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Recently I have been really proud of my load quality under pressure. (Load quality refers to how effective your package walls in the trucks are, in terms of space usage and stability.) Last night, I flipped out on this guy who has terrible load quality and wasn't following any of the loading techniques we had been trained in earlier in the week.

At one point, after repeating and rephrasing what I had just said, he just give me this blank, confused stare.

I shouted, "ARE YOU STONED?!" My part-time supervisor was right behind me and was very amused.

But guess what: I won't be loading anymore, except here and there to help out the rest of the guys at the end of the night. I'm getting back my job on the high-volume belt pickoff. Power Steve has been _banned_ by upper management from being on the pickoff because it was taking away from other stuff he's supposed to do. The fellow who was handling the heavy side of the pickoff until now has moved on to a new job.

My going back up there means the areas will get fewer mis-sorted packages, but they're pulling me from the trucks just as I was getting good at loading. I'm pleased about this individually, but it's going to suck for the rest of my buddies (the decent loaders in my area).

We're short-staffed in the trucks as it is. Yesterday, Ivan, a kid who's been working with us since Thanksgiving said to me while we were pulling packages that had fallen into a dead chute (one not hooked up to a truck): "Listen, bro--if I don't work here come next week, it was a pleasure working with you."

Because of the staffing shortage, and whatever other factors, the loads seem to be getting progressively worse. Our area has fewer than one person per truck. Power Steve can't help us until the very end of the night. Thursday is usually a lighter night. But last night, every supervisor in my area looked haggard and worn down. Thomas, the lead part-time supervisor for my side of the building was scarily pale, especially given he is Dominican. He had his glasses off and was muttering, "Thomas is dead. There is no more Thomas. Thomas is dead."

I didn't have the heart to break the news about my reassignment to the rest of the guys, who were still working to fix things up when I left.

And I haven't told anyone at work I'm aiming to be out for sure before the end of March.
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I've been loading the trucks for nearly a month now. My first week was tough, physically and psychologically. But things got better, especially as I got to know the other truck loaders in our area. We would talk, joke, curse, and commiserate about having to heave thirty pound boxes over our heads, with fifty pound boxes falling off the sides of the belt, burying us. I don't think I am giving a good picture of what this is like --some day I will put more effort into describing the scene and the experience. The other folks know how hard it is, dealing with nothing but giant boxes, some of which are bursting open. They know how bad it is when the management sends someone to help, but the newcomer can't build decent walls, and it ends up being a mess. So when any of us finish up in the truck we're covering, we go over and help. In any case, it felt good to be part of the team, and it still does. There's a strong sense of camaraderie among us physical workers.

But my mood had been shifting again last week. It started when the tendon attached to my left bicep began to hurt. Then, my wrists began to hurt. Then my feet really began to ache. I didn't feel like I was recovering -- by Thursday, the end of the week, I'd feel kind of spent at the opening of the shift. Throughout my time working here, on Friday, my first day off, I'd go through the day fending off tiredness, and dealing with various aches and pains. But after I hurt my arm a bit, Tuesday felt like Thursday, and Wednesday -- a work day -- felt like Friday. One arm not working all that well had an impact on how well I could move the rest of my body, and somehow my general stamina. Acetaminophen, Menthol Salicylate cream, constant Gatorade mediated rehydration, and nine to ten hours of sleep could only do too much. I went to Walmart and spend around sixty dollars: neoprene wrist supports, elbow sleeve, shoe inserts.

Last week, one of the guys--let's call him Dennis--quit at the end of a shift. He had really been struggling physically, and asked me how the hell I was still okay. He had broken his toe on his second day of work, when a certain, very reckless worker pushed the roller wheels over his foot. He hadn't invested in steel-toed boots, a requirement for the job. So he just put up with the pain and didn't tell the management, because he was afraid that he would get fired for not wearing the appropriate clothing. Fortunately, he has a day job working in a physical therapy clinic, so he knew what to do with his toe. He was still in pain. The toughest part was that while the lot of us earn a humble $10.50 an hour, he got to do the same hard physical labor for $4. The rest went to child support.

In the back of the truck, he looked at me from across the rollers and said, "I'm raising a son. I'd rather get fired than quit."

But the next day, Dennis was gone. He quit at the end of that shift.

People in this world put up with a lot of pain to get things done in their lives. Many of the people I work with here come to do this low-wage hard labor after working their day jobs. Just to get a little more money for their families. Just to have a bit more money to help out their kids, like one of the guys who was recently able to find a good school for his autistic son.

Since Dennis left, the mood has been more glum when we talk during the ten minute break, or as we're wrapping up the shift. It's not the only thing. We know other people are leaving. There's talk that corporate is circling around, looking to fire the least efficient people in each area.

A veteran hourly worker, who has been at the company for 24 years, told me quietly, "They're trying to flow through the same amount of stuff as the end of Christmas, with half the number of people. They're trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of us."

It's pretty typical corporate capitalism. He told me before that the warehouse workers at Amazon have it worse, being under more scrutiny, with no union protection.

And here, I have respect for most of our immediate supervisors. They started out where we are. They know what it's like to load a nightmare-heavy load. When it gets heavy, they try to help as much as possible. They come and load with us. They climb up and help sort packages.

So, it's disheartening to hear them getting chewed out by the district manager or some safety supervisor for the truck load quality being inefficient, or for there being too many packages that have fallen off the chute. We are all hauling ass, and we are all tired and at our wits' ends with these crazy loads. We are getting crushed. When I'm tired, I have trouble thinking clearly, and more trouble getting packages overhead.

I have this subjective metric: what I call my Not gonna deal with this shit no more meter. When the meter hitting 100% means I am completely fed up. It means I'm ready to walk the hell out, at least for the day. And maybe for good.

Usually, once I feel the end of the sort is really in sight, my meter mellows out. When we make it to end of the night, I might be bitching and cursing, I feel a sense of relief the day is over. Marlon and instinctively talk about the events of the day, an I think that helps a lot.

Yesterday, while loading a mixture of 45lb boxes of industrial parts and boxes of flowers, topped out at 85%. We started work half an hour earlier, and got out half an hour to midnight -- seven hours for what is typically a 4.5 hour shift. At the end, I chatted with the guys, and then with Marlon on the way home, and laughed it off.

Today, even though it was a shorter shift, the meter peaked at 95%. A box tipped over and hit me in the throat. A supervisor (not one I usually work with) came in and helped me load, but the wall he built was unstable and had a huge gap on the top. The aisles were filled with packages, many have, some torn open. I was getting ready to just give up on the truck and walk out. In a few minutes, I mellowed out a bit, and decided that at the end of the night, I'd pull my supervisor aside and give him notice that I'd be quitting in three weeks at the latest.

But the night wrapped up. The belt finally stopped, and we managed to fit the remaining stuff into the almost-full truck. There was chatter and joking and complaining. Lou, our best loader by far, talked about his wife's health issues, which is why he's been out for the last few days. I couldn't bring myself to announce my departure. I didn't want to hurt people's spirits just as we were all sharing some relief of climbing out of that hell.

But I am ready to move on. I postponed making my move for a while. Through December and January, I felt too tired to work on opening up other opportunities. This small job takes a lot of energy. I sleep nine, ten hours, and don't feel like I'm recovering completely day-to-day. But I don't have any other sources of immediate income, nothing saved up. Recently, my wages have been getting garnished to pay debts -- though nothing as bad as what Dennis was paying in child support.

But Marlon and I keep telling ourselves, if we can stand this crazy-ass work, we can overcome almost anything. If I can make it through a shift after shift feeling like I'm just one more 45lb box of t-shirts away from walking out on the spot, I can get my stuff in order in my spare time. I can overcome the physical and logistical and social and financial hurdles.

I don't want to dampen their spirits. But if I don't apply this same hard work to improving my situation, I feel like I'd be letting down my comrades even more.
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Late last week, they started me loading the trucks. It's a basic thing everyone gets to try out, but they had prioritized keeping me on the top belt, picking off packages. I figure now that things have gotten lighter, they can train me to do more stuff.

Loading in the trucks is tough, but what really gets me is when I am there by myself and the thoughts that pop up.

When the rollers get backed up with packages thoughts about how I'm slow and how everyone thinks I am slow start to pop up. Then come the thoughts that simulate me telling other people and them giving me a simplistic response about not beating myself up about it. Then more thoughts pop up about how other people are mentally tougher. Just a for fun, throw in thoughts about how the majority of my friends within 2 years of my age are Vice Presidents or some kind of doctor, and I doing this, making ten dollars an hour.

I imagine freaking out and knocking over the wall of packages I've just built. I imagine walking out of the truck and telling my full time supervisor that I just can't do this anymore. It's not that it's too tough, it's that I am mentally weak --or something-- and can't handle it. Imagine every guy on the PD shrugging at me and saying, "Come on man!" in a tone that means, "You're a big baby, suck it up!" which is something they would not do.

