Archive for November, 2009

Road trip!


I have a car (hello 1993 Lexus SC430 with the dashboard light I need to fix!) and it needs to get from Illinois to Massachusetts. Consequently, in about 7 hours, I’ll be on the road heading down approximately this route. The exact route goes to/from specific houses in each of the three cities, but it’s close enough for route and time estimating purposes.

Naturally, my mother didn’t want me making the drive alone, so she is coming with me (thanks, Mom!). We leave Chicago on Saturday morning and plan on a leisurely 2-day jaunt, probably stopping somewhere around the OH/PA border Saturday night and hitting DC on Sunday shortly after lunch. I’ll work from DC on Monday, then we’ll head up to Boston and arrive there Tuesday night (I’ll time my driving shifts so I can still make all my meetings, we’ll drive early in the morning, etc… it will work out). Then I’ll have 2 days in Boston to settle back in and make sure everything’s lined up for FUDCon, and then I hop the FUDBus to Toronto…

What this means is that I’ve got over 27 hours worth of roadtrip scheduled between now and next week. Add another 8 or so hours for the ride back from Toronto to Boston on Tuesday after next, and… y’know, I might just bike in Boston, even if it is Boston in December, when I get back, because I’ll have spent So Much Time In Motor Vehicles at that point. Unless it’s snowing. In which case I’ll be glad I have something with ABS to get me to the office. Theoretically, I could bike 35 miles to the office in a Massachusetts winter, but… I like spending more time working than commuting rather than the other way around, and I also like being alive, so… car!

BONUS: I will finally get to bring my cello to Boston, where there’s a chance I might actually start playing it again.


This is what I look like in rant mode


I waited a few days to post this after writing, because I have a general philosophy that I shouldn’t post anything involving other people when I’m mad, and I was definitely mad here, and wanted to read it with cool eyes first before hitting the button. I ended up not cutting anything, but I did fix a few grammatical mistakes. Here, future-self! A TL;DR braindump from Tuesday night!

I’ve got a pent-up rolling fireball of something stuck inside me, and I can’t run, and I can’t play the piano, so I’m going to let my fingers do the running for me. Anyone looking for actual content should stop reading this post right now – this is me frustrated and angry and trying to let it stream out so I can figure out why, and then maybe do something about it.

It’s gonna be long.

Start with the easy part: scanning for the state I’m in. It’s 5:30pm, I’m sitting in my car (MY CAR! It’s going to take a little while before the little joy-explosion triggered by those two words wears off, for which I’m glad) in the parking lot of a random office complex in town; it’s dark and raining and I have music playing VERY LOUDLY. Something with a strong beat and a lot of bass, some kind of rap, I don’t particularly care. Just something with a pounding enough rhythm that will force my brain to follow it. It gives my mind something to ride on until it’s got a pulse and it’s not flailing any more.

There’s a sort of choking through my throat, and the beginning of a knot in my gut, and my muscles in general are in a state of slight tension; I am mad, or at least in fighting mode. My hands want to pound faster and harder than I’m letting them, but I’ve decoupled them from the tension and they’re tapping and floating lightly over these keys. Taking deep breaths to relax; my brain won’t generally get anywhere until I’m relaxed physically, and I’m flipping the radio over to the classical station to try and help with that. It’s some piano concerto I don’t recognize, but it’s nice.

Once I name something, I can generally control it, and I can feel the tightness melting down out of my throat as I describe it. I’m not all relaxed yet, but it’s getting there – enough that the violins can help, enough that I can kind of bring down my brain back to the place where I can analyze it. This is how I keep my hot temper from getting me into fights and trouble; I’ve learned how to be angry at myself and only myself, to pull that rage inside and work with it in isolation and containment until I melt it away (away, not just pushing it down).

The alternative would be extremely bad. I’m a human catalyst, and I can use that for good or for ill. If you think about how contagious my happiness and my excitement can be, and how it would be a Very Very Bad Idea if that happiness were rage instead, then… you get the idea why I wired myself up in a way that only lets me explode with it’s with joy. I only want to be passionate about the right things, and so I also grew these meta-thinking habits to make continuously sure I check that I’m not blinded by that passion.

All right, now I’m not angry any more. Now I can look at why I was.

