Saturday, June 11, 2005

When Real Life Attacks

Wow, what a ride! This week just came unglued somewhere around Wednesday, and I haven't stopped since. Nothing bad, just "life stuff" like doctor's appointments, shopping, and what-have-you. It will be a rainy weekend, and the wife and I plan to disappear for a day or two.

I did get signed up at the gym run by the Wellness Center at the hospital this week. $15 to join and $25 a month. I couldn't pass that up. I spent Thursday morning with the Exercise Physiologist working out my routine. They have stationary bikes, treadmills, and a StairMaster, plus a lot of weight machines for different mucle groups. They're open until 1am, so I can go by after work, which makes it very convenient, as the hospital is only about a mile from the school. My major goal is to lose 25 pounds. That will help a lot with blood sugar and cholesterol control. Maybe I can ditch some of this medication.

I promised Zette an article on small press publishing for the July/August Vision, so I'll be doing research and mental drafting on the stationary bike this afternoon. 30 minutes is a long time if you don't have something to occupy the mind. That's the major reason I don't stick with it.

Spring Quarter ends Monday, so I'll be working days for a couple of weeks. That will blow my schedule to Hell, but it's also nice to change things up every now and then. I'll also take a few days off at the end of June, which will also be welcome.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Best Mistakes I Ever Made

My attempt to answer Holly's question. It's pretty long, but I still left out an awful lot of backstory. An interesting exercise in understanding myself.

1.) Going to High School at a military school.

I begged and pleaded my parents to let me do this. Why? I don't remember. What I do remember is that I spent 5 years (grades 8-12) in Hell. Once I was there, my parents would not even consider letting me transfer out. If the thought of Basic Training frightens you, just imagine if the Drill Instructors were Seniors and you were a sub-freshman. There is little worse a teenager with that kind of power over younger and weaker boys. I have stories that would turn your hair white. Hazing? Oh, yeah. I survived. I even made Cadet First Sergeant my Senior year. For a while. The biggest lessons I learned were:

Responsibility and authority are two different things. After a rather bitter falling-out with the Commandant of Cadets, I turned in my stripes and busted myself down to E-1. That was the day I decided that I would never, ever take on responsibility without also having the authority to back it up.

Pride in doing a job well. Whether at band practice or on the parade field, working together as a team to perform our job at peak effectiveness instilled us with a great pride in ourselves and our units.

Discipline. Letting abuse slide off without touching me, learning the Manual of Arms and General Orders, standing watch on a weekend as an orderly for the Officer of the Day, walking penalty tours on the Bull Ring, all these things taught me to pay attention to the rules and not deviate from them without a damned good reason.

A bad haircut is not the end of the world. It'll grow back.

2.) Running away from home.

I was 15. My parents and I had been engaged in a war for months. One day in November, it all came to a head. Much was said in loud voices, much was said that hurt, tears were shed on all sides. I could not take any more, so I grabbed my jacket and left. I walked. All afternoon and into the evening. I must have walked 10 miles. I thought a lot, too. I finally wound up at my brother's house just a dusk. My parents had called him several times looking for me. He finally persuaded me to go back home, which I had decided I would not do. My parents and I have observed a sometimes uneasy truce since that day. I have since been very careful about what I say or do in their presence. They have been careful to respect my boundaries and opinions.

I learned a great deal from this episode. Probably the best lesson was to stick to my guns and insist on being my own person with my own beliefs and demand respect for that. I learned that being an individual is often hard, but always worth it. Finally, I learned that my parents do, in fact, love me and care about my well-being.

3.) Flunking out of college the first time around.

I graduated high school 2nd in my class. I was the S.T.A.R. Student, with the highest SAT score, but Sylvia beat me by 1 tenth of a point on GPA. If I hadn't flunked that first semester of 8th grade Latin. I had big dreams. I was young and smart. National Honor Society. I was going to conquer the world. I enrolled in Georgia Tech the following fall majoring in Nuclear Engineering. Oh yeah? I was in no way ready for college. I had breezed through high school, so I had no study skills at all. I also discovered that my high school education had been, shall we say, somewhat lacking. I signed up for a basic core schedule--English, Chemistry, and Calculus. What a laugh! At the end of Fall Quarter, I had a 0.02 GPA. I shit you not. 0.02. Why I went back for Winter Quarter is beyond me. Why they let me back in is even more of a mystery. I Withdrew Failing toward the end of the quarter. No hope. What did I learn from this?

I ain't near as smart as I think I am. Without putting in the work, I'm just another flunk-out.

When all else fails, party 'till you drop. I did come home with memories of some medal-winning hangovers.

Success does not come by meeting everybody else's expectations. Success comes through following your passion and your dream. Maybe it's not as much money, but it's a lot more satisfying.

4.) Quitting a good job to start my own business.

