Monday, August 27, 2012

The "Tell Me Everything You Know" Notebook?

Another boring post on studying practices you probably don't care about, but which I'll write anyway since it entertains me. Er, tough luck on your recreational reading.

But for fellow nerds who will read on, I think I may have figured out a potential solution to my "sporadic" learning problem. As mentioned previously, one of my conundrums in reinitiating a stronger learning lifestyle, including studying, is that, since I'm no longer in school anymore, I'll have to construct different and original methodologies to suit the kind of lifestyle I lead, as I no longer have full, unabated days to sit with a book and study it from cover to cover. Aside from the time that I do have to do traditional book study, I'll need methods for studying in the car (via talking), thinking while doing physical labor, memorization techniques while listening, and so on. In other words, in order to continue learning as much as I can I need methods to adopt to any situation, regardless of the materials I have available.

Passing over the other psychological obstacles I faced, the primary one that bothered me was feedback. How can I sustain motivation to do this work if I'm learning hodge-podge? In contrast a traditional study routine can be thoroughly documented and have evidence of progress, whereas doing sporadic things such as reading an article online or doing vocabulary exercises can be forgotten unless one works harder to memorize or call attention to it. I don't want to have a day which engages all these intensive methodologies only to become demotivated by it at night by having vague memory of what I've done.

I think I've come up with a solution. Lisa VanDamme of the VanDamme academy, I recall, once wrote of a particular learning technique called "Tell Me Everything You Know." (That isn't the original writing I learned of it from, so my memory of the origins may be inaccurate.) She was concerned with how some children were giving vague answers when asked what they learned in school today, such as "about the Pyramids," so she devised this method which moves the students to be exhaustive about what they've learned, such as to say exactly what about the pyramids. It seems to be an excellent review and memorization technique that also hones understanding.

So, to keep up motivation for a more unorganized learning style, what if I required myself to write down "everything I know" before I go to bed? I won't literally write everything I know, but rather all the important things I learned from the day and be as detailed as possible. It would include culinary techniques, mathematical methods, the reason behind a particular procedure, vocabulary exercises I did, or even just thoughts that I have, such as on epistemology, politics, or something new I tasted. I would have to have an arbitrary cut-off point in my writing unless I am to go on forever, but it would summon back to mind all the mentally important aspects of the day and give me a chance to strengthen my memory, flesh it out further, hone my understanding, and so on. It would be good training for more precise thinking, and also increase my attention during daily learning to make sure I have details for night writing.

I like this idea because it's relaxed and rigorous at the same time. Relaxed in that the writing is just a sort of brain dump that I need not reference ever again, and yet rigorous in that I need to be exhaustive, detailed, precise, and organized in my writing. Best of all, it's a very relaxed way to measure my intellectual progress since I'll be able to see how my mind is growing (or slacking) on a daily basis while at the same time not being a pain-in-the-butt measuring technique. It would be interesting, spontaneous, entertaining, and just enjoyable.

Furthermore, I also like it since its importance lies in the method, not in making it referenciable. More and more am I understanding that authentic learning lies in proper method and intense concentration, so I'm trying to get myself to fret less over making my writing referenciable or searchable, because if my style is going to be so varied then making my writing able to be referenced will be an enormous pain.

Starting tonight I will begin this practice before bed, and see how well it integrates into a nightly routine.    

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Fantasy I Have About Cloning

A random musing about a particular set of daydreaming I do. I forgot how it started, but I continuously have this one particular fantasy which often brings me giggling amusement.

It has to do with cloning. It goes like this: Take any person you dislike and clone them several times over -- by magical means, I guess; you need not imagine the actual cloning process, just take for granted that the clones are there -- and then make the original person you dislike deal with the clones as part of regular routine. The most important things are that the clones have the same mind functions, making them identical in character to the original, and, to add the comedy, the clones are totally and perpetually oblivious to their own behavioral patterns, even if they witness it in the other clones or are spoken to about it.

Why is this funny to me? Well, if you dislike a person to a certain intensity about their vices, then the hilarity comes from playing out in your head watching the original see his vices played out before him, and even better yet to suffer from them firsthand!

The most frustrating thing about dealing with an irrational person whose characteristics impinge upon your comfort is that they can often and almost always be evasive that their irrationalities actually exist, regardless of how well you do to prove it to them. I've actually seen a person throw a loud yelling tantrum about an issue they were making themselves suffer over and blame me about it, and in fewer than five minutes later they calm down and pretend nothing ever happen, and are even practically in denial that it happened. Worse yet, they do it regularly. You can't get more evasive than that.

But what if they had a clone that threw a yelling tantrum at them and then also evaded it? If magic existed, would there be any more just punishment?

It puts a smile on my face since the most irrational of people are the least likely to look themselves in the mirror honestly. When they do face the unsightly issues about themselves, such as caving into emotional whims, they either get really worked up and evasive, or, most enjoyable, quiet, humble, and guilty.

