Age is a Number

My eldest and I are a few days apart in birthdays.  I’m hitting a “milestone” year and I have to keep answering the same questions about feeling old.  Until you become legally eligible for something, there really isn’t a difference between the day before and the day after.

I’m in good shape and in great health.  I have the money to do what I want, though not always the time.  I’ve got a loving family.  Tons of stuff to be thankful for.  As an individual, the number doesn’t define me.  And really, it’s a time where you should have both time, money, and the wisdom to know what to do with both (in particular if you still have your health).

Yet, events do.

When my kids started school, I felt old.  When I started hiring students that were blank slates to my field ’cause the tech simply didn’t exist for them, I felt old.  When I realized there were more funerals than weddings, I felt old.  Seeing the kids ride bikes, learn to read, develop their own streams of thoughts… hell just grow a few inches…I felt old.  In the clearest of sense, age is relative.

I can relate to being not so much a kid, but living those same experiences when I was younger.  I did a lot of things, not always with permission but certainly with some guidance.  You learn from falling down and getting back up (or knowing when to stay down).

I am not suffering from some sort of existential crisis.  A wave of that has certainly hit the social circle… and in the wide majority it is with people who are still with the folks they were with at the end of their teens, and whose kids are now in the more self-sufficient block.  All of a sudden, they have much more time on their hands and they start looking around and wondering where the time went, looking at their biological clock.  More like regret than bitterness, but all are willing to take major steps for change to ensure primarily their happiness, and by proxy, others around them.  It takes a lot of courage to make big changes, and not expect some outside force to make you suddenly happy.  Not everyone is willing to make that change.

(I’m not immune to this phase.  The wife and I went through a hell of a rough patch a few years ago, but we put in a lot of effort at improving communication and I believe we’re better now than at any point prior.  Honest conversations open a lot of doors.  And once open, those doors open an entirely different world view.)

So as I edge all the closer to this magic number, I don’t think the date matters as much as my current state.  I would not have been able to get here earlier, and would not want to have waited longer.  I am happy, I am loved (with love in return), and I am content.  More than anything when I do celebrate the birthday, it’s about being thankful for what I have and being able to share with those I care about.  The larger step is taking that mindset an applying it outside of this single date, and trying to live it every day.  I’m not all the way there, but I’m trying.

This post certainly has a more philosophic vibe to it.  Feels good to write it out.  Hope you all find what makes you happy, and the right people to share it with.

Life is More Than a Box of Chocolates

I had mentioned a few months ago that I was going through a rough patch at work. I had stopped blogging and gaming for a while.  Things were pretty bleak for a solid bit, then things started to get better.  I am taking the month of August off, and planning to spend it with my family.  They are the ones who got me through that mess and the reason I get up in the morning.

I met my wife to be at a stag & doe.  It seemed like everyone there knew that we were supposed to meet there.  I was nervous and anxious but she still stuck with me.  Even our dates were a mess for me,  I was simply out to lunch that I was meeting such an amazing woman.  A bit more than a year later, we moved in together, then a year later we got married.   Up until then, that was the best thing that could have happened to me.

A little while on, we had our first daughter.  I had never been so proud of what we made.  A bit later, another daughter.  I can picture both days like it was yesterday.

For all the ups and downs, my only stable factor was my family.  I love my dad to death, but it’s not one of those open emotional relationships.  My brothers and sisters aren’t as close as we should be and I don’t talk to my mother.  I’ve always been out to the side, but that changes when I met my wife and had kids.  I love coming home to giant hugs and smiles.

These past few weeks have been exhausting.  I am having a hard time juggling everything and its put a strain on all sorts of things.  I thought I could scrape by the next few weeks, to end out the month and re-ground myself.  I don’t know if I can make it though.

We all went to a pool party yesterday.  Seeing my kids with nothing but smiles and getting to spend a lot of time with them was great.  It really brought to home why I work, and what I’m missing by not being around as much as I’d like.

My wife and kids are out of the house for a bit and I don’t like the empty nest feeling.  Never have.  I need the noise and bustle.  I need the laughs and the hugs.  Life has thrown me so many curveballs that I thought I could handle them all and keep moving forward.  The silence here is deafening.  I hope their trip is a short one, I need their hugs.

Won’t You Be My Neighbour

I would be remiss to mention yesterday’s sad news of the passing of Christopher “River” Cavelle, who ran High Latency Life.  There’s a condolences page you can also view.  There are quite a few posts out there about the event as well, which is fairly indicative of the social fabric that seems to tie the blogging world together.  It’s a sad day indeed.