This has been building up since I left Singapore; that’s when I switched from living in a world in which I’m Mel to a world in which I’m Mallory, and that’s the way I’ll describe these worlds here. The first is the name (and the life) I chose for myself, the second is the one I was given and what my family – and only my family – calls me. (These descriptions are unfair; I know I’m tagging my given name with all sorts of little negative triggers in my mind by doing it, but I need words to use and as long as I know what I’m doing here I can undo it.)

I can stand in the first world and interface with the second perfectly fine; I’m coming from a place of strength there. That’s my turf, and I share it with a lot of folks who care. There are also plenty of folks who care in the second world – I’ve never felt like I wasn’t loved by my family – but sometimes it’s the kind of thing that feels like a hug that crushes you until you can no longer move or breathe. And when I stand in the second world, sometimes I don’t feel like I’m coming from a place of strength or freedom or abundance. It’s not that I can’t do things, or that I don’t; I’m stubborn enough to do them anyway. But the difference, I think, is that when I’m a Mel, I just do things. And when I’m a Mallory, I’m allowed to do things. And to me, that’s a tiny difference, and also a big one.

It comes up repeatedly in the “so when are you going to get married?” conversations, which apparently start in your late teens and continue exponentially intensifying until you capitulate and get hitched. I say I don’t know, there are all these other things I love, and I describe them, and I get excited. And then the older women in my family look at me with sad and amused smiles and say, you think your husband will let you do that? And I always tell them it’s not a matter of let. I’m not going to marry someone who will let me do things. (I mean, I might not even get married, first of all.)

It’s not that I will be allowed to do the things I’m going to do – it’s that I will do them, and… yes, there’s flexibility and there’s give and take in that, and things have to go both ways, but I need to know it’s going to go in the other direction too. Whoever is going to share a life with me (if anybody does) has to understand that it isn’t a let, it’s a will. And I’ll understand that it’ll go the same way for them, and that we’ll both make compromises and sacrifices for each other. I just… don’t want to assume culturally set defaults by default. I might make the same choices, but I want them to come as individual choices, not as a fixed package deal.

Enough about that.

My schedule since I got back from Singapore has been something like this: work in the late morning and through afternoon with interruptions. I’ve started working from outside the house in order to stop the interruptions for the past 2 days, but found I interrupted myself – mostly with anger for having been interrupted before, and not having “caught up” from that as well as I wanted to. Then dinner with the family, which is great; that’s time I clear for them, that’s time I’ve agreed to clear for them, time I’m happy to clear for them and time I love spending with them. These are the times I relax as a Mallory, and now more and more they’re also times I can relax as a Mel. And that goes through the evening. And then I wait for everyone to fall asleep, and then I alternate between working with blissful lack of interruptions, and relaxing as a Mel. Not necessarily doing anything – just reading or thinking or being alive, even – as me. And I do that until the sun comes up, and when I hear the first stirrings of other people in the house, I sleep.

Basically, I am nocturnal again. And it’s not jetlag; I landed Wednesday night and was fully switched back to US time by Thursday late morning, but I decided to revert again on Friday. What’s going on? Same thing that started happening when I was 11 and started sneaking math books in the middle of the night. I’m not nocturnal because I don’t want to sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night because I want to do things. And if I sleep at night, I will not get to do things, because it’s hard to do them during the day.

Because when I am sleeping, nobody interrupts me.

Because when they are sleeping, nobody interrupts me.

I like not being interrupted. I like not having to choose between jerking out of my flow state and needing to spend 5 minutes getting back in gear on writing something, or continuing and finishing that task and then getting chewed out for 10 minutes for ignoring somebody, or (now) heading to the library and turning off my phone and working as long as I need to and then getting in trouble for being unresponsive when I get back.

I need larval mode. I need it badly enough that I’ll give up sleep to get it; I can push things down and wait until night, but at night, I have to have to have to run. I learned to make that tradeoff in 6th grade, and part of the reason I live in Boston is so I do not need to make that tradeoff any more.

It’s a crappy solution, and I haven’t contained the crappiness of that solution to myself – I know this tradeoff is unfair to my family. I know this makes them seem like the bad guys, and they’re not. I just make them out to be because I needed a space to grow up in the way I wanted to grow up, and the world my family was in just had Too Much that was Too Complicated for me to grapple with and learn the things I wanted to learn at the same time. So I wrapped it up and locked it out and tagged it with a DOES NOT WANT beacon that’s overly simplified and really not fair to them, because I wasn’t smart enough or strong enough or non-selfish enough to deal with that. And I can look back at the lonely little kid I was when I decided that and go yeah, I do forgive that choice.

