Drafts Bin Rescues – Part E

[Continuing on from the last time we continued on with this thing, I rescue something which my former self unconsciously sought to condemn to the Drafts Bin – where half-finished ideas go to digitally wallow on hard drives, sadly beyond the sight of Human eyes…

As it happens, this one was pretty complete, until I stopped writing and it wasn’t.]


I Owe You All An Honesty

Writing things can be so wrap-me-up-in-myself. There’s a lot of recursion and heading down weird channels of expression and then mixing metaphor with plain language. And bunches of other things.


Hello

Hello, my name is Mike. No, really, it is. I call myself Hardley M here because I find it funny, and it makes me think of a slightly older guy than me (I’m 50+ and will be for some time) who wears flannel shirts and grumbles about things, but is also fundamentally a good person – like most people are.

I also like to wear flannel shirts, just like Hardley, but that is purely a coincidence.

I believe most people are fundamentally good people. I think Hardley agrees, but when he’s not writing, don’t expect him to say anything quite so squishy. I think he likes to hang out in the woods a lot and look for garbage that people have thrown there, so he can grumble self-righteously about the state of the world, while stuffing it in his backpack, apologizing to the squirrels.

I like to write, as it turns out. So do a lot of people. I found some of those lot-of-people here on the Internet, and now we support each other in our quests to find our voices through writing. I think this is a space where we can help each other find purpose too. And hope: let’s not forget the most important ingredient of all. Maybe after carbon.

I live in Atlantic Canada. Currently, I’m living around Halifax, and I’m originally from New Brunswick. I mostly avoid using my last name and exact location on the Internet for rather obvious reasons; I value privacy and safety but I understand our world is porous, and that Google is likely, at this very moment, analyzing my every move in an attempt to sell somebody the tools to sell me something I probably don’t need or even really want.

Privacy in the social media age is something else.

If you and I were to meet on the street, and strike up a conversation (at six-plus feet, of course), you would not think me all that odd or unusual. I am about as odd and unusual as most people. I am trustworthy with the big things but then I miss deadlines and sometimes lose people’s stuff by moving it around without thinking. I am somewhat charitable but then I drink coffee and eat sugar and that money could go somewhere better. I try not to beat myself up about this kind of stuff. I mostly succeed at not beating myself up, but sometimes I fail at that too. Admitting that is not, I think, beating myself up. But maybe it is.


Writing

I have made three WordPress blogs. One is this one you’re reading, one is called The Wimsel Loop (under my name), and the other is called Better Letters, by B.B. Butterwell (also me, but maybe more than me, someday). I want to be up front about this, at least now and then, because I realize that it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what to believe these days. I believe in honesty and open-ness (to the extent one can have these things, while also having privacy and security).

I created The Wimsel Loop first, a few years ago. The purpose was to write a book collaboratively with the readers. I still like that idea, but I should also mention that I struggle with attention / focus / procrastination / etc. and so that “project” grew legs into a general-purpose journal, and then I started writing poems and talking about God and the whole story part kind of got lost in and among the other things.

I lightly rebranded the blog a few times and tried a crowdfunding campaign or two but in the end that book was just going to come out when it damn well wanted to. It is still doing that. I have a day job, and my current excuse for not writing fiction every single day is that I get tired of looking at computer screens for more than a few hours, and need frequent breaks. Poor me.

Then I created BB Butterwell. BB (Bettanie B.) is an octogenarian living “in Nova Scotia” who sprung into existence because I wanted to send a terse email to the then-president of Saint Mary’s University, where a good friend of mine had worked for years, and then became the target of workplace harassment, that eventually led to her dismissal and a series of health crises. She did a hunger strike for about 27 days in front of their campus, and I joined a group of her friends to help with logistic and communications (making pamphlets, stocking the van with things, walking her dog).

As I watched my friend become weaker, and SMU do nothing but hide behind lawyers and indifference, I became (as you no doubt would have) a bit angry at the state of things. I wrote a letter – not crude or threatening, but somewhat severe (for me) – and then, before hitting send, had a faintness of heart.

Halifax is a small town, and there is (at least the perception of) an Old-Boy’s club at work here, as there is in so many places. Not wishing to be sexist, I should point out this club admits both men and women now. As long as you’re connected. That is the perception, anyhow.