The scanner is slipping off my fingers. My hand is cramped. It's not scanning. I'm losing my grip. What good was all my talk about strength training if I'm still slower these skinny 19 and 20 year olds? The layers of meta-thoughts are as high as the package wall I've built. The increasingly depressive thoughts stream down, forming piles like the piles of boxes at the entrance of the truck.

All I can do, it feels like, is say loudly to myself, "It's okay. It's fine. Scan and load. Scan and load." Sometimes I almost have to shout it to myself.

This is the same mental process that happens in some social situations, especially parties or professional networking things. At least in a truck I can talk to myself, keep moving, keep telling myself aloud that I'm still a beginner and everything is fine.
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Edited from a story I posted in the #hellotoday channel of our Slack, 2016-12-25

My parents wanted to go to NYC to see some of the displays and the Rockafeller Center tree. Marlon straight up refused to go.

I really did not want to go but I thought it would not be so bad.

It started off okay, with us parking in JC to take the PATH in at Grove Street. But I struggled to find a place with a public restroom, so I ended up using a Johnny on the Spot after asking a security guard at a construction site. I realized I'd forgotten my iPhone charging cable, despite bringing my external battery. My phone was already dead

Then I helped a pair of Chinese women (limited English) who wanted to refill their Metrocard but only had cash, no credit/debit cards. One of them gave me cash, and I put it on my debit card.

It was interesting to be on the PATH again. 33rd to Herald Square. Then it began to go downhill for me. I really wanted the rest of the family to enjoy, but I was personally getting progressively more irritated at the crowds that were there to see all the touristy stuff I semi-resented ever since I lived in city, which I still live otherwise. Huge lines for bathrooms. Overpriced holiday food stalls in parks. People stopping in the middle of crowded sidewalks to take pictures, pictures, pictures. Social media culture has magnified and made this shit worse

The last straw was when we got to Fifth and about 49th. There was a massive crush of people stopping on the freaking corner to watch and capture the Sam's Fifth Avenue store light show. I got separated from everyone. The packed crowd jostling against each other extended for about a block and people were still stopping to take goddamn pictures. I was full on enraged at all this, and it took me about 15 minutes to get half a freaking block, shuffling and pressed up against people, getting shoved from behind and causing me to shove the people in front of me.

Unable to contact the rest of the family otherwise, I went to a Duane Reade/Walgreens and bought an overpriced Lightning cable. I knew full well that it would be relatively useless to me after this night, since most 3rd party cables do not it fit through my life proof case. I had to remove the case.

I decided I was not going to jostle back through the stagnant crowd again just to meet up with them so we could jostle through more crowds to see freaking tourist things I don't give a shit about seeing in person.

As soon as my phone turned on, I sent a series of texts to everyone:

You can go wherever. Don't wait for me. I bought a charging cable from Duane Reade so I will be getting your messages.

At some point I will meet you somewhere that is NOT CROWDED. Just tell me where. I am not going into Rockafeller or back on Fifth

And to the expected "where are you" and "we will wait for you"

Don't call to clarify with me. It will just be a pain in the butt. Just go on wherever you want to go to. I will hang out away from the crowds. I really don't care about any of the displays or touristy things anyway. There is nothing here I want to see and the crowd in Rockafeller is a nightmare

Just message me if you need tips getting around

I began to walk west, which was the opposite direction of the big crowds, but soon I hit the pedestrian traffic around Times Square, which is another place I find irritating. I was thinking of just stopping in a McDonalds, but I decided to keep going. I considered seeing if my friends Lawrence and Connie in Hells Kitchen were at home, but I felt a bit hungry and decided to stop a cheap restaurant I vaguely recommended ordering from.

I am just walking around on 9th by myself. I can meet you if you go sit down somewhere or once you're done seeing Rockafeller / Times Square area

Peace and quiet -- at least for the city. I was able to stop being angry. I didn't find that restaurant I was thinking of, but I spotted a tiny, authentic looking noodle place (named Hand Pulled Noodles II)

The only table was almost right up against the door. I didn't mind at all. When have I minded something like that? They gave me a pot of jasmine green tea and I ordered a beef stew noodle bowl. After all that, it was just the best.

I told him I'd meet them there, and then ate my soup eagerly and noisily, like you're supposed to. I finished up the remaining soup by drinking from the bowl directly. I used the bathroom and told them to keep the 20 (which was the same bill Chinese lady had given me). The cashier looked at me, stunned, but I told her, hey it's Christmas. I didn't mention that this was the redeeming part of the whole trip

Zipped up my jacket, retied my shoes, put on some headphones, and headed over to 33rd and Broadway at a nice, brisk city pace.

Met up with the family at the base of the 34th street entrance to the PATH station.

I wasn't sure if my parents were angry at me for refusing to meet them in the crowded center. But later I figured they were just tired, but satisfied with what they did

Got back to the car on Warren and Columbus Ave. Put on Sakanaction as we got onto the Turnpike. As we glides down the highway, I found the array lights of the industrial centers and the airport stretching into the distance more beautiful than anything the packed crowds had stopped to ogle.

I thought about what I frequently think about -- anxieties about people expecting me to want the same things in life that they do. A sort of disbelief that anyone would be indifferent to things like having a nice house, a good career (or creator of the next Big Thing), a prestigious title (Vice President of something or another), a huge salary, and an impressive office. There are crowds packed, jostling against each other to get to those things.

I realized that today had been a microcosm of my life, and what I value from it.

The peace I found when I got away to enjoy a bit of soup and some tea at a tiny table by myself, seeing beauty in the sight of lights coming from myriad warehouses and industrial installations, the sense of liveliness of walking through the city on my own terms -- these are small examples of the quality things I am looking for on the big scale.

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I called the package sorting job a firebreak. Certain worries of the past, much of the career failure baggage from the past ten years can burn and burn, but they won't cross over. I might have been wrong, though. At the very least, I was wrong about its completeness. The sense of refuge I mentioned began to crack today. As I shifted, flipped, and shoved boxes, I found myself worrying about my parents.

I know my dad is stressed out about finances. I know he asks why he has had to keep working, when he could have retired five years ago. I know he is stressed about having to pay several hundred for my student loans, when I never graduated from everywhere. I know frustrated with my brother and my progress in our lives. I know he asks himself what he did wrong as a father, and why we are unsuccessful, when the children of the people he knows have respectable careers, families, other achievements.

I don't share my father's perspective, or his values. But I can respect the things he finds valuable, and acknowledge his disappointments and his pain.

So how would I be able to tell him, with things strained as they are, that I am not interested in a career--any career, really? How could it possibly help to explain that a career doesn't look like a future to me? I don't think most of most of my friends would get that. How would that not come across as misguided, ungrateful, self-absorbed, and just plain wrong? I don't think I've accomplished anything in my life that would convince either of my parents--or most of the people I know--that I could be right about this at all.

I feel better when we drive over to the hub. For a while, I get extra shielding from these worries. We have a job to do, a tough, tiring job. But I am good at what I do, and the people who work with me are grateful. I am not face to face with reminders that there is work undone, that things are physically falling into disrepair.

The packages come down the conveyor belt. Even if I don't pick everything that is supposed to go down the chute, I move fast, and make a difference down the line. They keep asking me if I could stay for the night sort as well, and are disappointed when I decline. You're a good worker, and we could really use your help, they say.

Heavy flows block out other thoughts--it's move swiftly, pay attention, or miss the ten, twenty packages coming down the line, sometimes piled on top of each other.

But during the light flows, if I can't think of anything to talk about with my counterpart, I just think to myself. And the worries from outside creep in.

The third thought I had that day: you cannot simply exit.

There are no clean breaks or perfect transitions in life. There is no such thing as truly starting over. There will always be baggage you carry with you.

Picking packages off of the belt is tiring. My knees ache, my fingers ache. I refilled my one liter Nalgene during the ten minute break, but now it's empty again. I'm sweating it all out. My eyes, still darting around from label to label, feel weary. When the upside down tote box marking the end of the sort comes around the bend on the belt--what a relief. I was eager to leave behind home and its worries. But at the end of the shift, I am tired and eager to return.

Maybe a firebreak can stop the wildfire from spreading to your side. But eventually, you have to leave the sanctuary. You must cross over to the burned out remnants of the forest, to see what has changed, and what is still alive.
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Today was a light day at the package sorting hub. We finished extremely early. While that means fewer hours, I found it convenient, since I will need to be up very early tomorrow morning to head to NYC.

The light load was also fortunate, since my counterpart--I'll call him Cowen--was not in. He stands on the other side of the belt and also assists in intercepting certain packages. Without him there, the light load was moderately difficult.

Being alone at my station meant that I had the whole time to think to myself. Or, depending on how you look at it, I had to think to myself the whole time.

Every once in a while, my mood dips. Some days I don't get enough sleep (around nine hours for me) and that can lead to anxiety and depression. Other times I experience an event that brings up bad emotions. Shame often predominates my depressive moods. At least, that's what I call it--it's the opposite of feeling proud.

