Thanksgiving

I had set myself to write an article debunking the myth of Thanksgiving this year, but I deleted it as a gift to the memory of my grandmother Dorothy. Dorothy, from Kansas. Here is a link to the Thanksgiving article I wrote about her and my hometown in 2006. It has been updated to reflect a much larger portion of my memories about Leoti itself, along with a couple more images I’ve stumbled on along the way to 2019 from 2006.

RAnt(hony)-ings

There have been Thanksgivings to remember since I wrote that article. I remember one year in particular where we had the entire family/library room of the house full of friends. We watched movies all the rest of that day, we even let someone watch football in another room while we watched movies, a rarity in this house. That was a good year. Most years it’s a bit of turkey and/or ham with some dressing. Pecan pie is a must, especially one made by my mother-in-law. Forget pumpkin pie, that I can do without. I do miss Grandma Dorothy’s cherry pies. Those were without comparison.


It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders – Chef Samin Nosrat, Plus Dan Pashman Vs. The Thanksgiving Industrial Complex – November 29, 2019

I refused to eat corn on the cob when it was presented to me this year. The first time that I’ve ever just not eaten food that was presented to me to taste on Thanksgiving. I hate corn on the cob, like I hate most foods that get between my teeth. So I sympathize with Dan Pashman on the subject of there being a Thanksgiving Industrial Complex. Pie. Thanksgiving is about pie. Pie, and stuffing with gravy. I haven’t found a holiday meat that I’m fond of yet. Could salmon be the holiday meat? Stay tuned.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

I’m going to have to give her show on Netflix a chance to convince me that I can cook. But I’m betting even she can’t achieve that herculean task. Threadgill’s Thanksgiving. Don’t knock it till you try it.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains (2019)

(No, it’s not that kind of movie)

Jacob Anders ReviewsVirgin Cheerleaders in Chains – Nov 13, 2019

This is how you do a movie review. The film he is reviewing is the one that I felt I had to write a Movie Rating for Dummies post for just to help the entertainment challenged understand that if you sat through the entire movie, it’s probably at least a three star experience. This guy gets it, and he understands how to mix praise with criticism.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains is better than three stars, as Jacob Anders does a much better job of explaining than I can. He’s nicer to the movie than I was, and he doesn’t have to sleep next to the producer of the film knowing she could kill him in his sleep if he trashes her movie.

Which I wouldn’t do to this movie anyway because it is hands down the best made movie she’s worked on. The credit goes to the writer, the director, the cast and crew, all of whom would never have found each other without the producer, the woman I sleep next to. So she gets credit too, even if she isn’t one of the named credits in the movie. The editing job is superb, the acting is excellent, the script won awards. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

I’m simply not a person who watches horror films and enjoys them. I’m still haunted by The Ring after watching it more than a decade ago. I laughed at and was traumatized by Scream when it came out. Halloween still gives me goosebumps, and I’m a certified John Carpenter fan. Don’t ask my opinion on horror films if you want more out of me than it’s not my kind of movie. I’m more at home with dry, intense dramas than I am with action and horror.

This movie scared me, too. So if you like scary movies, go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

RAnt(hony)-ings

OK Boomer

Population keeps on breeding
Nation bleeding, still more feeding economy
Life is funny, sky is sunny
Bees make honey, who needs money, monopoly
I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you

Ten Years After

I ran across the retort OK Boomer in a podcast once. I’ve since forgotten which one it was. I’d never heard it applied to anyone until Jim confessed to his cardinal sin on Facebook. It fits perfectly. Sadly, it fits all too well when describing our current state of affairs and the despicable hand-waving that the I’ve got mine, get yours set engages in almost daily. Hand-waving designed to deflect any attachment of fault to their ill-gotten gains. I’ve done the best that I can to make the world a better place over my lifetime, and that time ain’t over yet. It ain’t over for the Boomers as a group, either. All they have to do is stand up and be the best people they can be, rather than allow the narcissists and their defenders to be the voice of their generation. If we leave it up to the millennials to fix our shit, we deserve to be disrespected with the phrase OK Boomer.

Ten Years After – I’d Love to Change the World

You want respect from the next generation? Well, then you should have left the planet in better shape than you found it. Simple as that. And we didn’t.