It’s easy to forgive my 11-year-old self for that; still pretty easy at 14, even 17 when I went off to college. Still possible when I turned 21 and graduated and was burnt out and needed to take that space I’d fought and saved for (part of the reason I worked multiple jobs through college was so I could finance my own gap year, because I needed it). Harder to forgive that selfishness in myself now. Then again, it’s been that way for years; when I was 15, I could forgive my 11-year-old self, but not my 15-year-old self. And maybe when I’m 25 I’ll be fine with what I’m doing now. But I want to find a way to bring that peace to the present more consistently as well.

What’s there to forgive? These two things: first, splitting my life into two worlds, and second, choosing to live in one over the other. I have to either forgive it or fix it, because I don’t want to accept it; that would be a compartmentalization I don’t want. It would mean I’ve stopped hoping that there’s a way to be both and love both at the same time, and I refuse to do that.

And I’ve continued to be selfish enough to want to grow and still not deal with that even now when I have, finally, theoretically, everything else going deliriously well. I’m working on the things I love to do with teammates I totally adore; I’m seeing the world, I’m talking to people and learning things and being pushed in a way that energizes and refreshes me. Squalor is optional; I can buy a sandwich and take the bus at the same time, I’m not choosing between walking for a couple hours and being hungry for a couple hours. Heck, I can get a really nice sandwich now, and a milkshake, and take a taxi. I mean, this is great.

And for some reason I can’t just sit on my duff and just enjoy that for a while. I do enjoy these things; I love my life. And I also have a well, you know, you should do this too, you should do better, you should go back and try to help and fix this also going in the back of my mind.

It’s hard, going back home. I need to turn around all of the running-away I’ve done over the past 12 years. (More or less. There’s not a defined start or end time, but if I had to pick a date range, it’s 12 years.) I need to find the defense mechanisms I set up a long time ago when I was very young and clumsy at putting them in place and sometimes didn’t realize what I was doing, and make sure things are such that I can switch them off (or make things such that I can switch them off) and switch them off and then dismantle them completely. I need to make the way I want to see my family more than the only-slightly-better-than-a-cardboard-cutout thing I’ve simplified a lot of it to. Because people will become what you expect them to become. And I should know better now; I can set better expectations, and I know more now how about to shape the world with patience, over many years, to grow into that.

This is not a dramatic start; it’s just a note of its continuation. I’ve been waiting to go back and do this for years, and in a way I have been doing it for years. I am tired. But good tired. I am thankful that I can be good tired.

I’m not mad any more; I gave myself my freedom back. Now I can change stuff – or rather, keep on changing it.


Ideas for monthly sprints


Ellen Chisa reminded me of why this book was one that hit me deeply in college.

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything- from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it. –Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I don’t think that eliminating the whole degree and grading system will automatically give you “real education,” but I do believe that questioning why and how the system we have was put in place, and whether it is one we (individually) want, is a good start. And this got me thinking about the things I’d like to learn, so… braindumping again, here are some sprints that have been on my mind. They’d all make nifty foci for a month. I need to figure out what I am doing for December.

(For the record, November’s anti-procrastination attempt has been… let’s just call it a painful awakening to how ingrained my perfectionism is (and that isn’t a good thing, by the way). My perfect is very much the enemy of my good, and I should think of different ways to get around that, and copious output!!! in an area I’d usually be perfectionist about is one of them, so you’ll see that thought come out in some of the ideas below.)

The Weinberg Sprint: Read everything that Weinberg has ever written (that I can get my hands on, which should be most if not all of it) – if Eric and Sumana both like his work, it’s got to be worth it. Also, I haven’t gone on an immerse-self-in-single-person’s-output sprint since my Feynman period, which was a weak immersion – I didn’t read his physics papers, just his books and letters.

Thing A Week: JoCo-style, because I want to force myself to publicly output music, too. I’ll only get better if I start somewhere.

Learning Go: Swapping Go lessons from Mark Penner for how-to-get-a-webapp-up tutorials. I want to learn some sort of strategic board game because I think it’d train my brain to think well in a certain way it doesn’t now – long-term, strategically, planning things out in advance, anticipating reactions… I’d like to be able to do that systematically instead of only by my gut and the seat of my pants, which is what I do now.