I'm only bringing this up because the second thought I had that day came up when I was trying to keep myself from slipping into a bad mood earlier that day. The thought was:

Sometimes, to get out of a bad situation, you have to cross something out.

I feel like that makes sense in a practical way. If you're stuck or trapped in a bad place, position, or state, you might be able to get free by removing something. Remove some of the walls or surfaces keeping you pinned down.

I'm still trying to figure things out. I've accepted that if I'm actually going to go after things I want in life, figuring it out is going to be mostly up to me. There isn't really a template to follow. And while I can chat with some friends, I get the sense that most of the people around me are following very different scripts. And I'm writing my own. To some extent, I have to remind myself that some of the people I know actually take some cues from what I am doing, even though I'm still really, really making things up.

Since I don't have ready made scripts, I use a lot of models in thinking about things. They aren't perfect, and some of them are at most loose metaphors but they help me a lot.

One model I've been thinking through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I'm pretty sure I'm still stuck towards the bottom of esteem layer. I haven't progressed very much in society's terms--I don't earn a lot of money, I don't have a very prestigious career, and I haven't checked off common life milestones, like having children, getting married, or even a long-term significant other. On the more superficial side, I don't even have many experiences that can generate nice pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram. I don't have a college degree, and by all reasonable expectations, I'm probably going to be struggling with that for a while now. A lot of the time, especially because I'm close to my brothers, I feel all right.

But it gets to me. Last night, I was seeing everyone's baby and engagement and wedding photos.

If only I could cross out a large part of that pesky esteem layer! If only I could say, okay, not going to feel shame. If only I could save all the mental energy preparing to explain my life factors in terms other people can understand, only to have them give pretty pointless advice.

But I do kind of do that, or attempt to do that. From my own experience, my own hierarchy has a truncated esteem layer, or at least a very leaky border between self-actualization and esteem. Whenever things feel safe enough, I begin trying to tackle esteem and self-actualization sort of all at once.

What if I just reject the common social scripts that don't seem like they're going to work for me? A different model helped me see that quitting, exiting, or throwing out arrangements that aren't working for me has been a thing I tend to do naturally.

But you don't quit without side effects. I sure didn't. For social/life scripts, the side effect usually is that you have to write your own stuff. And then a bigger side effect is that people don't understand what's going on with you, while your script is still a work in progress. They'll try to pattern-match you to many tropes that just ain't relevant. And then, there's always the possibility that quitting carried a larger price overall than you first thought.

I'm dreading some encounters with relatives this winter. Even though I've felt that I'm learning very quickly how I want to live my life, and how I don't want to live my life, I know it will seem to them that I'm falling into a particularly bad script. And they will have suggestions about what I should be doing instead.

But for right now, I find myself in an interesting stage. I started training at the package hub just an hour after I completely failed an interview. It was sort of a desperate move at the time. I'd been looking for a job all fall, and I'd expected to keep searching in software development. Back in June, I wouldn't have expected I'd be working on a conveyor belt.

I feel strangely at ease, though. I earn enough to just barely pay bills, so I really don't want to stay forever. But most days, I feel really relieved at not feeling that I could be doing something else. While I'm at the hub, I'm doing my best almost all the time. No one there expects that I should be doing more. The packages keep coming down the belt, and I have to do my best to keep up and pick them off. But that's about it. Really, the hardest times of the week to deal with are my days off.

I know it's very temporary, and very limited, but this arrangement has provided a weird sort of haven from most worries. Maybe I'm not out of the rut yet, but at least there's some shelter for the rain.

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I have three key thoughts floating around today.

One: for me, some distinction exists between actions with an outcome and outcomes with a future. I mean future in some kind of idealistic sense, in the sense of "This person has a future." But also in a personal sense.

I'm working at a transportation and delivery company right now, in a package sorting facility. I won't name it in a public post. But it's one of the big two: our main competitor is the purple and white one. We're a different color.

The shift goes four o'clock to nine o'clock in the evening, from Sunday through Thursday. But I have frequently been there until ten.

The job is more physically demanding than any other job I've had, except maybe when I was doing maintenance. The pay is a few cents over ten dollars an hour. It is tough, as yesterday attested. Today was my sixth day on the job.

The hub is about 20 minutes from my house. My station is on one side of a conveyor belt, standing on a platform about 25 feet in the air. I look at the states and destination numbers at packages going by. If the label on a package matches certain patterns, I take the package and put it down a chute so that it can go onto the belt below me. Otherwise I let it continue down the belt.

It's pretty simple, but not straightforward or easy. If the belt even gets saturated by one layer, it becomes impossible to pick off the packages on my own. Sometimes it gets so hectic that the packages are falling off the belt at my station, or pushing me backwards.

I'll describe it more later. For now, it's enough to say that I'm sore and tired the rest of the time I'm not at work. And I lost my first paycheck to finance charges--my account is negative until next Friday.

To trace how I got here, I'll will eventually have to work my way back, and recap what I've been doing over the past year or so. Maybe I'll try to describe where I failed, and how, if I can find it, I succeeded. I'm not completely sure, in any case. The question, "How the hell did I end up here?" floats around in my head a lot. Last year, around this time, I never would have guessed I'd be doing this.

But for now, I'll just tie it into the thought in my head earlier.

I think I am doing an okay job picking packages so far. The facility just opened two weeks ago. On Wednesday, before thanksgiving, they had a ceremony to celebrate the opening.

Some company big shots came and said a few words. One of the themes each of these guys kept touching on was that there is room for advancement if we work hard and stay loyal to the company. You hear how good a company it is from supervisors and other people who have stayed on for years. Great benefits, they said. The head of Atlantic operations recounted how he started as an unloader in a small facility in Kansas. His only ambition was to work his way up to driver.

"You can make a great future for yourself here," he said. "I'm proof." He gestured to some of the other managers and executives. "They're proof."

Lots of chances for advancement. Stick around, and you have a future.

It's future if you want the job. I don't really want the job of any of the supervisors who trained me. I doubt I want the job of any of the executives or the drivers.

But as I ranted on Slack:

Even though the pay sucks, the hours suck (even though it's part time), and I'm sore and tired the rest of the time--

If someone came up to me and asked, "Hey, how about you do this [software job] that pays a lot more?" I would still be hesitant. I don't know what that says about the the way things are right now.

But I know I should basically expect to be stuck here until I really begin to make a move

I'm not really sure what this all means


So this is probably the second toughest job I've had. And it doesn't pay much more than hanging clothing. But I'm hesitant to do the work to trade this for a better paying, higher skilled line of work that I've supposedly done before. I wish I could explain why in a succinct fashion. I will be honest instead. There are a lot of I don't knows. That's part of the reason I am writing.

I'm glad I live in a society with this much opportunity, that I don't have so many obligations in my life that I'd be afraid of turning down opportunities. It's been a trademark of mine since I was young, saying NO to career paths and money-making moves.

Of course I do want a future. I feel happiest when I am looking forward to a future. But there is a difference between that and paths that lead to better outcomes. A much better income, working in a nice office, being able to contribute back to my family, being able to pay off my debts -- those would be great outcomes.

It doesn't feel like a future. But I can't bring myself to really look forward to those things. I don't know how to put my whole heart into resolving those issues. It feels like things changed, and I got older. But I know it will still feel as it's felt for much of these last six, seven, eight years -- that my life is still on pause, waiting to get started again.

A stopped conveyor belt would be a good partial metaphor for some part of this, but I would have to explain my job further. I see package labels with state labels and destinations numbers when I close my eyes. Sometimes my brain registers part of a wall or a doorway as an Amazon box standing on its end.

I don't really want to talk about work that much right now. They told us today that we have to come in early tomorrow to handle the Cyber Monday loads.

I started a week ago. But it's felt like one continuous day. Things moving, but little sense of change. There has to be more to life than transactions, changes in tempo, with paid breaks strewn in-between. There has to be more to life than envelopes and boxes and chutes and ladders.

It looks like I am meandering here. I had two more thoughts to discuss, and it looks like I've forgotten what they are. I will have to remember tomorrow.
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Here is a review of We Shall Remain Episode 1: "After the Mayflower". I wrote it as part of the Native Americans of North America class I am currently taking.

As of this post, the episode is available on YouTube. I highly recommend it!


We Shall Remain Ep. 1: "After the Mayflower"


We Shall Remain is a historical documentary television series about American Indians. It begins first contact with Europeans, until today. It was produced as part of the long running and critically-acclaimed PBS historical series American Experience. The purpose of the series, in the producers' words, is to show "how Native peoples valiantly resisted expulsion from their lands and fought the extinction of their culture".

The first episode, "After the Mayflower" tells the story of the Wampanoag, an Algonquian-speaking people. The Wampanoag were at the forefront of the difficult relationship between the English and the American Indian peoples: the United States holiday of Thanksgiving has written their alliance with the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

The series tells the story from the perspective of two generations of Wampanaug leadership, and how it would coem to shape the future of American history. It begins with sachem Massanoit, who chose to enter into an alliance with the small group of English separatists who landed in what would become Plymouth Bay Colony, allowing them to survive. It ends with Massanoit's son Metacom, known as Philip. Philip became sachem after this father's death. He would become famous for leading a confederacy of tribes against the English in what would later be called King Philip's War.

