On Importance

Everything: institution, industry, sport, group, genre, etc. has its own history, heroes, villains, popularity, prestige, etc.

To be deeply involved in a given thing provides affiliation, connection, community. It’s important. It feels important. There’s an inclination to overvalue this importance.

To have been part of multiple things defuses this sense of importance. The limit ranges from apathy to an over-inflated sense of self-importance/hero worship/an overarching belief that it ought to be important to everyone.

I think it wise to be somewhere in between: acknowledging that every thing matters to someone and no one thing matters to everyone. That importance is relative, yet valid.

Romance trumps machine language

Spend some time on social media, reading or watching the news and you’ll likely find most things reduced to a bullet point, a Top 10 list or otherwise boiled-down nugget of proffered wisdom.

Is it that people no longer care to the think for themselves, or that they’re simply too inundated with the opinions and proof from everyone else that they mistake the consumption of said information for thinking?

We humans created machines to do repetitive, tedious, time-consuming tasks so that we could apply our brains elsewhere. And yet, doesn’t it seem as though we’re becoming more like the machines than liberated, sophisticated refined beings? Machines require a special language, binary in nature, reducing to combinations of zeros and ones. But people can handle romance, where romance is defined as “something that lacks basis in fact” and fact is defined as “a thing that is indisputably the case”. How many facts are there, really? I’m 37 years old (where a year is defined as 365 days except in a leap year of 366). I’m of the female sex. My dog is black (according to the cones and rods in my retinas and related circuitry in my brain). I like to think of romance as complex, something that can’t be measured or proven definitively. Society seems to have a fixation with proof, wanting to know the answer, the truth, as though such things exist. The problem with proof is that it requires simplification and assumptions, all which are value-laden and relative; proof is a proxy for thinking.

Michael Pollen in The Omnivore’s Dilemma wrote about soil fertility and a farmer’s perspective of its complexity compared to Big Agra’s oversimplification of and reliance on fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) to grow crops. His words (below) are relevant to the theme of complexity versus binary thinking as they portray the importance of the complex and limitations of the binary, which can be applied to just about any topic meriting discussion.

“Complex qualities are reduced to simple quantities; biology gives way to chemistry. As [the farmer] was not the first to point out, that method can only deal with one or two variables at a time. The problem is that once science has reduced a complex phenomenon to a couple of variables, however important they may be, the natural tendency is to overlook everything else, to assume that what you can measure is all there is, or at least all that really matters. When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine.”

Science is often bastardized in today’s society in an effort to make a point or serve a political interest, when in fact, science as a course of study is anything but binary. A true scientist is one who devotes their career to exploring a subject and its body of literature, contributing to it, inquiring, collaborating with one’s peers, etc. In today’s society the fruits of science are often used to silence the opposition when the real root of science is inquiry, which leads to research to build on a long history of complex subject matter. A person who throws out a data point as a means of oppressing one’s opponent should always be questioned. Science never shuns the questioner, science has nothing to fear, because there is no end to science, not in any topic or of any subject matter. There is always more to explore, research, clarify, understand, apply, redefine, and so forth.

I invested a lot of time thinking about adults when I was a kid, the way they were responsible and knew what was right and how to do it. I couldn’t comprehend why my parents didn’t seem to fulfill my expectations of other adults.

One evening when I was nineteen and waiting tables at a country club during my freshman year of college, I experienced a pivotal moment, the kind that left me unhinged and reeling. The menu was pricy; the people who dined at Seasons At Hilltop those Friday evenings (the only night it was open to the public as it was otherwise a banquet facility) were successful, they had money. They were responsible and did the right things, according to my then-binary thinking.

A man sat at a four-top with his wife and two children, and upon receiving his meal, berated me for the preparation of his steak. I assured him I would resolve the matter, but that didn’t resolve his anger. He continued going off on me. I remembered wanting to say, “Do you think I cooked the steak? Don’t you know anything about how restaurants work?” Instead I offered him a complimentary dessert. When that didn’t satisfy him, I sort of checked out, lost amidst the thoughts drowning my brain, things like, “Wow, this guy’s an asshole—how can he behave this way in front of his kids? What is he teaching them by acting this way?” and “We’re fucked. The universe is fucked. There are these morons—everywhere—cloaked as adults, and…holy shit…we’re so fucked!”