Alas, I’ve never been able to understand or get excited about the few old chess books in our basement (Dad’s) – they’re filled with little diagrams and no explanation and just go way over my head. Mark taught me the rules of Go in college and slowly taught me how to play over a series of late night homework sprints (we lived in the same hallway sophomore year and claimed the same nook in said hallway for our “office”) and I did enjoy the glimpse I caught of it back then. So we could start with this.

The goal for the month would be to lose 100 games, as a riff on the “lose your first 100 games as quickly as possible” maxim I’ve heard around. FAIL FASTER!

Write code: Do a little actual programming each day – not because I think I’ll ever truly be good at it in the way some of my friends are, but because I find it to be an interesting and fun thing to do, and would love that feeling of deep making-something focus that I’ve experienced in the past when I’ve been able to sink into it a little. (Note to self: make sure at least one grad school course you take forces you to deep-dive into creating some kind of code.)

For a monthsprint, I think I’d want to do quick exercises in a variety of different languages, so I could try the sort of porting exercise Bill Kerr gave his students or the try-a-different-language meme that Dwins and Seb have taken up (in Scala and Prolog, respectively). I could also run through interesting parts of various books I’ve been wanting to go through for years. They range from beginner tutorials (I love working through good instructional design even for things I “already know,” because it teaches me how to teach), to nifty languages I’ve been fascinated by but never sat down to explore (Forth, Mumps), to “seriously, you should really go through these someday” classic works.

This sprint is probably overly ambitious as currently defined. Also, it may not be a good idea if I’m trying to keep my RSI under control (which has been quite successful since the start of summer, thank you very much).

Plato: This is mostly self-explanatory. Everything I can find by Plato (translated, of course) or commenting on such, or on Plato himself, I read and write and talk with people about. I am sadly bereft of background in philosophy, which is a shame because I love Socratic-style conversations and would love a richer pool of history and ideas to draw from there.

Research-prep: Gathering – and possibly trying to recreate the infrastructure for creating – mini-studies on trying to track and understand participation in open source. Because someday I’m going to do research on this from an educational perspective (open source as a community of practice of engineering education), I’m just not exactly sure where it’ll end up focusing yet… but looking at prior work and existing tools can only help me figure that out.


FUDBus riders / Boston folks with couches, read this.


If you meet any of the below criteria:

  1. Riding the FUDBus
  2. In need of crash space in Boston immediately before or after FUDCon (regardless of whether or not you are on the FUDBus)
  3. Can offer crash space in Boston immediately before or after FUDCon (regardless of whether or not you are going to FUDCon)

Then you should read this email, which contains bus details and a call for Boston-area couches.

That is all.


So if you see me online in the next 8 hours, yell at me


Advantage of Thanksgiving day: free time, occupied family (cooking), more space and time for me to do the things I’ve wanted to do since leaving for Singapore.

Disadvantage of Thanksgiving: remembering to use it for the right things (right now, butternut squash soup preparation, not reading through my email/feedreader backlog or gleefully traipsing through Wikipedia articles on things I was interested in). Besides, if I don’t start now, the pie will not be baked in time.


Dashmirror v.3.0 released


I have a new (used) car, and I’d like to be able to talk with my passengers while I’m driving it. Great!

Problem: The vibration of a car’s engine and the car rolling over the road happens to be right around the few frequencies of speech I can hear, which in the past has led to chronic episodes of – ah – educational detours, as friends yelled “GO RIGHT! RIGHT!” and I went “go straight? OK!” and missed our turn. Repeatedly. I’d usually lipread, but turning to lipread passengers is not a particularly great option when you’re going 60mph down a highway. In the dark. In the rain. In Boston.

What if I didn’t have to turn to lipread?

I roped Mark Penner (Olin ’07, in town for the holidays) into a lunchtime hackfest; after about an hour and a half, we ended up with this, and I am quite pleased with it. Behold…. the dashmirror.


Catchier names are welcome. I had to make this name up so this post could have a title.

It’s a simple design. The parts cost $36.62, but I’m pretty sure you could do it for cheaper.

  • $4.39 for the mirror; we found one you’re supposed to clip to your car visor and just removed the clips. The important thing was finding a cheap light mirror of the right size.
  • $3.99 for the smallest, cheapest tube of 5-minute epoxy we could find.
  • $24.99 for the cheapest generic universal GPS in the store. It was still overpriced.
  • And then 9.75% Illinois State Tax to make up the remainder.

