Category Archives: Uncategorized

Can I Graduate?

I am set to receive my Associate Degree in Computer Programming from Gwinnett Technical College in a few weeks. It’s been quite a ride. I would like to say that I don’t recommend it, but that would not be true, and it would never be that simple anyway.

Though technical/community colleges do not get the respect that 4-year universities do, the fact is that some programs, at some tech schools, require a much higher level of intellectual engagement and sheer grinding work than perhaps half of all major university programs in the country. There are some very smart, very driven people coming out of tech school right now. I know some of them. I’d hire them in a heartbeat.

I’ve been over-scheduled and over-worked for a couple of years now. The sleep deprivation, and the attendant emotional and physical exhaustion, have been intense, sometimes to the point of badly affecting my health and safety.

So, I’m tired.

And I just got a job, one that pays real money. It’s nothing glorious, and it might not last much more than six months. And it doesn’t involve moving out to California and to join the tech elite, thank god. It’s really just a really well-paying internship, honestly, but one where I’ll be doing something I like to do, and something that promises to offer a lot of opportunity in the near future. I’ll be studying JavaScript/JQuery, .NET and a few other things over the next month or so in preparation for my first day on May 5. It’s another startup, so it might not last (for any of us), but it’s a win-win for me, because the first coding job is usually the hardest one to find, and my graduating classmates and I are realizing that we are not quite prepared for a full-on job in this field: we need mentorship, we need internships, and we need real-world experience. So getting the opportunity to work for, and learn from, successful professionals is a dream come true, really, and if it only lasts six months, then I’ll be ready for the next step by then. Guaranteed.

So I’m putting in my notice at Big City Bread Cafe, where I’ve managed (and learned) for four years, and at Vitamin C Software, where I’ve interned (and learned) for three months. And I’ll spend the next 3-4 weeks finishing school and studying for my new job. And I’ll sit back and think for a minute, now and then, about all that I’ve been through, all that I’ve seen and learned and done these last few very intense years. And then Jonah and his mommy will get home and I’ll go outside and run around in the yard with my son and I’ll be shocked, again, that I could ever feel so much joy.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

As a child, I didn’t understand this metaphor of “the shadow of death”. I suppose I had some vague notion of God protecting me from physical danger. With time I came to understand the truth. My confusion was not simply that of a child. Metaphors and parables are trickier than they seem. They touch on something innately paradoxical about us, and about the way we think.

It is said that we are defined by our choices. The problem is, most of us spend most of our lives not realizing how many choices we make every day.

Carl Jung spoke of the persona: the face that we present to the world, the self we imagine ourselves to be, the self we want others to believe us to be.

One lesson to take from Jung’s writings: lying to others is really only possible if you are already lying to yourself. That is a dangerous game, and one played by far too many people.

Another lesson Jung offers is this: good actors are doing something magical and self-transformative. The wearing of masks, or the donning of other personae, is an ancient and honored part of human culture. The urge to do so lies somewhere near the oldest part of our human brains. The trick is to wear the mask consciously and conscientiously, not in an ongoing state of existential panic.

Carina Chocano writes:

In starting to lay out the possible uses of regret, [Janet Landman, author of Regret: The Persistence of the Possible,] quotes William Faulkner. ‘The past,’ he wrote in 1950, ‘is never dead. It’s not even past.’ Great novels, Landman points out, are often about regret: about the life-changing consequences of a single bad decision (say, marrying the wrong person, not marrying the right one, or having let love pass you by altogether) over a long period of time. Sigmund Freud believed that thoughts, feelings, wishes, etc, are never entirely eradicated, but if repressed ‘[ramify] like a fungus in the dark and [take] on extreme forms of expression’. The denial of regret, in other words, will not block the fall of the dominoes. It will just allow you to close your eyes and clap your hands over your ears as they fall, down to the very last one.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that people’s greatest regrets revolve around education, work, and marriage, because the decisions we make around these issues have long-term, ever-expanding repercussions. The point of regret is not to try to change the past, but to shed light on the present. This is traditionally the realm of the humanities. What novels tell us is that regret is instructive. And the first thing regret tells us (much like its physical counterpart — pain) is that something in the present is wrong.

