Monthly Archives: April 2014

Data Maintenance Complete, Buffering Personality…

I’m not exactly what you’d call a “neat” person. My office seems to exist in a perpetual state of low-grade clutter, much to the chagrin (I’m sure) of my parents. Luckily my girlfriend and I are largely compatible on that front. But every once in a while, I’ll get the urge to clean an organize. Now, picking up the apartment, or even my office, requires effort, both temporal and physical. Organizing my digital life, however, is much more sedentary and intellectually stimulating.

It’s an odd dichotomy: the surface of my desk can be cluttered to the point that I can barely see the fake wood veneer of its surface, while my computer desktop is pristine, populated by only the most essential shortcuts and information widgets. You may wonder if I have my priorities straight, but I think I do. The virtual world, where I spend the majority of my time while at the desk, is easy to navigate and well-ordered.

This tidiness is reflected (I like to think) in my data structuring as well. For instance: while in grad school, I had a separate folder for each class, housed in a folder for each semester. Within each class folder were other folders for essays, drawings, pictures, et cetera. What you may call anal-retentive, I call basic good practice.

Why do I bring this up? Well, over the past few days I’ve been in one of my organizing moods, and have decided to tackle the goal of organizing and tagging my growing ebook collection. Largely without realizing it, I’ve managed to amass quite a digital library. Most of these acquisitions have been through various bundles (Humble, Story, and Vodo, for example), while a few have been through the fortuitous packaging of bonus CDs with library books (like the Honor Harrington series) or other sources (Cory Doctorow releases a lot of his writings for free, to say nothing of Project Gutenberg).

I’ve been using Calibre, a free/open source program, to organize my collection. It’s a pretty neat program. While most times I can just import the ebook file and be done with it, I often have to add tags that make sense to me, and sometimes have to reformat the publication metadata (author, title, etc.) manually. When properly set up, it allows me to sort between fiction and nonfiction, view series in chronological order, and even sync them to my Nexus 7 tablet for reading on the go.

Of course, all this data wizardry isn’t without its consequences.

While I didn’t spend the entire day at my computer, the afternoon has left me feeling a bit fried and out of it. One can only spend so much time in the digital realm before the physical one starts to fit oddly. I’ll step away in a bit, attempt to re-integrate myself into meatspace before my girlfriend gets home. But right now I’m having fun cleaning up my ephemeral, virtual goods.

Maybe sometime soon I’ll do the same for my browser bookmarks. I could lose entire days!

Bad ADD Day And OOO SHINY BUNDLES!

So today kinda got away from me. I was planning to write a post about pets I’ve had (full disclosure: I’ve been looking at pics of cute dogs, and it’s making me want one), but I’m going to take the easy way out and write about whatever. My brain is fried, I have a headache, and it’s only Monday. It’s going to be a great week!

I got home from work and decided that rather than feeling guilty about not wanting to do anything, I’d just give in to the inevitable and watch an episode of Eureka before I tried to do anything productive. That part of the plan went off without a hitch. Where it derailed (yay, mixing metaphors!) is when I went upstairs and sat down at my computer. I decided to check my email, maybe Facebook and Tumblr, drop my girlfriend an IM, then get to writing.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Before I knew it, it was 4h30 and I was thoroughly zoned out. Browser tabs were popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. My computer was slowing down under the crushing weight of Firefox and processing/unzipping some bundles I picked up.

Oh yeah, I spent money today! There’s been two media bundles I’ve had my eye on, from Story Bundle and Vodo, and today I decided to say “Screw it!” and purchased both. Sure, they were both a little bit of an impulse buy; I didn’t exactly need any of the books/games/movies/music present (did that sound like the Borders tagline, or is it just me?). But the selection looked interesting enough, and I’m trying to feel less guilty about spending money on myself. The best way to do that? Frivolous cash tossing!

Also, I might be having a bad ADD day. Can you tell?