Assembly instructions: clear off back surface of mirror, choose broadest and flattest attachment for GPS mount, epoxy mirror to that attachment. Like I said, it’s a simple design. The tough part for us was finding the parts.

“Where did you buy that?” my mom asked when I showed her. “We made it,” I said. The black plastic matches, so the pieces look like they were meant to go together – but nope, they’re really two separate things. That was nice; I usually don’t come up with very aesthetically pleasing mechanical hacks.

This is actually the third dashmirror I’ve made, and the first one I’ve been satisfied with. I cobbled together the first one when I was 17 in order to adorn the extra family car I drove to college (Melmobile v.1.0). It consisted of a large document clip clamped to the rim of the odometer, a piece of stiff wire, an abandoned mirror I think may once have been intended to be mounted on a bike, and random strips of (homework) paper in a futile attempt to make the diameter of the wire large enough to stay inside the holes on the mirror casing. It was perpetually falling either off, apart, or both, and frequently vibrated too much to render my passenger readable, and was utterly nonadjustable, but it worked. I’d looked for better parts, but they weren’t there; why should they be? Nobody else needed dashboard/windshield mounted visual displays for getting route information while driving, right?*

That’s why walking through the GPS accessories section while part-hunting for v.3.0 today was like a little slice of happy future shock. It took 5 years for the right parts to arrive, and they’re still more expensive than I’d like, but… now I have them.

Here’s v.3.0 in action. (What happened to v.2.0? Also made at lunch today, but with the wrong parts selection; a heat-vent GPS mount doesn’t damp vibration like a suction cup mount does, but at that point we’d already butchered both the mirror and the mount enough to make the prototype that to attempt returning them would be futile.)

Note that it works equally well from the passenger side – no more aching necks from constantly turning towards your driver! The model is my cousin Mark, the blurry lights on the right side are the supermarket we cleaned out of green beans (Thanksgiving dinner) several minutes after taking this photo.

I like a lot of things about the design – it looks slick, the picture is clear (thanks to the vibration-damping qualities of the suction cup), it’s easily adjustable thanks to the variable-tension ball and socket joint. You can move it from car to car, it’s sturdy, the landscape orientation of the mirror lets you keep seeing the driver as he moves his head from left to right to look out windows when he turns. (Well, that and it wouldn’t fit vertically at a reasonable angle on a decent part of the windshield.)

There are also things I’d like to improve. I think a convex mirror would give you a wider field of vision without too much distortion. I wish I’d chosen a GPS mount that was easier to attach/detach to windows, so if you’re making one of these, make sure you like the unmount/mount mechanism of the GPS holder you’re getting. I could use a second, vertically-short-but-horizontally-long mirror for the back seat, maybe mounted above the rearview mirror, though that’s a dangerous place to have to look at much while driving. I’ve tried mirrors designed for watching kids in the back seat that clip below your rearview mirror, but while they provide enough of a view to show you whether one child is trying to kill another, they vibrate too much for lipreading, and don’t clear the headrests of the seats… the back seat is still an unsolved problem, in my book. And I wish it were more portable, or at least more put-in-a-case-able, because I want to travel with it.

Anyhow, this is my newest shiny toy. It’s coming with me on long car rides, because now there’s another little chunk of type-of-experiences in the world that I can have – safe, neck-pain-free conversations on road trips. Sweet.

*I also wished for a widespread portable means of near-instantaneous written communication as a kid, and now I have unlimited text messaging. Oh, how I love the fast-paced evolution of modern technology.


Alt.Mel


Brilliant: Professors who deliberately lie. (In a good way! In a hilariously clever way! For education!)

Today seems to be the day for extended streams of writing. Sometimes there are days for that.

While looking up some material for a current Olin first-year who was interested in MetaOlin, I found our old Diversity module papers. Zhenya had asked us to write short autobiographies, then told us to take one aspect of our life, flip it around, and write an autobiography of that. Andy and Marco wrote theirs as if they’d grown up female; Chandra wrote hers as if she’d been raised by a single mom. I forgot what Boris and Dellin wrote. I wrote as if I’d never had pneumonia and could therefore hear perfectly. Here’s how it ended.

