2018: let’s have a retrospective

I think I should have learned by now that I’m just not the consistent type when it comes to blogging. Anyway, I’m older and pretending to be more responsible so I thought I’d play catchup and scratch down whatever vague recollections I have from the past few years.

2015 was the year of spotify, and thanks to its algorithms I’d say I’ve thoroughly expanded, if not exactly diversified, my music library. But listening to music 24/7 starts to do things to your brain that I can’t quite explain. Maybe my ears were just tired from wearing earbuds constantly, but I started to feel my powers of cognition affected. Consequently, I started listening to podcasts, which turned out to be a-okay.

Early 2016 I continued to commit myself wholeheartedly to the podcast listening camp and heard a lot of interesting things. In fact, I might venture to say at the time it was a turning point, a departure from a life that was for one that is, a life more fulfilling, rich. Then I kinda got distracted by the garbage fire that was the latter half of 2016 in America. Oh, and Stranger Things.

If I want to be charitable in my take of 2017, it turned out to be a meditation on human behavior. More truthfully, it was spent in a state of near-constant rage at the status quo exacerbated by all the stupid things I encountered online. I also learned many a valuable lesson in confirmation bias.

And that brings us to 2018! I don’t want to jinx anything, but I did get a pretty solid fortune on New Year’s Day, and the Astro Poets predicted some heady stuff, so for the moment I’ve got my wits about me. Guess I’m gonna see how long I can ride this wave.



jan-ken, or how to make decisions like adults

Jan-ken: the adult way to make decisions.

In one of my infrequent wikipedia meanderings I came across this lovely bit on the historical application of the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.  These are the types of moments in human history I most enjoy reading about, the arbitrary and idiosyncratic, the things that as a person I can understand and relate to.

I’d like to start resolving most of my disputes through rock-paper-scissors.  It’s a clear-cut, decisive game that leaves no room for ambiguity: a leveler of the field in this murky existence of ours.

Of course, what really amazes me about this wikipedia blurb is that the outcome of the game was honored.  No takebacks or brushing it off as mere play; no, this was a match fought in the sphere of reality with all the authority of a notarized contract.  Over the past few years, I’ve begun thinking more and more about human relationships and the use of contracts, formal and informal, and why exactly we are both inclined and agree to them.  Do we use them to temper the perplexities of our existence?  If so, the irony there is that formal contracts are often so abstruse as to be meaningless and informal contracts so infrequently honored that both only contribute to the confusion.

I have to keep in mind that I might also be experiencing an ongoing existential crisis, so social contracts and the like seem especially pointless.  Fascinating, yet pointless.  So why not have some fun with it and jan-ken all your problems away?

“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

For people conscious of films made in the latter part of the previous century, you’ll have a clue as to where this entry is headed.  Or, maybe you just have a calendar that includes the major to sufficiently culturally important holidays and realized it was February the second. (I’ve also heard about people who read or watch the news, but that’s out of my territory.)

Regardless, today is the day we rouse a rodent from hibernation, ask if it can see its shadow, and from that determine the duration of the year’s winter; because if we’re to be perfectly honest, interpreting a groundhog’s intuition is about as scientifically reliable as the weather report.  Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to rely on the “look outside” method of weather prediction: if I look outside and it’s x, I predict a 100% chance that it is currently x outside.  My margin of error is quite low, thus far.  And yes, some would argue this is an observation and not a prediction — I say it’s semantics.  Anyhow, this year Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring to the delight of many.

Meanwhile I’m watching snow spit from an archetypically wintry sky on one of the coldest days on record for the year.  I suppose if winter has to end early it needs to pack everything in before it’s too late.  Although, if we’re going by the lunar calendar tomorrow is Spring come snow, sleet, rain or hail; perhaps, even, all of the above in quick succession.  The Japanese have historically celebrated this event (called Setsubun 節分) sometime around the Lunar New Year, therefore a time of renewal and ritual/spiritual cleansing of which a major component is throwing beans at demons (mamemaki 豆まき).  Nowadays it seems like it’s more an excuse for parents to scare the ever-loving daylights out of some little kids.  If you throw enough beans and exorcise the demon from your house, you’ll have good luck for the coming year.  That’s incentive.

On mutual understanding among friends

Usually, what I write tends to be casual commentary on my rather ho-hum daily goings-on.  I tend to avoid deeper topics of discussion because I am plagued with fears of inadequacy when it comes to my writing on serious matters.  But, unless I want to live a life of solitary confinement (though that still leaves me to my own absurd personal criticisms–worse because they’re never based on reality but my imagination) I’ll need to fight my demons, as the saying goes.  I like the idea of fighting real demons.  Preferably with magic.  Just to be clear, not the wand-waving Harry Potter brand of magic, but more like the alchemic sorcery of Full Metal Alchemist.

But I digress.  What I really mean to be talking about is in reference to my previous post wherein I directed links to an internet repartee between two friends.  Though I am not so thoroughly invested in having an incontrovertible position on the matter, it has been an interesting topic on which to ponder.  It has inadvertently caused me to think about my personal motivations when it comes to friendships, and generally how I view people.

“If you care, you can’t do it.”