I worried that poking this bear might put me on a list – that I might become blackballed professionally.

Can you imagine? But that is the collateral effect of workplace harassment, isn’t it? The implicit message is, don’t cross the line – you will suffer consequences. All of you.

So I created an alt – Bettanie, who was further along in life than I and could frankly care less what SMU or any other institution might choose to openly or subvertly do to her – and hit send, in her name.

This was something of a cop-out, but it gave me my true voice back. So Bettanie opened a Medium account and posted her letter to SMU’s president there too.

Medium wants my money though, and WordPress doesn’t mind giving me free diskspace, so Bettanie (under the recommendation of her fictional granddaughter and nephew, who both know more about technology than she ever cared to) moved her blogging to WordPress.

WordPress: thank you, and you’re welcome.

Bettanie will eventually find The Wimsel Loop and realize that the writing of that author needs work – he’s kind of careless with his proofreading, and tends to ramble. She’ll start to edit and then re-distribute it (since The Wimsel Loop is open-source, and she eventually Googles what that is, and she’s laid up with gout or some such thing so needs a hobby to do from her bed anyhow).

If there is a book published called the Wimsel Loop, it will be under BB’s name, not mine (unless you do it first). BB’s just a standard pseudonym, wrapped in some extra fiction, for fun.

So one guy, three blogs. Oh! Then there’s this thing.


Trust & Perception

[Here I assume I planned to actually get into the topic of my talk, since the whole preamble about the various blogs I have was only an introduction, to explain why I ended up creating other blogs in the first place, and why I sort of care and sort of don’t care if they are all linked back to my actual self.

I wanted to talk about what I thought about trust and perception in the 21st century. How does a person know what’s what, and who’s who? Where can you go to hang your hat? What can you bank on being real?

Well, I don’t know the answers to these questions and I suppose by the time I had worn myself out explaining where my blogs came from, I didn’t have the energy left to try formulating them. This is how it goes sometimes. I guess maybe what I just wanted to say was that I get where you’re coming from, if you find yourself wondering from time to time exactly who is on the other end of any given Internet thing.

I wish I could meet more people for real, more often, but these days are weird ones. I don’t mind making new friends whose faces I only ever see fixed & flattened – because these are people I might never have known in any sense, had it not been for this accursed and wondrous Internet of ours.

I hope your day is going well!

-Mike, Hardley M, & Bettanie B. Butterwell

[P.S. In all of that up there, I also forgot to explain why I created this blog, Hardly Regarding. The short version is: I kept renaming The Wimsel Loop, and at some point had called it “Hardly Regarding The Wimsel Loop” (since the blog had become about everything but the book I had meant to write), and then a fellow on the Internet told me he enjoyed reading “Hardly Regarding” (not wanting to type out the whole blog name, and who can blame him?), and I realized that was a great name on its own for a blog, so I grabbed the domain, and Bob’s your uncle.]

Ratcheting, Part II

Some kind of game

A few weeks ago I became interested in gamifying my work process, so that I could be more productive and then feel more productive.

I learned about the Pomodoro Technique(R), and bought the book. It is a short book, and I’m stalled halfway through it anyhow. I should apply the Pomodoro Technique to reading the book about the Pomodoro Technique.

The game pictured above is not about tomatoes, however – it is my own version of the technique, with a bunch of gamer-nerd extras thrown in.

I’ll explain the rules, as they currently stand (I am still monkeying with them):

COMPONENTS

  • There are Blocks. The Blocks are made of wood and have colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and… Purple. Or Indigo or Violet if you prefer.
    > Fun Fact: Yellow blocks are the most common (2/3-ish). Orange blocks are the next-most-common (1/4-ish). The remainder are divided roughly evenly among the other colours.
  • There are Stickers. The Stickers come in Big and Small sizes, and come in four colours: Yellow, Red, Blue, and Green.
  • There are Pins. The Pins also come in six colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Indigo (I’d call it pink-ish).
  • There are assorted cans, bottles, and boards to store / put / place these in/on.

GAME SETUP

At the beginning of the work week:

  • Put all of the blocks in a can / bag, and shake them up well.

