An Orange Traffic Cone: a memoir

Happy New Ye- oh, wow. This is…uh, this is pretty late. Like, “we’re the kind of folks that still have our Christmas lights from the previous year up” kind of late. But eh, oh well. It’s been good so far: Happy New Year, everybody!

Took a second this time ’round, didn’t we? Hope everyone’s various holidays and celebrations went well and that you ate enough pie or whatever (heh, there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere) that you’re still working it off.

Oh! Before we get into the tale in earnest, wanted to quickly stroke myself in mentioning we have another publication on the way! Turns out my first ever fiction piece “The Sixth Gun Conspiracy Letters,” featured in Third Flatiron Publishing’s ‘Hidden Histories’ anthology, merited a spot in their upcoming “Best of 2019” anthology.

So…that’s pretty dope.

Anyway! I, like most of us, have myself a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions. But I haven’t started running yet. Haven’t yet started reading the Harry Potter series (God, I KNOW, right? -said every woman friend of mine ever). And haven’t yet gotten back to learning to play the Overcooked main theme on my harmonica off-book (I’m almost there, but I’m a bit rusty).

I’m going to sidestep responsibility for another moment and say that I’ve been pulled away from those commitments by virtue of the fact that I started this year off on the wrong foot. Normally, I wake up January 1st bright and early, list of Resolutions on my desk, and start tackling them almost immediately.

This year, that ‘bright and early’ was a bit more ‘foggy and nauseous’, leering at the previous night’s festivities – but whatevs. What also set it off on an unexpected foot was THE FIRST thing that popped into my conscious mind this year: the story of the ‘How Weird’ street festival.

Now, this happened years ago, but it’s stayed with me and I’ve gotten to recount it enough recently that the details have come back startlingly crisp. It was pitched to me by my wonderful girlfriend Mandy (who I’m sure still loves being talked about on here) as a sort of street fair in San Francisco “just with weird stuff” (hence the name, right?). That was totally true, mostly. It turned out to basically be an outdoor rave/trance concert, with a bunch of cannabis vendors (or “totally-not-cannabis” vendors, given the legality at the time) lining the streets. But there were also, certainly, plenty of odd things befitting the name.

First thing we see when we show up was a line that went around the block. Nothing too odd about that, granted. But IN said line were plenty of topless gals in tutus (sweet), old dudes in chaps and nothing else (respect the move, so, sweet as well), and my personal favorite: a dude wearing a luchador mask, mummified neck-to-ankles in saran wrap, pink briefs covering his yoo-hoo’s, all the while coasting about on roller skates.

It was like coming home.

Once we’d made it inside, I’ll admit, details get a little bit fuzzy; but there three occurrences I do remember that made that trip what it was.

Firstly, and most prominently, there was one of the few vendors not hawking the Devil’s Lettuce who was giving away these little ceramic medallions, about the size and shape of sand dollars, in all sorts of colors. On them were reliefs of the word “Peace” in every language under the sun. He gave them away and accepted donations if you felt like it, and behind him was a big board with the amount he’d ostensibly given away to date: roughly 500,000.

Rad, right?

I chose a medallion with the word in Hindi (“shaanti”). No real connection or heritage to it other than studying the Vedic traditions a bit in college at the time, and it resonated more than Italian or Spanish or what-have-you.

Anyway, I gave the guy ten dollars, which was about all the loose cash I had left in my wallet for two reasons: 1) I always believe in tipping generously whatever the case may be, and 2) right at the moment Mandy and I were being given our medallions, a guy came up to the man giving them away. Apparently, the man had given the guy a medallion three years before, and the guy promised to pay him $100 sometime in the nebulous future when he was able; and that now he did in fact have the money, so he paid him what he promised.

I thought it was a pretty beautiful moment to be present for.

I won’t lie, I’m not much one for “crystal healing” or “nerve rings” or anything, but it’s funny how often this little necklace has become a bit of a totem. A serious moment comes up that requires focus or decision making, frustration bubbles to the surface for real or stupid reasons, traffic sucks – whatever. I find myself rubbing this thing with all its meanings – peace, calm, quiet, serenity, emptiness – and my blood pressure actively lowers.

Magic.

Speaking of magic, the second memory pillar to that day was The Storm. Not that anything out of the ordinary happened with the weather, it was actually a super nice, sunny one; but I bumped into a dude named Storm (adding the “the” just sort of makes it sounds more dun-dun-duuuuun).

Storm was a buddhist monk, maybe my age at the time (23) or a little younger. He, like Medallion Man, was there trying to give away messages of wisdom and love. He was in the usual saffron-orange robes, with a big ol’ honkin’ duffel bag hanging on one shoulder. In it, were stacks and stacks of copies of the Bhagavad Gita (and even now, just thinking about it makes my neck ache). He was trying, unsuccessfully as we saw it, to give them away. Wasn’t asking for anything, or even mentioning donations, as I recall. Just wanted to get as many books into as many hands as he could.

He approached us, told us all this, how and where he’d been traveling, what he was trying to do, and if we’d accept a copy. I told him I would accept it on one condition: that I get a hug.