Stonekettle Station

I, of course, was accosted with OK Boomer as a response to this. Too bad I’m not a Boomer.

Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z Explained

Generational cohorts are defined (loosely) by birth year as the article goes into in depth. One might think that because my birth year is before 1964 that I would be considered a boomer. The Wife, who was born a few months after me, identifies as a boomer. I’m not a Boomer in any sense of the term other than birth year. I am Generation X. Solidly Generation X.

How is that? Like so many things boomers (and other average humans) believe, generational cohorts is just another thing that they have wrong, if they think that what makes up a generation is absolutely defined by the year of birth. The reason why you can’t set years and dates to separate generations is because the influences that make up the generation vary from household to household and from town to farm to city. I was the child of parents born after the start of World War II. My parents were born during the war, making them both too young to be boomers but too old to be counted as part of the Greatest Generation. I was the elder of a large family, all younger than me, so their influences were largely my influences.

The Wife was the only child of parents who fought in World War II. Her parents were of the Greatest Generation. She is a Boomer in every sense of the word, in every way the Boomer cohort is measured. Her parents stayed married, my parents divorced. Etcetera, etc, etc. You can go down the list. Everything aside from year of birth makes me a member of Generation X. I really don’t like Boomers, aside from the Wife and other RL friends. Too many self-important assholes in that group.

…aside from which, I own an electric car, I compost and recycle, and I’ve been recycling since the 70’s. I’m poor and I admit it. The OK Boomer retort does not apply to me. But thanks for thinking of me anyway.

Ratings Systems

For my own sanity, I feel that I need to say something about ratings systems and how to rate entertainment fairly. Specifically, rating movies fairly, although the descriptions for the basis of giving a particular rating can be broadly applied to more than just movies. But it’s movies that I’m going to be talking about here.

Full disclosure. The Wife’s latest film project has just been released. It is the fourteenth film she’s worked on, the second that she has produced. The title of the film is Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. No, it is not that kind of movie. It is a horror-comedy with strong female leads, a reasonably well-known director and a reasonably well-known leading actor. I give the film a solid eight out of ten stars on IMDB, four out of five everywhere else.

Why did I give it this rating? There is a logic to it that most people should recognize. First off, I liked the film. When I got to the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, and I didn’t feel like I had been sitting there for too long. If you look on Netflix you can see that logic reflected in their star rating system. For those who don’t have a Netflix account, I’ll go through the generic descriptions using my own language.

One star – I hated it. A one star rating goes on films that you can not even sit through, or that if you do sit through it is simply to grasp the full extent of the filmmakers crimes so that you can testify to them later. If your eyes aren’t bleeding after fifteen minutes of viewing, the movie is probably not a one star experience.

Two stars – I didn’t like it. I made it to the end and for whatever reason, the movie didn’t make me feel the way I expected to feel at the end. This is not to be confused with feeling sad when the film is a sad film (See Schindler’s List) paranoid when the film induces paranoia (see the Matrix) Or angry when the film wants you to be angry (pick any work by Michael Moore) If you need happy endings, stick to solid hollywood releases. They are the movie creators that will feel compelled to leave you with a happy ending.

Three stars – It was OK. There was no particular reason why I couldn’t watch the entire film. It didn’t feel too long, it worked the way I think the creators wanted it to work, but it didn’t make me want to recommend it strongly. Most films are going to rate a solid three stars because most films are made by people who want the average moviegoer to feel like they weren’t wasting their time watching the movie.

Four stars – I liked it. The movie spoke to me in a way that was unique to the movie. A four star movie is one you can remember, and you can remember it fondly. A movie you might even watch again with a friend so that they can experience it too. This is perhaps the most unambiguous rating because most people know when they like something. Either they do or they don’t, there isn’t any uncertainty about it.

Five stars – I loved it. The film is near-perfect in execution. The soundtrack adds to the film, the cinematography is beyond reproach, the subject matter is something that people will relate to in later generations. You feel compelled to tell people to watch the movie, because it is just that good. For me, it’s hard to rate a movie five stars that I don’t feel was a singular experience. Few movies will rate five stars in my estimation. The vast majority of them simply do not measure up to that high standard, not even films made by a lifetime companion who could kill me in my sleep if she wanted to.

