Warm Glow of Friendship

Happy Hour with my friends tonight. My four best friends could all make it, and that makes me happy.

We were meeting at Kay’s Lounge, in Sellwood. It’s a classic old-school lounge, with comfy leather booths and a nicely-stocked bar and bar food that’s got that little somethin’ extra that pushes a burger or a burrito into artisanal territory. I don’t have words to describe it right now, probably because I’m still a little buzzed, but it’s a cut above normal bar food, but not so expensive it’s a Portlandia type joke.

I mean, I can’t say a lot of bad things about a bar where I had a food item named after me, but believe me, the food is good. Even the burgers have that little extra bit of care.

The taps at this bar are constantly rotating but there’s always at least one cider on tap, and at least one dark beer (a stout or a porter) and also, always something “interesting”, like a spicy porter or a fruity IPA or something otherwise unusual. They do a good job at Kay’s, picking out good beers. Only eight taps but you’re sure to find something you like among the choices.

Happy Hour on a Friday night is pretty much peak time, and let me tell you, the bar isn’t as big as it is popular. There are maybe 15 bar stools, and 10 booths for 2-4 people each; if you get there late you have to stand around and wait, or move on to somewhere less popular. Oh, and 4 tables outside on the sidewalk, where you are encouraged to share, but Portland weather patterns make those dicy about 70% of the time.

And even at peak time, like tonight, there’s one bartender, one waitstaff, and one cook, so be prepared to wait a bit for attention. Unless you’re a regular, like me, and you get recognized. Or you’re just not shy and go right up and ask when the next table is ready. Or a bit of both. I’ve done both.

I’ve been coming here for years and years. I did mention the Lunar Burger, right? It was tasty, I’ll give the cook that. I’m not yet regular enough to be immortalized in the big painting on the wall, the picture with a lot of staff and regular faces included. Maybe someday.

Former Governor of Oregon Barbara Roberts is a regular here. I’ve sat with her and had a chat. She’s great! Very knowledgeable and down-to-brass-tacks. Her face is in the painting, because, well, of course she is.

Tracy showed up tonight first. Usually, I’m the first one to arrive, but I got waylaid by work, so I was a bit late. Tracy stationed herself by the door, under the mirror, on the sidebar, which is not a great place to be noticed by the waitstaff or bartender. She’s a good person, but she just isn’t in tune with the rhythms of a working bar. When I showed up, I talked to her, and then (after hitting the restroom—it was a long drive from Canby) I leaned against the bar under the aforementioned painting, which is right in the path between the kitchen window, the cash register, and the wait station, which ensures that the waiter for the night (on this night it was Krissi) had to talk to me. Tracy joined me shortly after.

We waited there, with a drink in hand each, for a while. Happy Hour ends at 6 PM, and it was 5:50 PM before a table finally opened up. By that time, Ken had joined us, where we stood around, looking conspicuous, getting in Krissi’s way sometimes, and making “are you leaving yet?” eyes at everyone hogging a table. But a table finally emptied, and we aggressively but politely nudged our way in, where the evening entered its second phase.

We ordered food and settled in, and then Terry joined us, fresh from his Han Solo haircut. He said his hairdresser was both surprised and impressed when he requested a Han Solo haircut. “70s haircuts are coming back in style,” he said she said. And it’s true; Terry looks great in that haircut. She did a great job.

We talked about baseball (I don’t want to talk about it). We talked about building houses (that’s Terry’s thing). We asked Tracy about hockey (she’s a giant Winterhawks fan). We argued about the feminism of the Joker, and we admired the diversity of Nike. I’m only scratching the surface of our winding, continuous, and sprawling conversation.

But it was a happy night for me. I love my friends, and any chance I get to spend with them, with all of them, is a good time. I’ve known these three humans for a long time. We have all of us been through a lot together. None of us are perfect, but we are all perfectly ourselves.

It was a good night.

I wish you had been there.

Mind Bicycles

Two computers sit on a desk in a dark room, lit only by a small lamp on the table.
Steve Jobs once said a personal computer was like a bicycle for the mind. No, really. He did.

My day job is computer support, which sounds complicated and possibly stressful. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t be assuming what it sounds like to you, my dear reader. I welcome your thoughts on what you think of when you hear someone say something like, “I do computer support for a living.” Is it based on TV or movies, where a young (or old) hoodie-wearing man, either impossibly thin or impossibly large sits in a darkened room, stares at a glowing computer screen, types out seemingly-random letters, and whispers

“I’m in.”