OBJECTIVE

  • Get work done better
  • Score 42 points (thanks, Douglas Adams!) to prove you really did the work to get work done better
  • Become more productive
  • Feel more productive

GAMEPLAY

  • When working at job: set a timer for 25 minutes. During this timeslice, DO NOT GET DISTRACTED BY NON-JOB-RELATED THINGS. If you do, reset the timer. Seriously – the Pomodoro (timeBlock, in my game’s parlance) is Indivisible. Adding nine minutes and five minutes and two minutes and eight minutes and then adding an extra minute of work doesn’t all count as 25 minutes of focused, productive work – it counts as ADHD.
  • When the timer goes off, grab a wooden block from a tin AT RANDOM, and put it on the desk (I use the mason jar’s lid as the “recently earned blocks” receptacle). Then take a 5 minute break. TAKE THE BREAK.
  • Repeat several times each day. Every four blocks or so, take a longer break. Don’t get crazy with the precision of your breaks- you’re only going to count the blocks worked at the end of the day, so if you need a ninety-three-minute errand run between blocks 6 and 7, just do that. You’re off the clock.

BILLING (this is a work game, after all)

  • At the end of the day, count up all the blocks. For each block earned that day, add 30 minutes to your billable hours timesheet (I work on a contract basis so this pretty much works exactly well for my purposes).
  • Note, you get to bill 30 minutes for every 25-minute chunk of focused work. That’s cheating, right? No. It’s recognizing that the human body and brain needs to take a break now and then, or its actual productivity goes down. Also, interrupted blocks are NOT BILLABLE (Pomodoros are indivisible, according to the inventor of Pomodoro), so over the course of the day, you’ll do bits of work anyway that you won’t be billing for; it all works out for everybody.

SPENDING BLOCKS

This is where the block colours come in, and things get (depending on who you are) needlessly complicated. I happen to enjoy some types of needless complication, being a gamer.

The colour of your day’s accumulated blocks determines what you do with them:

  • Yellow blocks: Straight into the Jar – no added effect. Pat yourself on the back for doing a handful of focused work!
  • Orange blocks: You must do one thing you might normally procrastinate on or not do enough of, for each orange block you’ve accumulated. Only then can you drop these into the jar. Think of Orange blocks as mini side quests. You can shelve them to finish earning them later in the week, or do them immediately. Get them done by week’s end though.
  • Red blocks: similar to Orange blocks, but the side quest must involve benefitting another living creature. Pat the dog an extra few times; call your mother; Apologize for that cranky remark you made to your best friend yesterday. Get creative- you want to be a better Human, so now’s your chance to score an arbitrary game achievement for doing what you want to do anyway, if you’re being honest with yourself.
  • Green, Blue, and Purple blocks: A set of three colours earns you a sticker! (See Stickers)

STICKERS

Each time you earn a set of B/G/P blocks, you can turn them in (drop them in the jar) to get a LARGE STICKER:

  • The first LARGE STICKER earned during a workweek is YELLOW.
  • The second LARGE STICKER earned during a workweek is GREEN.
  • All LARGE STICKERS past the first two earned in a workweek are BLUE.
  • If you are a gamer, you will note this becomes a kind of combo bonus (once you understand SCORING, but I am getting ahead of things)

Make yourself a scorecard to put your stickers on in sequence. I like left-to-right, top-to-bottom, but you can choose whatever works.

SCORING

Use the PINS to keep score. I use a rainbow of pin colours to make this more enjoyable and visually appealing than just keeping a number written on a sheet, but a number written on a sheet will do just fine. You might choose to use an abacus (and good on you for having one of those around), or some other “progress bar” mechanism.

You score points thusly:

  • Yellow sticker: 1 point
  • Green sticker: 2 points
  • Blue sticker: 3 points
  • See where the combo bonus comes in?

VICTORY

You win the game when you reach 42 points. You already know why.

METAGAME

How many victories can you score in a year? Can you stick with this game until you’ve scored 3 victories? What about 7?


ADVANCED OPTIONAL RULES

The above rules define the basic game. The following are extra rules I’ve tacked on to add additional unneeded complexity to my own work/life game.

RED DOTS
Sometimes I forget to phone my parents. Sometimes I say something unprofessional in a business meeting. Sometimes I get cranky and act like a jerk to a friend. Sometimes I brush the cat aside and I could just swear it now seems offended, and then I feel remorse. Sometimes I carelessly kill a spider in the door jam, and wish that I could turn back time – because that spider did nothing to me to earn getting squashed in a door jam.