For a ten star system like IMDB, you double the star rating you would give it on a five star system, with some added granularity. Five instead of six stars because I really did feel like the movie lost me somewhere. Seven instead of eight stars because there were some technical flaws that I just can’t get past (see the duplicate droid scene in the original Star Wars) nine instead of ten stars because you don’t think the film will be that timeless, but it was damn good all the same.

You don’t, for example, give a film a one star rating and then offer a wishy-washy description of why the film was so bad that you felt like you had to gouge your eyes out rather than watch it. Either you hated it, and you can describe why, or you are trashing the film because the mood struck you and you went for it. Or you are simply an idiot that doesn’t understand what the correct star rating for the movie you just watched was. For those of you who made it to the end of this short guide, you can now be excused from the class of idiot that doesn’t understand what the star ratings mean. You are welcome.

I’m just sorry that I wasn’t in time to save the idiots that gave Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains a one star rating and then said I thought it was meh. Meh is three stars, moron.


I half-jokingly tell people that it’s kind of autobiographical. I had written a script called Creature From Blood Canal, which was an entry and official selection at the NoLa film festival screenplay competition, and that’s where I met [director Paulo Biscaia Filho]. Now Creature was a $100 million script, and I couldn’t get anyone to read it, and Hollywood wouldn’t read it, so basically that’s the same thing that Shane says in Virgin Cheerleaders.

Gary Ganaway in the Austin Chronicle the author of Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains.

Web Hosting? What’s That?

When I transferred the blog to WordPress I promised to write a guide to creating your blog on WordPress, or at least describe how I transferred the blog from Google’s Blogger service to a self-hosted installation of WordPress. Well, the guide to how this might be done really has to start with getting your own site up and running, not with the process of getting 10+ years of Blogger blog entries to appear in WordPress. WordPress is hands down one of the best ways to get your writing in front of people who want to read it, but WordPress is just the front end of a process that starts with deciding on a web host.

So, starting from the beginning, the question is should you self-host or should you pay someone to host your site? You can self-host your own website, we did that for years on a Dell PC that we had bought for me to do CAD on. We slapped a second NIC card in it and it was the router/web host for the family until it died a few years back. When we set that system up we had programmers who worked for Dell wandering in and out of the house on a pretty regular basis. It was a simple thing to get one of them to set up a Linux shell on the old CAD system, load Apache on it, do their programming magic, and presto we had a webhost. A black box that I never did manage to figure out how not to break, so I left it alone aside from editing my homepage. I had a static page on ranthonysteele.com that I paid for for years and years for no good reason other than that I figured I needed a website. I was a technologist, a CAD evangelist, and I was quite full of confidence in my unique abilities back when the internet was young and I was certain that the best times in life were still ahead of me.

But this article isn’t about how poor health can ambush and destroy the best laid plans of men. Anyone who doubts this is true should read up on the life of Alexander the Great. The greatest conqueror on the face of the Earth then or now, who was rudely interrupted in the middle of his conquest of Asia with a sudden illness and subsequent painful death. My life plans were much less grandiose than that, and don’t involve the enslavement of entire regions of the planet, and I’m not dead (at least not yet) so I’ve been diverted and not canceled, at least. But being here writing about how to get blogging software to work on a site you run yourself was not where I wanted to be eighteen years down the road. And I’m still not up to that, or up to recommending that you self-host even the most basic site on today’s internet.

I never got the hang of programming. I never found any joy in it. I just wanted to be able to program a website without having to do all the work involved in writing all the code for myself on top of all of the CAD work that I was already engaged in at the time. I knew I hated writing code from the few times that I tested/edited/wrote lisp scripts for AutoCAD. Luckily we had some real programmers on staff at one of the architecture offices I worked for, so most of my work with scripts was testing and not writing. But I did enough of it that I knew that the fiddly, nitpicking work of making sure that every character in the code was absolutely perfect was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So the static page remained static for years on end, while I relied on Blogger to keep doing their Blogger thing as a few years turned into ten and then into fifteen.