Y’all…that was one of the best hugs I’ve ever received from a stranger.

It was like hugging the brother I didn’t know I had or had wanted.

I was given the book (still have it, by the way, in my keepsake trunk; that thing will move with me to every house I ever live in), and we parted ways. Knowing that I was given the hug by such a warm individual and that we’re likely to never, ever meet again genuinely fills me with hope and warm thoughts about this world; that people are generally good, kind, and are just trying to make it, no matter what that dick in traffic shouted out his window – give him a chance and you’ll probably find a lot of common ground, and there but for the grace of God go any of us, shouting our asses off in- okay, I’m ranting.

Storm. Book. Hug. Memories. Milk of human kindness.

The third and last wasn’t the most impacting as far as my world view is concer-

Actually, scratch that. It did. It super did. Not as much as Medallion Man and Storm, which is undoubtedly a good thing; but unfortunately it is the FIRST thing I think of whenever I reminisce about the How Weird street fair.

We were walking down whatever avenue the fair was on, asking ourselves the “are we ready to go?/have we seen all we want to?” questions. The fair saw fit to show us out with a 1-2 punch combination of sweet, sweet, San Franciscan imagery.

The first: two older gentlemen I assume were lovers, approximately late-60’s, stark naked save a pair of Nike’s each, and – my favorite part – light up blinky cock rings that just…we designed to draw the eye. (To this day, I’m positive one of them winked at me – not one of the men, the penises. One of the penises winked at me.)

The second: there was a turd on the sidewalk.

It gets talked about now, about how much public defecation is a problem in the City, but not back then. And yet, there it was. Corn-riddled, definitely human doo-doo. Normally, that’d just be a case of, “Ah, gross. But whaddya gonna do? It’s da Ciiiityyyy.” Not this time. Not this time, because of my favorite detail: to remedy the fact that there was a fat log of human poo-poo on the sidewalk, someone retrieved a bright orange traffic cone and set it down RIGHT BESIDE the turd!

BESIDE IT!

They didn’t SCOOP it, or DISPOSE of it, or even COVER it WITH THE CONE! They put the cone down BESIDE THE POOP!

It remains my favorite ever example of simply sublime problem-solving, and it still cracks me up.

Anyway, good to talk to y’all again. See ya Thursday (yes, for real this time).

Funeral for a Hamster: A Legacy

Whoa, hey guys. It’s been a minute, right? Like a real minute.

Been a helluva week, too. Work’s been nuts, some family stuff, friendly drama, took Honorable Mention in the semi-finals of a national fiction contest (#humblebrag), and my pet died.

It’s been a thing.

BUT, that’s not what we’re here to talk about (kind of). We’re here…to talk about Hammy.

That’s short for “Hamilton”, the hamster – it was my girlfriend’s idea, I didn’t vote for it; but grew to love the name and the little doofus in short order. Apparently, the average lifespan of a syrian dwarf hamster is about two years, and the Lil’ Hercules (name explained in a moment) made it twenty-nine months. We buried him out front, with neighbors and family, in the rain, and said some kind words while I played “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on my phone.

I hope I live the kind of life where I merit a funeral that’s half as cool.

So, in the spirit, I’d like to share a few tales about Hamilton’s legacy and why he was so awesome.

  1. He Ate Fucking Metal and Lifted a Fucking Book
    He had a pretty spacious cage to run around in with plenty of ‘floof’ to burrow through. But that wasn’t enough for Lil’ Hercules. At one point, Mandy thought it’d be a good idea to outfit his space with an old egg carton as a sort of makeshift ladder to climb on. Cool in theory, right? Problem was, now he could reach the metal mesh that was the top of the cage. No problem, right? Wrong. Problem. Very much problem, apparently.
    I wake up in the middle of the night to some weird noises, but was exhausted enough to just ignore them. Come morning time, I get up for work, walk groggily to the kitchen, and while I’m making coffee, something scuttles over my feet. I look down, thinking I’m about to kill a rat, when I see the rat is orange.
    I wrack my brains over how he got out. Did we leave the cage open? Did we leave it cracked? No, and no.
    I go back to his cage with him scooped up, and see there’s a fat fucking hole in the mesh where the carton reaches. He chewed through (and presumably ate) aluminum screen in the name of freedom.
    We spent the next week expecting him to leave a couple bloody turds, and then die painfully; but that never happened. Instead, we put a heavy-ass biology textbook to cover the hole and kept an eye on him.
    Apparently, not a close-enough eye, because a couple nights later, there come more weird noises. I wake up, turn on the light, and spot him rummaging through our closet. I scold him (thoroughly expecting him to understand me), scoop him up yet again, and inspect his cage to see the – let it not be understated – heavy-ass biology textbook scooted off to the side.
    That rodent was on ‘roids.
  2. He Got Me to Kiss his Nuts Once
    Not too much to delve into here, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
    We, and most of our friends, made a fair amount of fun of Hammy’s balls. But that was only because they were ginormous! They genuinely, actually made it seem like they made it more difficult for him to walk.
    That aside, when he’d gotten used to being handled and carried, it was a nice thing to be able to nuzzle him and kiss his back or his head. Problem was, he was quick.
    So I’m holding him in the crook of my elbow, nuzzle him, and lean over to give him a kiss to the head, when he ‘Swoop!’ scuttles over my arm, and my lips brush right up against those kidney-bean-sized testicles.
    I think that was the day I decided I loved him. I’ve never kissed a pair of testicles and not loved the…y’know what, never mind…
  3. He Stared Death in the Face (kind of)
    There’s a neighborhood cat around here that we’ve pseudo-adopted. Her name’s ‘Tiger,’ even though her owners named her ‘Kitten,’ but that’s dumb, so her name’s ‘Tiger.’
    Anyway, Tiger loved to come over, hang out for warmth and scratches, and then jump up onto the bench where Hammy’s cage was and just…stare at him (We called her doing this “checking out Food Network”).
    Part of what made his passing a bit more gentle was knowing that he lived a life in which he never knew pain or fear (except once when he fell off the bed, peed a little, then hopped right back to life). So when a giant monster that stared at him mere centimeters away, longing to eviscerate him, and play with his tiny intestines like Silly String, he just looked at her, smiled, shrugged, and peed in his corner.
    I’m probably attributing courage for what was actually hilarious Darwinian ignorance, but I like to picture him as staring death in the face and shrugging. So, there.