These “failings” are entirely personal and are of the standard human-nature sort. I am not a bad person – I am a normal person. But I can be hard on myself, because one thing I feel I should be doing in this life is raising that bar a little higher for myself. I am imperfect, but that does not mean I have to settle into a moderate level of “good enough”, and then just hang out there until I die. I’m here to grow, right?

Anyhow, when I say or do something that I realize I could have said or done better, I give myself a RED DOT sticker. When I look at my scorecard, I see both progress at work, and also some moments where I stumbled as a Human, while trying to get that work done. I don’t go overboard with the RED DOTs, but I try to be honest with myself.

I review this card during the week, and I look at each red sticker and remind myself who or what I owe something to: who needs me to step up? Who deserves an apology, or some extra help? Who or what is important in my life, that I can sometimes take for granted?

  • Red Sticker: -1 point

AMENDS

When I feel I’ve done something to make up for a RED DOT, I put a wee yellow dot on it. This is a highly subjective rule, which is why it’s in the ADVANCED and OPTIONAL RULES section.

  • Reminder: a Yellow sticker is worth 1 point (even a small one)
  • Making amends therefore turns -1 point into net-zero. It also marks an important event.

BONUS COMPLETION STICKERS

To motivate myself to get through my week’s work before the weekend – so that I might occasionally feel like taking a guilt-free Sunday off… or (gasp!) Saturday AND Sunday off – I grant myself bonus stickers according to when in the workweek I’ve managed to fill the jar to the “complete” level with blocks:

  • If the jar was NOT filled by the end of SUNDAY, I put a SMALL RED (-1pt) sticker to mark the end of the week.
  • If the jar WAS filled by the end of SUNDAY, I put a SMALL YELLOW (+1pt) sticker to mark the end of the week.
  • If the jar WAS filled by the end of SATURDAY, I put a SMALL GREEN (+2pts) sticker to mark the end of the week.
  • If the jar WAS filled by the end of FRIDAY, I put a SMALL BLUE (+3pts) sticker to mark the end of the week(I have yet to earn one of those, as you can see from my current score card, circa mid-June 2021)

RESTRICTED SNACK ITEMS RULE

To assist myself in cutting back on indulgences like potato chips, chocolate bars, beer/cider, smoking, etc., I have attached a block cost to these things. I WILL NOT CONSUME THESE RESTRICTED SNACK ITEMS WITHOUT PAYING THE BLOCK COST.

Although Beer and cigarettes are not really snacks by most people’s accounts, I put them all in this category. You could also include watching an episode of Jersey Shore in this category. Anything really that’s bad for your mind / body in excessive quantity.

In order to permit myself to consume any of the above, I MUST spend a Blue, Green, or Purple cube. If I have a willpower fail while out and have potato chips, beer, etc., I will then inevitably spend a cube when I get home, once I realize the game expects it.

Obviously then, potato chips and whatnot have two additional costs in this game (aside from being a general health hazard, which one would think should be enough to make be not eat them, but here we are):

  1. They require that I work to earn the block to pay for them (which restricts when and how often I can have them, since B/G/P blocks are somewhat rare), and
  2. They get in the way of earning the stickers, which in turn delays the VICTORY condition. This is an apt metaphor, when talking about junk food (and Jersey Shore), I think.

VADER’S WHIMSY

To add some additional mystery and variety to the whole affair, during GAME SETUP, I randomly draw six blocks from the can, and without looking at them, drop them in a Darth Vader mug, removed from the game for that week. I chose a Darth Vader mug, because, while it is too awkward to actually drink from, it is too cool not to use for something.

This removal of a small, mysterious array of blocks makes the mechanics a bit less deterministic, since I can’t really know if I’ve slightly increased my chances of getting stickers, or reduced the maximum number that can be earned for that week entirely. For some reason, the increased uncertainty makes the game more fun. I have no idea why.


You could say this is version 1.0 of the Rainbow Work Block Game (working title), since this is the first time I’ve written down the rules.