I had been working at the public library off and on for nearly 25 years. I had a good position as Circulation Director, a decent salary, vacation time, insurance, everything. Then I walked out. I had dreams of making it big as a computer consultant. I loved computers; I understood them inside and out. Problem: I had little savings and few customers. You can imagine how that went. Two years later, I was so deep in debt that I may never get out again. I finally threw in with a friend of mine who was in the same business but had had the sense to do it right. That job lasted several years, and I helped that company grow into a multi-million-dollar-a-year business. What's so good about that?

I learned two very important lessons: I have absolutely no head for business, and don't quit your day job.

5.) Going to work for the Boss From Hell.

I worked for this man for 13 months and 15 days. It was the longest year of my life. I despised everything about this job. Insane hours, not very much pay, no time off, on call 24-7 and expected to be glad to do it. And he is the biggest asshole in the Universe. The final result was what we call a "nervous breakdown". I was physically and mentally exhausted. I fell into a bottomless pit of depression coupled with intense panic attacks. I still have problems with telephones. Every time one rings, I get a momentary thrill of panic. "He's found me! Oh God, here we go again!" It has taken me a long time to crawl back out of that pit and start to rebuild my life. Lessons learned (and re-learned):

Money is not everything. It's not even the most important thing. The important things are family and living a good life. I'll never be rich, I'll probably never even make a decent living, but I'm satisfied with my life. I'm living my way. I'm making time for me and my happiness. Priceless.

I deserve respect for who I am. Just because you sign my paycheck does not mean you own me.

I can live through hard times and endure extreme conditions as long as my wife and family are by my side. In the end, love is the most important lesson of all.

Monday, June 06, 2005

That's One Small Step for a Man...

Trifecta! I now have three (3!) reviews up at Green Man Review:

Ray Bradbury's Driving Blind
Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man AND
Tamara Siler Jones's Ghosts in the Snow

My babies are taking their first steps. I'm so proud.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Warning, Ideas Ahead

Human Events Online posted their list of the 10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries on May 31. Among the winners, as I would expect, are The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and Quotations from Chairman Mao. Also on the list are: The Kinsey Report, The Feminine Mystique, and Democracy and Education. Runners up include On Liberty (!), Coming of Age in Samoa, Unsafe at Any Speed, and Silent Spring.

I think the list and their comments speak for themselves. My concern is with the twisted emphasis that this list perpetuates. Books don't harm people. Stupidity harms people. A book is by its very nature completely neutral. Paper and ink have no moral inclinations or agendas. The only way a book can be harmful is by being used to brain somebody.

It's the ideas contained on the pages that they consider harmful. Now, ideas also are not harmful or beneficial in and of themselves. Harm or benefit lies in the use that a mind makes of them. Labeling certain books and/or ideas as harmful is an attempt to create an absoute standard outside of human responsibility in order to avoid that responsibility. A More honest assessment would be "The 10 Books Which Contain Ideas that WE Consider the Most Harmful of the 19th and 20th Centuries".

We must always keep in mind that other people have different ideas. Every person in the world has a unique way of seeing the world, a unique vision of their life and purpose. Few of them agree with mine in any way, much less in all ways. For instance, I believe that the idea of Communism that Karl Marx first set out is an attractive goal to shoot for. It looks forward to a world in which each person is independently responsible for themselves and their fellow man. I think this idea is a little too far-fetched, given what I know of human nature. As witness, I call the perversion of Communism that exists in the world today, which is, in fact, nothing more than autocracy in disguise.

Far too many people cannot see past the implementation to the original concept. Far, far, too many people will believe what they are told and never bother to investigate for themselves or to think for themselves. The objection that this group has to John Dewey's Democracy and Education is that is a philosophy of training the citizens of a democratic society for independent thought. Therein lies the threat that these people see in these ideas and blame on these books.

Independence of thought is anathema to most hard-core fanatice, whether conservatives or liberals. They need everyone to follow blindly in lockstep with dictates from their leaders. Any difference of opinion is a direct threat and must be dealt with harshly and suppressed or ridiculed into extinction. Why is that? Why are people so afraid of disagreement that they see any variation of thought to be a direct personal attack?

I believe it is because they are insecure in their own beliefs. A belief based on "because I said so" is the most insecure of all. Without reasoning or logic to defend that belief, the only option a person has is to launch an all-out attack on anyone who dares to speak a different idea. Ban the books! Hell, burn 'em! We can't allow our children or neighbors to harbor any ideas that might in any way threaten to wash away the sand that holds up our temple.

I am glad that I can claim that I don't have that problem. Anyone is welcome to disagree with me at any time. I won't fight with them. I will attempt to engage in a thoughtful discussion. I also reserve the right to change my opinion at any time, should I be convinced that I am wrong. Since I have thought through my beliefs, I am secure and confident that they are based on hard stone. Hot air has no affect on them.

Books are neither dangerous nor harmful. Ideas are neither dangerous or harmful. Minds are what make the difference. I wish more people had one.