My wife, ever the astute, had noticed that that I was playing Wildstar with a smile on my face and with the odd interjection.  Normally, I don’t smile when I game unless I see something rather neat.  Then she asks about it, I show here and we move on.  It’s not often that I smile for long periods of time.  But for some reason, Wildstar does that and part and parcel is the guild structure.  I had a rather decent guild many a year ago in WoW, then a solid run through Rift.  But since then, ehhh.  They always had people I knew in the RL too.  Wildstar, not so much.  Instead it’s made up of other bloggers (Evindra – Exile – Cats in Space).

Wilhelm uses the term neighbours and Wildstar does the same with their housing system.  The analogy works, in that there is a giant neighbourhood of bloggers that we all interact with on a regular basis.  Some of them you see every day, others you see once a month, some you just pass through.  I live in an older suburb, with an established community.  If the houses were empty, it would not be the same area so even though I might never talk to the neighbor 5 blocks down, they make the area what it is.  The core difference, and this is really important, is that I can see these people.

I cannot see the other bloggers.  I can rarely even hear them.  But I can read what they write.  I know more about Murf than I do my wife’s aunt, who I’ve met a dozen times now.  Each and every one of them adds a little something to the internet.  The NBI does a great job of giving a platform to new members of the neighbourhood but I don’t know that it really reflects what they are getting into.  You just don’t know until you step in and read the words.  Until you share ideas with another.  Until you come to some realization that your original idea needs a bit of work.  That there are dozens of people out there already, waiting for more to come along.

I think one of the largest advantages that blogging has above other more recent platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Vine, etc…) is that the format allows for more of the person to show through.  Outside of a podcast/stream, you rarely get to spend more than 200 characters or 8 seconds with someone.  Since it’s longer, people have to put in a bit more effort into the message as well, so they come out more thoughtful.  They are also quite a bit more likely to respond to you.  And it’s often times much less confrontational.  Blogging, or rather long-form communication, acts as a giant virtual network for the community.  Each one of us has a house people can visit.  There’s plenty of stuff there to check out too and if you take the time, you can make a new friend.

Blasphemy

I read Penny Arcade quite frequently.  I write (or in some cases draw) for a living.  It most certainly doesn’t show much on this blog but writing is a form of catharsis for me.  It seems apparent to me that Jerry has the same view, though he gets paid for it.  Go him.  Mike, I get.  Art is/was a way out from his neurosis.  Jerry though, shit the demons that guy carries around.

There is a brutal simplicity to many posts.  You can read them as you will but a turn of the word is as good as or better a piece of art that’s on a wall.  Both have their places and both have their interpretations, but damn if you don’t recognize quality when you see it.  There’s a string inside that just pulls.  In my rage, I turn inside and say “fuck it” but to the outside there’s a cadence, a sweetness that is needed to adequately push forward an idea.  How can you put forth a feeling into words?

To Jerry’s more recent dilemma involving resolving the image of his father with his actual father, I say welcome to the club.  When gods become mortal, you find yourself with way more power than you should have any right to wield.  There is the place where you struggle to come to terms with your essence, your pride and your hate and lo and behold, the guy has the gall to do something as crazy as make you think twice about it.

You need not ponder long to realize that parents are as messed up, or in most cases more messed up than you could ever properly have imagined.  This from a generation that had been told that feelings are weak, keep your nose down, plow through it.  Weakness is wrong and admitting it makes you a failure.  Perfection is the only acceptable solution.  Fuck that shit.  You strive for pride in your parents eyes and when you get it, tell me how you ever want to let that feeling go.  To find weakness in that pride?  A flaw?  That 30 year image I had built, piece by piece is nothing but dust.

Fuck it.  I will be weak, I will be strong, I’ll be whoever I need to be and let my kids see me for it.  I’ll mess it up, I’ll be perfect, and that giant place inside, that my kids own, will be theirs to do what they want.

Thanks Dad for showing me that your mistakes made you more of a man than your successes.  Why did you have to wait so long to tell me?

Social Frameworks

I want to talk a bit about social investment in terms of relationships.  There’s an old adage that says a marriage is like a bank account, you have to put something in to get something out.  All healthy relationships are like that.  There is a term called Dunbar’s Number (or perhaps more commonly as monkeysphere) that posits that any person can only maintain a stable social relationship with a set number of people – around 150.  Outside of this number, you ability to empathize/socialize is practically null.  This post will be about how both of those intersect.

My hypothesis on social structure is that an individual is only capable of a certain amount of social investment at any given time.  Their choices determine where that investment is made.  Below is a representation of social classification, in terms of relationship and their proximity to the individual.

Circle of Confidence

 

If you were to assign a 100% value to the entire set of groups, the heaviest weighting should be from left to right.  You should put more investment in yourself than in your Closest Ally and a whole lot more than in any acquaintances you might have.  In this I mean that all things being equal, given the choice between yourself and someone else, you should pick yourself (altruism aside).  This part really isn’t up for debate, as it’s a social construct that humanity has employed for a very long time.