Is that what you’re thinking?

OK, sometimes it’s like that. I mean, my co-worker and I do prefer to keep our office very dark, with the blinds closed. Mostly that’s because she gets migraines. I just like it dark most of the time. And this morning, when I got in to the office, I had to try to troubleshoot a wireless access point across town remotely, with the help of another co-worker I was chatting with on Slack; so to anyone watching me, it looked like I was staring at a computer screen, in the dark, and typing random things on a screen, and cursing under my breath.

Oh, and yes, I was wearing a hoodie today. It gets cold in the office. I did have a collared shirt on under the hoodie (that’s the dress code, the entire dress code: “must wear a collared shirt.” It’s a somewhat relaxed dress code.)

But that was not what I ended up doing to fix the wifi. Well, it was the start of it. I had to configure a replacement access point, and then I had to drive across town to the fleet maintenance yard, climb up on a ladder, and swap the broken wifi with a new one. If you’re wondering, yes, I got my hands dirty. Also I ended up going up and down that stupid ladder, because it didn’t work right at first, and I kept having to go to a computer in the fleet manager’s office, where I remoted back to the server—oh gods, yes, I was typing random things into multiple windows on a computer screen while wearing a hoodie.

Of course, I whisper, “I’m in!” when I connect to something on the computer. I started doing it ironically at first, because Hollywood, and now I do it automatically.

I’m a godsdamned cliche. Fuck.

OK, but later in the day, I had to sit in a city-owned car for several hours, killing time while the in-car hard drive formatted itself into oblivion. I was mad at myself the entire time, more and more as it went on and on, because I chose “Full Format” instead of “Quick Format,” thinking that would fix the problem it was having. It did not solve the problem, and it remains not-solved.

Not-solved problems are a burr under my saddle, a constant low-level irritation. It’s why I do this job; I live for the happiness I feel when I can say, “I solved this!” and it works again. That’s my motivation. If I’m honest, I realize that the annoyance that things breaking gives me is required; before I can feel satisfaction, I have to have that motivating impact of stress. If things did not break, I could not do my job.

Thanks, computer makers, for making things that break a lot. Without you, I would have to find some other labor I could trade for housing, food, and health care!

The Ornament of a House

It’s Sunday, and I’m house-sitting for my sister. She, her husband, and her mother-in-law live in a sprawling multi-level house on a bluff up in Portland’s West Hills. It’s got a fantastic view from a deck that’s probably about the same square footage as my whole apartment. It’s not the kind of house I’d buy, even if I could afford one like it, but it’s nice to visit sometimes. It’s a house that is well-suited to having lots of people come over.

Another feature of my sister’s place is Archer, the dog. He’s a medium dog, an English Setter (bred for birding and hunting). He’s curious, easily bored, generally mellow. He’s a Good Boy (they’re all Good Boys, Bront). Again, I don’t know that I’d have the temperament to own a dog and work with it all the time, but Archer is terrific company to visit sometimes.

Speaking for myself, I find some of the features of my sister’s house would not work for my habits. For instance, the living room is mostly open, and there are huge windows on two walls, and the corner between those walls is entirely glass bricks. The other wall has a fireplace. That is great if you like lots of natural light, which is fine. But it’s also where the TV is, and it’s not a room made for a dark, movie-theater-like experience when watching movies or TV shows.

My living room at home is dark, and the TV covers the one blank wall; my couch is lined up to the TV, making a bench. The couch is close to the TV, but that’s because my living area is narrow; the furniture lays along the long axis of the rectangle. I can’t separate the seating from the TV more without blocking the path to the kitchen. It’s not a big apartment.

I don’t mind my apartment’s small size. I have all the space I need. Would not mind it laid out a little less long and wide; a square footprint would be great; but for size, to hold all my stuff, it’s the right size. I’ve been there a year, and I could use more bookcases and books, but I’ve got my movie-watching room, my bedroom, my computer/library room, a bathroom and a half, a kitchen, and a dining room. Oh, and a little deck for when the sun is out, or I decide to get into gardening, or for doing projects like painting or sanding or sawing things.

I definitely would not have room for a dog the size of Archer. I want a cat or maybe a pair of cats, and for them, I have plenty of room. A small dog would fit, but I lean more towards liking cats; that’s just me.

