The whole point of being all reclusive for the pandemic is to have to find things to do while stuck at home. Which in my case should have involved a fuck tonne of writing and drawing.
My life is pretty full, though, with working from home and having the homeschooling kids during most of the weekdays. Any time not spent productively being an engineer or parent I while away being a boyfriend. And I cherish this time, even though there's not much to mark it by.
Life is good.
"Come on guys, it's OK."
A terrible idea occurs to me as I listen to the professional goon begging in the airlock. It is most definitely not OK, and I repress a grin as I slip out my tool kit.
There's a reedy inflection in comm that I'm not sure is accurate or affectation. "You sure didn't look like things were OK back there."
You could almost hear the goon's shoulder's slump. "Yeah, it was pretty tense."
"You're, ah, looking pretty zarking unscathed. You know. Considering."
"...Yeah. I don't know how I'm not dead."
This pause in the conversation sure sounds like other people conversing off-circuit. I wonder if it's accessible...
"Guys....?" Ooop, sounds like the goon is thinking the same thing as me.
"Just hang on a moment, Garvek." Ah, goon's name is Garvek. Or, at least that's what the reedy-voice being calls the goon. Might not be a reliable source.
"Not to be too pushy, guys, but I think we should get out of here before my luck catches up with us."
Oh, I think they're over there...
"...and it's bad for recruiting if we just ditch a crewman." Don't recognize that voice.
"Recruiting? Are you zarking with me? Potential security personnel on another planet aren't going to give a flying zark about what happened to this idiot." Well, at least reedy-voice is just as unpleasant with others, and not just poor Garvek.
"For any old lump of cannon-fodder while we're still making a name for ourselves, sure. But once we start needing really top-notch people, this sort of shit will stain us for a long-ass time to come." Hm. I think I like this guy.
"Shut the zark up, Krunks." Ouch. Someone knows they're wrong. Wonder if Krunks is going to stuff a fistful of righteous insight down Reedy-Voice's throat...
"As you wish, captain." Disappointing, but I guess I don't know the circumstances here.
"Orders?" That's a third voice, reptilian, who sounds like they were having trouble with the awkward pause.
"Gah! Let the impossibly-lucky goon in."
There might have been a grunting noise, but immediately afterwards we can feel and hear the heavy ship bulkhead door cycle. I wish we could get a peek into that big central corridor...
Hello future-Simon and future-Violet when you're (a bit) older and reading stuff your dad wrote to find out what he was like outside of the interactions that formed your memories.
Well, life is really fucking¹ good, honestly. It's horrific to think that maybe it takes 9 months of hiding during a pandemic and almost 4 years of racist/fascist Tumpocalypse to really appreciate where I am and what I have. I like to think I would be thankful anyway, because I'm insightful and zen... but whatever.
Being able to hole up with you two for homeschooling in our airy little condo is just fantastic. I love this time with you, and will cherish it always. You are both adapting and overcoming this strange time better than I could possibly have hoped.
Hearing you giggle while you melt your brains with youtube videos is one of my favourite sounds ever. Having you joining Amy, my Vampire Queen girlfriend in her anti-running rebellion was also amusing, but going for our group PE runs feeds my soul. And the best part of getting a robotic vacuum wasn't the automatic floor cleaning, but sharing your delight with watching it charge slowly about and piling your stuffed toys on it.
I've just gotten a new mountain bike, this time with an electric motor. Which I'm looking forward to using to tow Simon on his mountain bike up the hill once the weather gets nicer.
Oh, and the hilariously annoying VAN, Volkswagen, snotty Volkswagen, and I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-van game everywhere we go these days.
And it's so fun for me to watch the new episodes of The Mandalorian with you. You both make great little nerds.
You probably saw bits of my work during this time, and mostly just saw me as being stressed by it. Especially all the meetings. But you should also know that I really love developing all these new truck systems and mentoring new engineers. Plus also helping out with the new electric trucks, and the autonomous truck project. Being fulfilled by work is a satisfaction that I hope I can model for you well, so that you can find it for yourselves.
¹ Yeah, you probably remember that your dad swore a fair amount. But he liked to think it was just nicely seasoned for emphasis, even though you thought it was too much at the time.
The deep and profound relief at the (eventual) election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is thankfully still salving the past four years of horror. Emotional, philosophical, spiritual, pragmatic utilitarian horror. But the gestalt horror is not forgotten. And, worse, the visceral terror of the implications of the numbers of the election cannot be un-discovered.
People looking at the title of this post might be triggered, classifying this as just more of Clayton's typical pro-Canada elitism finding an opportunity to gloat. And it's a fair comment. But the United States really is magnificent, and Portland in particular is full of all kinds of awesome. I've been here for almost 2 decades now, and have a lot of important roots, and that deepens how significant what goes on in the US is to me.
With that in mind, the fact that about 70 million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020 is... sad.