The episode examines the motivations for these key figures, as well for Wampanaug in general. It depicts them as decision makers trying to help their people survive amidst deadly disease, invasions, economic upheaval, and political betrayal.

Although the stated intent of the series is to help people to see the struggle of the native people of the Americas, the episode accomplishes more than that. It helps the viewer understand early American history from the perspective of the native people. It helps people understand a much talked-about, but often not very deeply understood period.

The episode assumes a vague familiarity with the history of the English colonization of North America and very basic geography. The main subject of the episode takes place in present-day Massachussetts. The episode makes use of maps to illustrate events and key movements of people. Some general background information might help the viewer better appreciate the series, it is not critical for understand what is going on. Most Americans who hav had some history even at the elementary school level will be able to benefit from the episode.

Because it tells the story of English colonization from the Wampanoag perspective, "After the Mayflower" immediately invites the viewer to empathize with the concerns of the tribe and its leaders. It immediately removes misunderstanding that North America was mostly empty before the Europeans. The story begins with the Wampanaug sachem Massanoit trying to find a way forward after sickness killed nine out of every ten of his people. The Pilgrims appear as outsiders. The Wampanaug are cautious, because of the reputation of Europeans as brutal and ruthless. But the Pilgrims who take up residence in the abandoned village of Patuxet include women and children, many of whom die before the end of the first winter. Still, some in the Wampanaug tribal council think they should wipe out the newcomers before they have a chance to do more harm. But seeing the women and children there, Massanoit decides to let newcomers live. As they make contact, he sees an alliance as a way to protect against the threat of rival tribes.

The common narrative of the Thanksgiving holiday centers around the Pilgrims. This religious sect saw Massanoit and the Wampanaug as having been sent by God to further their (the Pilgrims') mission. "After the Mayflower" depicts Massanoit not as a tool, but as leader facing difficult choices and an uncertain future. It begins with the Wampanaug more powerful than the English settlers, who were at the mercy of the environment and people of this foreign land. By doing this, the episode overturns the usual narrative and invites the viewer to see history through the eyes of the people who lived it--without any set path.

The episode looks at several aspects of the Wampanaug culture, and that American Indians in general, affected the relationship with the English. It discusses how the English misunderstood wampum, which were beads made from clam and other shells. The Wampanaug and all tribes of the Eastern Woodlands region respected it and used it as a ceremonial amulet. The English, meanwhile, assumed wampum was merely a type of currency. Without any respect for its cultural significance, they bypassed the usual relationships between coastal and inland tribes, and manufactured wampum to trade for resources like animal furs. This was one factor that led to decisions by Massanoit and other leaders to sell off their land.

Perhaps most of all, the episode teaches us the Indian way of thinking about relationships, and how its mismatch with the English way of doing things shaped relations and conflict between the two groups. When Massanoit entered into the treaty with the settlers at Plymouth, he not only saw it as a pact between equals, but a joining of their peoples. This was the Indian understanding: an alliance meant that their peoples would become as one, and help each other. Massanoit himself was not an ruler, like a Royal Governor or King James, but a leader whose people had picked through consensus, and whom the whole tribe respected. In contrast, the English, particularly the religious sect of the Pilgrims, were wary of living in too much close contact with the Wampanaug or any other Indians. As more English arrived, this concept of the Indians of outsiders that they needed to change and control grew among them.

Although the history of the United States usually follows the English perspective, I expect many viewers to see the English ways of the period as comparatively barbaric: from their penchant for hierarchy and dominance, desire to control outsiders, to their use of punishments like dismemberment, and their use of human heads as war trophies. I think modern viewers will relate more to the consensus-finding, compromise-seeking approaches of Massanoit, who better represents the ideals of leadership in modern democracy and a respect for a common humanity. Even his son, Philip, who took up arms against the English, only did so as a last resort, in response to injustice, broken promises, and political maneuvering to completely destroy the Wampanaug and related peoples.

The personal focus on Massanoit, Philip, and other key figures from the period make this film unique. While the two Wampanaug leaders play the biggest roles in this ultimately sad story, the episode makes a point to show their relationships with the English. Massanoit became close friends with the second-in-command at Plymouth, Edward Winslow. Winslow took it upon himself to be the ambassador to the Wampanaug. When Massanoit seemed to be deathly ill, Winslow came to be there with the sachem. The episode depicts a scene where Winslow embraces a severely ill Massanoit, and helps him to drink and eat. After he recovers, the show has Massanoit say to Winslow, "I will never forget your kindness."

The show takes care to illustrate all the figures in its story as complex people, with their own desires, hopes, and apprehensions. It avoids simplistically characterizing entire groups as simply good or bad--at the very least, it invites the viewer to think about the political, social, and personal motivations that shaped their actions.

The show uses a mixture of narration, historical pictures, commentary by historians, experts, and current day tribal people to present its information. But maybe the most important aspect of the show was using actors to depict the historical figures. This helps to engage the viewer with the historical story and the experiences of the people they are learning about.

This focus on the experience of the Wampanaug has the potential to change viewers' way of looking at history beyond this period. People watching the show get to see just how much promise the alliance between the Wampanaug and the Pilgrims at Plymouth seemed to hold for relationships between the Indians the English in general. The close friendship and respect between Edward Winslow and Massanoit underscores this. Knowing only about their strong bond, that the sons of these two would become fierce enemies seems shocking and surprising. But history, as people around the world live it, really often is that shocking. Even if we look back and analyze the factors, the people who lived through those events had no real way of knowing just how the story would turn out.

The story of Thanksgiving is important to the American national narrative. It depicts the American ideal of mutual help and cooperation of free peoples of different backgrounds. Although much of Thanksgiving is myth, "After the Mayflower" shows us that much of it was true. For a period, the Wampanaug and the religious Pilgrims at Plymouth cooperated and lived together, some forming close friendships. The Wampanaug, in particular, taught the Pilgrims all about how to survive in their land. Under Massanoit's leadership, they included the the English newcomers as part of a united people. But here is where the clear myth of Thanksgiving ends. Most Americans recognize the name of the Mayflower, the ship that brought the group of English religious separatists across the Atlantic Ocean.

Not so many are aware of how closely this event was tied to another event in early American history--the uprising known as King Philip's War. Metacom, or Philip, was the son of the same sachem Massanoit who entered into a treaty with the survivors of the Mayflower. The show shows us the "second" Thanksgiving the settlers at Plymouth celebrated: Philip's defeat, death, and dismemberment at the hands of English forces. The English at Plymouth displayed Philip's severed head on a pole for two decades.

"After the Mayflower" gives us a look into how Massanoit, Philip, and others must have really experienced this important episode in out history. It is a valuable educational tool that invites us into the perspective of native peoples trying to their best in a world of calamity from disease and invasion. The use of actors portraying the key figures adds a special immersive element to the story. This show reminds us how these experiences of native people are a part of our national historical heritage.

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We had Session 17 of PUZZLE Book 2 tonight.

During the beginning of the session, we recapped the three separate winter sessions.

Then the action resumed with the party in Carnivale just outside the casino. They had just heard the laughter of the creature known as the Banshee. Jova, the Half-Orc mercenary/hunter, was with them.

The party observed the Banshee at first and exchanged information. Ever tried to see if he could reenter the Casino, but the entrance of the Casino seemed to be strangely missing. The Banshee seemed to take some kind of interest in Jova.

She exclaimed gleefully, "I found him!" She began to slowly draw nearer to Jova and the party, or rather, the space between her and the party seemed to shrink.

She asked Jova, "What is your name?"

The bansee repeatedly asks what Jova's name is.

At this point the party squared off against the Banshee, assuming it was now targeting Jova the same way it had targeted Darastiya. Kyu tells the announced that their objective was to protect Jova and any bystanders. KU-RO moved to stand between Jova and the Banshee. Eross fired.

Vorossus was on all fours. It was alert seemed to be switching between looking at the banshee, Kyu, and Jova.

Eross' bolt hit the Banshee in the shoulder. She shrieked, became sad, and suddenly grew in size.

The banshee said, "I thought... you were going to be nice..." She pauses as if listening to music that only she can hear. The fog expands, and dull brass ramparts rise around them, sealing off the area around the group.

The banshee looked at Eross, grabbed the crossbow bolt. She pulled it through her throat and discarded it.

Small metallic arms came up from the ground and grabbed Eross, pulling him into the earth up to his knees. Dozens of these tiny hands crawled over him.

Ever tried to use his vines to pull Eross, along with the hands, out of the ground. KU-RO used a brilliant beacon on Eross, seemingly disabling the hands. He then pulled Eross towards him.

