Quoted for Truth

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

— John Steinbeck

(Actually, I’d say it’s true more of the middle class in America than the poor. Unfortunately, a lot of the middle class in the U.S. these days are living below the poverty line or (as is my case) living paycheck to paycheck, which sides us more with the poor than with the upper classes.)

Ad Astra per Aspera

I generally think of myself as an optimist. Yes, there’s a lot of bad in the world. Yes, a lot of people do terrible things out of fear, anger, uncertainty, selfishness. But I believe humans are capable of so much greatness. I look up at the night sky and think we are capable of moving out into the stars. And I don’t only think we’re capable of doing it, I think it’s imperative that we do.

I’d write about why I think it’s so important, but honestly, Christopher Quarry has already said so in ways that are at least as good as I would (and probably better). So go read “To infinity and beyond” right now. Join Christopher and me in asking “What next?” instead of “What now?”. Let’s move forward. Ever forward.

42

I’m 42 years old now. (Edit: As of this past December.) This morning, I realized…

  • I can finally grow some decent facial hair (if I wanted to, but I don’t);
  • I’m learning to deal with the death of a parent;
  • I’m finally learning how to handle my money and pay down my debts;
  • I’m learning how to deal with my anxiety and depression in a constructive way.

I don’t know if 42 really is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” but it’s turning out to be a very significant number to me.

A Taxing Experience (I R Serious!)

I tell myself this every year, but I’m publicly swearing this now: next year, I’m doing my taxes as early as possible. The stress of doing my taxes is far less than the anxiety I give myself by putting it off until the past minute.

(This could be said about a lot of other things, too. The anxiety caused by putting things off is much greater than the stress of actually doing them.)

Meaning in a Meaningless World

We had a memorial service for my dad this afternoon. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to talk about. Although we had a complicated relationship and I still have some unresolved feelings over things my dad did, I have a lot of good memories of him, and keeping my talk down to a few minutes seemed a bit daunting. But I figured out my focus and talked about my dad’s whimsy, his sense of the absurd, his goofiness, his jokes like, “One man’s fish is another man’s poisson,” the silly songs he made up and the silly walks he would do in public just to get a laugh from the people around him.

My father was a huge Albert Camus fanboy. Camus’ existentialist absurdism infuenced my dad’s sense of humor and my dad’s sense of personal and political activism, which in turn influenced my own sense of humor and sense of personal and political activism. To help illustrate this at the service, I quoted from the TV show Angel, which my dad and I were both fans of. I pasted together these lines Angel speaks in the episode “Epiphany”:

In the greater scheme, in the big picture, nothing we do matters. There’s no grand plan, no big win…If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if…nothing we do matters…then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today…All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

I don’t think there’s any great meaning to the universe, certainly not anything we humans can comprehend. I don’t believe the cosmos or any deities reward us when we do good things or punish us when we do bad. So why do good? Why help those in need? Why try to ease the suffering of others? Because our actions create the meaning of the universe. Because we can’t get through our tiny lives alone. And because the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

My father’s physical form is gone, but the meaning he created in his life lives on in me, my brother, our children, and the rest of my dad’s family and friends. The absurdity of life goes on.

Let’s not beat around the bush; I love life — that’s my real weakness. I love it so much that I am incapable of imagining what is not life.
— Albert Camus

Written on the Skin

Recently at work, my team took a Myers-Briggs assessment and had a meeting with a county HR employee to talk about what the MBTI means and how we can use our individual results to work better as a team. I was not at all surprised to see that the assessment showed me to be an ENFP. I always get that result when I take the MBTI. One coworker said to me, “You’re the quintessential ENFP.” But I was interested to see that while I’m usually a borderline Extrovert/Introvert, leaning slightly towards the Extrovert side, this time I came out as a strong Extrovert. I realized that I’d answered the questions based on my better understanding of how I’m an extrovert.

It’s not that I’m always the life of the party. It’s not that I’ll talk to completely strangers at the drop of a hat. It’s not that I never need time alone. Fact is, I’m sometimes very uncomfortable at social gatherings and feel nervous about engaging in conversations. Not only am I sometimes afraid to talk to strangers, I get nervous calling good friends on the phone. And I do sometimes need time alone, to think and dream and read and decompress. I’m an extrovert, but I’m a shy extrovert with social anxiety issues.

But after living alone for two years, I’ve realized that I hate living alone. Being the only person in the house frequently leaves me feeling restless, bored, lonely, and listless. It’s not that I can’t have fun on my own, it’s just that too much time alone drives me bonkers. I feel the need to be around people, even if it’s no one I know, even if I’m not going to talk to anyone. I sleep better if I can hear other people, whether it’s another person in bed breathing or people in another room talking. (This is a big reason why I would fall asleep in front of the TV when I lived alone. It was easier to fall asleep to the sound of people talking than surrounded by silence.)

Anyone who’s spent any time around me knows that I talk a lot. But that’s not what makes me an extrovert. It’s more that I share so much of my internal self. I’m really damn open about my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams, my half-baked ideas, my fears and anxieties. I’m open about this stuff in person and online. I realized recently that this is because it doesn’t seem real to me unless I share it with other people. If I write about things in a journal, it doesn’t really do anything for me. I need to talk about things with other people, get their feedback, bask in their approval or brave their scorn. I need that external validation. I wear my heart on my sleeve and share my personal feelings with friends and strangers alike because keeping things internal makes me uncomfortable and leaves everything feeling unresolved.

So this is me. Shy, afraid of rejection, anxious about being laughed at or derided, awkward and clumsy, but in furious need of social interaction and the company of friends and strangers.

My Family’s Red Spring

Last night was the first night of Passover. Tomorrow is Easter. In honor of both holidays, and in memory of my father, I’m going to share one of my favorites of my dad’s stories. Here it is:

Once, when I was about six or seven, I asked Mama, my grandmother, about Passover. So. Mama’s Passover story: there were Jews in Egypt. Their working conditions as brickmakers were terrible, so they sent the union strike committee to see Pharaoh, the Egyptian boss. One of their organizers, Moishe, ein groise starker [a big toughguy], made an enormous tsimel [a noise] and said “If the brickmakers get a fair deal, you’ll get seven prizes. If not, you’ll have a ganz’ tsoris [big trouble]: seven strikes.” To which Papa, my grandfather, added sotto voce to me (but loudly enough for Mama to hear), “Moishe zug’ tzu die Mitzracher, ‘Shtup es in toches!‘” [Moses said to the Egyptian, ‘Up yours!’] At which point Mama (in front of whom nobody used such language) yelled at him, he winked at me, and my Passover education was complete. At school, and from my Swedish friend Leonart, I heard about “The Tomb at Easter.” At first I thought it must be Moses in the tomb. Then I figured out that at Easter it wasn’t Moses but Lenin who was in The Tomb. When I was eight, I learned it wasn’t Lenin, either. Leonart explained that it was the guy nailed on the cross which was hanging on the wall over our friend Fredo’s bed. Our family holiday was May Day: Workers’ Easter, Workers’ Passover.