Fault

Is it the fault of the struggling individual to ask for help?

Or is it the fault of the peers, onlookers, and bystanders who either ignored the struggle or never acted?

Your answers to these questions might show you more than you think.

Regret

It is a curious thing viewing one’s life through the lens of retrospect. I begin to see decisions that I’ve made and the patterns that make up the habits and myths that once served me well. The twin realizations of mistakes made and the implication of failures left unresolved is enough to overwhelm most anyone. I don’t claim to be anything but ordinary, and I am not immune to the sting of a demon that haunts us all. I hold so much hate for it that I perish the thought of naming it. It’s name is a word that holds pain and self-inflicted misery. That word is “regret”.

It’s not often that I find the time or the ability to indulge in it. It’s a debilitating luxury that many of us fall prey to, and too few of us have the ability to resist. It’s a siren song disguised as simple remembrance. Once it takes hold, it becomes a hypnotic force of attraction, pulling its victim into the jagged shores of misery and self-loathing. People can become marooned on those relentless shores, unable or unaware that the most expedient means of escape is acceptance. It becomes all-encompassing until despair and misery come calling close behind.

I greet despair and misery as one might greet a worthy opponent, with a level of respect and full knowledge of the depth of their ability. They once held me prisoner in a place where the murky waters of depression and hopelessness met, holding my head below the icy, inky blackness. It’s all-encompassing and I know it’s song and it’s acrid stench well enough to recall.

It wasn’t until I shed all pretense of false dignity and implied failure that I was finally able to ask for help. When I did, I found many hands extended in my direction. Some of great strength and breadth, others of a smaller and more focused nature. Each in their own way pulled me out and embraced me, granting me a modicum of their strength and sight beyond my limited vision. What I found I did not like, and what I did not like
I abandoned or destroyed utterly.

Realization of infinite empowerment in the twin realms of manifestation and destruction; that is what was granted to me. In so doing, I have forced the proverbial mirror to turn inward upon itself. The questions that have nipped at my heels as though they were possessed of Cerberus himself once again vie for my attention. “What do I desire”, “what constitutes a ‘well-lived life’”, “will any of this mean anything after I’m gone”, “will anyone remember me”–endlessly, these questions encircle and ensorcel me, enervating me. Were these questions merely inquiries that held neither the weight of guilt nor pain of disappointment, I would consider myself lucky. Imbued with wicked weight and impossible idealism, they are the perfect foil.

I wrestle with my thoughts, unable to rest, unable to breathe deeply. I steal glimpses on occasion; of a life lived more fully, with no sense of pretense, less worry, and no doubts about the path upon which I have tread or the path that calls out in yearning for the press of my stride and the strength of my spirit. Phantoms and echoes pervade my senses as I continue to struggle, the ebon ichor still clinging to my limbs and burning my lungs. Painful reminders of what was and what could have been.

In the bright light of hope and the truth of the eyes granted clarity through retrospect, it fades. I am able to see and sense that the path is not merely singular, one of “destiny”, but one of infinite breadth; the North Star of that wondrous expanse shining brighter still as recognition lays its full force upon me. As my spirits lift, it brightens. It is I, it is my will that points the way. In this knowledge, I am empowered.

I struggle on.

Social Media Redux

I did something this morning I haven’t done in a few weeks: I absently scrolled through a social media feed and internally-catalogued my response to each piece of “information”.  I recognized what privacy advocates and anti-social-media pundits have been crowing about for years: these platforms are means of surveillance, manipulation, and profit at their users’ emotional and personal expense.

It’s not a secret that my political and social views heavily skew toward liberal or socialist points (almost comically so).  The 2016 elections gave me a significant number of things to think about and helped me to see the deeper workings and changes that are afoot in the “discourse” that we participate in online.

  • Continued violence in response to ostensibly political and social problems.
  • Posturing from individuals and groups whose egos and worldviews are being challenged.
  • Continual cries for help un-helpfully issued as cryptic “come at me bro”
  • Pageantry and pomp for things that won’t matter in an hour.
  • Primping in lieu of actualsubstantial change in people’s lives (I tend to call this the “Duck Lips Phenomenon” or the “Photo Filter Fallacy”).
  • Feigned moral outrage over “issues” (that are more often non-issues).
  • Rapid degredation of discussion in the public sphere.

Seeing stories and posts like these didn’t ostensibly do anything positive for me.  All this media did was further entrench my firmly-held beliefs and did absolutely nothing to challenge my worldview in any meaningful way.  I felt more frustrated and enervated after only a few minutes.

What’s worse about the entire situation is that there isn’t any kind of real discourse–it’s an assault on the senses and sensibilities.  Media has to work harder than ever in this overcrowded age of clickbait, sensationalism, and shock-value stories to obtain That Which Generates Profit: our attention.  Our “likes”, our “Retweets” and “Shares”.

