Oh, here I go again. I have no idea what to write. Well, sit down and prepare yourself for a half a page of dithering and fumfuh-ing. Or don’t, it’s OK, you can skip this one. I won’t care. I’m just writing to get my word count in.
What’s on my mind tonight? I haven’t been feeling too well this week. Heartburn and gas. Yeah. I’m going, to be honest about my body. I’m also a bit feverish, too. Really warm and a little dizzy, so there’s clearly something going on internally. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Monday for a general physical, but it looks like it’s going to turn in to “Hey, Doc, I’ve got these symptoms, can you take a look?”
At least I have health insurance, and decent-ish health insurance, so I’m not even paying a co-pay for a visit. It’s covered. That’s good. But in the back of my mind, because I live in America and know how the American medical system works, I know that there’s a possibility that, if it turns out I have something seriously wrong with me, it could cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s a very real, and very realistic fear that broke-ass Americans like me have to consider.
Because I have the Inner Negative Voice, too, that worry only grows and grows if I am not vigilant. My friends will tell you that I am often the one who thinks things can only get worse, especially when it comes to my own life and my own health. I think about Worst-Case Scenarios. That’s my deal. My friends joke with me: “It’s not cancer!” they say. But I’ve known too many people, close to me, who have died from causes that started out non-threatening and straightforward and just grew and grew until their lives were snuffed out.
I miss them. I can’t not think about them. And my thoughts about their deaths colors how I feel about my body and how it feels. It can’t not.
I also can’t help but google my symptoms, and we all know that that’s just a golden road leading straight to Worst-Case Scenario Town. They should really think of better ways to describe symptoms so that we, the searchers, aren’t immediately plunged into the icy depths of OMG IT’S CANCER. What if it’s just a mole? Why not let us linger there, with a door cracked open to the room beyond where it might be something worse?
Oh, hey, there’s the part of my brain that’s trying to make things better. I’m genuinely happy he’s made an appearance. I like knowing that the doom and gloom isn’t my whole being. If I keep typing past the initial negative thoughts, I do eventually reach the optimistic, can-do, let’s-fix-it, Brian. He’s a good guy if a little distracted and shy to come out from under the covers sometimes.
That’s the lesson for tonight. Just keep typing and eventually something will happen. I mean, I’ve learned that lesson over and over again as I’ve worked on this experiment. I’ve learned that lesson over and over again down through the years. That lesson is at the very heart of the NaNoWriMo philosophy. And yet, I have to re-learn it, often, and frequently. I’m happy to do it, though.
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
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!
For several reasons, it’s really dumb to claim you’ve “won” the NaNoWriMo competition by writing your 50,000 words before midnight on 1 November. First, the only real prize is the joy of doing it. Sure, some authors do go on to get book deals for their efforts, but those deals are few and far between. The vast majority of participants will only have their honor and a little badge they can display on a web page.
I was not planning on starting the actual narrative early. I was seeking to take all the ideas floating around in my head and capturing them somewhere. I wanted to have a reserve pile of ideas I can toss into the story if I feel like I’m flagging or woolgathering. And so I wondered if that was considered dishonesty under the standard terms of NaNoWriMo.
Then I went digging, and found the link above, from the official source of rules for the competition, which specifically addresses this. As long as I only count words written between midnight 1 November and midnight 1 December toward the 50,000, I am okay. I’m still within my honor. I can still win it, even if I did some planning and plotting and character-ing before the official starting gun.
On the other hand, as I may have mentioned on the blog before, but am too lazy to find and link, I am also considering taking no notes at all—in fact, I’m considering tossing out the whole idea of having a plan in mind in the first place! What if I approach it like I’ve approached my daily writing experiment: sit down and write until I reach my word goal. Improvised, imagine at the moment, no planning or forethought. Write and see what happens. What story develops over time? What characters emerge? Seat-of-the-pants writing.
I’ve tried plotting things out first. I managed to finish a first draft that way, a long, long time ago (no, you can’t read it; it’s terrible). I learned a lot in that effort, and I have doubled down on plotting ever since. However, I have not been able to complete a first draft since then. Should I try it out the other way next? Is that what will help?
If I don’t have a prior idea where the story is going, there’s the chance it can go anywhere at all. The trail is not blazed. I don’t have to work to steer the story to the pre-determined conclusion. I could literally have aliens land and change everything, just to keep the story moving and keep me writing. There’s a lot to like in doing it this way, this time around.