A couple of times I was asked to be a TA; a couple of times I did it, and I liked it, and I think teaching would be fun to do in the future, maybe when I retire. It doesn’t make me burn with as much passion as other things, though. I have a hard time understanding why people sometimes have difficulty “getting” things. From our MetaOlin readings, I think it might be related to epistemic privilege – I’ve never had a tough time with stuff, so I can’t sympathize with folks who do quite so well, and I have a hard time connecting with them and having the patience to work with them.

Alt.Mel also played the violin, was an excellent orator, and didn’t go to IMSA because she had a social life at home. It was a fun exercise, and it also made me think. What has this given me? Awareness and appreciation. Empathy. A different way of looking at and listening to the world. It is the life I have, and it’s a good one. The blessings I have are blessings I’ll use for Great Awesome. The blessings I don’t have are blessings in a weird way because they teach me things. When it’s good, it’s a gift. When it’s bad, it’s a lesson – which is also a gift. I don’t always remember this, but I try.

And if I could see into the past and wave a magic wand, and knew for sure that removing any of the things that have caused me pain in the past would take away my love for teaching… then I would not wave that wand. And I must remind myself of that. I might complain a lot. It might be hard, and it might hurt. But I would not wave that wand. This is the life I have been given, the world I’ve been given it in, and the power I’ve been given to change it; how I steward that investment is my call to make.

My call right now is that I’m going to stop typing, rub out my hands, go downstairs, get a drink, write out my schedule for tomorrow, then read a little philosophy and call it a night. I got through a ridiculous amount of inbox backlog today, and am slowly removing my excuses for procrastinating on POSSE documentation; sometime in the next 24 hours, I’ll eat the spinach, but I don’t know when that switch will flip, or how, just that it’ll happen.

Things work out.


Marketing: The Fedora Wikipedia page


Originally on marketing-list, but I was amused and wanted to share.

Right before F12 released, Robyn asked the Marketing mailing list if anyone wanted to update the Fedora wikipedia page. I took another look at it just now, and from the history, looks like Zvn, GurkLurk, Pmiossec, Antonio Lopez, Chargh, (and some guy named Paul Frields, who’s that? ;-) took care of it.

If we consider this Marketing work (and in a way, it is) and wonder who the contributors to this were, well… one is from Sweden, one is from France, one is from Canada, one is 14 years old, one plays the euphonium, one is a cattle farmer…

Open source and open content communities rock.


Whoa, I did something well and didn’t flip.


I figured out what happened in Singapore. I wrote this on the plane between Singapore and Manila, and then sat on it for a little while to let the thought trickle through and see if it still sounded right later. It does.

Weird. I… feel like a grown-up. It’s weird that this doesn’t feel nearly as weird as I think it should. I think that’s what happens when you’re too busy to fight becoming a better version of yourself; when there are too-big shoes you don’t think you actually deserve to stand in, you sometimes have to be reminded that only by lacing them up and flopping around will you be able to grow into them.

I’m still in zomg they trusted me to do that mode. I made a lot of mistakes this week, for sure – but I made them well, and on the whole, I’m proud of what I did and what I learned. And I’m fighting against fighting it. I’m writing now so that my brain is thinking about something else – that post I made earlier about how to rewire your reactions? I’m trying to rewire freaking out after I do something well. I’m trying to pause it, but I can’t replace it with silence yet, so I’ll fill it with alternative noise. You did fine, Mel. There are things you can get better at and learn from and you did a fine, fine job.

Project for this 3.5 hour plane flight to Manila: BAKE THIS INTO MY BRAIN. I want this better version of myself to stay; as much of it as I can keep with me, I want to keep. The main feature of this Mel++ is Lack Of Crippling Self-Doubt. I have taught well before, I know how to be contagiously enthusiastic, I can adjust and improvise and adapt, and all that. These are features that came out in prior releases, to run with this (highly imperfect) self-as-engineering-product analogy. But they cost a lot to use. They had to struggle through a but no! I’m not supposed to Be Awesome! thicket, or I was able to trick my defenses by GETTING REALLY EXCITED! about something I cared about (and I got better at this over time) and forgetting for a while, but afterwards it’d come crashing down, and I knew it would come crashing down, and that the better I’d done, the worse it would be.

