Birthday Fingers


Happy Birthday to me!

I am now … *counts fingers*

*runs out of fingers*

*surgically attaches more fingers*

*counts more, attaches more*

*is now an eldritch horror of fingers*

*forgets how to count, speak, and feel*

*sprouts fingers until the heat-death of the universe*

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Yes, There Is A Try


Do, or do not; there is no try. — Yoda

That used to be my stuff, right there. Say it, little green man. You’re either gonna do a thing or not do a thing, so quit pussyfooting around and saying you’re gonna “try.”

Oh, you’re gonna “try” to get that job? You’re gonna “try” to write today? You’re gonna “try” to do a push-up? Like hell you are. You’re either gonna make it a priority and bend your entire existence toward it and DO IT, or you’re gonna not, and the opportunity is gonna pass you by, and here you will still be, a little bit sadder.

Except … life isn’t always that simple, is it?cx


Don’t Forget Your Library


Writers are supposed to read, right?

And we’re supposed to read widely and prolifically, right?

Here’s the truth: in years past, I haven’t read enough. Not as much as I liked, and certainly not as much as I should. Why? Because books are fraggin’ expensive. And a major commitment. You go and drop forty bucks on a handful of books, not knowing if you’re going to enjoy them. But because you’ve spent the money, you feel obligated to read through the whole thing, whether you’re enjoying it or not.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be buying books. (As a guy who very much hopes you may buy his books when they become available, that would be pretty much anathema.) But for whatever reason, I had forgotten about the most obvious alternative: the library.

My wife recently started her specialist’s program, and had to do a bit of research. So off she went to the library. And because, you know, libraries are good for kids books, she took the kids along, and I went, too. And so I got a chance to browse around as well. And, hey, here’s a John Scalzi book I’d been thinking about reading — I read Lock In and loved it, but wasn’t sure about his other stuff. And there, some Neil Gaiman — somehow I haven’t read much of his work, but I’ve heard very good things. And then over there in nonfiction, a bunch of titles by Malcolm Gladwell — I’ve been listening to his podcast, and it’s excellent, so why not?

I went home laden with a bunch of titles I wouldn’t have read otherwise, feeling basically no commitment or obligation to any of them. Which is really the best way to read a book — with no expectations.

I read a few, and it was good — but I quickly became a little disillusioned. Our local library is pretty tiny, and the selection isn’t much to speak of. But — what I didn’t know until recently is that basically all the libraries in the state are networked, which means that you can browse the entire selection of books in all the libraries (which is quite a lot.) Then, if some library carries a book that your branch doesn’t, you just put in a request and within a week or so, the book shows up at your library.

This changed everything.

I’ve now got a queue of books ten deep and a stack of five or so on my bedside table. I’m reading books on philosophy and sociology and nuclear weapons and all kinds of things that I just couldn’t pull the trigger on before, for whatever reason. (The fact that it’s summer helps.) You might even say I’m reading so much it’s to the detriment of my writing, but that’s a discussion for another time. (It’s easier to pick up and put down a book at will than it is to pick up and put down your novel.)

Point is, I’m shoving words into my facehole at an unprecedented rate lately, and it’s entirely because I’ve rediscovered the library.

So, you know. Visit yours. Check out a book. Learn something new.


Accidental Philosophy: Staying in Bed


Just try staying in bed all day waiting for something to happen; you will find yourself assailed by the impulse to get up and do something, which will require increasingly heroic efforts to resist. — Sam Harris, Free Will

My wife asked me the other day why I keep getting up early.

It’s the summer, after all, the Sacred Time for all teachers, where we have basically two months to forget about life and work and students and classes and just be ordinary humans for a while. (Of course, being a teacher kind of ruins the concept of being an ordinary human in its own right, but that’s a discussion for another time.) It’s more or less expected that teachers are going to sleep in as much as possible over the summer. Why wouldn’t we? Sleep is awesome, and we lose out on it by the bargeload during the school year.

Still, I can’t sleep much past six. Seven, if I’m really sawing wood. Partially I know the kids are awake, or will be soon, and it feels like somebody should at least be conscious in the building to make sure they don’t start causing collateral damage immediately. And partly, I guess I’m just getting older, and my body more or less syncs up with the sun these days (if the sun is up, my brain seems to say, so should you be).

Maybe even a part of is is that plague of the young, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Some unconscious part of me wants to know what’s happening out there in the world, as soon as possible. So I have to get up and turn on the news, check Twitter, troll Facebook, etc. (Incidentally, my day doesn’t feel complete of late if I don’t spend a good hour or so hate-watching CNN. Which is a seriously messed up state of affairs.)

Also, of course, here in the South in the summer, the morning is really the only time of day you can reasonably Get Things Done. If you want to exercise or do yard work or, I dunno, wax your car or something (I guess people do that? Maybe?), you’d best get it done before the mercury climbs out of the top of the thermometer.