My little theory (which was really a philosophy premised in security) that real adults behaved as they should had just been blown out of the water.

Ultimately I went to my manager and let her handle the irate (so-called) man, as reason and sensibility were lost on him and that’s all I was armed with (a common theme in my life for years to come). Sure, the epiphany stuck with me, but it took a long time for me to synthesize it and develop skills beyond what I knew (reason and sensibility).

I think back to that scenario from time-to-time. Most recently it was because I just sort of realized I’m almost forty. By almost I mean closer to forty than thirty. That means I’m one of those adults I perceived as a child and young adult. I’m supposed to know All The Things and do them right, all the time, according to my nineteen-year-old self. But I don’t. I can’t even know what’s right most times, and right isn’t really worth aiming for in many cases anyway. Implicit in right is definitive, black-and-white. Yet shades of gray are more prevalent. As I move through life, sometimes gracefully, most times awkwardly, I’m constantly reminded that everything is related, dynamic, iterative, and not at all definitive.

My thirty-seven-year-old self focuses more on being consistent with my values. On being authentic and honest. I’m patient instead of hasty in the face of the unknown. I have more questions than answers. I’m willing to be vulnerable where previously I might have felt embarrassed. I want to be someone who matters. Mostly I want to be a person my children do and can respect as they evolve into their adult selves. I make mistakes all the time. I apologize to my kids. I ask for do-overs when frustration gets the best of me. That’s my I’m-almost-forty definition of being a real adult. It’s far more romantic (and messy) than binary. My nineteen-year-old self would think it irrational and stupid. How naïve would I be to mistaken wisdom and an appreciation of life’s complexity for simplistic idiocy? As for my thirty-seven-year-old self, romance trumps machine language.

Black ink

I started keeping a journal back in 1998 when I stumbled upon a stray composition book in the desk drawer in a room I rented that summer. I used to write in any variety of ink color available to me. But upon writing the initial entry in Volume IV of my journal in August 1999, I started using black ink only. (Well, with the exception of a few entries in blue ink over the next two years, which conjured obvious disdain, evidenced by the entries that followed. Thankfully blue ink didn’t blemish journals beyond Volume IV.)

My absolute favorite pen to write with is the uni-ball Vision 0.5mm. I buy them by the dozen. Over the past few weeks I’ve had to chuck several as they ran out of ink. Little is more frustrating than straining to maintain consistent weight of letters as a pen nears its death. Then again, having to write with a ballpoint is equally if not more frustrating. (I’m a pen snob and rarely yield to using pens available to me at a doctor’s office or business; chances are I’m packing a uni-ball Vision somewhere on my person, and opt for that.) I bought another dozen today, and I’m not at all embarrassed to say buying a fresh dozen pens is as good a fix as drinking coffee or eating chocolate.

Here are my new pens, in all of their full-of-ink glory, stacked neatly upon Volume X; the five remainders from the previous dozen are off to the left, fearing their last letter.

In progress

After several months of latency, I’ve reacquainted myself with Undone. My relationship with the title itself is tenuous; it describes the state of the manuscript and taunts that it shall forever remain as such. That’s why I’m particularly happy to report that the rewriting is officially in progress!

Undone|Progress May 31, 2015 (2)

Anna’s undergoing a small makeover. I’m combing through the pages, updating accordingly to solidify her transformation.

My goal? To finish the novel in time to start my second novel this November for NaNoWriMo.

I just love lofty goals, don’t you?

Just be

You see the posts on Facebook, read the headlines in the papers, hear the ads on television and radio. Seemingly anything of value needs to be…

The best
Ground breaking
Hype hype hype

You should make more money
You should be valued more
You should want _________

We’ve sold ourselves to the entities with the deepest pockets, deferred our authority to the premiere sociopaths. We’ve handed over our perceptions and lives to those with the audacity to tell us how to live.