Even acknowledging the extreme polarization, it still means that almost twice the population of Canada worth of people were willing to at least "put up with" a fascist racist lying failure of a president. And why would they do this? Well, last month I speculated that it functionally makes them bad people - but virtually nobody does anything with the specific intent to be bad people (Mitch McConnell excepted).
I think the reason comes down to how the US is systemically structured to facilitate assholes.
It has gotten better over the centuries, but fundamentally it's still about harnessing the power of assholes. It's not that everyone in the US is an asshole, or that only assholes thrive. It's more that being an asshole is a distinct advantage in most aspects of living in the US. And even further, the pitting of people's stoked avarice against each other allows for considerable achievements. It just so happens that those achievements are usually at considerable human expense. This every-asshole-for-themself individualism was key for expanding through a wild continent. But it is now very much out of step for the interests of living with ourselves in civilization.
The divide politically is most obviously displayed with the geographical results - urban versus rural. Many of the conservative people I know all have worries about reality where the only solution they can conceive of is raw independent self-sufficiency. Even when I snarkily suggest adjusting shared societal factors to eradicate the selfsame problems. However they insist such ideas are impossible - because there are too many assholes. Which, inevitably, means that they have to pre-asshole to out-asshole the hypothetical assholes.
The trouble with assholes, aside from the inherent assholery, is the tendency to assume that everyone else is an asshole too. Perhaps more than just a tendency for some, but a full blown paranoia that the world is stuffed full of dicks out to fuck the unwary. This causes them to forgive all sorts of crazy shit for the purpose of supporting political forces they think will be the right kind of assholery.
I like guns. They're fun, and cool.
As a rational person, I think that guns should be regulated and controlled at least as well as motor vehicles. As a civilized person, I think the idea of civilians being able to carry around assault-class weapons and handguns ridiculous. As a person living in the US, I take advantage of the idiotically lax gun laws to occasionally go to gun ranges and borrow guns to do some shooting.
There are a large population of people here, friends and family of mine even, who keep guns at home "for protection". It's... a bit baffling.
While I can appreciate that plain old statistics are generally un-persuasive, even when they overwhelmingly demonstrate that a person is wildly more likely to be injured by a gun if they or someone they live with has a gun, I'm still at a loss for their imagined scenario. It must be some sort of western or action movie bullshit that lives in all their brains. Either that, or a wildly exaggerated sense of the existence of "bad guys".
Are they really going to murder someone over some stuff? Is that really the plan? How is "nope the fuck out" not the default plan already, along with "call the police" (for my mostly white friends).
The hypothetical home invaders are much more likely to be simply dissuaded by a loud phone call, and a gun being brought into play is just an escalation into a gunfight - which is much less likely if they're not being shot at.
Some of the most likely home invaders are police fucking up a search warrant, and if you get a shot off at them they are going to straight up murder your whole family by unloading into the house. Hell, a huge part of why US police are so trigger-happy is because so many motherfuckers have got guns. If guns were actually hard to come by, lethal force wouldn't be haunting the forefront of every cop's nervous little fascist brain.
Be safe: don't have a gun. Rent that shit at a gun club, and leave it there after the giggles are done.
The kids and I were taking an after-work/school stroll, and Simon and I were discussing Dungeons & Dragons - specifically our characters of questionable morals.
Simon knows that I don't really subscribe to any absolute concepts of "good" or "evil", as they all too readily devolve into relative and circumstantial excuses. The common joke is that we are evil, but trying to be better. Mostly. But in the context of role-playing, there are objective aspects to contemplate for distinguishing good versus evil.
What Simon described for how he and his compatriots played was something he called "chaotic neutral". In his mind, this is a combination of "chaotic" - meaning not necessarily rule-abiding - and "neutral" - neither "good" nor "evil". Which checks out, superficially. But upon further discussion about how they actually played, it mostly meant that they were "free to do what they want".
So I broke it to Simon that I think what he was playing is actually "evil".
This distressed Simon considerably, and he assured me that it's not evil - just not good. When I asked him to clarify what "evil" meant, and he asserted that it was all about intentionally afflicting harm on others. Which, I mean, sure - that would definitely qualify. But I tried to tell him that this alone was not a very useful definition - even for gaming purposes. Because while it might be sufficiently descriptive to assign to "evil" combatants the characters would face, it would be pretty much impossible to actually play a character that way. Partially because it would be nearly impossible to accomplish anything in a complicated world when literally nobody would deal with you. But mostly because it would exhausting to keep it up, since the motivation is so unrealistic.
No, I really think "evil" is better explained by systematic selfishness and general disregard others. "Bad" things happen from others being selfish more than they do from anyone or anything primarily interested in doing harm. Balancing that, I see most "good" coming from people being mindful - of others and the world around them.