The Wife on the other hand needed to maintain her professional presence in the digital world. She had to create and maintain websites through all of the really early years of the world wide web, websites for many different versions of her own professional abilities (effects, actor, producer, unlicensed broadcast engineer, etc)  and eventually she wound up maintaining websites for many different people. When she first started using her current web host she set up a demonstration account to show me what we could do with blogging software. I thought it was interesting but maintaining my own website looked too much like programming to me. Besides, I had a history on Blogger and I didn’t want to lose it.

…And then Blogger started to show the effects of Google not seeing blogging as one of its money-making features. The exploitation of programming holes the long unpatched bugs in the web interface not to mention the released and never updated mobile app. So when I turned to her with my Blogger is losing my drafts problem, she threw together another website for me on her hosting service using my old ranthonysteele.com URL, and I was in business for myself. At least to all external observers, I was flying on my own.

Except, I still didn’t understand one damn thing about what it was I was doing. I’m still not a programmer. Learning the in’s and out’s of maintaining a website is much harder than my experience with learning architecture was. Learning how to build something is as simple as wandering through a construction site and asking questions over and over. This is something I’ve done since the town doctor bought property across the street from my family in Leoti, Kansas, and proceeded to have a house built there. I was six or seven years old then, and construction was this weird miracle process that I experienced first hand through each stage as I wandered that construction site on a daily basis.

A small U.S. town in the 70’s was such a wonderful place and time to grow up, from that perspective. No one cared that a child, or a group of children, wandered onto construction sites. They’d even answer questions if you asked nice, before shoeing you away so they could get back to work. I cut my architectural teeth that way, on dozens of construction sites. Wandering into construction wherever I stumbled across it, fascinated by the simple act of creation that was involved in them. Wandering around in finished buildings and then going places that aren’t finished for public occupancy so that I could see how all the pieces went together to form the seamless facade that is what the public sees.

Programming is invisible, like the structure hidden behind the finish in your home. Programming is best when you never notice it. If you notice the programming, it is like noticing that whoever taped and floated the wallboard for your office wall wasn’t very good at their job. You have to know where to look in order to find the programs that run everything on the web. Right click on any window in your browser, for example, and pick view page source. You’ll get a nearly incomprehensible page of text characters as a result. Incomprehensible, if you are a layman.

If you work with HTML for awhile, something you will have had to do if you’ve written anything for the web and cared about how it looked, the text that is displayed becomes more comprehensible. You can seperate commands <text> from the rest of the content on the page simply by recognizing the characters that denote a command. If you’ve been working around websites for years like I have, you become convinced you know more about the subject of putting stuff on the internet than you actually do. Until you have to do the work to get it there, and there is no one willing to talk to you about it.

So if you find yourself in the predicament I’m describing, trying to figure out how to get stuff to show up on the internet, this guide is for you. Welcome. Let’s learn stuff together, eh? The first thing you want to decide is where to host your website. That’s your first job. 

Most cheapskates will be tempted to host their own website. My advice is don’t. Don’t do it unless you are a programmer and you have enough cash to pay for all of the hardware you will need (and if you are that person, you won’t be reading this in the first place) That is my best advice right there. If you aren’t a programmer then hosting your own website is ultimately only going to create another digital zombie that can be used to attack other websites, or it will serve as a ransom target. A liability that will cost you more than the hosting fees will cost you. So don’t be John Podesta. Be smart, like Hillary Clinton. What, Hillary Clinton isn’t smart? She didn’t get caught, did she? I rest my case. Hire people to do the stuff you don’t know how to do, and pay them well to do it. You’ll thank me for that advice, if you follow it.

You also don’t want to necessarily go with the cheapest web host. Do you want the cheapest doctor you can find, or the one that knows enough to help you and not hurt you? There are several websites that can help with this task, selecting a web host. Who is hosting this? is one of those sites. Look around to see what the people in your line of work are doing. See what other comparable web hosts are offering and for what price. Go with someone who can help you in a crisis, not just someone who has the cheapest price. You can even buy space from a web host so you can act as a web host. This is what the Wife is doing, she’s just not making any money off of me when she does it.

So you have your web host selected? Good.