If I suddenly had the money to buy or build a house, my ideal one would not look much different on the inside from my current apartment—two stories, not that many rooms. More square, as I said, to use the space better. Maybe a few more windows, but not near the room I use for entertainment, or if that couldn’t happen, heavy, light-blocking curtains floor-to-ceiling.

The significant changes I’d make to my current living situation is that it would be closer to a more walkable neighborhood, more centrally located, near bars and restaurants and grocery stores. Don’t need or want a big yard so that the house could fit on a small lot. If I were really loaded and were building it from scratch, I would wire the whole place with networking cables, and make it as energy-efficient as I could, and install solar power and storage batteries to try to live off the grid as much as I can. And I’d choose a high spot, for when the waters rise (and they are going to rise, even probably within my remaining lifetime).

None of that is going to happen soon, though. For now, it’s enough to visit other peoples’ houses, compare and contrast, and enjoy the differences.

Is the Door Broken, or Am I?

There’s a storage closet at work that we use to keep old computers and other IT equipment. It’s right near an exterior door that requires a badge to enter; the door itself locks with a key. For as long as I’ve worked here, the lock is only sometimes effective. Sometimes it doesn’t latch, despite the lock being in the “locked” position.

We’ve had the maintenance guy come out a couple of times to try to fix it, he says it’s fixed, and then the next time I go down to use it, I test it, and again and again, it just won’t lock. 

I’ve stopped asking Dustin to fix it. I just figure I’ll try my best and if it doesn’t latch this time, oh, well. 

Yesterday, I had to toss an old computer and some keyboards in the closet, and when I was finished, I closed the door then gently pushed it. It opened again. Did not latch.

And I thought to myself, “Is it me? Am I doing it wrong? Does the key need to be in a specific position?” I thought this instead of thinking, “Is the door broken?”

I realized at that moment that this is the perfect example of what psychologists call “locus of control” (LOC). “Is it me?” is an internal locus of control; “is it the door?” identifies an external locus of control. At least I think so.  

Generally, folks with an internal locus of control attribute success or failure to their efforts or skills, where an external locus means that external factors are the reasons for succeeding or failing. Furthermore, people with internal LOC are often happier and more successful than those with external LOC, though that’s a generalization that doesn’t take other factors into account.

Now that I’m thinking about it, though… maybe I have it backward in this particular instance. Perhaps I’m attributing failure to myself: “I’ve done everything I can, and this door still won’t latch, so there’s nothing more I can do.” Put that way, it sounds like I’m blaming the door for the problem, right? It’s broken, and it’s beyond my abilities to fix. So the cause of the problem is external to me.

If I thought “is it the door?” then there’s still a chance I could fix it; I just haven’t found the solution yet. There’s more I could try. I haven’t reached the limits of my power or skills. That’s retaining an internal LOC. It’s persistence. It’s a can-do attitude. 

Now that I’ve given it some thought, I don’t know which is which. I’ve confused myself. But writing it all out has at least filled my word count for the day, right? 

The next question would be, if I do have an external LOC, can I change it to an internal one? Is that a thing that can happen? It would require a lot of mental energy and persistence. I believe I do have those things. Well, wait: is stubbornness the same thing as persistence? I’ve got stubbornness down pat, believe you me. I’ve got stubbornness in spades. Buckets and buckets of it. I only deploy it for special occasions, though, like arguing with my friends over stupid minor shit. I have been known to use it for my own benefit but it’s not 100% of the time. More’s the pity.

Now that I’m aware, though. I have a chance. Can’t fix something until you’ve diagnosed it. I can do it.

I can do it. I can do it. Me. I can. My skills and talents and energy is up to this task. Me.

(I’ll repeat this as necessary.)

Every Man Is Well Supplied with It

Yesterday’s post, “Using Science to Be Happier” touched on a topic that is probably ripe for further exploration: our intuition about the world around us is frequently entirely wrong. In the post, I was explicitly referring to Dr. Laurie Santos’ contention that the things we generally think make us happier, don’t—for example, many people yearn to avoid human contact, while science tells us that happier people are much more social. 

Thinking about that topic today, I came up with a short list of other examples where science blatantly contradicts our common sense about the world around us, and since I don’t have any other ideas, and it’s late in the day, here’s that short list, padded out to fill the word count, because I am too lazy and tired tonight to do much more than this.