Why would you ever punish yourself for doing well? That progression looks something like this:

  1. If you do something and get whacked, and this consequence is reasonably consistent (do X, get whacked), you usually learn to not do X.
  2. If you get to the point where you can’t not do X, you do X and you know you’re going to get whacked – so you do X and then you flinch (and then you get whacked).
  3. You quickly discover that if you punch yourself, that satisfies the whackers (they don’t whack you) and hurts just a little less because, y’know, you’re doing it to yourself, you can rationalize that. Do X, flinch, whack.
  4. And then one day you realize you’re in a different place and nobody is going to hit you any more. And you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, and nothing comes. THIS IS REALLY STRESSFUL. Can you actually safely assume you can stop pre-emptively beating yourself up? Is this a false sense of security that’ll render you unable to handle it if somebody comes back and goes BAM BAM BAM BAM again? (They’re going to, right? This can’t possibly be perfect…)
  5. You know what? If someone does whack you for doing X once in a while, you can handle it. It isn’t like you need more practice fighting crap. Stop giving yourself crap to fight. You won’t lose your ability to fight actual crap – you’ll just use that ability to fight actual crap instead of fake crap that’s all self-imposed.

(All of these easier said than done, of course. I can’t claim to have totally gotten #4, I’ve barely started #5. And becoming able to do #2 was really hard – but I was also at the point of exploding, so, y’know… you pick the way to mess up your brain that’s less awful.)

So what happened this week is that for a whole week I did well and didn’t punch myself in the face (because I didn’t have time to stop doing well and punish myself for it). That is all that happened – but it’s a small change that makes a big, big difference. 
I may not be able to do it all the time, but at least I have done it once now. This means that the rewiring that I did two weeks ago walking around the soccer field did work, did help. That’s good! It did soak in!

I wonder how much I’m going to get to keep. That’s why I’m running these thoughts through my head as intensively as possible as I sit on the plane. In a few hours I get off the plane in Manila and I’m going to be a child again. (With the probably exception of two sections of a few brief hours where I’ll get to hang out with Fedora Ambassadors and Sugar Labs folks – looking forward to that.) It’s not a bad thing, just a different thing – but I need to be aware what habits I turn back on and what habits I don’t.  Every time I go home to my family, it’s interesting to see how much of the “grown-up-ness” stays with me – it’s more and more each time – and how that changes various dynamics. You see how much some choices cost – and you’re sometimes pleasantly surprised at how little others do.

When I can stay the same no matter where I am or who I’m with, I’ll stop feeling torn. If you stand between two worlds as a bridge, it’s tough if it feels like they’re stretched far apart, or moving in opposite directions, and you’re being ripped and stretched out farther than you can go. But if you see them not as two things that are apart, but rather two things that are coming together, it… changes. Doesn’t make it any easier to do, in terms of effort needed or pain felt. But it does make it easier.

I’m looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to getting to know people as the person I am now, and not as anybody else. It’s been a good week, and it’s going to be a good weekend (needing to dress up for Willison’s wedding notwithstanding) and it’s going to be good times. And I can handle whatever comes up. Yeah.

Yeah.

Reading this post again makes the 1.5 weeks since that day seem… like… a good lesson for me to learn from on the kind of life I want to live, let’s put it that way. Posting this for my future self, then letting my brain run out some more. It’s only 2:30am.


This year’s Thanksgiving feast


My brother is the orchestrator of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. My assignments this year:

  • “that soup again” – my butternut squash soup with roasted red pepper and ancho chile cream; after several years of cooking this repeatedly by request, I’ve finally gotten bored and started experimenting, so we’ll see what it’s like with sweet Filipino sausage (longanisa) instead of spicy Italian, with some apple for tartness.
  • “some salad thing” – I’m lazy, so that’s probably going to end up as a fruit (probably pear) and cheese (probably bleu) one.
  • “vegetables” – I have recently discovered kale, so I’m going to do some sort of green-beans-and-kale thing instead of the normal ol’ green bean casserole. And we already have the squash in soup form.
  • “dessert” – triple chocolate pumpkin pie, because you can never have enough dark chocolate in your life.
  • and then providing assistance with the Turducken as needed.

Honestly, I’m not sure what anyone else is cooking, because that seems like a fairly complete dinner to me right there, but… hey, for food, I’m completely willing to be the sucker who most of the work; I like cooking, and it’s been a long time since I really rolled up my sleeves and made good stuff. The last time was perhaps this summer, at my aunt’s house, on the day of multiple elaborate layered casseroles and souffles, which was magnificent.