He survived two of California’s wildfires with us, scaled a bathroom cabinet like a parkour athlete, and loudly ran into about eleven-hundred doors in his plastic ball, then died peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of two-and-a-half.

We should all be so lucky.

Love ya, Hammy. We’ll miss you.

Hamilton, under his Rainbow Bridge

Catch you guys Tuesday.

Bees?

Happy Thursday, y’all. Treatin’ yourself right? Good.

This one came up between my mom and I recently, and I figured it would be a funny one to share with all of you.

I was probably fourteen or fifteen during the summer in question, and my mom had a couple of projects around the house she wanted help with. I love her, but these usually amounted to small things I didn’t see the point in putting the energy toward. That said, fuck it, she’s my mom, I’m her son – ya help ya mama out. That day, it was repainting the trim around the upstairs windows to clean them up a bit. Since my bedroom was up there, it was just a matter of climbing out the window onto the roof while she stood in the driveway to direct me.

From what I remember, it was hot that day, probably high 90’s. I’m out there on the roof, standing just under the top-level awning, painting these damn trims. From my bedroom, I have a little radio that’s playing whatever rock station I was into at the time, and all’s going well. I’m thinking I’ll get this done pretty quick and then be looking at going out for burgers or something.

Right after that thought, I’m sure, is when things got weird.

First, was the weird shadow. I go to reload my paintbrush (sounds kind of bad-ass put that way, but just amounts to dunking it again – I suck at painting) and on the rooftop is…well, it’s like a shadow. But it’s a shadow in the same way that heat distortion (the stuff mirages are made of) can sort of cast a shadow, or the way fumes can cast a shadow – it doesn’t really have a defined border, it’s loose, and it’s not even that there’s blocked light, just sort of a shimmering; kind of like an underwater light effect, just…without the water.

I see that and go, “Huh, that’s weird, but it is hot today,” and chalk it up to the aforementioned heat distortion.

Second, was the weird sound. As I’d said, I had my radio going in my room, when it suddenly starts to get all static-y, like getting cut with interference. No problem, it happens, but like with the shadow, it’s not quite static. It’s a tough sensation to put into words, but I guess imagine an audio engineer had to custom mix the sound of static (if that’s even a thing they do, I’m just going by the name – use your imagination!), but they wound up half-ass’ing it. That’s the best I got.

But again, I hear it and think, “Huh, that’s weird, but it is hot today,” as though the heat itself is interfering with the radio signal. (#dumbkidthoughts #thatsnotscience) Finally, I guess these things got strange enough for me to eventually look up, and what do I see?

AN ENORMOUS FUCK-OFF CLOUD OF BEES!!

And when I say “cloud,” I truly cannot emphasize that enough. A bit of YouTube diving sort of shows off what words fail to paint, but even that doesn’t compete with the live sensation (though I will say, the sound comes close).

Like the Persians’ arrows, these sum-bitches blotted out the goddamn sun.

So I dove through my window and slammed it closed behind me (if you’re picturing something Jason Statham would do, you’re correct). I looked down to the driveway to see my mom just standing there with her jaw on the ground. After the swarm passed, I went out to meet her, shouted something to the effect of, “What the fuck was that?” to which she responded, “Oh, yeah. I saw it coming and was just like, ‘whaaaat?'”

I know what you’re thinking, and to this day, I also don’t know why the-scrambled-eggs-on-fuck-toast she didn’t say anything to warn me.

Anyway, love y’all. Smash “Follow.” See ya Tuesday.

Ciao.

A Sad Story

I had a pivotal moment growing up when, at the age of seventeen, I found out a classmate of mine couldn’t tie his shoes (we’ll call him Alessio, because this happened in our senior Italian class).