I will reserve judgment until I start. That, too, is permitted. I can go in with a plan, start to execute that plan, and then decide to swerve in the middle. The only rule is: 50,000 words in one month. The words don’t even have to be all in one story to count, although that’s the strong assumption when talking about National Novel Writing Month: one novel, one story, start to finish.
Been writing about home a lot lately, and my thoughts on where I’d prefer to live and what kind of house I’d prefer to have. It’s something I value, as an introvert: having a home, a nice safe, quiet place where I don’t have to worry about presenting any specific personality.
I wonder, though, if I can write enough words on the topic of… what’s the opposite of home? Would it be not-home? Hang on; I’m googling the antonym of home, which turns out to be:
…foreign? Wait, home is a noun; shouldn’t the antonym be a noun, too? How weird. That doesn’t make sense, but let’s go with it.
I have not traveled to a lot of cities in the world, either domestic or foreign. My tourism has extended to North America and the surrounding sea, exclusively. I am not, therefore, an expert, and I will be the first to admit that. I would love to see more of the world, much more than I have to date.
With that in mind, I can speak about the cities and places I have been, and compare them to my hometown of the Portland of Oregon.
My favorite city in the world other than Portland, is, without doubt, New Orleans. I’ve visited there twice, and each trip included so many good memories, sights of charming and unique architecture and scenery, and companionable natives. If I had to move away from Portland and were forced to pick my new home, I would settle in New Orleans.
Sure, I was drunk most of the time I was there. Both times. But I’m pretty good at being drunk, so my impressions still have value to me. I was first struck by how different the buildings were from Portland. The strong French and Spanish influence, especially in and around Bourbon Street, reminded me that I was not at home, while still feeling welcoming. The basic grid layout of the downtown streets made navigation easy, especially for someone deep in their cups, as I’d been, and probably would be again on my future visits. And the famous Southern hospitality was miles away from the passive-aggressive NW Nice attitude. People talked to each other, even strangers, and that felt good, even to introverted me.
I should point out that my two visits were in the winter, though. It’s entirely possible my impression would have been much different if I was attacked by mosquitos or drenched in humidity. But I’m aware of these things, and I will reserve my ultimate judgment until after that day I visit in the summer months.
Still, New Orleans is the subject of many a daydream for me. I can picture sitting on a balcony overlooking streams of people, while I sip on a gin and tonic, and listen to live music, staying up until the wee small hours of the night.
I have not been back there since Hurricane Katrina; another possible source of discouragement for my love of this city. I imagine, however, that the lore and history of the area survived even the Bush II Administration’s willful negligence. People rebuild after disasters, and people tend to preserve the past. I hope that New Orleans is still layered in a rich texture of food, fascinating construction, friendly people, and history.
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.
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I remember the day I learned I was short.
Let me back up. My height and weight were never things I thought about or considered. I was just me, in a me-shaped package. I moved through the world more concerned about what I thought and felt than what my body did or didn’t do. Thoughtless about anything other than thoughts is a good way to put it. Some people I had to look up to meet their eyes; others I had to look down to—but I did not keep a running tally of how many of each.
When I was a kid, and my mom would take me clothes shopping, I paid no attention to the sizes. I particularly did not stop to consider the array of sizes that were available. I’d pick out something I liked, and mom would then go find it in a size that would fit me. I let her do that stuff because she was Mom. I’d try clothes on, and she would ask, “does it fit? Is it comfortable?” and I would almost always answer “yes” regardless of how they felt on my body because they were on my body. As long as I could close the fasteners around the meat that stored my brain, I was good. “Fit” never bothered me, for good or bad.
I do remember, as I advanced through my teenage years, that mom would fret about the day when I grew taller than her. That was a milestone. My sister, a year older, passed that point before I did. And, of course, eventually, that day came and went. I noticed it, laughed a bit about it, but she was still Mom, and I was still just a Brian-sized skeleton and frame with Me, the important part, riding around between the ears. In the broader context of the world of humanity and the value judgment of “short” or “tall” or “thin” or “fat,” I was an outsider; not necessarily an outlier so much as an exception. This whole thought process was me manifesting my Straight White Cis Dude privilege. I was Special. My gender allowed me the space to give zero thought to the volume my Me occupied.
I retained this level of dissociation from my physical self until my late 20s, a fact that I just had to do the math on, and which I now find difficult to believe. I am astonished that I was unconscious.