The take-away: whistling in the dark is no good if you are trying to distract yourself from how scared you are. Only whistle in the dark as a means of echo-location, as a way of finding your way through the darkness. Pretending everything is okay when things are clearly wrong is not bravery: it is cowardice.

Jung also believed that people are at their most hopeless and most desperate right when they are ready to shed an old version of themselves and start anew. But that is precisely when most of us refuse to let go of our older selves, and so avoid the process of change. That is “the shadow of death”, the feeling of dread that you are about to be extinguished, that all the things you are, and all the things you hold dear, are about to be ruined.

So: put on a face for the world, but fill it full of you, not of the self you imagined as a child. Wear your mask with full awareness of what you do. Let it be a conscious choice. Don’t get trapped by the idea of who you thought you had to be.

And don’t tell yourself that you are not afraid of the dark, or that the darkness is not even there. You’re not fooling anyone.

Pynchon and Paranoia

From Justin St. Clair, in a recent book review:

“Suddenly you’re wondering what the hell Pynchon was doing in the Quad Cities.”

I know the feeling well. Not that I was ever in the Quad Cities myself: I’ve always skirted the Midwest in my travels. But it seems that the reclusive (yet peripatetic) Thomas Pynchon has been there: he included a tiny detail about it in his latest book, “Bleeding Edge”. That’s one of Pynchon’s hallmarks, to throw a bewildering array of real-world details at his works of fiction. The word for that trick, or nervous tick, is “verisimilitude”, which is the idea that if a narrative artists includes in their work enough bits and pieces of the world as they themselves have experienced/seen/imagined it, then that will give their art the feeling of “being real”, of being grounded in something resembling consensual reality. This is a trick Becker and Fagen used to great effect in so many Steely Dan lyrics.

Thomas Pynchon gets around. Or he used to, back in the day. He is, by all accounts, a bit more settled now. But perhaps he has notebooks full of little vignettes, tiny bits of set and setting left over from his rambling days, stacks of “scenes” jotted down years ago, all carefully filed away for future use the way an old professor stores notes and observations in a filing cabinet near his desk.

And so some arcane little detail about Mr. St. Clair’s home town makes its way into a new book by one of the greatest legends of modern fiction, and Mr. St. Clair is a little creeped out by it. I have no sympathy: one should know what one is getting into by now, if one has any sort of relationship with the novels of Thomas Pynchon. Some things are not for the faint of heart. You but your ticket, you take the ride.

I read “Gravity’s Rainbow” years ago, very quickly the first time, then again at a slower pace. It was mind-blowing, the searing kaleidoscope of words, the staggering amount of imagery and detail and insight cascading into a blur of cognition and buzzy confusion. There were patterns to it that I discerned but didn’t quite grasp , patterns that I still don’t know to be entirely comfortable or even safe to comprehend.  I got truly paranoid at one point, lurking in the library in old Savannah, looking over my shoulder once or twice to see of anybody saw me sifting through old books and periodicals. I was trying to verify how much of Pynchon’s outrageous yarn was “true” and how much was “fiction”. This sounds odd, I know, but only if you’ve never read that particular book.

“Bleeding Edge” is at the top of my reading list, at any rate. I hope to finish with school by summer semester, 2014, and then maybe I’ll have time for the odd bit of pleasure reading.

 

The Beach

We went to the beach in late July. It looked like this:

IMG_1639

It was lovely.

The whole family was there, so it was lively, too.

I got stung by a jellyfish, no big deal. I hear it gets worse, depending on the jellyfish. I spend a lot of time in the water when at the beach, so I was bound to get stung sooner or later.

Jonah gradually acclimated to the vastness of the ocean, and by the end he was pretty comfortable. But you can’t blame a tiny man for feeling a little intimidated by such a deep, noisy beast.

IMG_1559

That’s my head out there in the waves. I like it out there. It’s soothing. Except when getting stung by jellyfish, of course.

Jonah soon learned the wisdom of being prepared. Or of being accessorized. Whichever.

IMG_1677

 

And we finally got a pretty good family portrait.

IMG_1765