The funny thing is that there wasn’t a big wind-up to the news, either. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about in the lead up, just shooting the breeze near the back of the room while class was on break or something and boom, “Alessio can’t tie his shoes.”

A swell of mixed emotions probably came next. Here was someone my age, no physical or evident mental impairments that would keep him from it, just “wasn’t raised that way.”

Naturally, the first thing I do is put on my deer-stalker cap, puff my pipe, and look down to see he is, in fact, wearing laced shoes which are, in fact, tied.

“How’d you tie those, then?” say I, skeptically.

Alessio hangs his head and quietly whispers, “My mom ties them for me, okay?”

In that moment, I was his confidant. I’d been let on his secret that only the four of us in that corner of the room which was our Italian class knew about, and so I would guard his secret…

Until the following week, whereupon we got into some sort of banter – again, don’t remember the decade-old exchange, but I trust it was witty – and I used my newfound ammunition.

“[Evan], you can’t put maple syrup on pizza,” I assume he said to me.

“Yeah, Alessio? Well, you can’t tie your shoes, so you don’t get a vote,” I retort.

Of course I wasn’t quiet, so the others at the lunch table heard and there followed a storm of questions. Alessio hung his head, and I had my hands ‘pon my hips, triumphant.

After all, I’d won.

I used that ace a couple more times, if I remember right. Each time the same thing: an embarrassed smile from Alessio, an explanation, some chuckles, another medal for old Evan.

We were back in Italian class, just after lunch, and we get into it again. As had become pretty routine, I fall back on my zinger. With an enormous roll of his eyes, another part of the group, Ed, threw his hands up. “Dude! Alessio can tie his shoes!”

I sh’narfed and dismissed the peasant for speaking out of hand. Looking to Alessio, I said, “Is that what you’ve been telling him?” And I laughed. “Alessio, tell this guy you can’t tie your shoes.”

Ed looked me in the eye with a cold stare, and held that gaze as he reached over and undid Alessio’s laces. With the shoes loose and undone, Ed then looked to Alessio and solemnly nodded his head as if to say, It’s time.

There was a brief moment where Alessio looked back and forth between us like a child being called by two divorced parents. He turned a face like he’d made up his mind and just said, “I’m sorry, man.” Then he bent over and tied his shoes…

…perfectly.

I was stunned into stuttering silence as I realized that I’d spent the better part of the past few months proclaiming to my peers what was now a gobbsmackingly (it’s a word) obvious lie. I was a fish that had taken the hook, the line, the sinker, better part of the pole, and most of the goddamn boat.

To…to clarify, in case this isn’t sinking in: I was almost a legal adult, and believed someone who was going to be headed off to college soon telling me he couldn’t tie his shoes…for months! And was confident enough to tell a bunch of people about it!

If there’s a lesson to be gained from any of this, let one be to obviously not believe everything you fucking hear, but also to reserve an ounce of sympathy for anyone that makes what you find to be stupendously dumb proclamations; because odds are that one day they’ll realize they’ve been had, and hang onto the experience in such a way they write about it publicly ten years down the road.

Ciao.

Did You Know Flooring is Hard?

(If the title didn’t give it away, I’m redoing the floors in my mom’s house today! Turns out, it’s difficult and labor-intensive as shit. So just know that while you’re soaking up these sweet, sweet words, I’m likely covered in dust and choking on asbestos. But we’re doing a re-post because I love y’all. I love y’all AND actually like what this post had to say, so, in case you missed it…)

Where Does Personality Come From? / Who Are You?

Hey! Happy Tues…day…every…

Is today Tuesday…?

F*ck it, sure. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

If you can’t tell, ye olde headspace is a bit frazzled this fine Tues- weekday. So, the way I figure it, it’s the perfect time for a (Oh, yeah, and I didn’t have anything prepared for today because of work on the house. Anyway!) healthy freestyle rant essay!

I’m still pretty hung up on the topics in last week’s post, so I’m just gonna wax pseudo-philosophical and armchair Bro-Brain it up with some questions I had when I was eight. Sound good? Sweet.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Thompson’s third grade class room staring at a cow brain in a jar (for real, I was stoked when she said we were getting one) and the thought crossed my mind: “Where do our personalities come from?” You could probably see the pretty straightforward line of thinkin here, yeah? Our brains hold most of our thinky-stuff – memories, facts, jokes, emotions, lies we told our parents so we wouldn’t get in trouble – and so if that cow’s brain was in that jar, looking exactly as you’d expect from cartoons and old timey movies, then am I looking at that cow’s personality, too?

Like, obviously not the cow’s personality being expressed (uless that cow was lazy and really liked to swim but go nowhere), but looking at the vessel for its…well, its everything. And then I turned the question inward: “Where does personality come from?”

Now, clearly, this is a deep-as-fuck kind of question, and we could spend an actual book here (like the many that already populate the shelves of Barnes and Nobles nationwide) if we wanted to. But I gots shit to do and can’t mentally spelunk that deeply with what time I’ve got. But, I remember the timeline of that thought process as I’ve grown went roughly like this…

Personalities are held in the brain. Well, I mean, they are…aren’t they? But…is it…well, is it a thing that can be…held? That can be contained in that squishy little sponge of gray matter? And why are some people funny, others are serious, and why do I like Gundam figures, but not tomatoes (so on and so forth)? And if you had twins that were born at the exact same time, to the exact same parents, and lived in the exact same house, going to the exact same places, and knowing the exact same people…how and why would they ever be different?