And then I think, too, about the people I know who do sleep in late. Family members and friends or friends of friends who, it seems, are always sleeping. Sometimes this is out of necessity: they work odd hours or nights and have to sleep during the day. Sometimes it’s chemical: they’re depressed or on a “down” cycle and they can’t summon the energy to get out of bed for more than a few hours. Sometimes it’s sheer laziness or obstinacy: they sleep in because it feels good, or because they’ve stayed up all night doing whatever it is people stay up all night to do. In any case, the person seems in a very real way to have vanished from the meaningful part of life for the rest of us. And I don’t want to be that, or even be perceived as that.

Suffice it to say that I not only do I find it difficult to stay in bed for very long after I wake up, but I have no desire to. I have better things to do (even if those things only include hate-watching CNN).

All of that is a little tangential to the quote above. For context, Harris is talking about a common argument against his position on free will (i.e. that we don’t have it, at least not in the way most people think we do). If we don’t have free will, the argument goes, everything must be pre-determined; if everything is pre-determined, what I do doesn’t matter. Therefore if I’m meant to become a millionaire or a famous novelist (or both!), I could just lay in bed all day and it will simply happen.

Which is ludicrous. Ergo Sam’s statement above, which I absolutely loved when I read it. Especially the idea of “increasingly heroic efforts to resist” getting out of bed.

For me, as it happens, it never seems to get that far. There is no such thing as a “heroic effort” to stay in bed; the sun comes in or I hear my kid in the hall, and I’m up.

Whether that’s a product of my free will or not, I can’t say I’m bothered by it.

Free Will, anyway, is a 100-page or so treatise by noted atheist and neurologist Sam Harris, and is a fascinating read worth your time regardless of your feelings on the subject. (Incidentally, I’m pretty convinced, as Harris is, that free will in the conventional sense is an illusion.)

 


A Foolproof Method for De-Cluttering Your Home


It may surprise you to learn that my house is often filled with clutter.

Yes, yes, hard to believe, but it’s true. With two kids, a dog, an indeterminate amount of cats (who seem to wink in and out of existence like quantum particles) and then, y’know, me, things don’t always end up where they belong. A place for everything, they say, and everything in its place.

Not in this house. In this house it’s more like A place for everything, but sometimes just for today I’m really tired so that thing will just go over there with those things, and I know that isn’t where it really goes but bollocksed if I can drag myself down the stairs and back up the stairs again after to put it in its real place.

Things, in other words, pile up.

20180706_075024.jpg

Clutter. Pictured: Nine books, two notebooks, a couple pairs of headphones, a pack of highlighters, a pair of socks for some reason, my keys, a tape measure from a fix-it project I worked on last week I think, a single glove leftover from winter (it’s July), a speaker I’ll be taking to school at the end of the month (so why would I move it until then), other sundries. Bonus: next to all of this, on the floor, my daughter’s shoe. You are dealing with a clutter expert.

But never fear. I have for you today a simple, step-by-step process for dealing with the clutter in your own home; a process which has worked for me more times than I can count and is guaranteed to produce results. (Just maybe not the results you expected or wanted.)

  1. Notice clutter.
  2. Summon the will to care and then to do something about it. (Don’t be discouraged if this step takes a day or four.)
  3. Consider the proper place for the clutter, and measure the convenience of that place against your willpower from step #2.
    1. If you don’t know the proper place, ask your wife.
    2. If she’s not there, or if she sasses you for not knowing, take a nap and start over.
  4. Okay, let’s be serious. If you start putting things away now, you’re going to feel silly if you don’t clean the entire room, and since nobody has time for that, let’s just tidy up the clutter a bit. Push it to an unobtrusive corner of the table. Tuck it into a corner. Hide it under your sleeping dog’s backside. Be creative!
    1. Or, for bonus points, make the clutter more intrusive to encourage your future self to clean up the clutter sooner. Moving a stack of junk into the hallway so that it must be looked at / stepped around several times an hour is effective. As is putting whatever’s in the way on the kitchen counter so that you can’t cook until it’s dealt with also works.
  5. Focus all your mental energy into ignoring the clutter. Breathe deeply. Feel the energy of the universe flowing through you. Meditate on what it would be like to be a feather tossed on the breeze. Feathers can’t clean up clutter, and neither should you have to.
  6. Become overwhelmed and slowly panic inside, but continue not to do anything about it. You really need that “spiders crawling inside your skin” feeling for the next step.
  7. Wait for the weekend (which is what you were always going to do anyway) and clean the entire room.
    1. As you’re cleaning the first room, you may find yourself cluttering up a second room. Be careful not to start the cycle over again. Leaving the lights off as you clean can be particularly helpful for this.
  8. Relax in your newly uncluttered room.
  9. If you live alone — congrats, you’re done! You might not enter the cycle again for months. If you are married, you might get a week or so. Pets, a few days. If you have kids, expect to begin the cycle again within an hour.

This post brought to you by me stubbing my toe three times on a crate I put in the hallway so that future me would put it away properly at some undetermined time in the future.

It has since been properly put away and replaced with a fake potted plant.


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