My first and favorite example is the intuitive-but-incorrect idea that the world is flat and that the sun moves through the sky. I don’t want to surprise any of my readers, but this is about as incorrect as it can be. The world is roundish (kind of pear-shaped, really, although at large scale it’s tough for us to tell), and so large that to our human eyes, it only appears flat to anyone not paying attention. The horizon curves away from us in all directions, when we can see the horizon at all. In flatter regions, or out on the ocean, anything tall moving away from us will slowly sink below the horizon, giving away the real shape of the planet on which we stand. 

Likewise, with respect to the Earth, the sun is relatively motionless: it sits at the center of a bunch of smaller planets orbiting around. The sun is not literally stationary, though: it is moving through space. But it does not orbit the Earth at all. It just doesn’t.

A trickier one, involving human psychology, but one that I enjoy reading about, involves rich people and their motivations. In our capitalist society (remember, I am an anti-capitalist politically), people observe that very rich people are often assholes, and many conclude that the rich people got that way because they are assholes. It must, they think, take a certain kind of personality to have the drive to accumulate all that wealth. 

But there are many social scientists doing studies on the link, if any, between wealth and empathy. My favorite is Paul Piff of Berkeley, who has done a ton of studies about this topic, and his work strongly suggests the opposite: as someone becomes rich, regardless of whether they strive and earn their wealth or if it’s randomly given to them, they gradually lose their empathy towards others and gain a strong sense of entitlement

My favorite example is the rigged Monopoly game. Piff has replicated this many times. The players are told upfront that the game will be rigged to favor one or the other in ways like one of them starting with twice as much cash as the other, or being able to roll two dice instead of one to move. Then the beneficiary of the advantage is decided by a coin toss. There’s no skill involved to this point, and yet, as the game progresses, the player with all the advantages begins to act much more aggressively towards their opponent. And in interviews after-the-fact, they will talk much more about their choices and strategies, and downplay the lift they got to begin with.

So it’s clear that gaining wealth will often drain a person of their connection and feeling of society, which in a harsh environment would mean that person becoming more and more ostracized and therefore more vulnerable. Humans have succeeded when we work together for everyone’s benefit. Except in America, it seems, more’s the pity. 

I’ve come across stories like this all my life, and they are a strong reason why I consider myself a skeptic and an atheist. The lesson, at least to me, is clear: beware your common sense, or at least consider your intuitions with some skepticism, because when studied dispassionately and in a controlled environment, they could turn out to be misleading in the extreme.

Using Science to Be Happier

A man sits by himself in a booth at a cafe, distraught and looking at his laptop.
Is he writing a novel, or just reading the news?

I’m listening to this podcast and they’re talking about happiness and what makes people happy and it made me reflect on my current situation.

The podcast is  You Are Not So Smart, and I love it so much. David McRaney has been writing about all the various ways our brains fool ourselves for a long time. It started as a blog, way back in the day, before it became a podcast. He’s done a whole season on logical fallacies; he’s talked about right-wing and left-wing thinking; he’s examined the idea of consciousness itself. 

But this episode, the most recent one, Episode 163, is called The Happiness Lab and in it, he interviews Dr. Laurie Santos, who has started a podcast herself called, non-surprisingly enough, The Happiness Lab. They cover a lot of ground together. I don’t know if this episode is one I’d recommend you jump right in on if you’re not familiar with the way McRaney approaches the topic, although it’s hard for me to tell, being a long-time fan. 

But the part that made me think “Hey this is something I can write about tonight!” is where the host invites Dr. Santos to explain why so many people seem to be depressed or lonely now, and what may have changed in society to cause that change in the past few decades. She has a somewhat intuitive but still remarkable answer.

ATMs.

She feels, from her research and study of what makes people happy, that generally, our intuitions and feelings about what might make us happy are often wrong—as I said, this is right in the YANSS podcast wheelhouse—and that science can examine the evidence and make recommendations for us to follow, recommendations that will let us live happier lives. 

And the science tells her (she tells us) that generally speaking, happier people are also more social. They spend more time around other people. They interact with other people more; they live and work around other people. They don’t hide out in their apartments; they go out to coffee shops instead of using DoorDash or whatever to have food and coffee brought to them. 