What ever happened to using our own minds? What ever happened to just being?

Is it really so wrong to not want All The Things?

Is it really so wrong to be a woman, enjoying her job and un-worrying about her salary, despite the data showing that men make more?

Is it really so wrong to hang up one’s professional career to parent one’s children and pursue one’s personal interests?

Is it really so wrong to respect oneself and live one’s life according to one’s own scruples?

Is it really so wrong to __________________________?

Of course the only person who can define one’s value is oneself; deferring it to others is a choice.

Maybe the only thing anyone’s missing is nothing.

The line, the tipping point, or the sheep

Do you rest easily with the role of modern governments in our country, or do you question the ethical and health ramifications of the trajectory of governments abusing their powers?

What will it take to cross the line of the average citizen’s comfort? Perhaps the jump from 23 doses of 7 required vaccines in 1983 to 48 doses of 14 (by age 6!!) in 2014 isn’t enough. What will be? How many diseases should we fear? How many warrant chemically-induced protection? Will it be 100 doses? 40 vaccines? More?

Might the line be crossed when the public learns of the National Adult Immunization Plan (published February 5, 2015)? Is the adult vaccine schedule palatable? Will the addition of pertussis to tetanus every ten years, annual influenza, and vaccines for pneumococcal (pneumonia), Hib, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Varicella (chicken pox), meningococcal, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), HPV and Zoster be enough to cross the line?

What will happen when vaccinations are required for employment (beyond healthcare workers)?

What if government starts overreaching in other areas as well; what if counties and states start mandating treatment for diseases and illnesses based on diagnosis alone, raping individuals of the right to second and third opinions, seeking alternative treatments or foregoing any treatment whatsoever? Will that cross the line?

Or might the masses begin to take offense to the pandering by pharma and government via help by the media, stop fighting with their fellow citizens, and start asking questions and demanding answers? Will the tipping point of concerned citizens be reached, enough of them to effectively pressure the government to back off?

Or will the thinkers and questioners slowly be silenced or jailed, until only the sheep remain?

Typical acts of malice (blog transplant)

I call this a blog transplant because I posted it years ago on a former blog of mine; it’s from July 12, 2011. While the story itself is old news, the messages laced throughout are still relevant and applicable broadly.

I recently read a blog by Kai Nagata, former journalist for Quebec’s city bureau. (I saw a re-tweet by Pamela Slim). I found his blog, “Why I quit my job,” to be refreshing, and filled with admirable conviction, laced with (presumed, on my part) brutal honesty about an industry (mainstream television news outlets) that he once respected, and can no longer thrive in/with.

This morning I discovered a tweet by Sandra Thomas, promoting her blog retort (in the Vancouver Courier), “Why I didn’t quit my job.” I wasn’t surprised to find her blog filled with bland yet abrasive remarks regarding Kai’s blog. She essentially sees him as being egotistical and idealistic; claiming to have dismissed his article once she noted his age (24 years old), but read on, ultimately, with no justification for her change of heart. I think it’s odd that she wrote,

It was after I got to the part about him being 24 years old that I tuned out, but later forced myself to finish all nine pages I printed off prior to writing this column.”

Why would one point out that they read an article prior to writing a column about it. Should that not be implicit?

I have to counter, or at least bring to question, some of Sandra’s comments.

The first is her inclination to defend her role as a journalist, based on one journalist leaving his industry. Why does she have to make this about her? Why did she feel inclined to pronounce her defense? Is she simply piggy-backing on the viral nature of kai’s blog, to gain followers or notoriety?

