S.I.P. Issue #0 – Return of the Bottom

I have really got to fix this shit. No, I really mean it, I’ve got to get my shit together.
[And for an early preview of what I mean…. this relatively short post was 90% done a week ago. It just needed 5 minutes of work and it was ready for primetime. But it took a week for me to get to it, not out of being too busy, but because of the obstacles I have in my head. We’ll be going into more detail on all of that as this project moves ahead.]
There are a lot of things I want to do. I’m not talking about anything huge and lofty, either. I’m talking side projects, little ideas of things that I think would be neat to work on. Several writing projects – scratch that, a LOT of writing projects, since the ideas have built up over the years and never lived to see a page or screen. Some notions for websites, or apps; I’ve sat on a few ideas so long, what would have naturally been a website would now fit best in an app as our use of technology has changed. Some fitness goals, such as eventually completing another marathon, despite how much I hate running and how grueling the first one was.
There is a lot I want to do, and I haven’t done squat about it. Well, that’s not true. I’ve had intention, which is a requisite I suppose in any endeavor. And I’ve made plans, brilliant and detailed plans. I’ve even registered a few domain names and started some Word files and folders for the writing. And they very quickly evaporated into the ether.
So, I need to fix this. And it has to start from the inside.
I am a lovely little ball of neuroses. It is all standard, off-the-shelf components that were used to build my brain… depression, anxiety, ADHD. A little soupcon of OCD in there, as well (more the ‘don’t step on a crack’ kind than a maintain an immaculate apartment kind, unfortunately). So, unfortunately, none of my writing project ideas is some brilliant autobiography of dealing with some rare condition and how I overcame it. I think a lot of people – possibly nearly most – would ID themselves as having some symptoms of that mix should they look it up on WebMD. Psychiatry tends to have to view these things on the spectrum, and the general idea is that it’s not a “diagnosable” condition unless it is negatively affecting your life. And this shit is.
So, if I want to do what I actually want to do, what I think over again and again and again in my head while I work, I need to get this shit right. And by this shit, I mean mind and body…. more the mind, because I need that to fix the body.
This time, I mean to make some real change. Step one – no hard plan. When I take a trip, I check all the details. And by that, I head to the airport not only knowing exactly my seating, where the charger is near my seat, what the available onboard entertainment and meals are… I usually have seen a picture of the plane I’m taking. Not “oh, this is the type of plane I’ll be flying”, I mean the actual goddamn plane with the actual registration number that will be making that leg. a) Yes, if you cross reference enough websites, you can find that information and b) did I mention the OCD thing?
Historically, I plan out each step ahead of time. And I think that’s been an issue, where I make a plan that’s really detailed with the idea that it will guide me. The problem is that the more narrow a path you make for yourself, the easier it is to get off of it, and when you have my head, that’ll derail you very quickly. Therefore, no plan. A guideline of where I need to go, and steps to take to get there.
So… [for the record, I appear to use “so” a hella lot; it may not appear in this finished product, as I stopped and edited, but dang, I certainly have my verbal/literary tics]
So, goals to fix my foundation:
– I need to regain control over my depression; it ebbs and flows, so I have good days and bad days. But I need to get that fixed.
– I need to better manage my anxiety so I don’t miss out on things because of it.
– I need to reestablish a healthy relationship with food.
And that’s actually just about it. At least the foundation of it. Taking a pad of paper, I can list off all sorts of things that I think I need to do, should do, want to do. But they are either part of the solution to one of the items above, or need one of those items dealt with to clear the way. I should exercise more? That’s both a component to helping with depression and eating, as well as something that will come easier when those are handled. I should work on X project I’ve been wanting to do? Clear up the above and a lot of the friction and mental inertia that I find to be such an obstacle will be lowered, if not completely removed.
So, here’s where I’m at – attempting to do these things, yet again. Scratch that, and scratch that “yet again”. I’m continuing to work on those things. I just got sidetracked a few (dozen) times, and am getting back to it. And it won’t go smoothly, there will be stumbles, and I am sure to get sidetracked quite a few times as I go. The key will be to keep going on this Self-Improvement Project (SIP for short).