But back to the bundles, since that seems to be what this blog post has become about. There’s some cool stuff in that Vodo bundle; Ghosts With Shit Jobs looks especially interesting (China, ascendant after the West’s financial collapse, uses us as a menial labor pool. Irony!), as do the Surrogates graphic novels (remember that movie with Bruce Willis?).

Anyway, that aforementioned headache is bothering me again. I’m guessing it’s from staring at tiny things on a bright screen for too long. You know how that goes, right. I probably need to update my glasses prescription, but that sounds like work.

I Want To Know

Like everyone else, I have a lot of habits. I have foods that I like and eat regularly (mmm, Nutella…). I have social activities that I participate in weekly, like SCA practices and hanging out with my friends to watch bad movies on Friday nights. I read a lot. I tend to wake up and go to bed at the same time (work notwithstanding), at which point I sleep on my usual side of the bed.

Some habits are good, like the aforementioned weekly practices; it gets me out of the house, as well as keeps me active. Some habits are inconsequential, like my tendency to give my towel a quick flick as I get out of the shower. Or the way I fold my legs up under me when sitting in a chair. And, of course, some habits are bad. Like my tendency to check email/Facebook/Tumblr whenever I sit down at my computer, no matter what I was originally intending to do. Or my tendency to brood and over-think my decisions or emotional state.

A lot of the time, I can account for these habits, appending a “why” on to the “what.” Take the towel example I mentioned earlier: my bedroom and bathroom at my parents’ house was in the basement. It was fully finished, but the occasional spider still found its way in to make itself nice and cozy in whatever dark crevice it could find, hanging bath towels included. But what really bothers me are the habits, especially the mental ones, that I can’t account for. Like brooding. Or beating myself up for needing downtime. Or feeling like I’m not “living up to my potential.”

Where did these come from? It really bothers me that I don’t know. Is it something I picked up from my parents? From the culture at large? Or did these habits and beliefs somehow develop spontaneously within my own psyche? And if the latter, how?

I guess the reason it bothers me is because of my belief that if I can just find the root cause, I’ll be well on my way to being able to exorcise (or at least account for) these bad mental habits. After all, everything needs a reason to happen, right?

Right?

I’ll admit that this belief might be a touch irrational, but it’s still there. I guess it’s a way of holding on to a sliver of hope that there might be a logical way past my own irrationalities. But mostly, I just succumb to the bad habit of having one more thing to feel guilty about.

And I’m getting sick of that. True, I have trouble accepting a simple “because” as an answer. But even given the grief it causes me I’m not likely to stop analyzing myself any time soon. I guess I’ll just have to figure out some way to live with it.

But it really does bother me, not knowing why.

Not Yet Good, But Better

Another off day today. But luckily, not as off as yesterday, I think.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night, which has definitely contributed to my mood (or lack thereof) today. I got home from fighter practice last night and just couldn’t fall asleep until around 10h30. Back before I started working retail, this wouldn’t have been a big issue. But now that I have to be out of bed at 4am, every little bit of shut-eye counts that much more.

As you can likely imagine, the lack of sleep, when combined with my current wave of depression (let’s just call the Funk what it is), hasn’t exactly left me feeling very motivated or productive. But unlike yesterday, I decided to just own that feeling. I didn’t set any goals about what I wanted to accomplish (aside from writing a blog post, but even that didn’t get a hard, scheduled time), and I seem to be feeling better for it.

So what did I accomplish with my expectations at rock bottom? Well, I watched a couple episodes of Eureka on Netflix without feeling like I should be doing something else. I even sorted a good portion of my MP3 collection, discovering tracks I didn’t even know I had. I’m writing a blog post now, and after I’m done I’ll probably go play Dragon’s Dogma for a while until it’s time to go to fencing practice. Unless I change my mind. Which I might.