A web host provides the software you will be using to create your website. Everything to do with computers requires software, but the internet is everywhere and in everything these days, so it is easy to forget that there is code behind all this interconnectivity that we enjoy today. Your web host will have software it utilizes, and that software is most likely going to be Apache. As an open source evangelist, I wouldn’t suggest you run anything else on your web servers.

ASF 20th Anniversary – Mar 26, 2019

Cpanel is the most common graphical user interface for Apache once you get beyond the command line; and frankly, why use the command line if you don’t have to? Cpanel is short for Control Panel. If I have to tell you what a Control Panel is then you haven’t been doing this long enough. Take some basic computer classes, or just pay SquareSpace for their services. They’ll happily hold your hand, given how much you will be paying them. If you don’t have the money for Squarespace (it isn’t cheap) and can manage without their very useful 24/7 helpline, but still want to be using a super simple interface, there is Wix.com and Weebly.com. Squarespace isn’t paying me a dime to recommend them, therefore I’ll go the distance and give you a few more options.

Going hand in hand with Cpanel is WHM, the WebHost Manager (this will be important in the next section) Their user documentation is here and here. If your web host uses Apache they are most likely going to be using Cpanel and WHM as the control panel and manager for the hosting service. Once you have signed up with a web host you are now dabbling in web hosting, at least vicariously. WHM is your best friend when managing a web host. You should probably get to know your new best friend better.

CPanel – Softaculous

If your site is new on the web hosting service, it is a pretty simple thing to just pick the software you want to use from the software list that your web host should offer (softaculous on our web host) WordPress is very likely to be one of them. Install that software and start playing around. You’ll break things a few times, but that’s great. You want to break things when you are learning new stuff. Use the installer to uninstall, and start over. Have fun! If your site is a new site with a new web host then congratulations, you’re done. If you are like me, borrowing space on someone else’s hosting site, then you are only getting started. Read on for the dreaded WHM and the effective separation of your shit from their shit.

Uncomfortable Conversation

All conversations are uncomfortable for me. I think this is why I don’t find most comedy sketches funny. The comic part of the sketch is nearly always somebody getting something wrong, and then the awkwardness of maneuvering around that misunderstanding. Like the dog turd in the middle of the living room floor that everyone is too afraid to mention. This sketch structure is basically every single episode of Three’s Company, a show I was forced to watch with the family, all of whom found it uproariously funny. There were other shows back in the day, back when entertainment was three broadcast channels or a trip to the library. Any number of situation comedies that weren’t funny because they made fun of awkwardness directly, and so I didn’t watch them. Between Two Ferns is the latest awkward thing that isn’t funny to me. Not funny because that is every single conversation I’ve ever been a part of, for my entire life.

Not until The Big Bang Theory did I find a show that was both awkward and humorous, mostly because it made fun of normal people (represented in the person of Penny) people who just can’t grasp the truly geeky nature of the wonder of science. Every episode of the show is immensely funny for me. The geekier the better. Awkward is what Leonard Hofstadter is all the time, and it works. It gives me hope as well as makes me laugh.

The Good Place – Another example of a smart, funny sitcom.

The one exception to this situation, the one time conversation isn’t awkward for me, is when I’m talking alone with the Wife. I know she will be straight with me, and I with her. I don’t have to wonder about what is the right thing to say? I just say what is on my mind, and she does the same thing. No other conversations are absent the discomfort of awkwardness. How can something that is always present be funny? I wonder how many comics are tormented by this, only worse? Having to do the same schtick over and over and you hate it? I’m just being me, and it isn’t funny being me. It’s just being me.

The Between Two Ferns movie is out now. I will be as far away from that movie as I can get from this point onward. I hope that Zach Galifianakis makes a boatload of money from the movie so that he can finally stop doing the shtick and find something else to do that he really enjoys.

News Addiction

If you are depressed stop wallowing in the outrage culture. Think happy thoughts, you’ll feel better.

That was the gist of the suggestion offered to a friend who posted the image featured in yesterday’s article Depression. As if depression is something you can turn off, like a switch. It isn’t like that.