What this points out to me specifically is that social media isn’t very social.  As a matter of fact, it’s exacerbating a disturbing trend of tribalism and othering that we haven’t seen since the first half of the twentieth century.  It’s probably more apt to say that social media isn’t socially responsible instead.

There are no moderators.  There are no gatekeepers.  There are no standards of decorum.  Methods of debate, introspection, retrospection, and critical thinking have been shelved in education and our personal lives.  This lack has led us to conclusions that have little or no basis in reality and whose frames of reference skew from blatantly fascist to remorseless, algorithmic technocracy.  In short:

We’ve lost what it means to empathize and be genuine.

The technology that enables this dangerous trend of dehumanization also has the ability to enable us to be more humane.  But the structure of the applications, our discourse both online and off, and our educational systems have failed us.  We may be more connected than ever, but we’re more connected to our factions than the union we were born into.

We can change this trend if we choose to.  We just have to make ourseleves and others conscious of the fact that there are real people on the other side of the screen.

Who is it for?

That jacket you just bought.

Those shoes you just got.

The photos you’re taking.

The posts you’re writing.

The words you’re using.

The furniture you’re having delivered.

If your answers don’t begin and end with “me”, “myself”, or “I”, then it begs the question: who is it really for?  Are you spending money to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even know or like, and then subsequently being forced to spend more time in a job that you probably would be better off without?

More to the point: how many hours of your life were spent in the pursuit of someone else’s goals to pay for that?  How many hours will you never be able to get back as a result of that purchase?  How much longer will you have to delay doing that thing that you wanted to do to pay that back?

For all of our sakes, I hope that purchase was worth it.

“Social” Media

If it wasn’t clear before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, it should be abundantly clear to any onlooker now:

Companies like Facebook make a profit by tracking your behavior online, quantifying it through ruthless algorithms and questionable business decisions, and working to sell you (in quantified data) to another company to target directly for advertising and “news”.

Let me absolutely clear about this point: they are not selling “data”, they are selling you.  Every click, every search, every page view, every integration on every single popular site you visit, every sign-in or “create account” action taken via Facebook’s identity management (the ever-present “Sign in using your Facebook account”) – all of these build an incredibly detailed profile of your behavior.  Facebook, its advertising customers, and other “research” companies (like Cambridge Analytica) know more about you than you consciously know about yourself.

If the above points aren’t presenting a clear enough picture, let’s make it absolutely explicit: companies like Facebook make a profit by knowing you better than you know yourself.  Companies like this build incredibly detailed profiles of who you are with information that McCarthy-era intelligence agencies and rogue/vigilante actors would have killed to get a hold of.

If these violations of privacy don’t bother someone, then there’s nothing more to discuss with that person.  It’s likely someone with such a lax attitude on surveillance of this scope and scale not only doesn’t care, but is likely complicit or an active accomplice to the increasing overreach of the broader surveillance apparatus.  “Nothing to hide” only matters when what individuals aren’t hiding remains legal, free from scrutiny, or above challenge.

Personally, when the apparatus invariably turns its attention and barbaric ministrations on those very same people, all they’ll get from me is a cold shoulder and an “I warned you”.

Different

Things have been markedly different the last few weeks.  Besides the weather being all over the place, there’s been a significant amount of tumult.  Winter injuries, relationship changes, seasonal depression, social and political news taking their toll – you name it, it’s happened.

The weather finally broke a bit this last week.  A near-tolerable weekend day at about 50 degrees gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: an oil change on a vehicle I own.  I’d always thought about doing it and dreamed about it, but had never gotten the gumption up to do it.  Got a bunch of tools, got a friend’s help, and got to work.  Never thought it’d be that easy.  No reason to go to a shop for something so simple anymore.  Grabbed a digital rotor measurement caliper, too.  Just need to find the appropriately-sized floor jack and stands and I can start doing my own brakes and rotors too.  Amazing what you can do with a little bit of information off the internet and some warmer temperatures.

Still not ready to talk about the project publicly.  Got a long way to go before it’s ready for prime-time, but I think the wait will be worth it.  Stay tuned.

Injuries this year were an absolute nightmare.  Tweaked both knees at least twice while snowboarding, and I’m fairly sure I’ve damaged the meniscus as well.  Need to get an ultrasound and a physical soon anyway, so I suppose that’s not that big of a deal.  I’ve definitely had to slow down on my training plans though.