Both KU-RO and Kyu tried to ascertain if they were in a dream. Octlet's device that detected if they were in a dream was going off. But they figured out that although the area was in a dreamlike state, they were not not actually in a dream.

Not immediately informing him what was going on, Kyu launched a plan to put himself, Eross, and Ever to sleep and then to join Ever. He was going to try to put everyone to sleep with a sleep spell, when KU-RO asked if Eross had any sleepytime bolts. Eross didn't know if he did, and hadn't marked them anyway.

The banshee's gaze kept going around, but mostly fixated on Jova and sometimes Vorossus.

Jova seemed unnerved by the Banshee and confused about what was going on. KU-RO explained some of the plan, and it looked like Jova was still confused. Jova moves Vorossus in front of him and says that he will fight. Whenever Jova and the Banshee make eye contact, the Banshee seems joyful, and asks.

Ever asked KU-RO to ask Jova if he'd seen anything like this. Jova replies that he has no memories of anything like this, but that he does not have many memories in general.

The walls, meanwhile, seemed to be closing in. The banshee looks around and tells them and disappointedly says, "I thought we would be friends..."

The banshee took notice of Ever's golem, exclaiming, "A toy! A toy!"

Ever took out his frog, and the banshee's detached face came to look at the frog.

Eross was about to shoot the face, but Kyu cried out and begged him to stick with the plan. Eross decided to shoot bolts at random at his teammates in hopes that the bolts he chose would be sleepytime bolts. He succeeded in putting the Stranger to sleep. The Stranger began to do his sleep-dancing/jumping. Eross then spent an extra action to put Ever to sleep. He shot the bolt at Ever despite Ever's protests that he should just give him a bolt. Ever managed to stop the bolt from hitting him normally. He scratched himself and fell asleep.

Eross then puts the bag on his head as a hat, damages his head with the tips of the bolts, and falls unconscious.

KU-RO put up a wall of blades between their group and the Banshee. Jova readied his huge doublehanded battle axe. KU-RO told to Jova to "hold here" behind the wall of blades. He then went over to Eross to perform first aid.

Kyu used the Dreamscape Hijack ritual to join the others in the dream. As he casted the ritual, Vorossus moved ever so slightly from in front of Jova to in front of Kyu. The banshee, also, seemed to take notice of Kyu.

Kyu pulled the three of them into Ever's dream. But then he felt like they've woken up. It felt like they are in the same place, although Kyu knew that the dreamscape hijack had succeeded. Even KU-RO saw the others seem to wake up. Only Ever felt like the range of his powers had been enhanced.

The banshee smiled and clapped, having taken notice of the party, saying, "We're going to play a game after all!"
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Yes, I am about to write some cheesy stuff. Prepare yourself.

Life has been good lately. It has been good to me for a while, but only recently have I felt skilled enough to internalize it, to begin to give my own answer.

I make mistakes and have setbacks every day. but I've also do a lot of right things. The memory of my friend gives me determination to move forward my own story. I complain less to myself or to anyone about trouble. I seek fewer chances to postpone or escape or hide or distract myself. I may pursue different activities and goals at times, but my life is one thing.

I wish my friend were here to see this. I wish he were here to share in the future we are all building together. Selfishly, I wanted him to see the stories I could create.

I asked myself before: how many more? How many more friends will be gone before I am ready to share the tales I have been spinning with my days? How many loved ones will never get to see what I want to bring to life?

I hear those questions again daily now, but no longer with fear. I am determined not to wait.

Today, I am neither saint, nor sage, nor warrior nor poet. I'm just a dirty traveler, still not fully used to true hardship, just barely getting started. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look like much now. It doesn't matter if outside circumstances get better or worse. I choose my ​path​ by choosing my next step in the right direction. I strive to become more skillful and to transform the ingredients of the present for the future.

I have many memories. I have many moments, many emotions that are part of me. I've passed through many intersections, dead ends. I've seen seasons and ships pass me by. But the decades do not weigh on me. There are so many with fewer years, more hair on their heads, more money in their pockets, more achievements on their biographies who are nearly corpses. When I consider it even for a moment, I have neither envy nor scorn for them. What I have: pride in my friends and family, in my path, in my determination for the future. Life is short, but that is fine. I am young, and I refuse to be any other way. The length of days and nights wax and wane, but they are laden with purpose. The road stretches far into the distance. The story is just beginning.

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Today I learned my friend Adam passed away.

I met him when I when I was volunteering for an event called Singularity Summit, back in fall of 2009. I'd parked a few blocks uptown of the event venue, the 92nd St Y, in Manhattan. I had a bunch of food for the event. Adam helped me carry a big tray of cookies that a volunteer's grandmother had baked on a whim.

I don't remember exactly what we said that morning six and a half years ago. Probably shook hands and introduced ourselves. Probably chatted talked about the event, talked about how we knew everyone involved. Memory is unreliable like that. But I can't get it out of my mind, real or fabricated. How bright that morning was.
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I was trying to think of metaphors for society that I can use to explore different ideas about life choices. But none of the things that have come to mind are quite working.

The first image I had when I was thinking yesterday was one of a coral reef. Putting aside the idea of distinct species that mostly feed on each other, I thought it might be nice, because you have a nice contrast between different types of creatures. There are the coral polyps, which cover the main structure of the reef. You have armored crustaceans, elusive octopi, schools of fish, and sharks. I thought that might be a good parallel for different niches people can take in society.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the metaphor doesn't really work.

First, the structure of the coral reef is literally built on the hardened corpses of dead coral polyps. As much as we owe to the people who came before us, that idea is a bit too grim--I think that would be implying that people have to literally die off in order for society to advance, which is not a place I want to go.

I also thought I could put aside the idea of different species killing and feeding off each other, and just replace the predation with cooperation and exchange. That's a pretty big jump alone. What messes it up even more: the entire reef system ultimately gets most of its energy from phytoplankton. Agriculture and natural resources also power the human world, but that's sort of the wrong conceptual level. I don't want the metaphor to focus on the economic or biological flow of energy. I'm more interested in things like social norms and incentives affect individual choices and life trajectories.

Is there a good metaphor? I also thought of using a forest instead a coral reef, but I felt uneasy in similar ways. It was also less evocative than a coral reef, because having water as a medium better emphasizes a space of possibility with three dimensions.

Does the human social world resemble a natural ecosystem at all? If it does, maybe it doesn't make sense to take individual persons as analogous to individual organisms in the ecosystem. Maybe people are themselves like parts exchanged by entities on larger levels of social organization. Or maybe natural analogies for human society just doesn't work.

It makes sense that it doesn't help understanding to map a complex phenomenon onto another complex phenomenon, even if the second one seems more concrete.
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A few weekends ago, I ran into a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, "You Don't Need More Free Time" by one of the authors of a study on happiness and free time, [Time as a Network Good:
Evidence from Unemployment and the Standard Workweek][time-as-a-network-good]. The study says that it's the timing of free time, not the amount that matters. At least, that is what matters when they measure the sense of well-being among the unemployed. This matches some other findings from happiness research: spending time with people you like is a major source of happiness.

I can appreciate that last part. I've been unemployed or employed with a non-standard schedule during the past few years. I look forward to picking up Marlon from school or work, even if we aren't planning on doing anything together. In the future, until I have my own family, I look forward to still having roommates that I like. I don't like big parties, and I like having a lot of time to pursue my own interests. But living alone sounds like a breeding spot for depression.

Organizations probably want to know how the structure of the workweek affects the mood of employees. Institutions want to know how it affects the jobless, and if the jobless are happier taking welfare rather than seeking work--and this piece of research says no.

All this gets limited for me, personally, because this research doesn't measure the time dimension. To me, free time means choice. It means a chance to pursue skills. You can use the time to support and improve the lives of others. No one actually has more or less time--instead, different people have different degrees of choice about how to use the time. You can spend the time to feel happier today and maybe tomorrow, or you can invest it. And there are other investments than simply exchanging your hours and days for a wage or salary. Why the false dilemma?

It could be that we're not that great at making choices about how to spend our time. If free time is more choice, could too many choices hurt us? That is a much more complicated, interesting, and less measurable question.

But if we want to navigate life for ourselves, if we seek to find our own way off the clear, well labelled routes, we can't afford to bet against choice. Choice, and thus time is precious to us. With the right bets: time gets experience, time gets skill, time gets opportunity. We can have too much of almost anything else. Time is on our side. As much as you can, keep it healthy, keep it invested wisely, or at least keep it free.

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Yesterday, I read this Slate Star Codex article about social class in the US. It responds to a post here here on Livejournal by [livejournal.com profile] sideria, which I haven't yet read. I haven't read the two different social class breakdowns the article mentioned, either Michael Church's or Unqualified Reservation's. I have to remain skeptical of the exact breakdowns, but the idea that social class still exists separately from economic class sounds pretty compelling.