Clearly, this is the point where you shoehorn in the age-old “Nature vs Nurture” debate, right? I think I’ve come to the conclusion that that question is entirely just a thought experiment or thought provocateur (if we’re feeling fancy) than an actual question. Because, and yeah, opinions will differ on this I guess, but, it’s obviously a mix of both. I guess the point of the question is just to determine where you personally place your line as to the ratio.

Because, yeah, Nature definitely has its part, undoubtedly. Some people just straight up have certain predalictions and preferences, personality traits and characteristics. But you don’t just go through life, having experiences and encounters without ever changing and altering on some scale (Enter: the debate over Dany’s decisions in the GoT finale – bring it, nerds! This is a hill I will die on. She had every reason IN THE WORLD TO- nevermind. Another time. Maybe. Or not. I don’t know. Anyway…).

But then, went my twelve-year-old brainy brainy after watching Fight Club, who are you? Or, who am I?

“You are not your job.” – Totally. Your job is just what you do, it’s how you contribute to the tribe. And that might change any number of times for any number of reasons.

“You are not your bank account.” – Well shit, I would hope not. Because that’s never been mighty impressive. But still, yeah, of course. This one’s silly.

But then, expand it a little…”You are not your name.” – Hey, Robert, Wallace, Sarah, etc! These things are just… the sounds we make or the squiggles we draw to express who we mean or who we’re addressing. But there are a million John’s, Tessa’s, Fred’s, and Abigail’s. It’s just…a label. It’s handy, you can like yours (I like mine), but it isn’t you.

During a religious studies course from years ago, I remember my professor mentioned how Plato felt about just existing in a body (and if I’m wrong, blame either my memory or Mr. Thompson – I know, another “Thompson”). Apparently, he likened it to a cage. A cage you, the mind, were just occupying until it died. A cage that could and would occasionally break down. And that got me thinking: “Yeah, you can’t be your body, either. If you break your arm, for example, it’s not like you lose part of you. Even if you’re an athlete and that means you can’t play your sport anymore, you aren’t any different, just your capability.”

That’s where Identity enters the mix. “Who am I?” Not “what,” or “how,” or any other of the five question types. “Who” in a way that isn’t answered with your name, or your job, or your sex, or your relationship to family members. Your personality. Who. Are. You?

Maybe if playing football is part of your identity, or you’re the “tennis guy”, and you suddenly sustain an injury that keeps you from doing that, then yeah, you lose that part of yourself. (For example, I used to do parkour but after a few injuries and “life thangs” eventually stopped. And it was weird, because to a fair number of people, I was “the parkour guy” or the “dude that can flip,” and when that was gone, there was an adjustment period, I won’t lie.) So, you lose that part of yourself, kind of…

But…do you really?

No.

Like, yes. But no.

See what I mean?

Anyway, the closest thing I’ve come to that’s an acceptable “answer” (in quotes because, ah, well you get it by now), are best illustrated by the two following sources:

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
I mean, spoilers if you have any interest in the game and haven’t ever played it, but that’s about all the warning I’m gonna give for an eight year old video game in an overdone seri- anyway!
At the end of the game, Number 16 (I think was his ID) has this big heart-to-heart with Desmond, and, with arms outstretched and his face to the sky, he drops the line, “What are we but memories? Huh!? The stories we tell ourselves!”
Think on that shit…

Set it? Cool.
If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you might remember the short I put up with the same name. And I always liked it, and it’s stuck with me, because there’s something about it that resonates. It checks a lot of boxes. “You are not your job.” Check. “You are not your bank account.” Check. “You are not your name.” Check.
We’re just…that. We are our life’s story. What’s the one thing you leave behind after you die? Your legacy. Your memory. People’s memory of what you did or how you impacted them or others. You are the things you do, the places you go, the stories you tell, the people you take care of, the hand you hold out to help, etc etc.

Some Philosopher’s Playlist I Listened To That One Time Yeah, I get it, less of a catchy title. We could always call it, “Some Philosopher’s Playlist I Listened To That One Time: Reloaded” or something, but anyway…
In it, and I think I’m going to butcher the quote since I’m just spit-ballin’ here, some unnamed older gentleman says something like the following:

We all go through up’s and down’s. And once, when I was on one of those down’s, I kept having a thought. It was the same, persistent thought. ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ And when I realized that I had that thought before, something occurred to me. I am not the thought. This thought is not me. And I wondered, how many thoughts, and how many people everywhere each day, have thoughts like this, thoughts that are not them? And it occurred to me… I am not the thought, I am the awareness.”