It’s been an illustrative experience for me, not resisting or feeling guilty about my depression. Rather than beating myself up over what I “should” be doing, I spent the day doing what I wanted to do, what I felt I needed for my peace of mind. It’s truly been a mental health day.

That’s not to say that the internalized drive to Be Productive And Do Something has been completely silenced; I’ve just managed to ignore it for a bit. And while I may freak out about it later, right now I feel pretty good. After all, if a cute dinosaur says it, it must be true, right?

via pleasestopbeingsad.tumblr.com

via pleasestopbeingsad.tumblr.com

Can I Take A Mulligan?

I’m just not feeling it today.

I’ve had the day off work, but I just can’t seem to work up the motivation to do much of anything. Generally, I try to use my days off to catch up on things. Run errands, rebuild my blogging buffer, do laundry/dishes, etc. But for some reason today has been a non-starter. I mean come on: I’m even getting bored with the video games I’m supposedly using to pass the time!

Intellectually, I know that not everyone can be productive and positive all the time. But it’s still a rude awakening when I find myself in that place. And knowing something intellectually definitely isn’t the same as actually understanding and accepting it.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I think of myself as an “underachieving overachiever.” What does that mean? Well, I’ve spent some time in the past (up through high school, really) being an overachiever. I dedicated myself to my studies, did any extra credit I could get my hands on, and was generally very productive. Now, not so much. So I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting my potential when I don’t have anything to do.

I know this isn’t necessarily rational. But for whatever reason I feel guilty when I’m not “doing anything.” Even if what I need most is a mental health day. I’m sure my unreliable work schedule doesn’t help matters either; my days off always change, and I still think of Saturday and Sunday as the “weekend,” meaning that if I have a weekday off (like today) it somehow feels like I wasted it even if I treat it like what it is: a day to do nothing. And if I don’t treat it like a day off, then I find myself running out of spoons by the time I get to the weekend, when I generally have to work. It’s like I can’t win.

So like I said, I’m just not feeling it today. Maybe later I could get some good navel-gazing and self-psychoanalysis out of it, but not right now. I’m still going to go to fighter practice tonight; hopefully that will cheer me up. But for now I think I’m just going to walk past the dirty dishes in the sink and sit like a lump in front of the television.

If I can peel myself away from Tumblr and Cracked in the first place, that is.

Winter Soldier: Food For Thought

So I got the chance to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier over the weekend. Long story short, it was awesome. Great character banter, great action, and HUGE changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It got me thinking on a few things, which I’d like to talk about today. Obviously that means spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, and you’ve been keeping up with the MCU, you should definitely do so before reading further.

I repeat: SPOILERS AHEAD.

SPOILERS.

AHEAD.

Continue reading

Writing Up With The Joneses

Let’s get meta and blog about blogging for a bit, alright? It’s either that, or we start talking about Winter Soldier spoilers (protip: GO SEE IT).

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m not writing as much as I could. Most of my posts seem to run about 500 words, and sometimes that just doesn’t feel like enough to do a subject justice. In fact, on larger topics, I’ve been breaking up my commentary into multiple posts. And I have to wonder: is this amount too little? Am I hamstringing myself, making it difficult to get truly in-depth on any one thing? Do I need to force myself to write more?

These are the sorts of thoughts that often eat away at me from inside my mind. After all, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have something to worry and feel guilty about.

But whereas musings of inadequacy like this could turn into brooding, I realized something. I am writing a lot. I’m writing about 500 words a day. You know what else works out to be about 500 words? The standard 5-paragraph essay they had us do in school. So I’m basically writing an essay a day, something I didn’t do even when I was in college.

By my standards back then, that’s a lot of writing. Sure, I may not be writing a painstakingly-researched exposé every day like I see on big news blogs. But they’re getting paid to do that; I am not. They likely have a team of writers and researchers; I am but one person. They have readership numbers in the thousands; I have a handful.