This game is of course based on The Pomodoro Technique in the vaguest possible way: the creator of that trademarked system was not recommending any gamification, but had the very valuable insight that uninterrupted blocks of work are a fundamental requirement to getting work done well. I owe this general gamification to his insight.

Customizing this game

I am unsure if the particulars of this game would be of much benefit to others, but some of the principles might be:

  • Find a mechanism for keeping track of focused time chunks that works for you
  • Assign meaning to the mechanism that makes sense to you, in your life
  • Find ways to associate work done for survival with work needed in your personal life
  • Be honest with yourself about what you’d like to improve
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments
  • Be kind and creative, and have fun

What do you mean, Ratcheting?

I once wrote a blog post about finding mechanisms to improve my general function as a human being. I feel this game is a kind of ratchet: it has allowed me to up my game at work, and also in my personal life. It occupies a physical place in my workspace and living space and provides a ruleset (however seemingly arbitrary) for demanding a bit more of myself.

I have raised the bar, using arts & crafts. I can report that it has had objective benefit. It’s also kind of fun to play, and I look forward to “winning” my first game, hopefully this weekend (I’m at 38 points and am hoping for a blue block before midnight!)

I will continue to iterate on this idea. I invite you to consider what your version of this game might look like!

In My Own Skin

This is the online person I like to log in as when I’m feeling self-critical, or self-absorbed, I think. I am wearing my red flannel shirt and drinking my coffee and feeling myself in a thread-bare state of mind. I hear my own voice getting anxious in the direction of others and I can tell I’m wearing on them, and that makes me a bit unsure of what I’m good for, but for testing people’s patience.

I have a scorecard on my window sill that keeps track of my own idea of my own progress, and it looks like some sort of art project. My own progress is an art project.

This is the online person I like to log in as when I have an overabundance of first-person, personal pronouns to divest myself of. Me, I, myself, and so on. Ad nauseam, truly.

I become somewhat queasy at living inside this guy – the one I’m driving around like an old truck, or maybe a station wagon. I’m a hatchback. I’ve got some mileage and there’s more where that came from – not sure though how much.

At times I flippantly tell others that I’d like to have a cloning machine, but really, I most definitely don’t. I wouldn’t want another copy of anybody brought into the world, much less this one. I’m enough of me for myself to take. I make myself tired with all the worry and then the writing about it.


Ok, so it turns out I have nothing to say, except that I have nothing to say again, but a compelling need to say it anyway. I used to just write this kind of thing in my Hilroy notebooks, sign it under some pseudonym, and move on with my day. Now I post it on the Internet. I didn’t know the Internet was coming then. Maybe I was practicing for the day I’d be able to say nothing, at scale (and at everybody).


You know, I don’t actually mind who I am, all of the time. A lot of the time I think I’m OK enough. When I’m talking less, especially… then I’m actually pretty tolerable. Maybe even nice to be around. Being solid and even-keeled and sensible and confident at all times would probably get boring.

I haven’t been bored in years. “I’m bored” is a thing lucky kids get to say – until they get lucky enough to begin earning all the junk adults have to contend with. It’s not boring here; you will have plenty to keep you busy.

I don’t miss being bored. I also barely remember it. I must have been a lot calmer when I was able to be bored. I’m not sure I’d go back to bored, even if you let me. Bored is a flat place to be. I like hills and scenes and walking with weight. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not looking for more weight at this time. I’m just saying that I know I’m lucky for being able to carry some. I still get to rest often enough.


Most mornings these days, as I rise out of sleep and gradually into the world of the waking-up, I feel myself go through a gentle array of emotion. I feel depressed, anxious, at peace, uncertain, fortunate… faithful that however low or high I might get, there is a corresponding shift to follow, to balance me out. I am annoyed with myself today, but I’ll be proud of myself tomorrow; I’ll have hope after losing it for a while; I’ll like something I said after disliking something I did – and/or vice versa.

I’ll maybe remember – more and more and day to day – that this is what life seems to be: bettering the business of my being me.


Instead of discarding this into the Draft Bin (to possibly rescue it later), I will instead just post my business and move on with this day.

Stay safe!

F@ceb0Ok

I’ve had but one beer and I already want to kind-of punch something. And drinking never makes me want to punch something. This must be special beer. Or a special something.

The thing I want to kind-of punch is Facebook. More generally, social media – but most specifically, Facebook.