Okay, if I had you take a moment to let the first one sink in… Absorb that. “I am not the thought, I am the awareness.” Speaking of parkour (from earlier), one of my coaches, Brett, made a deceptively insightful comment one day that I overheard: “You know, you can’t control your mood, but you can control your attitude.”
Now, marry the two thoughts. You’re not the thought, you are the awareness. You are the consciousness, the phenomenal, inchoate, ethereal experience behind your eyes, behind your thoughts. Your thoughts aren’t you, they occur to you. Your mood/emotions aren’t you, they influence you – you, the one behind them.

So, I don’t know, in conclusion…take the above and just…mill on it. Like Izzy from Gray’s Anatomy once said: “My mom always said, ‘Trust the man who claims to seek the truth, but doubt the man who claims to have found it.’”
And I need to maintain my credibility ’round here.

Anyway, thanks for brain-wrestling with me.

Catch you Thursday.

Ciao.

Who Are You? / Where Does Personality Come From?

Hey! Happy Tues…day…every…

Is today Tuesday…?

F*ck it, sure. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

If you can’t tell, ye olde headspace is a bit frazzled this fine Tues- weekday. So, the way I figure it, it’s the perfect time for a (Oh, yeah, and I didn’t have anything prepared for today because of work on the house. Anyway!) healthy freestyle rant essay!

I’m still pretty hung up on the topics in last week’s post, so I’m just gonna wax pseudo-philosophical and armchair Bro-Brain it up with some questions I had when I was eight. Sound good? Sweet.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Thompson’s third grade class room staring at a cow brain in a jar (for real, I was stoked when she said we were getting one) and the thought crossed my mind: “Where do our personalities come from?” You could probably see the pretty straightforward line of thinkin here, yeah? Our brains hold most of our thinky-stuff – memories, facts, jokes, emotions, lies we told our parents so we wouldn’t get in trouble – and so if that cow’s brain was in that jar, looking exactly as you’d expect from cartoons and old timey movies, then am I looking at that cow’s personality, too?

Like, obviously not the cow’s personality being expressed (uless that cow was lazy and really liked to swim but go nowhere), but looking at the vessel for its…well, its everything. And then I turned the question inward: “Where does personality come from?”

Now, clearly, this is a deep-as-fuck kind of question, and we could spend an actual book here (like the many that already populate the shelves of Barnes and Nobles nationwide) if we wanted to. But I gots shit to do and can’t mentally spelunk that deeply with what time I’ve got. But, I remember the timeline of that thought process as I’ve grown went roughly like this…

Personalities are held in the brain. Well, I mean, they are…aren’t they? But…is it…well, is it a thing that can be…held? That can be contained in that squishy little sponge of gray matter? And why are some people funny, others are serious, and why do I like Gundam figures, but not tomatoes (so on and so forth)? And if you had twins that were born at the exact same time, to the exact same parents, and lived in the exact same house, going to the exact same places, and knowing the exact same people…how and why would they ever be different?

Clearly, this is the point where you shoehorn in the age-old “Nature vs Nurture” debate, right? I think I’ve come to the conclusion that that question is entirely just a thought experiment or thought provocateur (if we’re feeling fancy) than an actual question. Because, and yeah, opinions will differ on this I guess, but, it’s obviously a mix of both. I guess the point of the question is just to determine where you personally place your line as to the ratio.

Because, yeah, Nature definitely has its part, undoubtedly. Some people just straight up have certain predalictions and preferences, personality traits and characteristics. But you don’t just go through life, having experiences and encounters without ever changing and altering on some scale (Enter: the debate over Dany’s decisions in the GoT finale – bring it, nerds! This is a hill I will die on. She had every reason IN THE WORLD TO- nevermind. Another time. Maybe. Or not. I don’t know. Anyway…).

But then, went my twelve-year-old brainy brainy after watching Fight Club, who are you? Or, who am I?

“You are not your job.” – Totally. Your job is just what you do, it’s how you contribute to the tribe. And that might change any number of times for any number of reasons.

“You are not your bank account.” – Well shit, I would hope not. Because that’s never been mighty impressive. But still, yeah, of course. This one’s silly.

But then, expand it a little…”You are not your name.” – Hey, Robert, Wallace, Sarah, etc! These things are just… the sounds we make or the squiggles we draw to express who we mean or who we’re addressing. But there are a million John’s, Tessa’s, Fred’s, and Abigail’s. It’s just…a label. It’s handy, you can like yours (I like mine), but it isn’t you.

During a religious studies course from years ago, I remember my professor mentioned how Plato felt about just existing in a body (and if I’m wrong, blame either my memory or Mr. Thompson – I know, another “Thompson”). Apparently, he likened it to a cage. A cage you, the mind, were just occupying until it died. A cage that could and would occasionally break down. And that got me thinking: “Yeah, you can’t be your body, either. If you break your arm, for example, it’s not like you lose part of you. Even if you’re an athlete and that means you can’t play your sport anymore, you aren’t any different, just your capability.”

That’s where Identity enters the mix. “Who am I?” Not “what,” or “how,” or any other of the five question types. “Who” in a way that isn’t answered with your name, or your job, or your sex, or your relationship to family members. Your personality. Who. Are. You?

