Day 8: Sarcasm, and the better way

Buckle down, this one will be long.

Growing up as an only child, and without the influences of a wholesome family, I grew up thinking that all families were as dysfunctional as was portrayed on TV. It’s what sells, right? (I remember seeing a t-shirt celebrating it with the words “putting the ‘fun’ back in dysfunctional”). Bickering, backstabbing, and sarcasm were among the most frequent tools used to perpetuate chaos in family relationships. And so our entertainment media succeeded, intentionally or not, to instill in me a belief that families were all defective as a matter of course. Growing up by myself, and then moving to a different country as a child, helped to isolate me from experiences that contradicted that faulty belief.

The first challenge to my misconception happened in the dining room of a family that my teenage brain decided to visit. I had known them for many years but never had reason to go see them, and still didn’t, but I went anyway, and they were happy that I was there to play with their son (he had three sisters but no brothers). I can’t tell you how old I was, or what we did that day, but three things I witnessed were so shocking that I still have vivid memories of how I felt. The first was the father issuing strict orders to his rowdy children to settle down, which I had fully expected to be ignored with disdain. Instead, they complied happily. I was speechless, and stood there trying to understand what had happened. Such a minor thing in hindsight, but to me it was world-changing: it was the first sign that families do not, as a matter of course, do everything in their power to frustrate and diminish each other.

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Day 7: Self-Interest and Altruism

Suppose someone says that they like to do good things, even good things for others, because it makes them feel good. There are people who would try to twist that into self-interest and destroy the very concept of altruism. They would say that it is actually selfish to draw enjoyment from giving others pleasure, and that true altruism is to give without any benefit, including enjoyment.

This argument seems right superficially, so it took me many years to discover that it’s totally wrong. The key was in the challenge to turn the argument upside down: that self-interested altruism is the best way to be. Here’s the support for this simple counter-argument. What do you call someone who does not empathise with the sufferings of others? I believe this is one of the tell-tale symptoms of sociopathy. And what about someone who feels nothing for the happiness of others? Also a sociopath. It seems that a person who cannot feel through the experiences of others is socially, mentally, or emotionally abnormal, if not something worse. To expect someone to do “good deeds” without sharing in the joy is quite deranged.

So there you have it. Helping others and feeling joy in the act is not only OK, it’s the best possible state of interaction with humanity.

Day 6: Writing daily (or not)

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of topics that I’ve managed to write something about. I tend toward long, epic pieces that are full of content on a single topic (maybe I should have gone with a novel after all). For example, all my posts and emails from my travels tended toward the 2000 word mark and always focused on events and aspects of culture. Since I simply don’t have the time to invest in so much original content every day, I’ve been forced to come up with small bits of content that I can write quickly. It’s been a fun challenge and, I feel, beneficial for me.

But by now we can safely admit that even with my NaBloWriMo’s reduced requirements, writing every day is too often. This is fine. I took the challenge as far as I could. In marathons, budgets, agile software development, and new adventures you must constantly monitor and make adjustments as necessary, so I’ll readjust NaBloWriMo to be one #myartseries OR one post per day of November, maybe alternately.

I have a lineup of topics that I’ll write about in the coming days: Encouragement, Sarcasm (and the better way), Attitudes Toward Money, and Rediscovery. Hope you’re excited to read them! And also patient and OK with the possibility of me never actually writing them! Oh, the agony of uncertainty!

Day 5: Made a script to simplify my email

I often accumulate several hundred emails in my inbox at one time, most of them unread. The last time this happened, I had to go through over 400 emails to bring my inbox to 12 (not quite inbox zero, but in that moment at 2AM on a Friday morning, I felt it was close enough).

The largest chunk of those emails are promotions that are useful to me for a week or less, but less than worthless afterward. For example, Harris Teeter weekly deals or Express sales. I just spent about twenty minutes selecting all the old promotional stuff and deleting. The first batch of deletions was almost 150. Kinda boring and repetitive. Perfect for machines! So I looked up a way to automate it, and found this lifehacker article. I based my script on code linked in the article, but mine is better due to some simple optimization (looping through emails one-by-one? What is this, COMP101?).

Continue reading “Day 5: Made a script to simplify my email”

Day 4: Dancing

In my last days at college I was gathered with a few friends reflecting on the previous four years. As we went around telling our favorite memories, one friend said that he was most happy that he had taken the initiative to learn how to dance. Ever since, that very same thing has been one of my few regrets.