I do follow the news closely these days, as does my friend. I was a news hound for decades before Meniere’s took my joie de vivre. I was active in the Travis County Libertarian Party, taking a hands-on role in as much local politics as I could handle while still holding down a full-time architecture job. I listened to news and radio talk shows constantly while working on whatever architecture project was in front of me that day so as to keep informed of whatever the current trends were. It was crucial to know what was happening if you wanted to have a hand in changing it. I switched to podcasts for my news well before most other people even knew that podcasts existed. I read newspapers and news sites. I immersed myself in the political realities of Austin, of Texas, of the United States, and did my best to be the positive change that I thought the world needed. Just as every good citizen of the world should do.

But then I got sick, and I didn’t get better. I didn’t have a livelihood any longer and I couldn’t look forward to finding one again, probably ever. The constant stream of information about what was going on in the world became a distraction from what it was that I needed to deal with. The barrage of things that I couldn’t change externally just drove home how helpless I was to even be able to alter what was happening in my own body.

That was what was important. Figuring out what was wrong with me. Finding ways to cope with the new reality of my disabilities. I didn’t have time to spend on informing myself about things that weren’t directly impacting my health until I found a way to stabilize my own internal situation.

So I quit the news.

I quit listening in 2006-ish. I just quit, cold turkey. I’m not saying that I didn’t know what was happening in the world, I simply quit seeking out that information. There is no way to stay completely uninformed (a perfect idiot) so long as there are people who tell you things they think you want to hear. But I put science, medical and skeptical podcasts at the top of my queue starting at about that time and stopped even listening to news feeds that didn’t include other information that I might personally find useful.

I only started back listening to the news directly, for news content, when all the hatred for Barack Obama made me decide to find out what all the fuss was about. That was when I realized that the news culture had split into two camps that couldn’t even agree on basic facts. While I hadn’t been paying attention, FOX had lead conservatives and Republicans down a dark alley that lead to a thousand foot cliff and then expected all those lemmings following them to walk off the cliff in blind subservience.

In determining what the facts were I came to realize just how poor my understanding of the world was prior to that point, and just how poorly the average American, the average human, understands anything that isn’t forced into their stream of consciousness. I stopped seeing Rachel Maddow as someone who brought up questionable narratives about accepted truths and instead saw her as the accomplished storyteller that the current crop of news consumers clearly see her as today.

However, It’s going to take an American version of the Extinction Rebellion protests that have been taking place in London and New York to also take place in everytown, USA to wake the average FOX news watcher up to the requirement that we do something about climate change. I’m not even certain that anything short of re-education will make them understand just how scandalous their behavior and the behavior of their leaders are.

The Extinction Rebellion Returns | Jonathan Pie | 9 October 2019

But I remain hopeful, for the time being.

After all, the Wife was telling me “they won’t impeach Trump” just two weeks ago. Now Rachel Maddow has said it is a foregone conclusion that they will impeach him. I have to agree with Rachel. I don’t see any way for them to not impeach him given the crimes he has committed that we know of, to say nothing of the crimes we suspect him of but still don’t have the proof to convict him of. The sticking point remains the Senate and Trump’s co-conspirator, Moscow Mitch McConnell.

I’m reserving judgement until after the power hand-off that should occur in 2020-2021, impeachment or no impeachment. We’ll see just how bad things really are at that point. To draw this circular argument to a close and tie it in with the title, I quit listening to the news precisely because I felt that my health was suffering from spending so much time obsessing about what was going on in the world and what the proper solution to the problems were. I’m glad I stopped paying attention then. The solutions that I would have embraced back then are completely different than the ones I would embrace today. 180 degrees different.

So I improved my health by breaking the news addiction. I’ll break it again if I feel that following the news is negatively impacting my health. So long as the authoritarians that back the Orange Hate-Monkey lose power, I’m pretty sanguine with whatever else happens along with it. Which means, my depression isn’t based on my news consumption. But I do appreciate the suggestion.

Wildly expanded from Facebook comments.

Depression

Being depressed is the natural side effect of having a bystander to my own existence perspective on life. How can you take an active interest in something that you are merely a witness to? If that something is your own life? I don’t even know how to describe depression, as I experience it. It is a kind of a funk that clouds up every decision, making even basic self-care hard to achieve.

