’t written. But I’ve made sure there was a post for those days, often by dipping into whatever buffer exists. I’m already ahead, I’ve thought, so I can stand to relax a bit. But if I don’t have a buffer, not writing/posting merely because “I don’t feel like it” would be akin to admitting defeat.

I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to get motivated about things. I don’t know if this is recent or a more chronic problem, but it exists. It’s probably tied to my depression, if anything. But rather than having this writing commitment become one more thing to feel guilty about, I’ve largely managed to stay on target. True, I’ve been meaning to re-build my buffer for the past few weeks, and that hasn’t happened. True, when I put off writing I tend to end up with filler posts like this. But at least I’m writing. Even if I don’t have anything to say, at least I’m using a lot of words to do it. Sometimes showing up is all you can manage. But at least you’ve done that.


You know that job application I mentioned yesterday? Yeah, turns out I got myself worked up for nothing. I called the person like they asked, and ended up leaving a voicemail with some generic message service. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I didn’t have to seem calm, confident, and competent. I didn’t have to pace restlessly around the apartment, gesturing with one hand while the other held my phone up to my ear. Instead I left an impression of my spoken words in the care of a soulless machine, hoping that maybe next time I can rise out of the slush pile of applications and actually get somewhere.

So it goes, eh?

But I did notice something interesting. Sure, I spent most of the day thinking about the phone call, working myself up to the point I was almost too nervous to go through with it. Sure, I probably ended up procrastinating a bit despite my best efforts. Sure, leaving a message was a bit anticlimactic. But you know what? It felt so good to actually have something to do, some purpose to fulfill that was outside my normal, day-to-day routine.

I think that relief and rut-breaking effect is tied to why the possibility of an opportunity was also so painful. We humans can get to a point where nearly anything becomes habitual, for good or for ill. In the latter case, it has to be some sort of coping mechanism. It’s like a chronic injury: if you were acutely aware of the pain all the time, 24/7, you’d probably go mad. Instead the body learns to tune out certain stimuli, so you may not notice the issue until something nudges the status quo. You pick up something wrong. Or something makes you consider how less than ideal your job situation is.

Sure, it would be easier to not feel that hope/despair whiplash I talked about yesterday. But it also felt good to have some sort of purpose today. It made me feel alive in a way stocking shelves and coming home too tired to do anything but sit in front of a monitor generally doesn’t.

Am I enjoying this vague feeling of purpose? Of course. But I know that it is fleeting, and will likely fade away, like the other job opportunities I’ve applied to that never panned out. Am I going to fixate on that hope, ensuring the despair is that much more crushing when the offer never comes? Of course not. Or, I’m at least going to try. I’ll instead enjoy what sense of purpose I have at the moment, not thinking about it too hard lest it scurry away or be crushed under the weight of my scrutiny.

But it is good to feel a bit human.

Stupid Hopes And Dreams

I know I’ve probably ranted about this before (I don’t feel like going to find the link), but I hate it when a small glimmer of hope or a slight chance of success paradoxically makes you feel more depressed than usual.

Since I hate vaguebooking, I will elaborate: I got an email today from a job application I put out. It was one of the throwaway ones that I didn’t really expect to hear back from. You know the type: the ones that seem slightly related to your specialty (or at least more so than what you’re currently doing) but aren’t quite as interesting as they could be. Architecture students applying to be CAD monkeys instead of retail workers, to choose a completely random and unrelated-to-my-life example.

There’s not much more to say about it. I got a reply from someone, asking me to contact them tomorrow. No details, no further information, nothing. So I don’t know what to expect. Of course, my imagination has latched on and run with the possibilities, both good and bad. To make things “better,” I got the email while at work, and it shocked me out of the “retail haze” quite effectively, at least for a while. I was excited, obviously, and figured I would spend some time researching the firm this afternoon instead of playing video games and watching Netflix.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

For some reason, that small glimmer of hope perversely reminded me how untenable and un-ideal my current career situation is. It made me face the fact that I really don’t like my job. It reminded me that there’s (of course) so much more I could be doing to improve my situation. It reminded me of all the other glimmers of hope that preceded rejection. It reminded me that nothing I have done to try and climb out of Retail Hell as been successful. It made me feel trapped.

How can such a little bit of hope generate so much despair? It just seems so perverse and backwards. I wish I could find out why and punch it in its metaphorical face. I mean come on: how lame is it to have depression caused by hope? How are you supposed to work with that?

*stomps off*

99% Invisible

Despite having gone to school for architecture, I don’t get many chances to indulge the design skills and passion I paid so much money to hone. For whatever reason, moving products around on retail shelves just doesn’t hold the same cachet. But I recently discovered a podcast that allows me to feel engaged in the world of design, however fleetingly: 99% Invisible.

99% Invisible is an independent radio show/podcast about design. Not just architecture, but about everything that is designed, and how it affects in ways we may not realize. Topics can vary from the importance of reading building plaques to stories about statues that are no longer there; from how engineers reversed the Chicago River to how Warsaw almost-but-not-quite recreated their historic Old Town after World War Two. It potentially covers anything in our world with some designed aspect; that is to say, everything.