She traces all this back through the usual suspects: iPhones and always-on internet in our pockets; Twitter and Facebook and Amazon Prime and streaming videos; cell phones and texting and online dating… but the initial inflection point was the ATM. When they were introduced, they represented replacing a human interaction between us and a bank teller with an interaction with a robot, a machine, that had no human qualities. 

I’ve written here before about feeling isolated; in an apartment, that’s at least a 30-minute drive from my closest friends’ house, on the outskirts of my city. I’m not in a neighborhood that is nearly as walkable as my beloved Sellwood. There are few good bars I can walk to from here. I have to drive to a grocery store, unlike having two grocery stores in walking distance in my old stomping grounds. And my roommate moved out (for his own reasons, which I understand, but which is still a factor for me now).

In a lot of ways, I’m more isolated than I was. Granted, I wasn’t that social in Sellwood, except that I knew the names of many of the bartenders and waitstaff for the bars and restaurants and coffee shops and diners I would haunt. And my friends rarely came over to visit me, even when they were closer than they are now—but we would hang out from time to time, slightly more often than we do these days.

I don’t just want to focus on the current adverse effects, however. As Dr. Santos suggests, I’d like to take this info and see if I can use it to move in a happier direction. Are there any ways I can spend more time around people?

I do spend time around people at work. I work side-by-side with Val; we share an office. And once or twice a week, Kevin, a fellow tech, works out of that office. Plus I talk to and deal with my users daily. And even though I don’t work with the rest of the tech team (they have their own office and work for other clients), my boss does have regular in-office casual time. Not meetings; we don’t talk about work. We drink adult beverages and hang out and sometimes play games. My job is already more social than my previous job.

I always make a point of going to my favorite Sellwood haunts whenever I can. I like being recognized and knowing the names of the staff there. Those are the ways I’m being more social.

Could I try to interact with my neighbors more? Is that a thing? It seems a difficult hurdle to hurdle over but maybe so.

Ideally, I think, when I move back closer in, I’d like to try living in a big house with a lot of roommates. That seems fun. Last year, when I lived in my sister’s house, even though I’m sure I got on everyone’s nerves sometimes, and I sometimes felt the same about them, it was comfortable having people around. It was my sister and her husband, my niece, and nephew, and their mother-in-law. And my sister is far more social than I am, and by extension, so is her family. They would have people over, throw parties, the niece and nephew would have their friends over… there were always people coming and going. Plus the adorable dog and the two cats. That house was a-rockin’. And I responded to it all.

I’m going to see what I can do to add more of that in my life. I want to do whatever I can to be happier. 

For science.

The Planet It’s Farthest From

A year ago this weekend I moved into this apartment, a two-bedroom one-and-a-half bathroom townhouse located on the very eastern border of the city limits of Portland.

I originally moved in with my nephew, Max, which is why we chose a two-bedroom place. The price was OK for us, even if the location was a bit far away from our friends and family, for both of us.

That weekend was bittersweet for me; I can’t speak for how Max felt about it. I felt I had very little choice. Other townhouses in the same price range and closer in had turned us down—me for bad credit, Max for no credit. This was his first-ever apartment.

I’ll always be grateful for the help of my friends and my family; helping me out after I couldn’t afford the apartment I’d lived in for almost two decades, a victim of rents rising faster than income and my own prolonged unemployed and under-employed status.

But damn did I hate not being in Sellwood anymore.

Max and I called the new place The Treehouse, a reference to Finn and Jake’s Tree Castle from Adventure Time. And that winter was a fun and yet frustrating time. Fun because Max is a very good roommate, but frustrating because as the weather got colder, we discovered the heat did not work at all. We suffered through many a cold night, fighting with the strangely hands’ off management company trying to get it repaired.

My friends all joked that I lived in Gresham, which I laugh off but does sting a bit. I’m a native Portlander, and my current address is a Portland address. I vote in Portland city elections. I’m inside the border.

But only just inside.

Max spent most of November and December house-sitting for his parents and wasn’t around, and I felt a little lonely; far from my friends, no one else around to talk to or play video games with, dealing with the cold weather. They did finally repair the heater, and within a week or two the managers announced that the property had been sold to a different management company, which, in retrospect, explained some of the odd goings-on with repairs.

I felt more than a little anxiety as the year wound to a close because my work contract was ending at the end of the year, and I had begun looking for a new job. But at least I had a car that worked and a place to live and a roommate to split the costs with.