TEDxMet | October 2013 – Andrew Solomon – Depression, the secret we share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

Andrew Solomon

As Andrew Solomon points out at about the halfway mark in the TED talk above, depression isn’t something that one easily admits to having, even to the people you are closest to. It is perceived as weakness, and one never wants to be seen as weak by others.

But depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a signal of despair. A loss of hope. An individual’s response to external or internal conditions that are beyond the control of the individual. Depression is not the fault of the sufferer, but ending depression does require action on the part of the sufferer.

One thing about depression is that it makes it really difficult to access the parts of your life that are genuinely good. For some people, this takes the form of anhedonia–losing pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. Not necessarily completely or all of the things, but sometimes completely and all of the things. For some people, this can mean that watching their favorite show or playing their favorite game is suddenly not fun anymore. For some, it can mean that trying to socialize with their good friends feels like reading a really boring story and not being able to actually interact with the story in any way. For others, it can mean not perceiving food as tasty anymore.

brutereason

Losing my interest in almost everything I ever cared about seems to be a huge part of depression for me. The problem is that most of what I was interested in is now different in experience on the one hand (music is muffled or tinny because of hearing loss) or causes stress, bringing on vertigo (just thinking about CAD or Architecture) and so should be avoided. Even my love of creative writing is subject to this intermittent destroyer of hope. This article, for example. I started it five years ago and then abandoned it for no good reason. Why? I don’t want to talk about my depression, also something that Andrew Solomon points out.

For many people, depression causes a pervasive sense of disconnection from the world and from other people. When I’m having a depressive episode, I feel like I’m not part of anything, like I’m just one person and I don’t matter, like I could disappear and nothing would even change, etc. I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and everyone else. I feel like I can’t do “normal” things like laugh at a sitcom or make someone happy or fall in love. I feel like an alien sent here to try to learn how to act like a human being only I’m completely failing.

brutereason

I have always been disconnected from the world. I have always held myself apart from the crowd. I never wanted to fit in. I never wanted to join a group or a movement. I was like Greta Thunberg as a teenager, just not as motivated as she is. Had I been born in the last decade, with all this information at my fingertips, I’d like to think that I would have acted as she has. But I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d accept the findings of science on climate change, from the perspective that I now occupy, that of a skeptical rationalist and freethinker. But I could just as easily have been hoodwinked by the fakirs who ply the edges of society today looking to preserve their fossil fuel profits. Once you start shutting out legitimate sources of information, it is a short trip to fantasyland from there.

But because I never tried to fit in, never identified with a larger group aside from the work that I did for a living, being alone in the universe wasn’t something I was frightened of. Wasn’t something I could feel depression from perceiving. Being alone in the universe was the nature of existence for me. I am an alien sent here to try to fit in. Failure was a given, on many fronts.

When the Wife started to become disabled, though, that was a different story. I started to see how people (normal people) build up bulwarks of social interaction that kept them engaged with others. How losing the ability to interact with people on a daily basis was in itself enough to cause depression for some (most) people. I don’t pretend to understand this necessity of social bonding that most people feel. I just know that it is crucial for them, and that losing it is tantamount to becoming irrelevant to the world.

I’m truly am happy, generally, just sitting alone in my office typing away. I’m creating something. Hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to keep reading it. Perhaps that is my point of connection with the rest of humanity, through the written word. That makes sense. Reading has always made me feel more alive than anything else has through my long life. To create narratives for others to read? That is contributing to the social interactions that keep this crazy bus of human existence on the road. Writing is bigger than any one person, by its very nature.

So for me, the most helpful thing that someone can do is to help bring me back into connection with others. This is why I find venting mostly useless. When I’m venting, I’m still only talking about my depression, and while the person I’m venting to may be very kind and a very good listener, this isn’t something we can connect over, you know? It’s not the same as a two-sided conversation about difficulties we’ve dealt with in our lives. It’s totally one-sided. It’s just me, talking about the exact thing I need to learn how to stop ruminating over.

brutereason

Both the Wife and I seem to dig deeper holes these days, when the depression is talking. When two depressives argue.  When we met, I was Mister Sunshine. I had been depressed for most of my teenage years, the results of abuse and neglect, and a complete inability of existing social structures to deal with someone with my unique set of challenges. When I got out on my own, I had a plan of action. I knew what I was going to be doing with my life. I was going to be drawing architecture, creating a sense of permanence for other people through structures that were well designed and well documented. I was convinced that I could change the world, not be the sad person I had been when I was younger. I had a plan and I was going to make it happen.