Maybe if playing football is part of your identity, or you’re the “tennis guy”, and you suddenly sustain an injury that keeps you from doing that, then yeah, you lose that part of yourself. (For example, I used to do parkour but after a few injuries and “life thangs” eventually stopped. And it was weird, because to a fair number of people, I was “the parkour guy” or the “dude that can flip,” and when that was gone, there was an adjustment period, I won’t lie.) So, you lose that part of yourself, kind of…

But…do you really?

No.

Like, yes. But no.

See what I mean?

Anyway, the closest thing I’ve come to that’s an acceptable “answer” (in quotes because, ah, well you get it by now), are best illustrated by the two following sources:

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
I mean, spoilers if you have any interest in the game and haven’t ever played it, but that’s about all the warning I’m gonna give for an eight year old video game in an overdone seri- anyway!
At the end of the game, Number 16 (I think was his ID) has this big heart-to-heart with Desmond, and, with arms outstretched and his face to the sky, he drops the line, “What are we but memories? Huh!? The stories we tell ourselves!”
Think on that shit…

Set it? Cool.
If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you might remember the short I put up with the same name. And I always liked it, and it’s stuck with me, because there’s something about it that resonates. It checks a lot of boxes. “You are not your job.” Check. “You are not your bank account.” Check. “You are not your name.” Check.
We’re just…that. We are our life’s story. What’s the one thing you leave behind after you die? Your legacy. Your memory. People’s memory of what you did or how you impacted them or others. You are the things you do, the places you go, the stories you tell, the people you take care of, the hand you hold out to help, etc etc.

Some Philosopher’s Playlist I Listened To That One Time Yeah, I get it, less of a catchy title. We could always call it, “Some Philosopher’s Playlist I Listened To That One Time: Reloaded” or something, but anyway…
In it, and I think I’m going to butcher the quote since I’m just spit-ballin’ here, some unnamed older gentleman says something like the following:

We all go through up’s and down’s. And once, when I was on one of those down’s, I kept having a thought. It was the same, persistent thought. ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ And when I realized that I had that thought before, something occurred to me. I am not the thought. This thought is not me. And I wondered, how many thoughts, and how many people everywhere each day, have thoughts like this, thoughts that are not them? And it occurred to me… I am not the thought, I am the awareness.”

Okay, if I had you take a moment to let the first one sink in… Absorb that. “I am not the thought, I am the awareness.” Speaking of parkour (from earlier), one of my coaches, Brett, made a deceptively insightful comment one day that I overheard: “You know, you can’t control your mood, but you can control your attitude.”
Now, marry the two thoughts. You’re not the thought, you are the awareness. You are the consciousness, the phenomenal, inchoate, ethereal experience behind your eyes, behind your thoughts. Your thoughts aren’t you, they occur to you. Your mood/emotions aren’t you, they influence you – you, the one behind them.

So, I don’t know, in conclusion…take the above and just…mill on it. Like Izzy from Gray’s Anatomy once said: “My mom always said, ‘Trust the man who claims to seek the truth, but doubt the man who claims to have found it.’”
And I need to maintain my credibility ’round here.

Anyway, thanks for brain-wrestling with me.

Catch you Thursday.

Ciao.

RE: 5 Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

Hey all, happy Thursday. [For those that notice, this is a re-post. I’m caught up working on some pretty exciting stuff I hope to have news about soon AND I liked this lil’ list. So, in case you missed it, check it out. 🙂 ]

No fancy intro. Here goes. Get ready for a loosely-structured, mostly ranting sort-of-essay.