The moment that all changed is something I will remember, however, for the rest of my life. I was sitting in my bedroom, in front of my computer, sometime in 1993. My computer was connected, via dial-up modem, to a bulletin board system (BBS) called, and I swear I am not making this up, “The Heartbeat of Portland,” which was run by a guy out of his home in SE Portland. I only knew the owner by the name Cuda, even though I had met him in person. The people I was chatting with were Jewel and Highlander. My handle on the board was Lunar because of course it was.
Without getting into the social dynamic at play too much, Jewel was the sweetheart of the BBS; flirty, funny, optimistic and charming, and Highlander was the guy she flirted with the most, so the rest of the board considered the two of them to be the unofficial Queen and King. Even Cuda, actually, and he paid the bills for all the phone lines required to keep us all chatting.
I was having some fun and playing along and joking with My Queen and King, and trying to find out more about these characters I only knew as words on a screen. This time was a much more innocent one, the community on the BBS was tight-knit, and there were very few topics we could not discuss, and so we all felt no anxiety talking about the presidential election of the prior year. Highlander had voted for Bill Clinton, Jewel liked Clinton but wasn’t convinced.
I mentioned I had voted for this Ross Perot guy (I was always an independent thinker). At the time, I didn’t really understand or empathize with the needs of the working class or the underclass, as I do now, so don’t make me defend my choice. I think I had reacted to Perot’s outsider nature, and his charming directness, much more than his policies.
When I mentioned Perot, Highlander LOL’ed (we only had text back then, folks; this is where all those abbreviations stemmed from) and said that there was no way Perot could have won. He’s a third-party candidate, he explained. “Plus, no man under 6′ tall has ever won the presidency.” (I have not fact-checked this; I’m quoting here.)
I considered what he was saying, but it didn’t follow. “What does his height have to do with anything?” I asked. Recalling the moment now, I can feel the cold, detached, scientific curiosity of my past self. Need more input, does not compute.
Highlander: He’s short. Me: He’s as tall as I am. Highlander: How tall are you? Me: 5′ 6″ Highlander: LOL Highlander: That’s short!
…was it? Am I? I scoffed at the idea, and the conversation continued. Highlander explained that he was 5′ 11″, and Jewel laughed at him and teased him for not being a full 6′ tall. And I played along, but after the conversation wound down and I disconnected, my mind reached back and put a bunch more scenes into context, movie montage style.
Being at a family reunion with my many uncles and aunts from my mom’s side of the family as a teenager, and being eye-level with most of my mom’s brothers, but having to look up at most of the uncles who had married into the family. Oh. I had inherited my height. Shortness ran in the family. (Having never met my dad’s side of the family, with the lone exception of meeting his father when I was very young, I didn’t have any of them to compare me to. Dad, however, wasn’t that much taller than most of my maternal-side uncles.)
Standing in a store with my friend Dennis and having the shopkeeper laugh at us and call us “Laurel and Hardy.” Oh. Yeah, I guess Dennis was tall and thin, and I was… not as tall and not as thin as he was. Did that mean I was short? Is that what that meant?
Was mom’s fretting about me growing taller than her worry about growing old? Or was it something more: socially-informed anxiety about being short?
It didn’t take long, maybe a day or two, for me to incorporate this new belief into my worldview, however. It still didn’t bother me, most of the time.
No, that being bothered by it came later, although it has always been mild for me. I believe that had I been, through genetics or whatever else controls height, I would have become a different person—I would have developed a personality other than the one I have now. Maybe I would have been less sensitive, less introverted, less thought-focused, and more physical-focused.
That is an experiment we can’t run, and I can quickly think of dozens of examples of tall but shy men, so I can’t even entertain the idea seriously. I am who I am. There’s no changing that now.
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.
On my way into work today, my thoughts turned to the upcoming NaNoWriMo event, towards which I have been building. I realized that since it’s the start of October now, I should also be ramping up my daily word count. I want to aim for more than 1000 words a day this month, in the hopes it makes the 1,667 words per day average to complete NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in a month easier.
While I was thinking about that, I remembered that maybe now I should start noodling around some ideas of what, exactly, I should be writing next month. I need a topic. Don’t I? Maybe I don’t. Perhaps this exercise of just sitting down and writing is telling me I don’t need an actual plot. I can just write free-form, wild and free, and see what story, plot, and characters show up. Maybe that’s how I should do it?