Which brings me to extrapolating that to the current election here in the United States - between the Hair Sniffer and the Pussy Grabber. Or, more generally, between Republicans and Democrats.
Classically, I would balance the contest as mostly being a contest of competing philosophical methods for how to best run a country. I no longer think this is so. While the Democrats are flawed in many ways, they are genuinely trying to continuously improve - and do so while fundamentally being mindful of others and the world in general. Whereas the Republicans have devolved to being purely the party preying on the most selfish facets of people - their fears and hates.
Show me any single person who votes for Donald Trump for president in 2020, and I'll show you a person who is voting out of fear, hatred, or some other metastasized selfishness.
"You made that up."
I'm not sure how much my total lack of surprise is conveyed by whatever expression is on my increasingly-worn face, but I lift my spiny shoulders in a shrug-like manner. "That part isn't important for the purpose of this exchange, but it does set things up well to help you understand what I'm trying to explain."
The lean reptilian death-machine regards me through slitted eyelids. "Look, ye crazy old monster, I ken that ye can murder me inna blink of an eye - yeah? So I'll listen to whatever cockamamie tale you need me ta hear. Just maybe leave out the shyte with magical humans with wings."
"The lady with the bat wings that leapt into the portal wasn't the scary bit; it was the black telepathic robots that started hunting me. That was what started me on this path."
The reptiloid adjusts all three of its pairs of holstered blasters to get more comfortable on its barstool perch. "A path for forcing random people to listen to crazy stories?"
Woo - suave. It must have pinged the robotic bartender to start making a drink a few moments ago, because that casual reach backward without looking to receive that mug was pretty slick. I wrinkle my snout. "That's a by-product." I tap one of my talons on the bar top to request a replacement drink of my own, in a more old-fashioned way. Based on the crooked set of its mouth, I think it does not think I'm very cool.
The robotic bartender gives me an ETA on my drink, which seems somewhat faster than I would have expected. I regard my captive audience some more. "At the time, I was rather skilled with a blaster, and well on my way to being a decent assassin. Tough enough that people stayed out of my way, which let me move pretty quickly through various environments."
Ah - a nod. This makes sense to it, as it probably aligns well with its own ease of moving through reality through brute application of paired blaster fire.
I let my fangs show as I smile, to distract it. "That almost got me killed too many times to count. Because as fast as I could move on, the things hunting me could always find me."
"So ye'r shitty at sneaking an hiding. So whaaaaaaat?!!!"
The change of expression is just delicious as I brought one of its very-precious plasma blasters into view. "That was jut the thing - I wasn't. Kind of the opposite." It is clearly reigning in its indignation as it respectfully retrieves the exquisite weapon from my open palm. "My problem was that I was just a bit too... distinctive."
A bunch of half-formed expressions chase each other across the reptiloid's face. "Have ye been hunting me down?"
The tension of the moment is piled on with a faint mechanical scream and a sudden thin plume of smoke rising from behind the bar. Both I and the reptiloid glance over, and I get an updated ETA on my drink that is considerably further in the future. An ugly snicker works its way out of my ragged vocal chords.
Turning back to regard the noticeably-more-tense reptiloid, I tilt my wedge-like head. "Smart question. But no, not exactly."
It doesn't look relieved. "What do ye mean 'not exactly'?"
"Honestly, I wasn't looking for you. Just someone like you."
"So, what? A seasoned shock-trooper?" I can see a thought sprout in its mind real-time. "Or, are ye just looking for the toughest arsehole in the bar, to make a point?"
It's not far from the mark there. "Let's just say that you are a means to an end, yes." And it wouldn't be correct to try to be any more reassuring than that. Because this bristling hotshot is definitely at risk. Imminently. But not as much as I am. That thought makes me smile, sardonically.
"Oh, yeah? Wha' end is that, then?" I'm guessing that my smile makes it even less at ease. Which is fine.
I make a face, peering over the bar to try to get a guess at the progress on my drink, and hold up a single talon. "It won't do to jump to the end. There's a process to this, for it to work properly. If we rush it, it might end up with unnecessary violence and fuss." The reptiloid looks restless, so I push on. "The tactic I stumbled on, for existing without being so easily discovered, was to diversify my methods. I stopped relying on the blaster, and started developing expertise with hand-to-hand combat. I wasn't very good at it, at first, but I kept developing the assassination ability alongside. I got rather good at that, too."
"Did that work?"
The impatience is almost palpable. "Then why even mention it?"
"Well, it did work - a bit - for a while. The problem was that the fundamental truth of what I am eventually shined through, and I became even more uniquely identifiable than before. Because I ran into an age-old problem - finding things difficult enough to be enough of a challenge to actually improve my skills. Shifting into a new type of fighting eventually highlighted the underlying assassin skills, which remain at the core of my fighting styles."