I said a thing here that sums it up; I will not reiterate. Much.

It was almost too much work to write. So many buttons. One task: Share my thought before I became too sleepy and confused by User Interface to care.

Everything everywhere on Facebook wants my attention now. It struggles with itself to know what it even wants from me anymore. It just wants me clicking on it; looking at it; needing it for everything that I can’t achieve on my own.

It makes me tired to even think about. It’s like all of the Internet, summarized.

I suppose that is what it is hoping for: to be the Internet’s candied Coles Notes. In a sense, it’s wildly successful.

In a sense – there are certainly others.

Hello, It’s Saturday Again

I am falling down at keeping up. So many things. Poor Me.

This won’t be a whiny post, I promise.

Somedays I want to be a blogger, other days, not so much [That was just extra information, and not whining].

Here’s some good news: My Mom (or Mum, depending on the day), is doing well. But now there are stents in her heart.

My Mum is a cyborg, or sorts. But a living, breathing one. I am breathing a bit easier myself, because so is she.

Someday maybe I too will have stents in my things. Maybe a port or two in my aft what-nots. A thumb drive embedded in my thumb. A hearing aid. A thinking aid.

Thinking Aid

I gamified my work life recently. I took some part of the Pomodoro Technique and added wooden cubes and stickers and some rules, and then a solemn promise to abide by those. A game is nothing if one does not agree to follow the rules.

My last two workweeks have consisted of an effort to fill a glass jar with wooden cubes. The cubes mean something: bits of unadulterated attention directed toward my work. The jar means something: my intentions for the week, with regards to attending to my attention to work, via the cubes. There are stickers involved too, though those shown in the photo are merely for decoration.

Oddly, this low-tech “app” has done quite a bit to help my focus, and by extension, my work productivity. Humans are simple creatures in some ways.

I am still experimenting in ways to unlock my superpowers.

I hope your weekend is a good and safe one.

Carry on with your things.

Here’s to our future!

Trash-Talking the Maker

The other day, I wrote a sincere email to God, and sent it at His legitimate email address. By legitimate, I mean to say that there is no one I can think of who should own the address god@gmail.com but God Himself. You might disagree, but I think I have a case.

Well, God might have answered or She might not have. They are inscrutable with the answering and the getting on in Godly matters. I am still here and (knock on wood) so are my loved ones. My mother had a heart attack yesterday but it was a minor one, and now she’s in the hospital, where she has the best chance of getting the best care.

Yesterday, around the time my mother was feeling chest pains (unbeknownst to me), I was hammering out an angry letter to that same God I had emailed just the other day. I knew the email would probably bounce, and in fact my vitriol was such that I really had no desire to send it into some archive, where God could (nonetheless) read it whenever She so chose. I didn’t need that stuff on record – even though it certainly now is.

I won’t go into the details. I was having a meltdown. I was questioning my purpose here and also questioning Here. What’s Here for? Why are we in it, in the first place? Why is there so much crap Here with us? The suffering, the anxiety, the injustice, the colossal shenanigans. My language in that email was more colourful. I let God have it with both barrels. And my mother had a heart attack in another province.

I am skating on thin ice, blaming God for that. For all I know, that minor heart attack got my mother medical help and attention before it turned into something bigger – and it would have, gone unchecked. God or no God, my mother was given a second chance. I blamed God for being cruel and uncaring, but He didn’t act that way when He might have, to prove some point to some mortal like me.

So I’m feeling a bit calmer now. Sort of. I think I needed to finally say what I felt in my heart to God in that most rattled moment, in that draft email that I thankfully did not send, but also thankfully did draft out in full. It was cathartic to do that. The God I believe in understands that being Human is frightening and hard sometimes, even when you have it comparatively well. I don’t know what we’re Here for, but I know the struggle has a point. Don’t ask me to prove that – that’s not how faith works at all.

Greater Than Less-Than

I am by all indications greater than the sum of my parts, which are of some great number, however I might wish to carve myself up.

I have trifurcated (nice!) my blogging self into a trinity of me’s. Why? Because I can’t always decide who best to be.

There is no great subterfuge intended in this, I simply like trying on different hats to see how that might change the words coming out of the single head hidden beneath them.