What is up for debate is the quantity of people in each group, the investment in a given group and the ratio across the spectrum.  If you have 20 people in the Closest Ally group, you are unlikely to have any energy left for the remainder.  Ideally your immediate family is part of your Closest Ally group (spouse/gf/bf included).  You likely have a few friends in there as well.  Your extended family comes next, then a social group of friends you see on a regular basis.  Finally the Acquaintances bucket.  This is where people you know but don’t have any vested interest in are located.   There are people outside of this bucket but as the monkeysphere theory indicates, it’s unlikely that you have the need or want to acknowledge their state.

If you find yourself hopping from group to group and never really finding the time for quality social interactions, odds are you have too many people in your Friends group.  If you only have 3 people you consider friends, then likely you have invested too deeply in the Closest Ally group.  If your cell phone has hundred of contacts, odds are you have too many people in your Acquaintance group.

The flip side to this is that if you identify yourself as being heavily invested into a certain group, then you have a social profile.  Heavy on the left side and you’re likely introverted, focused and invested – maybe even smothering.  Heavy to the right and you’re likely an extrovert, unfocused and shallow.  It’s hard to have quality relationships if you’re at either extreme as you’re likely to have a distorted social framework to rely upon.  Either your sample size is too small and therefore unable to cope with change or it’s too big and you don’t have enough time to invest.

When most people leave school, they are on the right side of the structure.  A few will be on the left but next to no one leaves in a balanced state.  It takes years (sometimes it never happens) of conscious effort to find the proper balance and keep it balanced.  Sometimes your Closest Ally in school moves to be an Acquaintance, sometimes the other way around. Likely, you will find yourself with less people you call friends and more people you call acquaintances.  No matter what happens, embrace the fact that you’re going to change and that change is a good thing.

 

The Journey of Distance

Warning – Introspection ahead.

As a father of two young children, girls in fact, I find it difficult to separate the real world from the one they live in.  There is a psychological “shelter” factor that comes into play, more instinctive than I would have thought previous to parenthood, that wants to keep these packages safe from harm.  I do realize that this is a temporary state as one day they will fly from the nest and it’s my responsibility (well my wife and I) to ensure they are properly equipped to survive.  This isn’t a new thought as I had pondered this exact statement for nearly the entire term for my first child and holding her within seconds of her birth.  What has set the idea home however is my second child.

There is a piece of a child that lives in a world of wonder.  That piece is akin to a flower and it requires all the love and attention you can provide it.  I will not lie and say this is easy, it isn’t.  As the child grows, it becomes more self-aware and by its very nature, more likely to self-harm with experimentation.  My eldest daughter knows of no fear and while I cringe at the things she does, I also have to sit back and be amazed at her freedom.  She has had scraped and bruises since before she could walk and each tumble was followed with a smile – as if you say “Did you see that?!  That was awesome”.  I have difficulty understanding how I can keep that sense of eternal awe within her – but I can relate to her.

My second child is still quite young but has since birth smiled for what seems every minute of every day.  She is much more emotional than her sister and leaves it out to bear.  If her sister is upset or loud, she starts to cry.  She needs a shoulder to snuggle upon.  It’s like watching a piece of tissue paper float in the wind and always, always with a smile.  I could have the worst day and to come home to that just makes me forget everything.  Now, my wife and I smile a fair amount.  It’s infectious really.  But I don’t think I can properly related to the concept of always smiling.  It almost makes you feel petty in that you can’t always find something to smile about.

To sum, as a Dad, I find it the most difficult to be at the right distance from my children.  I want them to grow up to be productive members of society, with a core set of values, as do most parents.  I also want them to learn about independence and self-worth and I that is not something you can teach, it must be experienced.  Finding that balance of hand holding and letting go is by far the most difficult journeys I have ever undertaken.  But I’m ready for the trip.

Finance Finance Finance

This is probably one of the most difficult conversations to have in a couple.  Someone always makes less than the other.  Initially the feeling is we should pay a equal percentage of income but that really complicates things in the long run.  For example, if I put 500 and you put in 750 a month, it might be the same percentage on the shot but after 5 years I have 30,000 and you have 45,000 which is a huge difference.  If things go sour, how do you split things up?  Both people use things equaly, why should they pay differing amounts?  If you happen across some extra money, do you put in more that time or not?

Because of the complications in percentages, I’ve always been a fan of set numbers.  It’s MILES easier to figue out in the long run and you can easily count the numbers in your head.  Plus, if things don’t go smooth, the end result is a lot easier for both parties to come to terms with.

I’m glad I have a singificant other who has a financial mind and can see both sides of this question.  It’s a lot easier to move forward that way and no one feels targetted.  One more step complete!