Speaking of that specific point, I’ve had to grow into a different mindset as of late.  Since I don’t have anybody to climb indoor sport with where I live, I’ve circled back around to bouldering.  It’s kind of nice to be able to come into the local gym and climb at my own pace again and really work on sequencing, strength, and form.  I’ve missed a lot of it.  But the largest problem has been the fact that I’ve been unable to ramp right back up to the level I was at before I left for Portland, OR earlier this year.  I was climbing indoors at around 5.11+/V5+, and having been out of the gym for almost two-and-a-half months, I’m only really back at a V2/V3 level.  It could also be the change in gyms and the huge change in setting, but I’m definitely not able to climb what I was before.

I’ve had to begin growing into a kind of mindset of realism and acceptance.  I’ve had to accept that I’m not as strong as I was, I’m just as strong as I am right this second.  I’ve had to accept the reality that I only have conscious control of a very small number of things.  I can’t control when a hold is terrible, when a foot is greasy, or when my skin decides to rip–I can only control my reactions to them (and maybe brush the holds off a bit).  I have had to accept that I have injuries, and it’s perfectly fine that I can’t squat what I used to squat, climb what I used to climb, or lift what I used to lift.  I can only put in the effort, and I just have to be happy and okay with that.  All of this has been hard for me to merely be okay with, much less accept.  But, it’s getting better by degrees.

I’ve also largely been taking time away from social media.  I’ve gotten tired of the click-bait shenanigans and partisan shouting matches on both sides.  I’m tired of constantly being deluged with negativity and people screaming at each other.  I’ve gotten to the point to where if I don’t know somebody personally, I’m much less likely to invest emotionally in their story or to try and understand their point of view.  That might sound like I’m closing myself off, but I have to be able to have the energy to be able to give a damn about myself and my situation ahead of anyone else’s.  Especially when I’m still fighting PTSD and depression symptoms every day.

Been tempted to shut it all off.  LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, all of it.  Just close it all down and just focus on the relationships and friendships right in front of me.  I figure most of the people that aren’t reaching out to me directly via email, text message, or responding to this blog directly really aren’t interested anyway… so what’s the point of letting someone else make money off of my data and wasting my time clicking “Like”?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Maybe I’ll do it.  Who knows.

Transitions

The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and change.  Haven’t been able to really spend time on writing anything as a direct result, but at least it hasn’t been boring.

First, I finally have a new vehicle.  I’m not divulging what vehicle I have publicly yet – just suffice to say that it’s another project.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate: talking about your goals and projects rather than just chiseling, hammering, and grinding away at them saps the energy out of it and gives room for haters and naysayers to throw static your way.

Best advice?  Ignore them.  Stop broadcasting it.  Get to it.

I’ll talk about the project.  Eventually.

I’ve been winding-down my participation in group and individual therapy in Boston.  It’s become prohibitively expensive and now that I’m living an hour North (in New Hampshire), it’s become even more difficult to ensure there’s ample room in my life for it.  I’ve gotten a lot of out of the process and out of interacting with other people going through the process, but I think it’s time I break away and integrate what I’ve learned and see the difference that the last few years of therapy have made.

Re-adusting to life in a new place has given me a plethora of challenges.  Loneliness and isolation are two of the hardest, but I’ve been working to improve the situation lately.  Met a few new people, been spending more time snowboarding, splitboard touring, and I plan on spending time this season doing a lot more outdoor bouldering.  I’ll probably be dialing back how much indoor leading I do since I don’t have a steady climbing partner in New Hampshire yet, but I want to make sure I stay strong in that respect.  Guess we’ll have to see how things shake out.

Spent time this weekend snowboarding and splitboard touring as well.  Took Friday off, spent time at Killington, VT getting laps in on steep trails and discovered that I’m actually a lot better at navigating steep terrain than I originally thought.  Saturday was spent at Gulf of Slides getting some time in on the ski trail there, which was glorious.  I’d never ridden a trail like that and had such an amazing experience doing so.  I’m stoked to do more of that next season.  Spent Sunday up at Sunapee with a coworker and his friend getting some high-speed groomer runs in and working on getting more comfortable going over low rollers and short knuckles.  I’m actually getting air now and I’m way more confident than I was last season, which is a huge win in my book.  After having dislocated two ribs a few seasons ago and having the psychological fear of injury hanging around in the back of my mind, I’m happy that I’m making progress again.

Going to also work on getting rid of my Facebook account (again).  Recent revelations around data obtained by a Brexit- and Trump-aligned company called Cambridge Analytica have underlined the need for me to make sure that I’m more diligent in what I participate in and share online.  The fact that someone is able to create such detailed profiles by mere inference based on information gathered from adjacent individuals’ social media information should scare anyone that cares about privacy and surveillance.

Reading a lot of books lately and keeping myself informed and entertained through that.  Dropped out of playing video games and scrolling through social media aimlessly.  It’s hard to not fall into old habits, but hopefully things will continue to change in a meaningful way as time goes on.