Another trip around the sun and another batch of things learned.

Feb 22, 2016

This post is a day late because I've been on the road and pushing way out of my comfort zone for the past couple of days and learning a lot in the process, so here is my slightly belated birthday post (with the apropriate soundtrack, of course).

I just turned 38 years old. Those seem like simple, empty words but they're anything but. Over a third of my expected lifespan is gone now, which is not an easy thing to admit to oneself. Looking at it one way, I've spent that time just trying to figure everything out - learning the basics, learning which rules can be broken, which can be bent, and which need to be obeyed, and (generally speaking) what the hell is going on. One would think that one would have gotten a start to things earlier, mastered the introductory levels (as it were) and moved on to the more challenging stuff. Thinking about it more, however, things don't actually work like that. The hard stuff begins right from the get go, drawing that first breath, learning to walk and talk, and then learning to deal with the world and all it contains in the context of school. Life gets harder and more complex the older you get without realizing it because the hard stuff becomes easy, and you stop noticing it because it's now second nature. New challenges come up to replace the stuff you've just mastered, and the cycle repeats itself again and again and again.

And so here I am, about a third through my life (give or take) figuring out what to do next. I've come to decide that ambition isn't inherently a negative thing - ambition can take many forms. Ultimately it's the goals you set for yourself and how you want to achieve them. Ambition can be healthy. And ultimately, I need to find another way of achieving my goals because I think I've gone as far as I can with the old strategies. I need to start thinking in different angles. And, ultimately, I'm planning for the long term. I want to have something that I can live on when I don't or can't work anymore. I'd like to not have to worry.

I'm going to put the rest beneath the cut to save everybody's eyes. For many years I dealt with a weight problem. I spent many years, much of my childhood, overweight and dealing with all of the health and social problems that brings with it. Eventually, slowly, I started to shed that weight and work to keep it off with hours at the gym, lots of cold water, and willpower. Lots of willpower. By the time I started undergrad in college I'd pretty much lost a high school freshman's body mass and was somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 of 160 pounds and eventually hovered (though never really stabilized) around the former. However, I didn't exactly do that in a very healthy way; for many years I also showed many of the outward symptoms of anorexia nervosa - constant fatigue (though I used willpower and horse doctor's doses of coffee to keep going), insomnia (going days at a time without sleep was not unusual), very fine hair which was perpetually thinning, and a distinct intolerance of cold (which lead to wearing sometimes eight or nine layers at a time, as some of my old BBS friends can attest to). I think I was living 1200 to 1400 dietary calories a day for upwards of ten years and, looking back on things I think the way I dressed was meant to conceal as much of the harm I'd been doing to my body as I possibly could. A few people I knew repeatedly expressed concern. One in particular used to compare me to the Jack the Pumpkin King, on account that you could count the calluses on some of my ribs.

As I get older I find myself putting weight back on here and there. A little on the front, a little on my thighs, a little on my back, a little on my upper arms regardless of how many hours after work I might spend at the gym, or how many miles I do on the treadmill or stair climber (which isn't many right now; I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I lost a lot of endurance while not going to the gym through the holiday season for reasons outside of this post). It keeps me awake at night. I keep a close, close eye on just how many notches fit through my belt buckle and I fuss about my shirts constantly. Every once in a while I catch myself "forgetting" lunch or drinking just a little too much coffee so I can't finish my lunch... it's all too easy to slip back into old, bad habits.

Sometimes on your trip through life you lose your way. It's not always an obvious thing; it's too easy to go left when you should go right, or take an early exit instead of a later one (those of you who've ever driven with me behind the wheel for longer than ten miles are undoubtedly chuckling as you read these words). Sometimes this leads to serendipity, but sometimes it leads to subtle forms of misfortune that can cause one to forget what they were doing and where they were going. When I was working on my first major, I mean really major project I had to put some parts of myself to the side so that I could need to do what I needed to do, in part so that I could function in that way and in part because there are times to show one part of yourself to your peers and times not to. A friend said some time ago (whose words I've just discovered by accident while looking for something else) that if you're not going to live between two worlds you need to leave a part of yourself behind and I find this to certainly be the case. Leaving a part of yourself behind means just that, you don't have whatever that part is anymore, certainly not when you need it the most. And sometimes that thing takes on a life of its own and it gets really pissed off when you come back for it.