I got excited enough about this idea that when you allude grouping people it can make others pretty uncomfortable. And then it can be hard to communicate what you think is valuable, especially if they haven't read or thought about the same things you have. On the drive home from Rutgers, I enthusiastically brought up the idea with Marlon. He became pretty upset partway through the conversation. He hates it when people analyze him or other people based on generalizations, and that sounded like what I was doing. He doesn't like being sequestered into a category or pidgeonholed because of social labels. He doesn't like that done to him, nor does he like doing it to other people, and neither do I. Before I brought up the topic I might have considered my personal context for approaching this topic, and how other people--even people close to me--might come from a very different place that makes the ideas come across as very different, or even offensive.

I've run into a lot of people on the web who feel it is best to speak your mind frankly, come what may. Anything past a bare minimum of diplomacy slows things down too much, and ends up wasting productive discussion time. Some people are going to get offended, others will completely misinterpret what you are saying, and that doesn't matter. Truth matters more than feelings.

This philosophy of communication and discourse doesn't work for me. Communication is difficult because it's a two-way process. You must listen just as much as you talk. Even if you are giving a lecture, it is important to consider the audience. If how you deliver your message just tries to bulldoze over the biases and sensitivities of your audience, you can easily turn a very open minded group into a crowd who can't hear a word of what you're saying. And I have no patience for social commentators who taunt readers with outrageous things, then use the defense of satire to call everyone stupid when those outrageous things are taken seriously.

Good communication is really hard. I'd like to figure out a way to better talk about things like social class, because they could be part of the many hidden patterns that shape how we communicate and interact with each other. There's more to the truth than just blurting it out. Thinking, and then saying what you are thinking is the easy. More important: figuring out how to make it meaningful for your fellow human beings, the people with whom you share this world, the people with whom you will be cooperating with to shape the future.

The Birds

Jan. 31st, 2016 03:13 pm
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Snow still covers most of the ground, though it has melted and refrozen into something more like crumbled ice covered by a crunchy crust. It still looks nice from afar. I love the stark colors of winter days--the white and grey of the landscape and the black and brown of bare, dormant trees against the bright blue sky.

As I turned onto the main road of our neighborhood yesterday, I spotted a large, black shape in the middle of the street. I made out the shape of a bird, black feathers, black beak but something seemed odd. Too large, way too large for a crow.

I drove closer. I saw the bird pecking on something in the middle of the street. I remembered seeing a badly mangled corpse of a small animal, probably a squirrel, at that spot in the street earlier. A flattened splotch red lined with grey fur. The bird now stood astride this small shape, pecking methodically. As I drove closer, the bird stopped feeding and looked up slightly, but continued to stand there.

Creeping along with my car, I neared to within twenty of feet. Finally, the bird spread its black wings. Slowly, it flew up and made a small circle above the street into a Japanese Maple by the side of the street. I craned my neck to look as I drove past. The bird and another companion sat in the tree. Behind them, the low afternoon sun glanced off the ice of nearby rooftops. The light filled the the speckled weather-stains on my car's window, covering the scene with a hazy, amber glow. I could only make out the the vague outlines of the two. Unmoving, patient, they waited for me to pass. As I rounded the bend in the road, and glanced back again in the mirror one last time, but the pair and the barren tree had already disappeared from view.
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"Come on, 'Eivz," said the slightly tinny, disembodied voice of a woman by her right ear. "You said you wanted to do this."

"Mm dmmmn nnnnn," said Avery.

"What?"

Avery turned her head to the side, unburying her face from the pillow. She took a breath. "I said I don't know."

The woman inside the glowing rectangle next to her sighed, brushed her hair away from her glasses, leaned forward, and adjusted her scarf. Dani looks so cool, Avery thought, noting the contrast of her dark hair, red lipstick, black sweater against clean shapes of office furniture, all white.

"Dani, it's like you're my conscience talking to me," Avery said. "It's like I'm video chatting with the angel or fairy." She wished her soul was something like a chic minimalist Brooklyn office. But in all likelihood it was probably more like a bar.

Dani's mouth twitched for a moment, and Avery could tell she wanted to take issue with the jumbled comparison. Maybe why angels would wear black, or if a soul is something you could enter. But Dani managed to keep a placid look.

"Avery, I'm going to get back on subject, okay?" Her voice was slower, softer, sonorous. "When I hear you say you don't want to run this, I feel more worried more than disappointed. I remember you were always courageous person once you had a stake in something. And I remember you telling me something really great when you agreed to help take over. Do you remember?"

"I just didn't want what Andy started to go to crap," Avery mumbled.

"You said," Dani enunciated, as if quoting from an award speech, "'Andy made a place where even strangers can feel like they can build something together. I really want to learn to do that too.' I liked that a lot--when I heard you say that, I felt inspired too." Dani smiled, then and tilted her head slightly. "Is that still something you want to do, Eivz? Not for anyone else, but for yourself?"

Avery planted her face in the pillow and nodded. This is pro Dani, she thought. Six million dollar startup deal Dani, and here I'm a sulking twelve year old girl who doesn't want to go to school. She is literally stepping out of running the world to hold my hand pat me on the head and tell me it will be okay.

"Avery?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll do it," said Avery.

"Great," said Dani. "I feel so happy to hear that. I've taken care of most of the rest of the stuff. But the group just needs someone there, someone to lead them. That's you, Avery! I'll be there with you again next week, but I know you'll do great. And if anything comes up, we can work through it together, okay?"

At five o'clock Avery pulled on her poofy coat, tucked her ears into her knit cap, and stamped twice with each foot to make sure her sneakers were on. A hazy thought coalesced somewhere behind her eyebrows. She froze, but she was too late as usual. She closed her eyes. No good. Blank. Blank. Maybe later.

Avery opened her eyes looked at herself in the mirror near the shoe stand. If Dani is an angel, what am I? Tufts of fine brown hair stuck out from beneath the edge of the wool cap. She looked at her nose, soon to grow embarrassingly pink in the November air. She hunched closer. A pair of pale blue-green eyes blinked back innocently from the other side.

She backed up and patted her poofy jacket, then wool cap with both hands twice.

"I am... a shepherd?" Were shepherds allowed wear bright green caps? No, no good. Avery gave up, and swung her backpack onto her shoulders.

"I'm going, Su-chien!" she shouted back up the stairs. After ten seconds of silence, Avery stepped through the door, leaned back to pull it snugly shut behind her and walked down to join the slate and iodine tint of 35th Avenue. A cold breeze welcomed her outside for the first time today.

"This stop is--36th Street," the nice lady robot voice said from the ceiling. Avery watched the tiles of the station platform fly past, then slowly come to a stop in the opposite window of the subway car.

"Wait," she said aloud suddenly. She swiftly patted the back pocket of the backpack, which was sitting on her lap. She heard the comforting jingle and clatter of her keys. Okay. Then she looked down at her hands. She had forgotten her gloves again. She opened and closed her thin, chilly fingers a few times with regret.

But no. Not that. The hazy thought from before was floating there. She closed her eyes. The thing, something, what was it, the thing, the thing, the what. Yes. No.

And then it was clear, and Avery, hunched over and rested her forehead in her palms. What the hell was I thinking? Dani, wearing all black with red lipstick, in a completely white room, speaking softly and intentionally: she isn't an angel or a conscience or a fairy--she is an _assassin_!

"No, no, what would Andy think," Avery muttered. She imagined him nodding and smiling patiently, with his small, kind eyes, about to say, welll, perhaps...

Oh it killed. Not the criticism, but how little things changed week to week when she read her piece. There was always something weird about a metaphor she used. Or something missing from a character's motivation. And the worst--Andy would never say it himself, so it came from everyone else:

I just don't see where the story is going.

I don't feel like anything happened.

I don't know what you're trying to say with the story.

I wonder if you could think about allowing the plot to advance.

What's the point? There's no point, and it's going nowhere.

"This is a Manhattan Bound... Q-train," said the cheerful man robot voice.

Avery sat upright and caught the time, 5:15, on the screen of another passenger's enormous phablet as they snuggled up to a pole in the middle of the car. At least I'm on time. But how will I do this?

"Just follow the outline in the site we looked at," Dani had said, soothingly. And now sweet loving assassin Dani was going off to charm some unwitting venture capitalists.

And all I have to do is unlock the Hong Kong school alumni association room in Chinatown, Avery thought, then read off the script. Then I wait while people read their stuff. Then I wait while they discuss and offer criticism. Then--partners? I forget. Andy's format was always much more fluid, but Dani made a good point that maybe it'd be better to follow a script for a few weeks.

Avery unzipped her backpack and sifted through the jumble. The pens and markers had gotten out of the pencil bag again. She gathered them up and zipped the bag close again. The zipper was loose, so history would certainly repeat.

"I am a shepherd," Avery muttered. "She-P-H-A-rd. No, wait. E-R-D. Or A-R-D? Shit."

She pushed the pencil bag to the side, then rummaged past some crumpled papers (previously neatly housed in file folders) and crumpled napkins (previously neatly folded). Spotting a purple corner, she pulled a folder out from the mass. She zipped the backpack closed, lay the folder on top and flipped it open.