This is akin to the “if you don’t give a shit, you can’t give a shit” story from the friend who authored the initial argument.  “If you care, you can’t do it” comes from a previous generation of wisdom on my father’s side.  To best understand it, imagine yourself the driver traveling along a highway with a full car of passengers.  As you’re progressing, some certifiable jerks decide to maintain an uncomfortably close distance behind you.  First, you attempt to slow down as to encourage these obviously busy people to pass and leave you to enjoy the pleasures of driving.  Unfortunately, they don’t take the bait and insist on riding you even more closely than before, so you take the next most obvious course of action: inform your fellow passengers to hold onto something and brake check these assclowns.  Consequently, their car goes careening off the road, momentarily taking flight before crashing down and coasting to a stop in a large field, not without incurring substantial damage to their vehicle and pride.  Meanwhile, the people in your car are simultaneously incredulous and furious, hotly demanding, “What if they hadn’t stopped?!” to which you coolly reply, “If you care, you can’t do it.”

Now, depending on the sort of person you are, you either read this as the terrifying outlook of a borderline sociopath, or you think it’s completely badass and want to emulate this devil-may-care attitude.  Personally (and I think I would be in the majority), I want to appear like the second yet really hold to the first.  It’s been my experience that people ultimately want to seem cool, not only to others but to themselves.  And it’s fairly obvious which of these two mindsets puts you into the “cool” category.  Of course there’s a whole bunch of subjectivity that goes into deciding cool/uncool, but I think there is a universal human impulse that when something new enters into our field of experience we immediately deem it with approval or repulsion.  It may be partly biological, or maybe it’s just completely arbitrary, but people love to judge.  It’s a power trip, even when you’re judging quietly to yourself that the person who just cut you in line is a jerkface.  But this brings up another intriguing notion:

People hate indifference.

Not giving a shit, or treating everything with a casual indifference, is not the way to make friends.  I’ve observed, in fact, that excessive indifference to most things just makes other people assume you’re horrible.  I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, although I think I understand where these people are coming from: being uninterested translates to dislike, specifically dislike of those around you.  People make the assumption that if you aren’t actively liking them you’re probably quietly hating them.  To be fair, I’m making several assumptions about people right now, and it would be more accurate to say my argument pertains to the early 20s set of liberal arts college students.  If you’re not being liked, you’re most certainly being hated; or worse, you’re not being thought of at all.  And being insignificant, unworthy of thought, that’s what gets to people.

So, what I can deduce from my observations is this: Caring appeals to people’s sentimentality, but it probably won’t make you the envy of your peers because it’s a cool thing to do.  I see it as a Superman/Batman situation–Superman obviously gets kudos for his self-sacrificing attitude and tireless efforts to do good, but Batman, who operates primarily from self-interest, will always win in a competition of ‘Who Would You Rather Invite for Drinks?’  (For a Marvel equivalent, perhaps Captain America/Iron Man, or Cyclops/Wolverine.  Again, I believe the choice is pretty obvious.)

Well, so much for “writing on serious matters.”  Maybe next time.

I changed my computer to Japanese…

…in an effort to expedite my language acquisition and knowledge retention. So far, the effects have been mild, but with continued use I might learn something. It is both fascinating and terrifying the rate at which language disappears with disuse. I think of my time in Japan, and although my language skills are probably still comparable to what they were from a sheer word comprehension standpoint, not being surrounded by the language makes it much more difficult to recall in a natural way. That’s really what makes me want to cry out in frustration, especially because I’m not really getting much satisfaction from my Japanese class either; kids fumbling around and relying on english while my teacher obliges their garbled remarks. But before I start sounding too arrogant, I will admit that my refusal to allow even the briefest of english explanations is a shortcoming on my part, since I don’t exactly understand the japanese explanation but just go along with it.

I feel at the very least I am making myself more comfortable with the idea of not using english as a crutch every time I am unsure of something in japanese.  After all, part of the magic and appeal of a foreign language are those nuances which elude direct translation; only by immersing oneself fully can the finer details be understood in an organic way.  Organic learning.  That’s what I’m after.

I want my apartment to perpetually smell of cinnamon raisin toast

So, these past few days have been one real whiz bang of a fall day after another–leaves falling, crunching under my feet, the drifting smell of woodsmoke, and the sky taking on the slightest appearance of winter.  I think it’s the clouds that give the greatest indication of the season.  Recently I’ve been waking to an overcast sky, an endless sea of waves all frozen in mid-undulation so that I feel I’m suspended upside down in midair.  Or maybe it’s more like being in a giant ice cavern, me just an old fossil buried miles and miles below Earth’s surface.  Then when the sky opens up to that crystal clear blue I rise up to the surface and take a huge breath.  I’m coming to think my nerves are best tempered to autumn; other seasons fatigue and exhaust me, but fall just soothes my whole being.  It’s probably a matter of humidity, or absence thereof, that keeps me from tiring as quickly.

This entry has been simmering for a week or so now, but instead of having some great tale to spin all I can say is we’ve had a warm spell so those beautifully cloudy days have retreated for the moment.  Actually, I did go to a lecture yesterday that was pretty interesting.  Naturally I can’t remember the speaker’s name, but he discussed the plight of the present day as the absolute necessity to know what is occurring at every second of the day, while it is occurring.  If it’s happening, everyone, myself included, must know about it, no question.  The problem here being that we no longer give consideration to ourselves, so wrapped up in technology and the like as we are.  So, in an effort to regain that focus on our inner thoughts and motivations, I am taking part in the Unplug initiative, which basically entails giving up some form of social networking/technology for at least a 24 hour period.  I went with Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube; kind of the Big Three, if you will.  In all honesty, the most difficult is probably Youtube, since there are just so many terrific videos available in an instant.

I also just realized the irony to this whole talk of mine is that I’ll be posting this and Twitter will automatically tweet about it.  There’s no escape.