It turns out, despite having been into roleplaying games for most of my life, in the end I am mostly the same character, just with a different shirt on, depending on my mood. So too with my attempts at writing from different URLs: I am still essentially me, however much I might at times not seem to wish to be.

One thing that each one of my I’s have been struggling with these days is how to see clearly the Good in myself. This is no joke: I have spent my whole life trying to be good (I assume I have succeeded to some degree, but by whose compass?), and valuing goodness in others, and willing to concede that I always have more work to do… and yet, I give myself no breaks.

The other day, after smoking a joint (I suppose it was just the right kind, mixed with the right combination of sugar/no-sugar and vitamins and preceding mood (kids: still don’t do drugs)), I had the epiphany that maybe I was actually not only not a bad person, but maybe even a really pretty OK one. Ok… maybe a good one. A good person, I mean. Maybe I was that thing that I just said.

This is how hard it is to pay myself a compliment, right now. I have been overtrained, I think by religion and also experience, to be very wary of pride.

I might be taking this wariness a wee bit too far, admittedly. When I can readily imagine that a violent criminal might be redeemable, but that I (deep down) probably am not, somehow… well, that seems a bit of a disingenuous thing to think about any decent person – even if it is your own self. The setting of different standards of OK between others and oneself is at best irrational. And probably also dysfunctional. In fact, I know that last thing to be true.

I used the term ‘probably am not‘, not to mean that I have dark secrets or a dark past or even a dark outlook on life: I just worry about failing as a decent human being.

I also do not mean, in any case, to judge at what point any person crosses the line between redeemable and irredeemable. I think that point might be up to them. And so I point to this: Anybody can come to feel as though they are to be judged by a different scale than everybody else.

Maybe you make a choice in one moment, to be lazy with your time, and somebody suffers a setback because of that. With a little imagination, you might imagine yourself to be a villain, then and there.

And that is where I’d need to stop you, before you started down that road of self-recrimination, once again. A person can’t equip themselves for climbing while wallowing in the what ifs.

So anyway, the other day I got to experience, what, maybe two hours of almost feeling like I really liked who I was and where I had managed to get myself to, up to this present point.

This feeling was actually slightly disconcerting, because it didn’t feel like me… I had been (temporarily, as it turns out) replaced by a levelled-up version of myself – one that was able to tell his own self-doubt to talk to the hand.

I suppose that glimpse though was enough. The next day, I found myself writing out a list of things I have done right, and not too late, and not not entirely unselfishly.

Good on you if you can decipher this hand’s scrawls…

I want to tell you something. You are also better than you probably think. I mean, you are probably a bona-fide Good Person, like I’ve been led to believe I might even be.

Let me explain (while I still have an inkling of how this feels, to feel it about oneself):

Do you recognize True Good in other people, ever? That already means you are one of those people. You can forgive yourself for not being 100% finished at being 100% Perfectly Good right now.

You need to know this about yourself, the way I really needed to know it about myself, that other night when I did know it, for a couple of strangely unfamiliar hours. I will chase that feeling, now that I know it’s out there… and I’ll promise you that you’ll find it too, if you go looking.

You’re already looking, aren’t you?

Maybe now?

C’mon, I know you can find it in you. You’re already there.

How to Hope

Hopefully this doesn’t mean I’m blocked

An Eventually-Open Letter to God

I thought to email God this morning, but the letter bounced. Maybe God’s inbox is full. I can imagine it’s difficult to achieve Inbox Zero when you’re God.

Writing the email made me feel a bit better anyway, since as far as I know, God’s already received it, inbox or no inbox. He/She doesn’t need the Internets to connect the way we seem to.


To God@gmail.com,


Apologies if I have not contacted the actual God, but instead somebody who thought to take God’s email address, for whatever purpose. I suppose you should be used to receiving emails to God by now, whatever the case may be, and whomever you are. Perhaps you can forward this to God, if you happen to know His or Her true email address:


Dear God,


I am struggling with challenges both big and small. The world seems a bit too bent out of shape. I have been given so many gifts, but on any given day, I seem to make good use of but a few. It would seem the world needs us all to use our gifts more wisely, and soon, and in concert with each other. I am unsure if I am doing my part yet. 