Oooh! Drink is ready! I tenderly pluck the crucible with the noxious fog roiling over the edge up off the bar. The repiloid's expression of disapproval grows as it regards my favourite poison. I gesture a "cheers" at it, and take an exploratory sip. Oh, it burns! The fumes etching my sinuses is particularly sharp. Let me just dial down my pain receptors in my face even more so that I don't involuntarily shriek. Hooooo - ahhhh. Zark that was nasty. It does have the desired effect, though: the warm sensation of a swarm of emergency nanoscopic robots involuntarily surging up my core. Plus, you know, the painful reassurance that I'm not dead and can still feel.
I turn to my involuntary drinking partner - who has apparently forgotten their own drink while watching me with an exotic mix of horror and wariness. "Which essentially brings us to the part about hunting Missionaries."
"Oh, fucking hells! More gorram fairy tale monsters?!"
Ignoring the snarl, I make a grimace. "The problem with Missionaries, for being like me, is that they are very hard to find."
"That's because they don't fucking exist, ye daft prickle bush!"
"...so I tend to use bait."
The reptiloid is abruptly quiet and alert - mostly watching me though. Which is a mistake.
"Because Missionaries like to stalk powerful combatants - for training of their own." This seems like a ripe moment to have my ridiculously over-compensating-class force blade fly up into my hand and snap energized. The tension in the entire bar is now cranked up nicely.
The reptiloid carefully reaches to his pair of widestroke blasters - which would be a good choice, if any choice he made would have mattered. "What the fuck are ye doing?!"
"You don't think I'm talking to you, still, do you?"
There's a brilliant flash as an assault cutting beam suddenly cleaves a leg off a way-too-fast human. And only be reviewing sensor data afterwards is it possible to parse how very quickly said leg fled out of the bar on its own, hotly pursued by the transforming 3-limbed ex-human. The reptiloid's blasters are out and he's pivoting to face the cowering remains of the bar - and leering Orbodun covering the exit with said assault cutting laser.
I glide off my stool, also carefully regarding the exit, and slink over to my partners. "That worked really well!"
The super-stealthy Takolee appears at my elbow. The Orbodun nods, "Except that I almost flinched when the rifle was slipped into my grip. You are extremely smooth." The Takolee gives a flourish of a bow. The Orbodun nods in the direction of the flustered reptiloid still brandishing pistols. "I think you owe that... guy? a drink."
"It's truly androgynous at the moment, so neither a guy nor a gal, technically. But, nah - I already gave it a great story to tell."
"Not that anyone will believe it's story, though."
"That's a feature of a really great story, isn't it?"
There's so much going on!
And I have so little ability to make meaningful note of it. Sucks.
Blatantly stolen from the interwebs...
If courage isn't the absence of fear but doing the right thing regardless of it, maybe confidence isn't the absence of insecurity but knowing you have real worth despite it.
By this same token, maybe goodness isn't the absence of bad thoughts or impulses, but the conscious choice to behave according to your moral ideals in spite of them.
How very odd that the top four countries ranked in terms of cases of infection, demonstrating that they are the least capable of dealing with real world facts and situations, all happen to have governments lead by populist leaders.
Back when I was turning 30, I was tormented for a couple years with a new sensation of being ready to be part of a family. I discovered in myself a capacity to hold another in a trusting way, to be a partner. It ached to be unfulfilled. But then I did find a partner, and it blossomed into a family, and the sense of completeness is one that I know in my bones is how my best life can be realized.
So I know that such a thing is possible. And the ache I feel now can be soothed, with patience and care.
Except now there's a new space in me, beyond the socket that I might find a partner to fit. I've been eroded by the knowledge that it ends. It always ends. My trust can never be safe.
Which is why I'm here, alone with my feelings, grieving the version of me that I may never get to be again.
Before the pandemic started, I signed up for an online psychology course from Yale: The Psychology of Happiness with Doctor Laurie Santos. It was meant to augment my therapy, but has turned into my only therapy. And, honestly, it's been some of the most helpful therapeutic work I've done.
My week 7 homework is a short essay: Define well-being.
"Think about your own definition of well-being and share it with your classmates. What does living the good life mean to you personally? Has this course changed your definition at all?"
Well-being might shift definition based on where you view it from, in time.
Looking forward, well-being feels defined by a sense of affluence and ease. We imagine our future selves as having well-being with goals achieved, and needs met, and being safe.
In the moment, well-being is all about how in-touch with ourselves we are. Sensing the alignment of our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations are the most tangible understanding of immediate well-being. These are the immersive experiences of well-being that are the pixels that make up the picture we're painting of our lives.
Looking back, well-being is filtered through our evaluation of our own equanimity with whatever our challenges were, and the level of acceptance we have gained. If we're wise, maybe we see how our own well-being is tied to the degree to which we were sources of well-being for the rest of the world.
Some people need to find the edges of things, instead of assuming what they might be. I like your style.