Secondly, it’s prosaic for one to squash the motivation/conviction/actions of another with their jaded delusion about why they are important or valid in their activity. Simply put, Sandra and Kai are driven by different motives. Kai demonstrated integrity in conveying his sentiment about leaving an enviable (in his industry) position. It seems that the environment he experienced at his job was oppressing, and left him feeling conflicted morally/ethically (that is my interpretation of his blog). He’s young and hungry and seemingly wants to do something that he can feel is a real contribution to “good” or to “improving” something. Is it really so outrageous to think that someone might have the unadulterated conviction to simply act on one’s deeply-rooted feelings/beliefs? Why must sandra minimize that? From my perspective, it is people like Sandra who poison the minds of the motivated youth to accept the status quo: mediocrity (at best).

Regarding Kai’s comment about his performance during his role as chief at Quebec’s city bureau,

“But I would say, humbly, that I didn’t just meet expectations – I excelled. In everything I was asked to do, I performed consistently at a level above my experience,”

Sandra retorted,

“To that I say, good for you. And good on your parents for raising a son with such a healthy ego.”

I have to interpret her comment as being snide. What is egotistical about acknowledging one’s strength’s? Why is it such a problem, in our society, to NOT hate oneself, or to have confidence, or to own what one is good at?

She provided a “fewer than 3000” word retort of why she didn’t quit her job,

“On a personal level I’m not 24, I have bills, responsibilities and a love of this community I can only afford to live in because of my paycheque. Speaking of community, I feel an even deeper sense of responsibility to readers who call, email and take the time to write letters, asking for help in everything from an injustice they’ve suffered to raising awareness about health issues, to fundraising for non-profits to proposed developments. I didn’t quit my job because every day I’m inspired by my co-workers who do the same and who work hard to tell the stories that make up this city, despite the fact we all work for corporate media.

I also didn’t quit my job because as a journalist I have an obligation to find and tell the truth no matter how much pressure there is, no matter how much people would rather read about Will and Kate, no matter the nasty letters to the editor and no matter what frustrations we face in a small newsroom with few resources.

Finally, I didn’t quit my job because as a journalist I refuse to give up, pack up my truck and drive away into the sunset.”

Here is my brief assessment of her “reasons” for working (which, for the record, no one asked her to defend):

  1. I must presume that Sandra is older than 24 – how much older? I have no idea, nor do I care. It’s outright ignorance that compels one to dispel the beliefs/actions of another, simply based on their age (and in this case, presumably younger age).
  2. She reduces her employment as a means to an end (needing to pay bills), and then offers that she is committed to her community and is inspired by her colleagues. I do not think that survival, loyalty and camaraderie need to be mutually exclusive, but I think it fair to note which she broadcast first.
  3. She portrays the image that she is a person of integrity, in that she is committed to reporting the truth regardless of political pressures to do otherwise. I hope she means this, and I can respect her if she does.
  4. I can also appreciate, prima facie, her conviction to not give up – perhaps she feels as though she’s fighting the good fight – a diamond in the rough or something. She extends that comment to say that she won’t run off into the sunset, which again, minimizes Kai’s actions, as though leaving an industry equals taking a permanent vacation – as though being in that industry, fighting the currents of monetarily driven compromises and sell-outs is more heroic than standing for something. in fairness, since I don’t know anything about Sandra, I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and offer that perhaps both Sandra and Kai are fighting the same fight, but have chosen different weapons/tactics. Or, my more thoughtful assertion, perhaps Sandra is simply comfortable in her post, can’t imagine taking a risk such as the one Kai did, and is chastising his actions out of cowardice and malice.

To Sandra, I offer this … perhaps the adversary you are willing to fight is one Kai has deemed inept and simply, not worth fighting. I leave you with a quote from Atlas Shrugged; page 52, narrator speaking of Dagny Taggart:

“The adversary she found herself forced to fight was not worth matching or beating; it was not a superior ability which she would have found honor in challenging; it was ineptitude – a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way. She stood, disarmed, before the riddle of what made this possible. She could find no answer.”

And to “Dagny Taggart” – what makes this possible is people who believe that one has no choice. People who believe that accepting the status quo is expected or obligatory. It’s the people like Kai who offer to dissolve the thin spread of cotton, and all that sustains it.