Feeling Frustrated

Yesterday was unreasonably distressing.  My life is fine, I have no serious complaints, however, like a lot of comfortable people, I’ll invent problems where none exist.  As you may know, I still plan on volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for a year.  The earliest I could fly out is [redacted], and there’s plenty to accomplish between now and then, while working full-time of course.

  1. CompTIA A+ Certification
  2. CompTIA Network+ Certification
  3. Out of Debt
  4. Attain B2 Spanish proficiency
  5. Fundraise $10,000
  6. Logistics (Visa, Immunizations, Flight, etc)

Paying off approximately $70,000 of student loan debt within 4.5 years is a big deal.  Learning a foreign language well enough to have operational fluency (B2) is a big deal.  The IT certifications aren’t that serious, but the tests cost a few hundred dollars and I need them to be more useful while volunteering.  I’ve been told it costs about $10,000 to support myself in La Paz for a year, so I’ll need to come up with that somehow.  Each one of these steps is its own mountain, and I have to climb them all (while praying that no unforeseen expenses set me back) concurrently.

All this was weighing on my mind last night as I limped into the climbing gym.  Bouldering while suffering from minor nerve pain in my back was a disappointing experience.  Spoiler alert: 3 ibuprofen isn’t enough.  It was one painful frustrating failure after another.  In front of highly capable witnesses.  Eventually I left.

But the plan is the plan and the schedule is the schedule.  I will continue striving since I really want to help the needy.  If it doesn’t work out, that’s ok, I’ll just get started on my real life a bit sooner.  But I’m going to try.  Assuming I don’t go crazy from all this self-imposed stress in the meantime, we’ll see what happens.

Feeling Frustrated

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Once upon a time, while bouldering, I saw a tattoo.  It was a large block of text on his right forearm, so I asked what it was about.  He told me it was a section from a book.  When I asked the obvious follow-up question, I heard that this youngish guy had a page from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tattooed on his body forever.  That was the most potent book recommendation I have ever received, I had to find a copy and read it, if only to validate that climber’s life choices.

“I never trust people with no appetite. It’s like they’re always holding something back on you.”

Many months later, I borrowed the book from the library.  I just finished reading the story tonight, and it was strange.  I read a fair bit, so I have encountered strange literature before.  I wasn’t offended or repelled by its oddness, but it bears repeating that this novel was more than a little bit weird.

“You got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.”

I find it difficult to describe, and I fear that I would degrade the story if I gave you any hint as to its meaning.  However, if you, like me, find the fact that someone would have an entire forearm covered in words from this story for the rest of their natural life to be a compelling reason to read the novel that impacted them so strongly, then by all means, go for it.

“Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Who Will Eat My Cereal When I Die?

My father’s mother’s cousin’s husband died last week.  I had met him several times over the years, but didn’t know him well.  He was a good guy.  The funeral was held in Baltimore.  He served in the military so there was an honor guard and a flag ceremony to commemorate his valor.  My grandmother happened to be in town, she helped with some of the arrangements.

After the funeral, she came to stay with us for the next three weeks.  She’s finally retired, but she needs to get back to Buffalo, NY to plan a party, and the closet isn’t going to paint itself.  As usual, she hauled an entire cooler full of food to fill our fridge with fruit, corn, steak sandwiches, lunchmeat, and everything else that could fit.  Instead of letting Denise throw away Charles’ breakfast food, she brought the Raisin Bran Crunch to my parent’s house.

I’m typing this at 9:12am and I just ate a dead man’s cereal.

I mixed it with some Kashi shredded wheat (for extra health) and realized that my dad purchased that box, and he’s a future dead person.  In fact, aren’t we all?  Which got me wondering: Who will eat my cereal when I die?

I don’t plan on getting married or having a family, so there won’t be anyone too close to empty my pantry.  I assume my parents will be gone before my time comes, maybe not, but I think that’s how they’d prefer it, so they won’t eat my leftover cereal.  My sister will probably still be alive, she might even be married.  Perhaps her kids would finish off Uncle Geoffrey’s old Froot Loops.

Then again, it’s always possible no one would eat my cereal when I die.  A masked man might throw everything into a huge trash bag and send it to the landfill.  My cereal might feed rats or ants instead of my loved ones.

Whoever eats my cereal after I have no further use for it, I hope they enjoy it.  I hope it starts their day well, and gives them the energy to carry on.

Who Will Eat My Cereal When I Die?

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is the most compelling narrative nonfiction I have encountered.  She spent years researching in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, and the results are stirring.  The story is one of real life, not unbridled success.  Some people do well, others die.  Some people are unlawfully detained and beaten, others aren’t.

I plan on volunteering in another year, and I would most like to do so in India.  Since I think of myself as something of a writer, I figured I would write about my experience.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the book I hoped to write.  It did exactly what I wanted to do: tell honest stories that help people empathize, not pity.

As every slumdweller knew, there were three main ways out of poverty: finding an entrepreneurial niche, as the Husains had found in garbage; politics and corruption, in which Asha placed her hopes; and education.

Pity is a complicated sentiment.  Some measure of sympathy might lead to individuals taking action to help alleviate another’s plight.  Too much pity devalues the subject.  They become helpless victims, defined only by what they lack, reliant upon a White Savior to cure their poverty.  I can’t stand that viewpoint.

In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when they turn on the water tap or flick the light switch.  In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers.

Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating.

I was inspired by what I read.  No one works harder than the impoverished slumdwellers depicted in the text.  India’s poor work as hard as they can to survive.  America’s poor rely on governmental safety nets in their (brief) times of need.  I am not arguing against welfare programs, but this illustrates a profound difference in their personal responsibility.  Most Annawadi residents were entrepreneurs, and effectively, small business owners.  They understood market value, competition, governmental policies, and economics better than some Western business students.  They sold scrap metal, mitigated disagreements, cleaned bathrooms, and hustled hard to provide food and shelter for their families.

