Monday, October 29, 2007

About which I really know nothing...

I’ve worked with a number of people who make it a point to change their voicemail every day.

Hi, this is Tom’s voicemail for Wednesday, October 12th. Today I’ll be in the office all day. If you’ve reached this recording, I’m on another call or away from the phone. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

To me, this seems like a huge waste of time, unless you’re in an occupation (ie, sales) where you want every caller feel certain they’re going to get a call back the same day.

For everyone else, why take on that overhead? You know people that meticulous are going to be perfectionists about their voice message, too, and take eleven tries to get it just right.

Besides, I’ve listened to an awful lot of out-of-date daily voicemails that make me think maybe the person had died or been in an awful car accident and was now in a coma in a small out-of-the-way hospital with the staff desperately trying to locate next-of-kin so they can harvest his organs. Or something.

I’m really not sure what the point of this post was, but the I’m pretty sure the idea was better in the planning than in the execution.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On the assumption that the minutiae of my life are of interest to other people…

Camila and I are having a hard time staying broken up. I can’t be with her every other week like I used to, but neither one of us wants to let go, so I see her whenever I can. Don’t know what will happen to us, but until it does we’re just being glad for the days we have together.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Good people annoy me

Phoenix -> Seattle flight. Some laptop battery left. Now you will pay the price, which is my writing another long and complicated but poorly-thought-out blog post.

One of the most annoying bumper stickers I see is the one that says

If you aren’t completely appalled, then you aren’t paying attention.

Admittedly, there’s a point to be made about complacency. “Things are peachy for me” doesn’t mean things are great for everyone. It’s good to think about whether we have a responsibility to other human beings, and what that may move us to do.

But the other messages of that bumper sticker are:
a) I’m in the know and you are not. I am clued-in, aware, and wise. I pay attention while you are oblivious.
b) I am more socially conscious, and a better person, than you are.
c) I judge the world by my standards and I find it wanting. I know what should be happening in the world. I know what bad things other people do, and what they should be doing that they’re not.
d) You are wrong for not having the correct reaction to the fact that other people not meeting my standard.
I’m sure people who buy this bumper sticker have honestly-held convictions about moral issues. But I also think they’re unconsciously moved to buy it because it sets them up in the position of being In The Know, and grants them the moral high ground, and they’re completely unaware of that motivation.

Now, it’s normal to judge. It’s normal to have a standard, and priorities, and to argue for them. In writing this blog post, I am judging the people who wrote/display that bumper sticker.

But the difference is that the sticker is so general – it doesn’t address any particular issue; it doesn’t provide for the complexity of real life, for the possibility of someone else having a different view or different priorities or a different idea of the best solution.

It not only says “I know what is best for everyone”, it says that other people are wrong for how they *react* to the fact that folks aren’t toeing my line.

Most important of all, the world is full of appalling things. It has been since… always. Not to be a Negative Nelly here, campers, but golly gee whiz – does anyone *not* realize that right now as you are reading this, someone is being tortured. Someone is dying alone and in great pain. Someone is losing their beloved child or parent or partner to war, hunger, fire, or a wasting disease. Children are being raped and brutalized and maltreated in a hundred ways. People are lonely, hungry, hurting. Everyone who lives eventually dies, and 99.9% of them don’t want to. Most things that live in the forest get eaten by other things, and as often as not the process starts while dinner is still alive. Life is full of hurt, and loss, and brutality and injustice.

For any thinking person, just living requires that one accept and deal with that fact in some way.

Some people pretend it’s not happening. Some people dull their senses and fill their time with potato chips and Jerry Springer. Most of us make a conscious decision to think about bad things in a measure proportional to our ability to do something about them right now; we make a deliberate decision to enjoy the hell out of all the things that are great about life, because nobody’s promised us tomorrow and even our next breath isn’t guaranteed. We learn to accept the good that life offers us, and try not to allow the bad to cripple us and take away our joy at being alive.

And we do what we can to make things better for the people around us, to leave the world better for our presence. We do this in whatever measure allows us to live at peace with our consciences. This is an extremely personal decision, and not one that someone should sit in judgment about with a preachy sticker.

So, bumper sticker person, sorry if I’m not wringing my hands and jumping up and down about whatever you’ve got your knickers in a twist about today, and which you feel you’ve got the inside scoop on. It seems to me that if [insert your pet political issue here] appears uniquely or exceptionally appalling to you, then *you* are the one who’s ignorant of history and oblivious to the state of the world and the nature of existence. And that’s why I find your bumper sticker annoying.

Alternative ending:
Or maybe it's just that the sticker highlights my privileged life, good health, children, etc, and I feel guilty that I don't live a life of political activism and doing more for other people. It could be that, too.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

And now for something completely different...

Thanks to Erik, the One Semester of Spanish Love Song...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I belong

Held over in the Las Vegas airport. Just don’t have the energy to work like I should be doing, so maybe a little bloggage...

I’ve mentioned (ie, rambled on and on about) this before, but today the voices say to talk more about a basic human motivation: the need to belong.

We used to need a tribe to survive. To protect us from starvation, other tribes, wild turtles, whatever.

We don’t necessarily need the tribe any more – in our society one may survive without meaningful connections to other people, or else people like Gloria Allred and Dick Cheney and Nancy Grace would die because everyone hates them.

But at an instinctive level we still want the protection of the clan.

Even more important, we desperately need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It distances us from the reality of our own insignificance, it gives our lives more meaning, it makes things matter more.