In the right pocket was the thick, stapled packet of blank healthcare forms she had printed the other day. On the left pocket was a duplicate packet, unstapled. And in neither pocket was the workshop script. Avery sat hunched over, her eyes roaming helplessly back and forth between the two pockets.

"Stand clear of the closing doors," the friendly robot man said. The doors slid shut, and the Q-train picked up speed, humming and clattering into the darkness towards Manhattan.
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After Christmas, but before I really got sick, and spent all day lying in bed (a sleeping bag at the time), I got to see Angela and Christine. We had dinner at Aurelio's, a pretty nice (and I'd say authentic) Mexican restaurant up by the old hospital. After dinner, we took Angela's car back along Witherspoon towards Nassau St. I was worried that Infini-T would be closed for the holiday, but it was open, and there was a parking spot right across from the library. We we went in and a staff member seated us. In the past few years, getting seated and handed menus is a new thing; I still haven't figured out if it's only on special occasions.

While the staff were out of earshot--or maybe they didn't care--Christine and Angela complained about the name Infini-T. Yeah, it's pretty goofy. But I like everything else about the place.

They had seated us towards the middle of the room, close to the counter. After we had ordered, Christine looked over at the pile of games nearby.

"Can we play these games?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said, recalling all the conversations with Zarrar or Angela that took place there with chess matches or toppling Jenga towers in the background.

Christine brought over the Jenga box. Angela had never played before. Even I was less familiar with good strategies than I'd initially thought. Fifth grade after school program was farther back than I thought.

In a Jenga set is a bunch of identical oblong, rectangular blocks. Here's the normal way to play: To set up, stack them in layers three wide, each layer's blocks rotated at right angles from each other.

Then the players slide out a block from somewhere except the very top of the stack. In other words, they remove part of the supporting structure and they place it on top of the tower. During that process, if a player knocks over all or part of the tower, they lose.

We weren't keeping track of the score, though. Christine did pretty well. Angela was obviously the newcomer, but she had some surprising turns. After the tower fell over a few times, we tried twitching to a non-standard structure. It ended up being a pretty ill-conceived effort, but by then it was almost time to go.

While we were trying out our custom Jenga format, Christine asked, "If you could go back in time to high school and take different classes, what classes would you take?"

I take speculation like this pretty seriously. Christine does too, but it was easier for her to answer. She'd have taken more Computer Science classes. Back then, she should that since technology changed so quickly, they'd get obsolete really quickly.

But I know that's not true. I don't use QBASIC, and I've hardly ever more than looked at C++ over the past few years, but the CS classes I took in high school really set me for life. Even though anyone can begin to learn to program at any age, my long, long familiarity with programming has given me a permanent advantage. Whenever I want to brush up on my skills, or learn a new skill in programming or tech, my background familiarity gives me an edge.

Angela's turn seemed like it was about to be an ordeal at first, but the block ended coming out easily. She gently placed a block on top of the the custom Jenga temple. Miraculously, it stayed.

My turn next. I nudged an inconspicuous block from the side of the temple. It seemed like a freebee; nothing seemed to be leaning on it. But it was too late--the whole structure was wobbling as I slowly pulled it off. The rule we had settled on was once you touched a block, you had to go ahead and remove it. I had touched and thus was bound to remove the hidden cornerstone of cornerstones.

Two decoratively placed colonnades toppled from the top.

"Um, let's say you don't lose unless more than five blocks fall," offered Christine.

Another block fell.

"You're still in-bounds," Christine said. "It's still possible."

I maneuvered the block slowly and hopefully. Okay. Okay.

In an instant, the whole temple lurched to the side, and Christine caught it before the pile could clatter onto the tabletop and scatter all over.

"Yeah, we'll call it here," she said.

Angela nodded and blew her nose.

"Yup," I said. While you are building, and even when it's done, the nature of the structure may look obvious. But hard to tell what is supporting what unless you actually measure. An inconspicuous, extraneous piece might be some kind of hidden ur-foundation.
olimay: (Default)

Today, I sat in a parked car in lot 101 for a long time today, as I waited for someone in the nearby computer lab to call in an order for fried chicken. They had definitely plowed the lot, but not perfectly clean. It looked like people had left their cars there overnight, maybe before the beginning of the blizzard on Friday. There were small groups here and there clearing snow off and scraping ice off the windshields. Other cars still had their wipers splayed up, waiting patiently for their drivers to brush them clean.

I reclined in the drivers seat and put on a podcast Zach ([livejournal.com profile] ledflyd) recommended to me a while back. They had Venkatesh Rao, who has written a bunch of interesting stuff on his blog Ribbonfarm and elsewhere, as a guest on the show. I'd listened to a few minutes a few weeks back. It was great to hear his actual voice. His writings sometimes come across as haughty--especially when I take issue with some part of how he framed things. I mentioned in our chat room that I always read Ribbonfarm in something close to the late Alan Rickman's voice. (This rendition, sadly, will never happen for real.) But on the podcast Venkat just sounded like a smart, relatable guy with an Indian accent.

Listening to the rest of the interview today, I learned about his background. He was groomed to be an elite and followed a pretty conventional career trajectory as a mechanical engineer in India: exclusive school, grad school in the U.S. But he talked about how his kind of defiance in choosing what to read set him on a different intellectual path. People in his circles had strong opinions on what a mechanical engineer ought to read. Apparently, Francis Fukuyama's The End of History was not one of those books!

I can't imagine a collegiate milieu that intellectually proscriptive about reading choices--outside of maybe weird political groups or religious cults. But maybe the present day U.S. is really that different from late-80's/early-90's Delhi IIT.

Venkat said that ignoring what was fashionable among his peers (he put off reading The Lord of the Rings for a long time) and choosing his own readings (often unappreciated things) became an important habit. It led to his ability to draw connections between seemingly distant topics and ideas, and he's been putting that in writing ever since.

As an endnote to that explanation, he said something that I found a bit affirming: while you can't really be a special unique snowflake as an individual, by reading and synthesizing a variety of different sources, you can obtain a unique voice and perspective as a writer.

This makes sense to me: the quality of a person--not only in writing, but generally in life--comes from our connections more than anything. It could be the books we've read, the experiences we've had, the people we know and interact with. It comes from how all these things interact with each other to inform our actions as well as our larger story. To throw in a bit of jargon: it's network effects that dominate, this perspective would say.

I'm not all that obsessed with being unique per se. It's more the other way around: I want to find and do well at the things that (mostly) only I can do.

What I'm beginning to see is that there are a lot of these things. And a lot of them seem very ordinary first. There are many ways that only I can really help out my brothers, or my friends, or our little community. Visiting grandparents is something lots of people do, but when I visit my grandfather, as his eldest grandchild, that's not something anyone can generically replicate for him. I'm not that special in of myself, but Hollywood would have a hard time. And it's the same the other way around.

The theme we're concerned with here is taking the specific versus taking the universal. When we talk about families and friends, I think it's important to prioritize the specific perspective. When we begin to talk about professions, it makes sense to talk a bit more generally. You can fire and replace an employee but you can't really fire your mom in anything close to a similar way. More depressingly, whether you work as a laborer or a professional, there is a good chance that someone else can do the same job you are doing. Maybe someone out there can do it even better.

Job security issues aside, we ought to take a bigger picture than work for our lives. And replaceability is a feature--if all or even more employees were really irreplaceable, firms would be crashing left and right and even more folk would be too guilty to make career transitions, because everything would explode and stuff. And most of all, on the other side of the you are replaceable coin is humans can learn. You can acquire skills through work and not just blind genetic luck. This is good.

But going back to the idea of networks--I think even if we take a relatively general view, individuals can still be pretty uniquely valuable to their part of the world. But it takes a bit more finesse than simply existing. What people can you connect? What ideas can you synthesize? What can you teach? What can you strengthen and advocate? What kinds of skills, expertise, and experiences can you draw on in order to create? Again, the power comes from the nature and the strength (this is a weighted graph) of what you are connected to--both directly and indirectly.

This way of looking at things makes sense for me because I've always looked at things from a creative point of view. What can you do? What can you make? When I watch or do something purely for enjoyment, I still assume there's a chance it will become part of me, and part of what I do and make in the future.

There are very many cynical counterarguments to this way of looking at things. Maybe a small number people are unique at a general level, but others are fairly generic in their connections. I'd say: that could be a stronger case to focus on variety and uniqueness of connections, but okay. But even more importantly, is uniqueness all that good for an individual? Maybe people are better off feeling content with having relatively generic relationships, interests, careers, so long as those things are happier. Maybe that is because it's very difficult to be both unique in your connections and happy at the same time. Or, you can be interesting but also a pretty shitty person who doesn't do good for the world.

Here's how I'd summarize most of these worries: there's more uncertainty in striving for unique connections. There's more up-front personal risk rejecting well-designed conformity. You might have to think more. You might have to lose a lot, at least at first.

To continue the discussion I am going to switch metaphors.