It was a great book, I am very glad I finally got a chance to read it.  Katherine Boo’s journalistic experience and tireless research made Behind the Beautiful Forevers a unique story, full of truth and life.

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

What Should I Do with My Life?

The question isn’t “What do I want to be when I grow up?” it’s What should I do with my life?  Where do I fit?  What am I here to do, specifically?  I have studied several potential vocations, from minister and graphic designer to microfinance and teaching, but I haven’t found my answer yet.

So the relevant question is not what you will do, but who you will become.  What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life?…It takes a while to learn who we are, and for our latent talents to emerge.

I have a natural talent and disposition for administrative work.  My current position involves a lot of paperwork processing and number typing in a claustrophobic back-office.  It’s great.  It’s what I’m good at.  After years of struggling through customer service jobs, it feels nice to do something well.

Three guys laying bricks are asked why they’re doing it.  The first guy says, “I’m doing it for the wages.”  The second guy says, “I’m doing it to support my family.”  The third guy says, “I’m helping to build a cathedral.”

While I am suited for administrative work, my interest lies in building.  I have given this some thought, most of my interests have building and improving as common denominators.  I like writing and editing because I can construct a piece and then make it better.  I want to build a project car.  Something about the step-by-step process of bringing a machine back to life and seeing my vision take form appeals to me.  I might get involved in nonprofit management for the same reasons; to use my administrative abilities to build an organization and improve other’s lives.  I even have some interest in construction and renovation, literally building and improving.

Dream -> Lockbox -> Fuck You money -> Lockbox -> Dream

That cold, calculated formula.  Rarer than I ever imagined…Don’t put your dreams in lockboxes, and don’t invest years of your life in a day job for the wad you expect to have at the end.

I can’t adequately pursue all of my interests, there aren’t enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank.  I have to narrow it down.  Seeing that my various desires share some fundamental characteristics helps me focus.  I can’t build a project car right now because I have to get out of debt, buy a house with a garage, and get a job that pays well enough to afford it first.  However, I can write and edit.  Someday I could volunteer and work for a nonprofit.  Because they share some foundational aspects, I can get similar fulfillment from a combination of my interests.  My drive to build and improve outweighs the specifics.

There is no conclusion, I am still trying to answer this question for myself.  I have a long list of things I don’t want to do.  I have a short list of things I want to do more of.  Hopefully I’ll have an answer in another few years.  I want to contribute in a meaningful way, but I am not yet certain how.

The Brilliant Masses are composed of nothing less than the many great people of our generation, the bright, the talented, the intelligent, the resourceful, and the creative–far too many of whom are operating at quarter-speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization, still feeling like observers, all feeling like they haven’t come close to living up to their potential…Being guided by the heart is almost never something an intellectually motivated person chooses to do.  It’s something that happens to them–usually something painful.

(Inspiration and quotes for this post are from What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson.  I highly recommend it.)

What Should I Do with My Life?

Humpty Desktop

I have wanted to build a computer for a long time.  I researched build specifications and determined my minimum acceptable benchmarks.  It’s not going to be a gaming computer, I haven’t played video games in years, so my plan isn’t too demanding.  The build has to be lean, mean, and clean.

Unfortunately, I have no funds for such frivolities.  My five year old MacBook Pro works just fine, so I don’t need another computer.  I’m living in the guest room, so I don’t even have a desk to put it on.  I wanted to build a computer, but I was unable to do so.  Like all deferred dreams, I pushed it from my mind and filed the spreadsheets for future reference.

On Wednesday, I asked the IT department at work if they had any old computers I could take off their hands.  On Friday, I walked out with a Dell Optiplex 330, keyboard, and mouse.  My Dad borrowed a monitor from his job, so I had everything I needed.

Last night, I successfully installed Lubuntu after several failed attempts at making a bootable USB drive.  Everything worked, we were in business.

This morning, I completely disassembled the tower, down to the bare metal.  I popped the side panel off, removed the DVD drive, 80gb hard drive,  processor, heat sink, CPU fan, power supply, RAM, internal speaker, and mother board.  All I needed were two screwdrivers.  It was much easier than I thought it would be and this computer was from 2008, I’m sure current designs are even simpler.

DSCN1076

After basking in my victory, I put it all back together.  Getting the board into place was the most tedious step.  I bent some metal, scraped the side of the board, and nearly cracked it.  Eventually, I tried dropping it in the correct way, and it took about ten seconds.  Several screws and SATA connections later, I closed the case.

DSCN1078

I threw it back on top of the cedar chest and plugged in all the peripherals.  It started with no problems.  So far as I can tell, everything still works.

DSCN1079

I’m not entirely certain what I’ll do with it, since I achieved my goals for that box within 24 hours.  It’s in the basement now, next to my books, ready to stay or go.

Humpty Desktop

At Least No One Died

I may have accidentally committed a crime while driving to work today.  I rounded a blind turn in the rain and saw a school bus with its yellow lights on.  I slowed down, looked around, and carried on.  As I reached the front of the bus, its red lights illuminated.  So I hit the brakes, but by that point, I was already halfway down the side of the bus.

If I had just driven through the yellow lights, I would have cleared the area before the driver switched on the red stop lights, and everything would be fine.  If I had needlessly stopped for the yellow lights, I may have ended up in a crash because of the rain.  If I hadn’t taken the safe and responsible course of action (to slow down for the yellow flashing lights), I wouldn’t have to worry about the camera recording my alleged violation (for passing a stopped school bus).  I really don’t know what I should have done differently.  Just bad timing I guess.

So we’ll find out if I get a $250 fine in the mail.

At Least No One Died