Have you ever considered how much we do can be tied back at least in some measure to a need for membership, a need to identify with a group, an idea, a cause?

Consider the following things, and how much the idea of membership underlies our actions related to each issue. Of course there are always other factors, but I believe that Belonging is a significant influence in every case.

Family loyalty
Often if our family sucks* we stick with them anyway. Sometimes this is because we need them, but more often it’s about identity and belonging.
Adopted children search for their birth parents. Feeling part of a family, a lineage, a tradition is powerful. And no matter how much we love our adopted parents and they us, as irrational as it is, we want to know what we’re a part of by birthright; we want as much framework as possible within which to exist.

Patriotism is often irrational in the extreme. Everyone thinks their country is the best country. They can’t all be right, of course, but consider what we get out of that: belonging, membership in something good. So we’re gung-ho to defend our country with all its warts, even if it’s the most wart-filled, war-torn, starving, and corruption-riddled state ever. We’re highly invested in our national membership, in Belonging – what we belong *to* is secondary.

How we dress is often about membership (Goths, anyone?); group identity often influences how we dress even more than utility does, which speaks volumes to me about the power of the membership concept.

Brand loyalty
Chevy vs Ford, Mac vs PC, Democrat vs Republican, wine, pizza, electronics, whatever.

Certainly religion has more behind it than merely identity; but whatever else it does, religion gives us an extremely powerful sense of belonging, of membership.

Bumper stickers
Some are simply humor or political activism, but a huge percentage are a statement of membership, of identity.

What is sports fandom about? First, about making things matter: unless I’m betting the groceries, whether the Seattle Seahawks win or not has virtually zero effect on my life, but if I go to a game it’s 10 times as enjoyable to yell myself hoarse for “my” team.
But second, it’s about Membership. Wearing the jersey of your team is a statement of identity, of belonging.
Fans of entertainers also get membership in the group of People Who Love X; it creates a bond, a group, a way to belong with others.

Social Clubs
Rotary, Elks, Moose, whatever.

Regional Identification
We respond positively to meeting Tracy from our home town even if we have far more in common with Kelly who grew up 1,000 miles away.

Simple statement of preference
When expressing our preferences, we sometimes say “I prefer ______.” But we often say “I’m a ____” (“I’m a country girl” “I’m a Budweiser guy” etc.) as well. Why? Answer: we identify ourselves with something bigger; we’ve established membership rather than merely expressing a personal preference.
Note: this membership/identity factor is especially strong in how we express our taste in music.

The above are just the surface; the more you start thinking about this, the more you see the underlying pattern of a need for membership driving much of what we do. Try it sometime. What other human activities can you think of that suggest a need for belonging?

*To my family: I’m not talking about you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

this will have to do for now

This is cute:

And this is hysterical:

Question for you: do the performers know it's funny?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Much ado about nothing

Driving away my client’s office last night, a woman is lying on the sidewalk. Turns out she had just lost her balance and fallen flat on her face -- her nose was clearly broken she was dripping blood everywhere.

I said, “Man, tough break” and left. I hope she was okay.

Just kidding. I got her a towel and washed her bloody hands for her and helped her call her husband and waited till the paramedics got there, then I left. But you believed me for second, didn’t you…

While I was squatting there with her cell phone in one hand and mine in the other, I said “Hey, we have the same phone” which I think probably qualifies as the stupidest thing I’ve said all week. She said “Mmm”, which is a lot more than I would have been able to manage if bleeding from the nose and mouth and some moron wants to yammer on about cell phones.

In other news, I played my first game with a new hockey team last night. You always want to make a good impression your first time out – no falling into the net, for example, or scoring on your own goalie, etc.

As it turns out I played decent, and scored a goal in the third period by batting the puck out of the air into the net, which is always impressive even when it’s three quarters luck.

The team seems to be a great bunch of guys – a bit earthy*, but then this is hockey…

*“Where’s Doug tonight?”
“He went to Montana.”
“Oh, that’s right. He’s up there with his velcro gloves on, chasing sheep.”
And downhill from there… 

Today as I waited at the counter to order the lunch special, a guy returned his glass of Coke – apparently he didn’t want it, or it was extra or something.
My lunch special came with a soda too, but after I paid, instead of asking me what kind I wanted the woman taking my order just handed me the glass the guy had just returned.
Bryan: I think this is for that other guy.
Woman: No, he already have soda. This one for you.
Bryan: Could I just have water please?
Woman [shrugging]: Okay.

This is where Bryan struggles to resist being seduced by stereotypes. This woman’s culture is famous in some circles for its thriftiness. In fact, it’s mostly other members of the culture that Bryan has heard poking good-natured fun at themselves and each other for being, well, extremely cheap.
Not sure what the point is except that it was really hard not to laugh at this woman chucking customer service out the window in order to save about eleven cents' worth of ice and soda...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Very little time...

... and corresponding value in blog posts.

Worked a bit at an internet cafe this week. One guy showed up a couple of times with his laptop and all kinds of gear. He had a USB hub, fancy headphones, some kind of router or converter or modem or something slightly larger than a paperback book, a couple of other things.

With his mouse and power cord, it made a glorious complicated mess, and it all glowed -- you know, the kind of accessories that have blue or green lights that make them look cool.

I didn't see him spend much time actually *doing* anything -- he chatted with women around him, and talked about his equipment, etc. From the little I overheard I don't think he actually knew that much about technology. I decided he must just come in and set up all his stuff to impress the chicks. I hope that's working for him.