I found that part of me again at Pantheacon and now I need to work to hang onto and reintegrate it into my life. It's going to require that I pay a lot more attention to what I do and how I do it, because I can't afford to fall back into some behavorial patterns that don't really do me any good. In short, daily practice sucks, but that's what it takes. And so, that is what I must do.

So, what did I learn last year?

For starters, I've come to accept that there is a lot of crazy out there. Frightening amounts of weapons-grade crazy that won't stop for anything. There are people who are absolutely immune to being shown evidence of anything that directly contradicts the programmes running inside their heads. Unfortunately their outputs spill out into the world around them and one must be careful because, at the very least they'll burn your time and compute cycles and at worst they'll decide to come after you for daring to express a different opinion (or - horror of horrors! - produce evidence). I've learned that sometimes you have to chew it back and do that one thing that you have absolutely no respect for, if only because you might be able to bring a little honor or cluefulness to it (and believe you me, the amount of crazy and the amount of clue are inversely proportional to one another). I've learned that the trick to skating through many things in life is to be attentive and take care of the little, easy to forget stuff when nobody's looking so that when the time comes you've got a rabbit all ready to pull out of a hat. If nothing else making it look effortless impresses people, but the real reason is to just get it done so you don't have to worry anymore. I've learned that sometimes you have to stop participating in bullshit and leave the others to their own devices, because to do otherwise wastes time and energy.

In the past year, after a relatively long dry spell I discovered some new styles of music in places I never expected to look. The first goes by a couple names depending upon the translation but it's usually referred to as spacesynth. If you imagine the heavily synthesizer-based music of the mid-1980's and then take it down a tangent from how music evolved from that time, not moving away from obvious synths but keeping them at the forefront you won't be that far off. Most spacesynth is light on lyrics if there are any at all but makes up for this with soundscapes composed from samples and custom synth patches that, I think could plausibly be said to tell a story. From a synaesthetic perspective I find that spacesynth is a distinct mood elevator if not an outright euphoriant. I percive lots of bright, almost sunny patterns of bright primary colored pixels (and occasionally voxels) that, while somewhat distracting under some circumstances make even the worst of days that much more bearable. If you are interested in checking out some of this music I recommend Cyber People, Futurecop, Koto (who are considered a classic act in the genre), and Laser Dance (who tend toward epic soundtracks, and thus are a lot of fun to drive to).

Another style of music that I discovered by accident and consequently fell in love with is synthwave and its many variants (vaporwave, chillwave, and so forth). The best way I can describe it (and this is how I describe it to a lot of people) is that it's the soundtrack to the hacksploitation movie that never was - that one, mythical hacker flick that didn't suck, that was both well researched and well portrayed without being boring. One part inspiring, one part montage, one part tale to be told in that smoky, neon-lit bar with your laptop on the table and a double-something nearby. It's the sort of music that underscores each and everything you do, the music that says "You're on top of this." Bands that are popularly associated with synthwave are Kavinsky (whose concept album OutRun I cannot recommend highly enough), Dance With the Dead (whose screaming guitars give them a unique sound and their cover of Master of Puppets must be seen live to be believed), Night Club (who made it big by doing the soundtrack to the surreal television show Moonbeam City), and Lazerhawk. Processed by my weird-ass sensorium I get lots of phantom sensations (moving arms, phantom arms and what I can best characterize as what could be wings), and the sensation of phantom liquids running down my back and shoulders (heavy enough to feel like a handful of mercury but seeming to move at a speed similar to that of a thick gel)*. If you're interested in checking out this style I recommend poking around some of the synthwave groups on Bandcamp.

* Synaesthesia is bizarre. Some people feel that letters and numbers have personalities. I see and feel (in several senses of the word) sounds. Go figure.