I work every day, and I tell myself I’ll get to doing my part to save the world once I have time, but I don’t know when that will be. What’s the point of staying gainfully employed if there is no world waiting for us in our future? I have great hope, but sometimes it’s difficult to stay optimistic. I am plodding along, like so many, without a clear idea of what to support, or otherwise rebel against.


My immediate family needs my immediate help. My community does as well. So too, my country, and then the world. In some sort of order. Despite all of this need, I also feel the need to address my own: a need to get enough sleep, to get some fresh air and sunshine (lockdowns be damned), to read, to write, and to dream. All of these needs – every one – seems pressing for my attention first and foremost, at any given moment. 


But I have only one timeline, as far as I can tell. I don’t know most days where to focus my time, God. I am in front of screens too much; I am using too much energy as we speak; I am buying too many things that I don’t need; I am reading and absorbing information indiscriminately, as though learning alone can solve real problems… I am praying every day and night, and now I’m praying to the Internet. I need guidance. I need a map.


What I feel I need today is a mentor in how to have hope – somebody who is older than I am, and still feels hope, in spite of that. I need to know how to feel hope so that I can pass that feeling on to those who are younger than I am. I am a middle-aged man, stuck in the middle of a life, without a clear idea of where my own mentors have gone. They all seem scared of viruses, immigration, technology, and change. They’ve already seen too much, but I need them now. Just one.


I need to know how to find my way. I haven’t learned how yet. I want to know what to say to my stepkids, about why they are here, now, on this planet full of troubles. I don’t know what to tell them. I’m scared I won’t figure it out in time to validate why I’m here, or help anybody the way I know I was meant to do. I’m just using up space – I want to earn these gifts. I want to save the world. I need God. We all do. 


Please send help, and thank you for all the Things.


Love,
Mike

Everything is Almost Full

I’m having one of those days, at the moment, as it happens. Maybe one of those months, or seasons. Maybe even one of those years.

I’m fifty years old – my glass, by now, is most certainly either entirely half-full, or else entirely half-drunk and done.

Depending on my point of view, and what I want to think about glasses and metaphors.

It seems to me, these days, that all of my things are running down, or out, or hot, or otherwise away from me: My computers and virtual computers are all full-up with things; my bank account appears to be perpetually dry; my tax returns are never on time; my clothes are falling slowly apart around and about me; our roof leaks; my homework is soon due.

All of my varying deadlines and thresholds are looming a bit too large.

Everything is almost full. Almost over. Almost too late.

Almost too much.

This is what it feels like in my brain right now, is what I mean [what I meant eleven hours ago, in any case, when I started to think-and-then-write-and-then-rethink this… and then stopped it all for long enough for me to feel better].

My brain is always telling me some kind of story about what’s happening. I’m not sure who gave this brain that job, but it takes it pretty seriously.

I’ve started to take it on faith that, no matter how I’m doing – or what I’m doing, or where I’m doing it, or why – my brain will go on faithfully monitoring the progress and the lack of progress and telling me that things are coming to an end, by gum, and so I’d better get started.

Then the Universe (often via the Internet and also dreams), conspires to agree with it, feeding my brain messages that it will make of whatever it will. And it does! Boy howdy.

Ever have ever one of those days? Ha! Of course you have. We all have, haven’t we?

And if you haven’t yet had one (and you are a mortal Human being like I am), then you are probably too young yet to be reading… and anyhow, you certainly will have one of those days, one of these days. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have many.

If you’re really lucky, I’ll wager, you’ll have a lifetime of a very many kind of days.

I wish that for you: to have a full, full life of a great many days.


It was the morning when I started to write this, feeling overwhelmed by the stories told to me by my own brain.

And then this, my day, happened… and it all went better than I thought it might (and who would have thought?)

And I am more than ok right now, at this, the end of my new latest day.

Everything is perfectly full, and also perfectly well.

Not a Gun

The Iron Giant is one of my favourite movies.

I use the Giant as an avatar a lot, and I think if I ever get a tattoo, it will be an image of him. He delivers one of my favourite lines in any movie, ever: I am not a gun.

This sentiment is applicable at all scales. It’s a message about non-violence of course, but it’s also a message about personal choice – and the responsibility that comes with having the freedom to choose who you are going to be.

There are not many more important messages, when it comes right down to it – these ones in my estimation pretty much have it covered.