And then, as is often the case, I remembered previous attempts, particularly my Untitled Political Novel, the one whose story and characters have been kicking around my head for nearly a decade and a half. The one about the slacker atheist Portlander who gets a political awakening in 2005 or so that Democrats aren’t going to do anything about the lawless Bush administration, and decides to run for Congress. Against the incumbent comfortable centrist Democrat. From the left.
As the years passed, though, well, you know. Politics did not get less crazy. Things today make the mid-Aughties look sane in comparison. And I grew increasingly doubtful I could explain the times back then in a way that highlighted the madness but also drew parallels to what’s happening today.
I set the story aside. Then, this year, I realized that it’s still important to tell, and tried working through the plot threads again. Made a huge diagram of the plot on my wall, complete with red ribbons and pushpins. But it still feels… mild.
I still have doubts about telling that story. But I want to tell that story. And have it connect to today.
Then I had it.
I have to start the story now. I have to assume all that I’ve plotted out already, the campaign, the reversals, all my characters. It all happened just as I’ve plotted out. And then… what happens next?
I have to write the sequel to the story I haven’t told.
The idea of taking the characters who have lived in my head and finally going beyond where I’ve left them gave me such a flash of energy and excitement I knew that this is the right idea. I know these people, and now they’re here, alongside me, marveling and reacting to the three-ring circus that is modern life. Believe you me, they have things to say about it.
I still need to figure out where they go from here, but all the notes and sketches and half-written scenes will inform what I’m writing; while the skill I’ve been practicing for a month and a half now—just sit down and write whatever—will propel me forward.
I don’t know if I would have found this solution to my mental doubts if I hadn’t been putting in seat time on my blog. Maybe, maybe not. But now, for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to see what happens when November 1st rolls around.
Spending time writing on my blog every day means that sometimes, I go back and read old posts. It’s fun. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s fun. Other times there are other emotions I feel, reading what I used to write down.
I read posts that remind me of old relationships, and that’s always an emotional minefield. The posts are often about the good times, but thinking of those times and those people from the vantage point of right here right now I can’t help but also think of the bad times. I can feel my Negative Inner Voice spin up, ready to beat me over the head with words I can’t unspeak and actions I can’t not do. I’m sure you know what I’m saying.
Is this too vague to be a good post? I don’t want to pick at old wounds, and I don’t want to find the posts and link them here. So this isn’t very useful or informative. Maybe this isn’t a good topic.
But there are also the good times, often right there on the screen. And if I focus on those words, I can remember feeling good, and feeling happy, and feeling a connection with another—not just another, but The Other, the self that isn’t my self. Seeing a glimpse of the whole universe that lives inside someone else’s experience, that’s informed by someone else’s lived experience. And, wow, how magical is that (asks the scientist-skeptic, which is not a contradiction; many scientists allow themselves to feel that sense of wonder that observation of the universe inspires. It’s why they are scientists.)
I’m happy I’ve been able to document some of that in my own life. I’ve been writing this blog for a long time now, and even though I’ve been here for all of it, and nearly every word here (except for a handful of comments and a few guest posts here and there) was written by me, I still forget the specifics.
In some ways, reading old posts is like finding and going through an old photo album. Each story is a milestone I’ve passed and made note of before moving on—a view of a forgotten shore from the seat of a boat in the river of time.
Writing it down now feels trite and simple. Despite my practice, I do not consider myself a poet. Poetry needs mystery and deliberate vagueness; my vagueness comes from fear of over-explaining and a strong desire for being direct and sincere. Feelings are all well and good but true feelings don’t come with words attached, and I resist attaching words to ineffable feelings for fear of diminishing them.
I can’t blog feelings, though, so I have to make do with words. Hopefully these are enough.
Writing daily has been a great experiment and it has only gotten easier as I go along. I still don’t necessarily have something interesting to say every day, but I don’t stress about not being able to write something down every day. Last night, for instance, I didn’t know what I was going to write until I sat down to write it, only an hour or so before I planned to go to bed. I even heard my Inner Negative Voice whisper that maybe I should not do it today.
I’m glad I persisted. I’m happy my streak continues. Even if I’m rambling in vagaries right now, from my desk at work (shhh! don’t tell IT (haha, that’s me)), I’m glad I am keeping up the practice.
Because maybe in the future, I will look back on this post and remember the feelings I am trying and probably failing to document—but Future-Me will have had enough practice to describe them better. I’m building something here, and every brick I lay makes a stronger foundation.
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.
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.