Years later, I offhandedly mention this regret to someone who knows someone who dances with a group on a regular basis. A few days later, BAM, I’m tearing up the dance floor. Well, maybe not quite. But I do now have a handful of friends who coerce me to the dance every week, and I am getting better. The best thing is that it’s actually fun. Well, eventually.

I find a very strange pattern in my attitude toward going dancing. In the days leading up to the dance, I am looking forward to it. Maybe it’s because I can see the hypothetical benefits without being forced to confront the unavoidable nuisances inherent in reaching the end of my striving. The few hours before, however, I am indeed forced; the opportunity costs associated with dancing for three hours is on my mind (Don’t I just want to go home after a hard day at work? What about that fun solitary thing you wanted to do by your lonesome, introverted self?). If I had not friends to whom I promised I’d go, I would have given up very often.

At the dance I go through another set of ups and downs. The first dance is a lot of fun. The second is not so fun; perhaps my perfectionism makes me frustrated that I still make too many mistakes (there’s no reasoning with perfectionism). By the third dance I’m fantasizing about running out the back door. After that, inexplicably but without fault, I feel better for the rest of the night. If someone can come up with a decent psychological reason for why my mood swings that way, please let me know.

I’m by no means an expert now, but I am learning. Actually, there’s no such thing as “expert at contra” in my mind; it’s a dance for partaking in and having fun, not for spectating. I’m looking forward to becoming better at moving my meaty appendages and maybe picking up a more exciting kind of dance in the future. Maybe swing?

Day 3: #myartseries

I have artsy friends who try to draw and post something new every day. (These  youngsters also got me on Instagram and Twitter despite my protests. I seem to remember the same thing happening when I was forced onto Facebook). Well, they’ve inspired me to try my hand at it. I have a certain appreciation of geometry that comes out in origami, and occasionally on sticky notes when I’m bored.

So I made two things and posted them on Instagram because they want to see. They are awful. I have a right to be awful. I just started. The third day I posted a pair of wax earplugs molded into the shape of a Swedish fish. It was lovely and random. Maybe next I’ll post pics of some random origami I have laying about. Maybe it will prevent my Insta-friends from thinking I am horrible at everything.

Day 2: Adult stress management

I have recently learned a new lesson in adulthood: how to deal with overwhelming stress. I have known a few people who couldn’t handle school, so they go home to their parents. Eventually, each got back on their feet and tried again. As an adult however things are a little different. Rent doesn’t stop. Your job doesn’t stop (unless you have a seasonal job, like in education). And dropping everything to recover might turn a bad situation into a total catastrophe. You’re left with a non-ideal solution: chug along as best you can without going mad. Might be a tall order.

So I found myself suddenly in that kind of situation. It was sink or swim: learn how to deal with it or suffer. With that kind of incentive, it might not surprise you that I actually succeeded in basically suppressing my stress response without substantially modifying my circumstances, but it did surprise me. About two weeks into this stressful period, I suddenly stopped feeling as stressed, even though nothing had changed. Perhaps it was a natural act of self-preservation, like passing out under extreme pain.

Well, the real lesson I’ve learned is that I can’t afford to burn out. I mean literally: I don’t have the money necessary to just chill for several months without working. So the best cure is actually fastidious prevention. Manage your psychological health regularly for any signs of stress. When it starts showing, make a plan for pulling back from the stressors. If you are too committed at work, have a direct talk with your boss about reducing your work load a bit (7 hours per day, for example) for a week, maybe two, for your health’s sake. If they’re worth anything, they’ll recognize your valid request. If you’re an introvert who’s suddenly found himself committed to too many social events, be direct with some of them and let them know that you need some space to recover. If your friends care about you, they’ll be happy to see you in one or two weeks’ time. If you are feeling the stress of money, find a cheap way to relax (perhaps Netflix or Hulu or that small pile of books that you’ve collected but have yet to even crack open), and don’t go doing crazy things with risk like sky diving or taking a long road trip. I guess those are some recovery strategies for introverts. Extroverts are completely irrational, so I don’t know how to help. Go find more friends or whatever relaxes you, you weirdo.

Hooray for NaBloWriMo!