In December, Max announced that he was planning on going back to school and that he would be moving into a room in West Linn, to save money. He promised to help me out with a month or two of rent, knowing I was losing my income in January, which to his credit he did not have to do. I figured I could afford a month or two on unemployment but I had to push for a job as quickly as I could.

After he moved out I moved my bed into the bigger bedroom (he got the big bedroom and I got the single parking space; a fair split between us) and turned the smaller one into a computer room and office space. That reminded me of my two-bedroom in Sellwood. It’s nice to have the extra space.

I started my new job, at a moderately higher rate of pay, just two and a half months into the year. I hoped I could make enough to move back in closer to town, but the rise in pay was not quite enough for me to build up my savings.

Meanwhile, since it was only me in the townhouse, I began calling it Tattooine, because, if there’s a bright center to Portland, I was on the block that’s farthest from it. I nearly always have to go to my friends’ houses or neighborhoods; it rarely makes sense for them to come to mine. They have visited, from time to time, but normally… it’s just me.

I know many of my neighbors in this complex by face but not by name. Is that normal for Portland, though? This isn’t the South, where people introduce themselves and get involved. Portlanders are polite but stand-offish.

There is a very cute cat that I see sometimes. She is a grey and cream tortoiseshell color, and she is very sweet, and sometimes she tries to come in my apartment and I have to stop myself from letting her. I know she has an owner because she wears a collar, and they would miss her. Maybe I should get a cat for myself. My friends all think it would help me.

I’ve put up some art, but not everything. I have decorated a bit, but not as much as I could. In my mind, this is a temporary space. I want to move out—or, rather, move in, closer into the center of Portland, closer to my friends, possibly even back to Sellwood. My resistance is knowing I don’t have much savings, and that I have a bad rental history; I am suffering the consequences of my decisions, and it’s very easy to beat myself up with them.

But maybe with a year of good rental history, I can demonstrate I’m back on track. Tattooine can be a waypoint, one stop in my journey. For now, I’m just remembering a full year in this place.

This Might Be The Most Random Post

Look, we both know I just need to warm up and then I’ll find some groove and it’ll all make sense. Hang in there with me, because I do not know where this is going. As usual.

I watched a couple of videos about The Last of Us, Part 2. I’m super excited for this game. Max and I played the first one together. Well, actually, Max was playing it for the second time and I watched him play and helped with some of the major decision points.

The first game was brilliant: immersive, tense, and character-driven. Oh, and there were plenty of zombies to kill, too. The second game also seems very character-driven, but with a focus on Ellie, the young woman who had some kind of immunity to the zombie-fungus, rather than Joel, the laconic anti-hero father figure.

I’m a bit concerned that Ellie has a love interest and that the game is going to injure or kill the love interest in order to motivate Ellie. Why is that concerning? It’s because Ellie is a lesbian, and “Bury Your Gays” (warning: TV Tropes link, proceed with caution or else you’ll lose hours over there—come back as soon as you can) is a harmful trope in modern writing.

On the other hand, The Last of Us is set in a gloomy post-apocalypse, and those tend not to have happy endings. Any love interest is potential refrigerator fodder. So maybe it’s harder to avoid in this instance. Maybe there is a path through the game to a happy ending for Ellie and her love life. I’d like to think so.

I’m super full right now. I’ve been eating a lot and my weight has been trending up this week. Today I had my usual breakfast (oatmeal, bacon, coffee), plus a raspberry scone, plus a small deli sandwich, plus a gallon of coffee and cream, and then for dinner I stopped at the teriyaki place and got a giant plate of teriyaki chicken, two cups of white rice, and another gallon of teriyaki sauce. I ate it all, and now I can see my stomach bulging like some kind of big bulging thing.

And there’s a small part of me that wants to walk over to the Dairy Queen and get a Blizzard because some small part of me wants to be full all the time. I don’t know what pushes me to keep eating even when I’m stuffed full. There’s some psychology there that I do not fully understand. I can feel the Inner Negative Voice mumbling something… just can’t make it out clearly. But there’s some self-loathing involved because of course there is.

Speaking of video games, I really want to play this terrible goose game that everybody’s talking about. That’s all I have to say about that.

My site (this site!) gets more daily views when I post in the evening. Or did I already mention that? I’m not going to go check now. This is just more words towards my word count. Also… random!