But still I write. And while I admit it would be nice to have a ton of readers, writing was the original purpose behind this blog. I need to remember that. I also need to remember that denigrating one’s own accomplishments just because they don’t match up in scope to someone else’s is unfair. Making a slight bit of progress and throwing it away because it’s not a large amount of progress is not cool. Heck, a lot of “big name” writers out there probably got their start similarly, toiling away in anonymity. By definition we (the public) tend to only see someone who has already put in the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears before they even got to their current place. It’s not fair to compare your own first draft to someone else’s published, illuminated manuscript.

So what have I done? Well, rather than feel inadequate given my written output, I’ve decided to say “screw that noise” and look what I’ve already been able to accomplish so far. I have a blog! It’s regularly updated! I write every day! Sure, the entries may be short, but it’s a format that comes quickly and easily to me. And I’m writing more than I was when I started this blog, maybe even throughout most of my schooling career. In other words, I’m already awesome.

Boo-yah.

St. John’s What?

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. Everything in this entry should be treated as anecdotal evidence, although it seems to be working for me. Believe it or not, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

So what sorts of things have I been doing to combat depression? Well, I haven’t exactly been sitting idle, let me tell you (although sometimes I get dragged down more than I’d like to admit). The most public one, of course, is my writing. Putting my thoughts out there lets me avoid brooding on them over and over in the privacy of my own mind. But for the past few months, I’ve also been taking St. John’s Wort.

Now, I’ll admit to being skeptical, both of homeopathic remedies and traditional medication. I briefly tried Adderall in college for my ADD, but decided the side effects (e.g., practically falling asleep at the wheel as it wore of by 4pm) were too much to deal with. I’ll also admit to an internalized reservation about medications taken regularly, especially for mental issues, since there’s a huge cultural narrative that by doing so someone has “failed.” And homeopathy? Well, in the interest of full disclosure I did go through a phase where I bought into it, but now the idea that diluting something somehow makes it stronger (even to the point where there’s most likely no molecules of the original substance left) seems untenable.

That being said, there are of course “natural” remedies that have merit. Aspirin, for instance. Or Arnica. So I did some research, and apparently St. John’s Wort is actually prescribed in parts of the world to to treat mild depression. One of my friends had been using it, and had seemed to have some luck. So I thought “Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” and decided to try it myself.

And having done so for several months at this point, I can safely say that I have noticed a difference. Not a huge one, of course; Prozac doesn’t exactly grow on trees and get ground up into herbal remedies. But I did notice that even if it didn’t stop me from getting low/depressed, taking St. Johns Wort seemed to lessen the depth of that despair. The Funks became shallower, more manageable. This was especially helpful since I’ve been getting up so early for work, and fatigue seems to be one of my triggers. So I’d take one capsule in the morning, and while I may still not do anything “productive” when I got home, at least I wasn’t lethargic and overcome with malaise. Just tired. And tired I can deal with. And I can definitely notice (sometimes too late, unfortunately) when I’ve forgotten to take a dose.

So there you have it. So far one capsule a day of St. John’s Wort seems to be working pretty well for me. Obviously, your mileage may vary, and you should consult an actual medical professional for qualified answers about treatment. Even though it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s inert; arsenic is natural, after all. But if you’re having issues with what you think might be mild depression, I can suggest trying St. John’s Wort, since it seems to be helping me.

Rejecting The Other

I really don’t know what to write about today.

For a while, I was doing pretty well. I had a couple days’ worth of buffer posts, and I was writing regularly, sometimes even adding to my buffer. But then last week, something shifted. I found myself more easily distracted than usual. I found my motivation draining as soon as I sat down in front of my keyboard. Hours passed, where I did nothing but refresh Facebook and Tumblr, while alternately throwing myself into reflex-intensive video games. Days when I didn’t have to work passed in a blur; I know I did something during the day, but I’d be really hard pressed to describe what that was.