My Foundation Doesn’t Require a Foundation

I am, I am told, a heathen.
Immoral, directionless, doomed to burn in hell for all eternity.
Because I am a – gasp – atheist.
And the thing we atheists get told by people who, frankly, don’t really know us, is that we simply cannot have morals. I’ve tried calling myself a “secular Christian”, since I do believe in the philosophical teachings of what I believe was a historic figure, Jesus of Nazareth. But that just seems to piss everyone off, and I’ve been told flat-out, if you don’t believe in the divinity, if you don’t believe Christ rose from the dead or that a cracker is a slice of his flesh like it was cut off in the Andes mountains, then nothing else matters.,
It is an attitude I find puzzling, though seems to fit in with some of the more vocal Christians I know or see as public figures – as long as I believe in the divinity, the actual message is secondary. Though it seems to me that we’re losing the real message of the alleged resurrection (I’m sure using “alleged” is going to piss people off, but I’m talking about an event I don’t really believe happened as if it did, so… there we are). It wouldn’t have been the message that Jesus was bringing to the people, it was the underline and exclamation mark, the “See? Kind of a big deal, here, perhaps you should pay attention to what I had to say!”
But while they’ll put the moral code he teaches in a secondary category of importance, they also assume that without it, I must be completely immoral. Which has a certain circular illogic to it – I believe in the moral teaching’s but not the divinity, which means I’m not a true Christian, which means I must not be following the moral code he taught us. How heads don’t literally implode on such sort of reasoning I will never understand.
But I have a moral code. I do not lie; I used to, but found it too troublesome and never worth it – honesty is easier. I do not believe in harming other people; no one should be harming anyone and doing so is wrong. And especially, I don’t believe in killing others.
Now, are there exceptions? Certainly, I do not think any rule or moral holds up in black and white in every single situation. In defending others, doing harm may be necessary, though I believe in quick, contained action to do so.
This is where I tend to get tagged with a “relativistic morality” label, that I can’t hold onto any rule firmly, so I must not have any rules at all. But that is, frankly, a complete load of crap. Because while I have small exceptions to it, the people who chose to judge me tend to have much bigger ones. How many Christian leaders openly have called for military actions in the past decade? How many find excuses to find the death penalty morally correct?
This past weekend, when SNL did a parody of a Toyota commercial of a dad dropping his daughter off at the bus station for college, but it turns out she’s going off with ISIS, many people complained about the immorality of such a joke and those who found it funny. “When so many Chrisitans were just killed over there.” Fair point, I suppose, but in my book, MANY people, mostly Muslim, have been getting killed in that struggle, and my personal outrage over the atrocities that are going on have to do with PEOPLE getting killed; whatever their religion may be is a secondary concern. But that’s the sort of person I’m supposed to be listening to that I don’t have morals? The ones who open the Bible to “Thou shalt not kill” and see a dozen asterisks after it for all the exceptions they’ve imposed?
There is such a thing as a moral fact. Nearly every religion can be boiled down to a simple caveat – “be nice to each other” (even the Church of Bill & Ted). They may differ on who brings us that message, on what their tale of how the universe came to be is, etc. But the underlying moral message is the same, because they are based on truths that we have found as self-evident. But people lose focus on the message, get caught up in tribalism, and act like those who don’t follow THEIR book in the way that THEY think it should be done, there is no way we heathens can have any moral framework.
To quote the comic Rick Reynolds, “Has anyone really flipped through this book, ‘Geez, I wanna fuck my neighbor’s wife, don’t know if I should!’?”
The real key is to be open about the world, and your place in it. If you only see yourself as part of a WASP tribe, that you identify as white, as Anglo-Saxon, as Protestant (or other Christian sect), then suddenly the “rules” you are told to follow suddenly only seem to apply to your group. Other people, since they believe differently than you ((and look and live differently, too), it seems alright to treat them differently.
Even though there is no indication that Jesus ever saw a white person in his corporeal form. Or that his message was for a small group of people to only apply to each other. No, in word, many Christians will say that Jesus’ message was universal, but in their implementation, act like it was very narrow lesson.
There is no need to worry about my morals. I won’t lie to you, cheat on you, steal from you, hit you, kill you. I hold those morals to be self-evident, and I didn’t need a book to tell me that. To those who want to question my morals, you can go ahead – it will be a waste of your time. Perhaps that time would be better spent looking at your own morals, and your book, and questioning if you are really following what you preach.

A Lesson from the Life of Nimoy

“Knowing he is no longer around makes things feel a little… less”
That was part of my initial reaction to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, a memory catalogued for posterity since such moments are, as mine was, shared on Facebook. It was a strange thought in a way. I didn’t know the man, beyond the public view of him. Spock, “Three Men and a Baby”, his autobiographies, even his photography (was not as familiar with his musical work, save having once heard “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins”. There have been people who I’ve seen on a near daily basis who have passed, and I didn’t have the same reaction. So, what gives?
I think a big part of it is found in stories people have shared in the past day. One, such as the one about when Nimoy was told that Nichelle Nichols was being paid less than other supporting actors, he used his weight as a lead to get her more money; others of casual interactions with people when he was open and friendly and interested and a genuinely kind fellow. And if you look at the quotes attributed to him, there is one conclusion – he was a genuinely nice guy.
And that seems like something that comes in shorter and shorter supply – genuinely nice people. They are out there, either famous or obscure. But it isn’t something we seem to care about anymore.
Now, there certainly was never that idealized time in America where everyone tipped their hat at passing strangers, all men walked on the street-side next to a woman to take the hit should there be a splash, where people would stop what they were doing to help someone else out just… because. Because it is the right thing to do. There were always bastards among us.
But now, it feels a bit different. In America, many like the idea of objectivism, that selfishness isn’t just alright, it is the better path (the fact that many public figures who speak kindly of objectivism also wear their religion on their sleeve, one of the greatest humor-by-irony cases one will witness). Capitalism isn’t just an economic system, it is treated as a religion, and those who might suggest something considered a hair less capitalistic are deemed heretics.
We live in the era of Kim Kardasian, someone who starts out with access to millions, gets slightly famous for being friends with a more famous person, really blows up on her own due to a sex tape, and parlays that into even more millions. “When someone asks me, ‘What do you do?’ under my breath I want to say, ‘Ask my f*cking bank account what I do.’” That sums up her attitude – I have money, it doesn’t matter how I get it. The money is the end, the means are secondary.
But it isn’t just her, because one thing she’s been able to do is parlay her fame into millions of fans, a cadre of people who look to her and her life as an example of how to live. Who buy into the story that the ends justify the means, as long as the end is cash. Though perhaps it comes off as a little unfair to specifically target KK on this; as I said, she isn’t the first one to do as she does, and for those following many Wall Street leaders during the collapse a few years ago, the notion of making-a-profit-justifies-everything isn’t exclusive to reality stars.
But it just seems like a stark contrast to the feeling of losing Nimoy. Because he was an example of a person who put out to other people with faith that it would come back to him. It is an attitude that seems to be becoming rarer and rarer. But it is one I want to hold on to, a standard I hope to wave until the end.