The first few episodes are short (under five minutes), but later ones, as the producers become more familiar with the podcast format, can last 15 or even 30 minutes. The wide variety of topics covered keeps things interesting, and the people working on the show obviously love what they do. I get easily annoyed by people having “high concept” conversations where they read too much into simple decisions (it seems like just so much intellectual masturbation to me), but this show manages to be educational without being preachy or out of touch with reality

So if the philosophy of design interests you, or you just want to hear some of the stories behind things we take for granted, I can highly recommend this podcast. The one piece of criticism I would offer is that it’s discouraging to listen to intelligent discourse about design while stocking shelves and moving pallets, but that’s likely a personal problem. It just throws the contrast into too sharp of a relief to be comfortable.

Sorry, didn’t mean to be a downer, there. 99% Invisible: check it out. It’s fun and educational!

Freeing Realizations

Last week, I talked about how I thought knowing the cause of certain emotions could help me work through them. This week, I was given an example of how this actually does work. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it’s definitely something I’ll have to keep in mind for the future.

The past few days at work, I had been having real problems with depression. For whatever reason, the menial, early-morning labor seemed even more soul-crushing than usual. I was worried that I would fall into a Funk that would completely destroy my drive and productivity for the rest of the week. And I really didn’t need that right now. Well, not that I ever really need it, but you know what I mean.

So I was all but resigned to my slide into a Funk when I stopped and asked myself: “Why?” Why was I feeling so out of it? Were there instances of any of the triggers I’ve discovered? Was it from brooding too much? I hadn’t really been thinking on things too much, so probably not. Was it fatigue and lack of sleep?


Well, I had gotten to sleep pretty late the past couple nights. One of the downsides to having to wake up at 4am is it’s really easy to stay up too late, especially when you’re naturally inclined to be a night owl. Going to bed at 9pm? You’d better be asleep in a few minutes if you don’t want to be screwed for the rest of the work week. Decide to read a few pages before going to sleep? Watch out, or the next thing you know it might be 10h30, and then you’re doomed!

Once I realized what had happened, I found my black mood lifting slightly. I could put a name (and thus a source) to my feelings. I wasn’t really depressed, I was just exhausted. True, this realization didn’t make me feel any more awake, but it did let me salvage what enjoyment I could out of the work day. I also realized that for me, depression and fatigue are two separate emotional states. True, they often overlap, and the latter can quite often trigger the former. But just because I’m tired doesn’t automatically mean that I’ll be depressed. The two states feel similar, don’t get me wrong. But they are not the same.

What else did I learn? Well, besides the joy caused by avoiding a Funk, I got even more evidence that my depression is not necessarily tied to events or emotional states. It is irrational, and while it can be triggered, there are probably times when it is not. I guess that’s what I was trying to get at when I referred to it as Other. As a result, I shouldn’t feel bad when depression does blindside me; it’s not necessarily my “fault” or something I did that triggered it.

Identifying triggers to accept the lack of them? Convoluted, but I’ll take it.


Leftovers and I have an interesting relationship. As I write this, I have the remains of an omelet and hash browns from this weekend reheating in the oven. Believe it or not, this is a surprisingly quick turnaround for me. Far too often I leave leftovers until they leave the window of viability (heh).

As a kid, I was a very picky eater. I had a small number of meals I enjoyed (like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) as often as I could (every day for lunch in elementary school). Heck, I didn’t even like pizza until I finally saw the light during a trip to England!

Even today, For the most part I don’t get overly bored with my food choices. I have a sandwich for lunch. Some sort of chicken dish for dinner. And occasionally I’ll even eat out.

But if I end up with leftovers, either through not finishing at a restaurant or cooking more servings than I need at the time (cooking for one was hard, alright?), I tend to let them sit. For some reason, the break in my routine requires a step back to the usual before the unusual can be truly appreciated. For instance: if I make myself spaghetti one night, I won’t want the leftovers the next night. I can have the same style sandwich for lunch every day of the week, but spaghetti two nights in a row? Blasphemy!

So I’ll wait. I’ll put the leftovers in the fridge until they sound appetizing again. But far too often I’ll forget about them. Days, weeks, sometimes even months (embarrassingly enough) can pass before I think about my leftovers again. Even worse, if it’s something someone else has cooked or bought for me, I’ll feel guilty about letting it go to waste. This results in me looking away in shame every time I see the container in the fridge. And I’ll be seeing it quite often, since I often don’t have the heart to throw the food away until it’s well past its prime.

Did you know there are different colors of fuzz on old food? Green, white, and even black!

I don’t know why I treat leftovers like this, but it amuses me nonetheless. Maybe I want to hold on to my enjoyment of something ephemeral as long as possible? I did the same thing with Halloween candy as a kid, often having a leftover stash by the time the next year’s holiday rolled around. Either way, I’ve probably wasted more food than I’d like to admit just because I wanted to save it for some “special time.”

I’m hungry.