But I didn’t feel overly depressed, just under-motivated. I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t feel like reading. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything. Then, I realized that I was probably in a Funk. A shallow one, but a Funk nonetheless. The past few days of cloudy, gloomy weather certainly haven’t helped, nor has my lack of sleep over the past few nights.

Of course, knowing I’m in a Funk, while it does remind me to not take my thoughts too seriously, doesn’t seem to do much to get me out of it any quicker.

That’s been one of the tougher things for me to come to terms with: that depression doesn’t necessarily have any logical motivator or obvious trigger. There are times when it seems completely out of my control. Sure, I can try to avoid setting myself up for a Funk, but it’s kinda hard to get a good night’s sleep when you brain just won’t turn off even though it’s 10pm and your alarm is going to go off in six hours. It’s hard to get enough sun when the day is overcast and there’s several inches of wet spring snow on top of everything. Oh, and concentration? Guess what else is exacerbated by fatigue? Can you say ADD? I knew you could!

One thing that does help me remember that depression lies is thinking of depression as some Other, as something outside my control that deigns to envelop me in its inky black tendrils. And if it’s outside my control, I shouldn’t beat myself up when it takes hold. Whether it’s subconscious guilt bubbling to the surface or my very neurochemistry betraying me, that darkness that drags me down is not me. It is Other. And because it is Other, it can be fought.

Writing helps. A disturbing amount, actually. In fact, just this week I sat down to write when feeling especially directionless and unmotivated. But I wrote anyway, not even about how I was feeling, and I felt better. The very thing that depression was trying to keep me from doing helped banish it (at least for a little bit). In fact, you may even be able to see my mood lightening as this blog entry goes on. I’m sure there’s a lesson there, but let’s leave it as an exercise to the reader.

Depression is Other. It is not you. It lies. And even though it may knock you around, score a few points, you can fight it. With whatever tools at your disposal.

I know I’m building up my arsenal.

Proselytizing vs. Consent

Sorry for the late post.  Technical difficulties conspired to compound my procrastination today, and I burned up most of my buffer during a shallow Funk.  Better late than never, though.  Hope your ready for a relatively heavy topic…

I was having a conversation online recently about religion (not the brightest idea, I know), when the subject of proselytizing came up. Specifically, why so many evangelical Christians (the denomination in question during this conversation) seem to persist even when politely (or not-so-politely) told “no thank you.”

This video by Penn Jillette was brought up as an example of why. In it, Jillette talks about how he has to respect Christians that persist in their proselytizing, since according to their worldview, they would be condemning a nonbeliever to a fate worse than death if they didn’t do their utmost to “save” them. After all, if they truly believe that non-Christians are going to Hell, it would be criminally negligent of them to not try and do something about it.

I can see where Jillette is coming from: that sort of sincerity, no matter how misguided, has to garner at least some level of respect. However, the more I thought about this issue, the less comfortable I became with that answer. Doubly so when I thought about unwanted, persistent proselytizing in terms of consent.

I realized that, by encouraging people to proselytize even when asked not to, we are also encouraging them to not take “no” for an answer. We are implying that the proselytizer knows better how to run another individual’s life than that individual. We are telling people that their opinions don’t matter, that they are wrong. That all they need to do is give up control and everything will be better.

Do you see where that starts to sound scary?

After all, religious instruction often starts at a very, very young age. As such, the core tenets of a given religion can form huge cornerstones of a person’s personality. If they’re taught to not take “no” for an answer when proselytizing, then how much of a stretch is it to think that they won’t take “no” for an answer in other aspects of their lives? Like jobs? Or politics? Or relationships?

Now, I’m not saying that following a religion that enshrines proselytizing automatically turns someone into a rapist (although if I wanted to be uncouth, I could mention that the Catholic clergy has a lot to answer for these days). That would be an unfair over-generalization. But it’s pretty clear that we have consent issues in our modern society, and I can’t help but wonder if this religious prerogative isn’t in some way contributing to that.