Changing Course

As I’m getting older, it is getting harder and harder to change course in life. This may simply be me facing the laws of physics – as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a touch bit heavier, so there is more momentum carrying me in the direction I’ve been going, more work that is needed to slow down or change course. And as one of the things I want to make changes to is diet and exercise, which would bring that weight down, there is a bit of an irony there. And I normally like irony, but this one pisses me off.
To make a change, I’ve found that I really need to be conscious of the change I’m trying to make. I mean, actively conscious of it. Let’s take the diet thing. I know what is healthy and not, what is loaded with calories and what will work to fill me up without packing on the middle tire. I’m a chef, it’s part of my job to know that. However, it is also my job to taste things, so fasting pretty much means not doing my job. And it often means bowls of French fries and pieces of cheese and all the goodness that I love just lying around within arms reach.
So, I can make the decision to make a change. I can spend a couple days off trying to clean things up around the apartment, make an eating plan that will work without starving myself, and generally psych myself up for it all.
And then I go to work. And I have to think about the plan. The plan, the plan, the plan. As I’m working the pass during lunch, there is a bowl of fries pretty much right under my nose. Don’t eat the fries, don’t eat the fries, don’t eat the fries. It runs over and over in my head, and I manage to not touch them. Until something distracts me. And when that looping record, “Don’t eat the fries!”, stops, a few seconds later I often find my mouth full of fries.
But this isn’t really about a diet. This is about making a change. Or a lot of changes. Sure, diet is part of it for me. But it is the pattern of extreme concentration and not allowing myself to be distracted to get these things done. From what I’ve learned in therapy, my mixture of depression, anxiety and a very introverted personality is not the best combination to charge forward and maintain that. It is more like building myself up to charge, starting the charge, and when the first hiccup hits, retreating to regather myself and replan. I’m a great planner, not so great executing the battle plan.
Which brings me back to this. Not just this piece, but what I’ve been wanting to do with this website. I used to write and read. I used to do it a lot, many years ago. In college, there was a point where I was taking 3 PoliSci and 2 history classes (which is all reading and writing), working at the Michigan Daily, and still reading a fiction book a week (generally a Tom Clancy-type political thriller) and write screenplays and fan fiction.
But writing is a muscle, and mine has atrophied something fierce, barely able to put together a sentence that I can live with (rereading what I have so far is making me wince). I once ran the Baltimore Marathon, but don’t run now, and physically, it is like I haven’t run before. I have to get going, put in the work to get going again.
I suspect writing works the same way. At least I hope that it does. Because while the ability to write has gotten weak, the desire is still there. Essay ideas, jokes, stories – this one could make a good short story, this one a screenplay, this one an actual play – they fill the gaps in my head when I’m not working on the day-to-day duties I have to keep up with.
An essay a day. Maybe a couple paragraphs, a few pages, whatever I can do. That’s my idea of how to get back into writing. To clear the clutter of ideas and thoughts out of my head and putting it somewhere. That’s why I named this blog as I did. It’s something I think I should be able to do. “Think” is a key word there, as I laid out the issues I’ve had getting going on these things.
Because there is one bit of information to keep in mind… this blog is the Matrix. It has been here before, I’ve written some form of this essay and posted it. This was a New Year’s resolution, and here we are nearing the end of February. I had a WordPress issue shortly after that early January post (my first one didn’t happen right on the first as planned… another sign that I’ve had issues getting this off of the ground), so I had to start over after 2 entries. And by start over, I mean rebuild the site (15 minutes) and then sit around for 7 weeks or so thinking, “hey, I should do something about that.”
So, here we are. Talking about it. But talk isn’t really worth anything. Heck, all of this isn’t worth the paper it is written on, which is even less than when we actually used paper to write on,. I can make this promise to myself, I can make it out to the universe (which in this form is the couple of people who might stumble across this), but until I do something about it I’m just full of shit. And I hate when people think that of me. Time to get the hell off my ass, go get on my ass in front of my computer, my tablet, my phone, whichever means I have to contribute for the day, and do something about it.
So, here we go….