The Five Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

  1. Problem-Solving Nature
    Boiled down to its basics, employers want someone who can problem-solve; and, at its barest, that’s all games really offer (and fun doing it, duh). Being a gamer means understanding the problem you’re presented with and all its parameters – or even sometimes working with incomplete information and making the most of that. This is going to be a hilariously extreme example, but I once heard a nugget of wisdom that went something like this: “You can learn how to perform open-heart surgery in two weeks, but surgeons go to school for years to learn how to handle all the things that can go wrong.” Does…does that make sense, what I’m trying to say? When starting a new job, you’re trained how to perform a task or serve a particular function – and that’s robotic. But having the baseline to foresee, anticipate, and correct aberrations where they arise (ie problem-solving skills), is just as necessary. Whether that’s exploring a ghostly mansion, outmaneuvering enemy troops on an alien planet, or doing your day job, absolutely every angle involves observing an obstacle and calculating a way of overcoming it – which is the heart of gaming in a nutshell.
  2. Knack for Optimization
    Employers want optimization. Whether that means someone who can manage their time really, really efficiently, or someone who can enter a situation with fresh eyes and suggest an improvement others haven’t seen. How does gaming relate to this? Have you ever heard of “Power Gaming” or “Min-Maxing?”
    The entire point for some gamers is to take what they have, view the systems they’re told to operate within, and get the absolute, objectively best result that they can. That can mean working with the bare minimum to greatest effect (like a lvl 1 Pyromancer speed run of Dark Souls) or obtaining the objectively best sword/gun/armor/meta deck in the business (like in just about any JRPG that’s ever existed).
    You may have even heard some gamers in your own circle talk relentlessly about trying to “break the game” (lookin’ at you, Bryce). For the uninitiated, while that may sound like a bad thing or something harmful, what it translates to is “trying to become so overwhelmingly good at a particular thing that you reach as close to 100% efficiency as is humanly (or, in my cousin’s case, inhumanly) possible. This usually, in gaming terms, refers to a character’s Strength stat or skill in Stealth being so goddamned high that they can use that and that alone to achieve anything; but it can absolutely also refer to the way your work space is organized, your priorities are stacked for the day, the way your orders are processed, or the roles those in your team play out.
  3. Familiarity with Flow State
    Sometimes the word “gamer” conjures an image of an either lackadasical kid in a beanbag chair with a glazed expression or sometimes a zealous young woman with a headset tuned into a fast-paced and loud FPS (“first person shooter”, for the laymen) like DOOM. When imagined this way, a Suit-n’-Tie might wonder, “What good could that person be for what I need?” To them, I would offer two words: flow state.
    Also known as “being in the zone,” “zoned in,” or “getting tunnel-vision,” operating in flow state is a particular state of mind I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another in our lives. In it, you’re hyper aware, extraordinarily sharp and focused, make moves with dedicated efficiency, and even experience time differently.
    While it’s common enough with fast-paced video games, it’s not like it’s exclusive to that medium. I suck at it, but apparently it’s a common occurrence among chess players – being four, five steps ahead of your opponent (baker’s dozen if you’re playing against me), carrying contingencies, routes, and back-up plans in your noggin. Same thing goes for playing card games of all varieties. So of course it applies to the work place just as easily, and that makes for an incredibly handy state of mind to be well-practiced in, as many gamers are.
  4. “I just need this done.”
    Not all jobs are fun. In fact, if you listen to complaints around the watering hole or to your friends after they’re shift lets out, it’s not uncommon for people to complain about their jobs being boring or simple. I’m not disparaging shit, by the way, but be it flipping burgers, counting inventory, inspecting the same incoming products all day, or janitorial duties (all venerable trades), there’s yet another gaming mindset that ensures a dedicated performance…
    Have you ever heard of “grinding”…?
    Whether it’s defeating 500 of the same enemy type in a given region, saving the same generic peasant from the same generic wolves 100 times to become a legend, or collecting random bits and baubles of bullshit, it’s been a stable pillar of video games few would dispute. It’s pretty damn common in big RPG’s, World of Warcraft probably being the most notorious. “I need ten goat horns!” cries the farmer. “Come, bring me twenty bundles of molleybarrow weed!” shouts the alchemist. “Ah, the sword is yours, if you simply bring me thirty northern white rabbit anuses,” barters the eccentric merchant.
    The point simply being: menial, repetitive tasks done efficiently is just as within a gamer’s wheelhouse as everything else discussed so far.
  5. Crossover Skills
    This one is probably the least apparent, but the most important, and that’s the surprising infrastructure of crossover skills that video games can help develop. Best explained by example, I found that in my last job, XCOM 2 had weirdly prepared me rather well for what my job entailed. In brief, I was responsible for keeping a room stocked with necessary materials for the manufacturing process of the facility – making sure not to run out of particular substances, but also not to overstock as we didn’t have the space and that would result in a jam (essentially).
    For those not familiar, the XCOM games are centered around managing a para-military base tasked with fending off an extraterrestrial menace. This includes the well-being, training, equipment of a roster of soldiers, the layout of the base’s facilities, power consumption, queue of projects, so on and so forth, all while battling a computer-controlled alien force that wants to kill you and everything you stand for.
    It sounds a little funny, but the skills of resource and inventory management, logistics analysis, anticipation of needs, risk balancing, and orchestrating teammate synergy were all surprisingly appropriate skills developed by a video game and applied in a real world occupation.

And there you have it, a loosely-structured, mostly-ranting list of 5 Big-Ass Reasons for Employers to Hire Gamers. But one more point before we go and I do the whole “See ya Thursday!” thing: the ‘games as art’ argument.
It doesn’t really hold a place in the list of reasons games apply to work place efficiency, but it holds a place in my heart, as it should all of yours. Once upon a time, video games might have been all shoot-’em-up’s, Pong, and simple sports simulators, but nowadays the industry is transforming more and more into a place for pieces of interactive fiction with a driving focus and emphasis on the art of storytelling.
We still call them “games,” and they are as many include a failure state (Game Over screens and such), but to see works like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Detroit: Become Human, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, or the Last of Us and not see the creative beauty, energy, and genius that goes into those creations, then YOU CAN GO FU-
….

Sorry, that was going to be more aggressive that we really need here.
In a more measured sense, if we can take the traditional, romantic sentimentality we hold for curling up with a book on a rainy day and getting lost in the world between the pages and realize that other mediums hold the same capacity for imagination, empathy, and engagement…well, shit, I think the world would be better for it. Imagination’s part of the human experience, and one of the most beautiful privileges we enjoy as people. Why would you let a simple stigma close that door?

Anyway, yeah. Ciao for now, catch ya Tuesday.