Then I couldn’t do that anymore, and the guy with the plan suddenly didn’t have any plans anymore and also had no idea how to dig himself out of the hole that Meniere’s had put him in. Which is still the hole I’m in now.

The Wife might argue that the Mr. Sunshine image of myself that I painted above is bullshit, and she probably will argue about it (I predict that she will also have a valid point) But in our relationship I could at least pretend to be the Mr. Sunshine to her Little Rain Cloud, at least when she was in her depressive phase. A favor she would reciprocate for me when I would go depressive as well. We both had our cycles (as does everyone. Even you, dear reader) and I always had a plan to fall back on. Until I didn’t. Now we’re both depressed for large segments of time together, and that is a recipe for disaster. Disaster that we both have to actively work to avoid on a regular basis.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

LA Times, Ring Theory

What’s the Newsletter For?

From the beginning of the Web 2.0, back when I joined Myspace and then Twitter, and then I joined Facebook, I took the time to post podcasts and news articles to them and to various other social networks in hopes of sparking conversation, or at the very least spreading information. After a decade and more of making this effort, with little to show for it, I hit upon the idea of posting the Nuzzel newsletter that came free with my membership on Nuzzel to the various platforms I was participating on. Just posting the newsletter instead of copying and pasting whatever witty thing I wanted to pass along with the article. That gave me one thing to post to each network instead of dozens of duplicates every day.

Continue reading “What’s the Newsletter For?”

Abuse

Children these days don’t know what child abuse is.

That’s what she said. After having child protective services show up at her house because her child called them after a spanking. After attempting to send the child away with child protective services for their temerity at attempting to tell her how to raise her children. After the door of the narrative was closed in the face of intervention by others in her desire to raise her own children the way she wanted, she said “children these days don’t know what child abuse is.”

I wish that were true. I want that to be true.

I was beaten every day as a child. Through almost two years of school, I received daily licks for refusing to participate in class with the other children. Autism or dysgraphia, take your pick. My father used a belt on us at least weekly if not more often. My stepfather, offended at something or other I said, or perhaps outraged at my attempts to deflect his anger at my mother away from her, knocked me to the floor and kicked me in the stomach.

I know what child abuse is.

There is a quiet, calculating place in my mind. I know it well. It is where I go when I feel that the pressure outside myself is more than I can handle. I hide there while the tumult goes on around me. I go there when people talk about punishing children, talk as if children deserve punishment just for being children. When they talk about how guns aren’t a manifestation of physical violence solidified (they are) I went there while I was being beaten as a child. While I was on the living room floor being kicked in the stomach. While I was on the laundry room floor of my apartment building after being punched in the face by a neighbor. It is my hiding place.

In that place I contemplate revenge. I contemplate what justice would look like, if there were a thing called justice in the world. Would the children be given permission to beat their parents? Could you make neighbors who assault their wives and other people around them disappear, without having to face justice for your actions in making them disappear?

Gun owners statistically face justice for owning physical manifestations of violence since a significant portion of them will end up taking their own lives with their treasured possessions. But what about the victims who never know the peace of a wrong made right? Where is justice for them?

I tried never to exact corporal punishment on my children. I have tried never to physically lash out at anyone all my life. I cannot trust myself. There is too much rage in there for me to ever be capable of measured violence. My children begged for spankings, because a spanking would be easy and that would get the punishment over with in their minds. They had to come up with the punishment for their own transgressions. Frequently the punishments they devised were harsher than what the wife and I had agreed on as a proper punishment for whatever it was they did.

That is what children are, just like most people are. Harder on themselves than any outside observer has the right to believe based on the behavior in question. Only sociopaths and psychopaths (and other extremely mentally challenged types) lack those self-monitoring default behaviors. Adult supervision just means watching the children. It doesn’t mean you have to punish them.