I really hate living right across the street from a Dairy Queen, y’all. It’s bad for me to be able to just walk over there any time they’re open and buy a Blizzard (I never buy anything else, although I do sometimes only buy a mini one (~350 calories), sometimes a small (660 calories) and, rarely, a medium (800 calories or about 2/3s of my daily allowed calories)).

I’m happy that Spider-Man is back in the MCU although I bet that whole brouhaha between Sony and Marvel/Disney was just kayfabe.

I’m really running out of random things to type, so I think I’m just going to call it here. I wrote more than the minimum, it’s late on a Friday, and I’m tired. So tired I took a nap in my car at lunch, even though I don’t have a newborn to blame my sleepiness on. Let’s be real, I’m never going to have a newborn to blame anything on.

Good night, dear readers. I love you all.

OH! One more thing. I have not sent three pitch emails/letters out this week. I’m going to do one or two more this weekend. I have sent one pitch out to two different editors, though. Did I mention that already? Again, not going to go search back and see if I’ve posted that already.

For reals. Good night.

Podcasts Against Loneliness

I didn’t always listen to podcasts. I had to start at some point.

If you’re reading a blog, you probably already know what a podcast is. In case you don’t, the easiest explanation is that a podcast is like a radio show you’ve Tivo’ed. There are podcasts that cover just about any topic you can imagine, but the most popular ones are generally NPR shows, I think. I don’t know; I don’t listen to any of the most popular ones.

I believe the first podcast I ever downloaded and listened to was Yo, Is This Racist?, hosted by Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome. I haven’t listened to it in a long time but the format when I did was the hosts reading a letter/email from a listener about a situation and then trying to parse whether or not it was racist. The episodes were short and to the point, the hosts were engaging and friendly, and I learned a lot from it.

That, however, was just the vanguard. Soon after that I began subscribing and listening to a lot of them. But why, though? Why did I switch from listening to music, to listening to people talking about various things? Wha hoppen?

I knew what podcasts were long before I listened to them. I participated as a behind-the-scenes volunteer for 30-Hour Day, a video podcast live-streaming charity benefit featuring hosts Cami Kaos and Rick Turoczy, back in—ohmygod—2009, ten years ago. That live stream stemmed from a podcast: Strange Love Live. I knew what it was, I participated in a small way, but I didn’t actually listen to it or follow it. It was just part of the tech underground.

I knew Dan Harmon, writer and creator of Community, did weekly shows in front of a live audience that were recorded and released as podcasts, called Harmontown. I knew that from reading about the scandalous things he would often say about making the show and working with Sony, NBC, and Chevy Chase. I read these things on the AV Club back in—ohmygod—2012. But I didn’t listen to the podcasts and I didn’t subscribe.

I could come up with more examples prior to me taking that final step of downloading and playing that first podcast. And if you’ve read the title, you might have a good guess as to what it was.

In February 2013 I left my job at Multnomah County for the vague sense that I should be writing. I spent most of my time at home, alone, staring at a computer screen, and some of that time writing. The times I wasn’t writing, I was procrastinating by surfing, doing minor housecleaning, exercising, or otherwise dicking around not writing. And, quite honestly, I was a bit lonely.

Sure it was my choice. Sure, I still had family and friends to talk to and hang out with. Sure, I made new friends online when I took up scraping nickels off the internet by being a worker for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and joining some forums to learn how to do it better. But there was still the vast stretches of time when I was home, alone, with only the voices in my head to keep me company… unless I downloaded some podcasts and played them and listened to these people talk about smart things and funny things and serious things.

It didn’t take very long before silence felt weird, and I was putting on podcasts to go about my daily chores as a habit. If I ran out of podcasts to listen to, I’d get agitated until I found a new one, or dug back into the archives to re-listen to an older one that I particularly liked. I’d binge the whole run of a podcast and marvel at how it changed over time—a huge undertaking for something that has been going on forever, like The Incomparable (a podcast for which I am a paying member, because of how much entertainment Jason Snell and his friends have given me over the years).

I now understand why some older folks would leave the teevee on in the background while they were home. Some friendly voices to fill the empty spaces in the house.

Now that I’m working on a regular day job again, I don’t feel that need to have podcasts going 24/7, though I do still listen to them when I’m at home. I also a bit of a commute—30-40 minutes one way—and that is prime podcast-listenin’ time. But I also mix it up with music sometimes.

And sometimes… even silence. I think I’m slightly less lonely these days. That’s a good thing.