When you follow a pre-ordained path, you have a fairly clear way to measure success. If the only acceptable career paths are to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or investment banker, it's pretty clear if you've gotten there or not. There may be hellish, hellish waits along the way--I know this well from accounts of my friends' experiences. There are also relative levels of success--are you just the Branch Vice President, or are you VP of Risk Management for the entire regional division? But there is a map and there are roads between the named destinations. It seems reasonable to ask, "When will you arrive?" or to say, "I should be there by now." You might even be able to say, "This is how far away I am right now."

What happens when the map you were given turns out to be wrong? When the roads that were supposed to take you there are under repair, flooded, or jam-packed with traffic? What happens when the roads to take you there don't exist? Or when your destination is shrouded in legend? Or conjecture?

You must learn to navigate by other means.

olimay: (Default)
A few weeks' belated Happy New Year, everyone!

2015 was a year of internal change for me. This year, 2016, I'm hoping will transform this into external change on several important fronts, which I'll come back to later.

As part of that, I'll be writing a lot more here--maybe even more than the past several years combined. Some of this will be thinking aloud about what I'm learning (which may be data science, programming, or Japanese). But I expect a lot of it to be experiments with writing I haven't really attempted in earnest before. I'm excited but also nervous about this. Do I even know how to do this? But I am trying to look at this less from the perspective of product and more from the perspective of practice, or process.

So, welcome friends--new and old--to a new year and a fresh, new undertaking. Who knows what triumphs, tragedies, disappointments, and victories are in store ahead--or what will last and what will now. Let's work to make the best of this new year, the best of this time given to us.
olimay: (Default)
[Originally from my training log on Gaiden Force HQ forums. Since the main part of the post is a reply to my previous posts, I've quoted parts for continuity.]

May 08:

Starting Stats - 2015-05-08
Body Composition

Weight: 205.4 lbs
Estimated Body Fat: 0.30

Strength

Back Squat 5R: 285 lbs
Standing Press 5R: 90 lbs
Bench Press 5R: 150 lbs
Deadlift 5R: 275 lbs
Chin-Ups: 0



July 19th:

BW 198.0 lbs

Squat
325 x 5 x 2
325 x AMRAP = 5

Bench
170 x 5 x 2
170 x 4 (fail)

Deadlift
315 x 6


The deadlift was supposed to be 330. Due to a loading error, it ended up only being 315.

I still feel really frustrated with the amount of technical difficulty I had in squat, failure on the last set of bench presses, and the loading error on the deadlift. My squat felt wobbly and at several points, I cheated at the sticking points by leaning forward. It should not have been this bad at these weights. I felt I did well with the bench press, but I messed up on the last set. Attempting another double and then failing only intensified the frustration. Lastly, I really wanted to give 330 a try with the round plates.

But I also want to keep the long term view. Reinforcing frustration will only lead to more frustration/aggression later.

To a large extent, I think the mistakes this workout had to do with adjustments to differences in environment and lack of mental focus. Next time, I will participate less in changing plates. I will also chart out the plate amounts for deadlift and squat beforehand.


Dec 4:

Coming up on age 31. Since summer, I've switched over to a very simple HLM for squat, while continuing alternating bench and press like I did on Starting Strength. The autoregulation scheme I posted above seems way too complicated now.

Here are my current bests from the past month:

Squat 11-30
315 x 5 x 3

Press 11-27
110 x 5 x 3

Bench 11-30
180 x 5 x 3

Deadlift 12-02
325 x 5


I was able to do Press 115 x 5, 3 on 12-2 but that was a big strain.

As you can see, Bench Press has continued to advance, Squat has stayed close to the same, Press has stayed the same, and Deadlift is sort of in a purgatory. I'm considering increasing deadlifting frequency; nowadays I only deadlift around every 5 days or so.

Squat technique has probably improved--I did 315 with a belt but no knee wraps. Last year I was frequently scared to go over 300 without knee wraps. A few weeks ago I told myself that I would use the knee wraps when I do 315, but last time I couldn't be bothered. So I probably won't use them when I match last year's PR.

At some point in the summer, I squatted and deadlifted more than than I have recently. There were a lot of resets and repeats due to missed workout since then. Ideally, I'd like to transcribe my workout records and see a graph of top sets over time, but I don't know that I'll get a chance. I'm even supposed to be doing something else right now, but here I am typing this up.

Looking at bodyweight:


On 2014-12-06 (4-day moving average): 208.15 (206.6, 210.2, 208.6, 207.2)
Today, 12-3 (2-day moving average): 194.5 (194.6, 194.4)


I don't know if comparing a 4-day moving average and a 2-day moving average is okay in general, but I don't think it's that big of a deal. In general, I'm maybe 10lbs lighter than I was in May, and definitely more than 10lbs lighter than I was last December.

On the whole, this feels like very slow progress, so when I'm pretty tired (and procrastinating on a lot of work) like today, it's frustrating that a year has gone by, I'm just catching up to 320 squat again, and my weight loss is sort of stalling between 193-195, mostly because I'm not being consistent with cooking for myself. At least it's staying put and only coming back up slowly.

My objective is to lower my weight to 192 and at least keep it under there for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. Key factors will be going back to cooking legumes every day, continuing to take a generous amount of fiber (Metamucil) with every meal, and being consistent with the 16/8 Leangains meal timings.

After New Year's? I don't know what I'll do. Going up this slowly is really really boring, but I'm seeing that at the very least, my main accomplishment has been keeping fat off. My goals in the New Year will probably be dictated by what's going on in the rest of my life. I don't see myself committing to a program that's even more time consuming than the one I'm doing right now, both in and out of the gym.

Just so I have somewhere to record it, even if it's a bit discouraging: this article estimates maximum muscular ripped bodyweight in kg as:

BW (kg) = [height in cm] - 98.5

That's something like 4% BF. I'm 165cm tall, so that puts me at 66.5 kg if I were to focus on getting towards my genetic limits--training consistently for a decade or so. About 146.5lbs. WTH.

From that, I can do a calculation to somewhat bound my current BF% based only on my weight and height.

BF_r = ([weight]-[max muscular weight]*.96)/[weight]
= (88.6-66.5*0.96)/88.6 = .2794 ~= 28%BF


We can improve the bound by including the following assumptions:


10% of mass that would be counted as fat is connective tissue that will be lost along with the fat
0.5kg is glycogen


But it's probably safe to assume water is constant, since the max ripped muscular bodyweight is when pretty dehydrated, and I take my best scale reading of the day when recording my bodyweight. (Usually as far into a fast as possible and before I've drank a significant amount of water.) Assuming contest dehydration is a bit more extreme, then I'll account for 50% of my usual water weight variance, which comes to about 1.5lbs, or 0.68kg. Also, we'll say 2.5kg for the glycogen, since bodybuilders replenish their glycogen after weigh in.

BF_r = ([weight]-[max muscular weight]*0.96 - 0.5 - W_v)*0.9/[weight]
= (88.6-66.5*0.96 - 0.25 - 0.68)*0.9/88.6 = .24206 ~= 0.24


So I'd be 24%BF at my present weight if I were already huge and muscular and close to my generic limit right now. Thus, my actual bodyfat right now is almost certainly above that, unless connective tissue lost along with fat is some crazy amount, like 0.25 of fat weight lost on a cut. I don't know.

I can solve backwards, to be even more depressed:


BF_r = ([weight]-[max muscular weight]*0.96 - 0.5 - W_v)*0.9/[weight]

BF_r/0.9*[weight] = ([weight]-[max muscular weight]*0.96 - 0.5 - W_v)

[weight](BF_r/0.9 - 1) = -[max muscular weight]*0.96 - 0.5 - W_v

[weight] = -([max muscular weight]*0.96 + 0.5 + W_v)/[BF_r/0.9 - 1]
So if I want to be 20% bodyfat, I should weigh at most:

(66.5*0.96 + 0.5 + .68)/(0.2/0.9 - 1 = 83.597 ~= 83.6 kg = 183.9 lbs


That's under 184lbs absolutely freaking jacked as hell in order to be under 20%BF. So even if I'm able to lose another 10lbs in the next year, there's just no way I will be under 20%BF. (Unless, again, I am drastically underestimating how much connective tissue comes/goes with fat.)

Yeah. This makes sense given 85kg is still the third highest weight class in Olympic lifting, and 83kg is 4th highest in USAPL, with national qualifying total at 1252lbs.

None of this quite makes the decision for me. Filipinos, as well as East Asians in general, are at risk for obesity-related diseases at lower amounts of relative bodyfat. So, at 27-29%BF right now, I might still have similar risk as someone of European descent who is 31-33% (and can squat 315 x 5 x 3).

At the same time, do I want to keep putting aside to gain serious strength order to keep losing fat? One thing I've decided is that I'm no longer going to do RFL, because of the amount of stress very fast weight loss imposes on the body, which accelerates things like hair loss. So fat loss will have to be slow one way or another.

I'll think about this and decide come New Year's.

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