That's what I like in this fantasy. You take all the attributes that grate you about a particular person and force them to look in the mirror about it by experiencing it first-hand via a clone with those same traits, who is so oblivious to it themselves that nothing stops them from indulging in that behavior. Have a person in your life who irrationally takes their rage out on you and then evades that fact? Witness their payback by experiencing that same rage unabated by a living mirror.

And yes, upping the number of clones ups the funny, for me. Have a loose cannon boss who mistreats his workers? Imagine a dozen of him, all at work at once, all clustered into a group, going off on each other and instilling chaos. 

Just a daydream, but a fun one at that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Judging People is Hard. How to Make it Less So.

I'll come out of the gate stating that this is a subject I have especially strong feelings about. One of the dominant themes in my thinking is how to treat people objectively and judge them properly, as the vast majority of the misery in my life has come from dealing with horrendous and toxic people who poisoned my life, such as by me not identifying their bad nature timely enough, not condemning them properly, and so on. To avoid ever going through such years of hell again I frequently think about the nature of relationships and ways of treating people, even if I am predominantly a loner.

As can already be ascertained, I am not an advocate of "Judge not lest ye be judged," but rather "Judge and prepare to be judged." Judging people is important, because if you don't do it how can you keep bad people out and good people in? To so much as know who's good and who's bad requires an act of judgement, and to keep relationships healthy you need to know how to judge people righteously and act accordingly.

Undelightfully, however, the majority of the people I've dealt with in my life have been, in practice, advocates of the former quoted slogan. These last few years of my life have been heavily directed at getting some severely, irredeemably frustrating people out of my life that have made me unhappy for years, and to my immense disappointment I received an incredible amount of opposition to my decision, which forced me to cut out swaths more people out of my life because the specific individuals they wanted me to associate with were simply too miserable to deal with to be worth having all those other people in my life. The root of their particular errors were simple evasions: They didn't want to face the facts as they were, and often ignored my stated position and/or distorted it. Though, upon thinking -- though this doesn't excuse their evasion -- I realize there are certain complexities in relationships that make it hard to judge people, which can make it frustrating for a particular person to convince others of his particular estimate to other people who are merely outsiders looking in.

While the major problem in my own conflicts has been evasions from other people, I realize that being an outsider looking at relationships from the sidelines can make it extremely difficult to see what the person dealing with it first-hand sees, so sometimes the person dealing with it first-hand can unfortunately appear unreasonable with his estimate, even though he has access to a lot more evidence than the outsider.

As I advocate being judgmental of people, I more strongly advocate being just, giving estimates that fit the evidence to the best of one's thinking ability. Sometimes that can even include withholding judgment when there isn't enough evidence to draw a conclusion, but it never means refusing to judge.

Simply put, to be able to accurately judge the nature of a particular individual takes both time and a variety of contexts to be able to see multiple facets of their character, to be able to form a proper estimate. The process of judging is always fallible, but to avoid the most serious pitfalls, avoid being hasty and forming judgments in limited scenarios.

This may not be exhaustive, as it's off the top of my head, but here's a list of factors I think everyone should keep in mind when trying to form accurate judgments about people:

1.) Time: Seeing the various facets of a person's character takes time. It depends on how you deal with that person as to how much time is needed. If the person is only your coworker that you deal with a half-hour a day, then it might only take a few days to begin forming an accurate judgment on how this person is as your coworker. If they're your family member, however, whom you have to deal with for days each week by default of being genetically related to them, then that same process, since the judgment involves making a much deeper conclusion, can take months or years.

The short of it is: take your time. I've seen far too many mistakes made by people who hastily form estimates of people after having dealt with them for a day or even mere minutes, only to be severely disappointed later on.

For instance, I once rented a room from an alcoholic landlord who forced other people, especially her tenants, to deal with her irresponsible medical emergencies. Two of the tenants that I dealt with during my stay there both came into the home thinking very highly of the woman after having dealt with her for a week or so. One guy even questioned my negative estimate of her to me after about a week, as he couldn't see how I bore such a horrendous opinion of her.

Sure enough, however, after approximately a month both tenants were absolutely disgusted with the landlord. The one tenant who, while buzzed with alcohol, called our landlord "a wonderful woman," almost punched her when she got drunk and woke us up in the middle of the night by screaming. The other guy who questioned my negative opinion and stated he was happily willing to take care of her during her medical emergencies, since he was a guy with a "big heart," moved without telling her or paying the money he owed, and tore up his contract as a visible display of disgust.

It didn't take months and months to see the true nature of the landlord, it's just that these guys formed their estimates way too quickly, which led them to inevitable disappointment when they saw the other aggravating features of our landlord revealed over the weeks, such as how she nags people she hardly knows, interrupts conversations, obnoxiously relays her opinions while refusing to acknowledge others, forces other people to take care of her diabetes, and so on.

In another case, while I worked as a park ranger in Michigan, I noticed my boss had formed a positive estimate of a person who delivered a cake for a party the team was having. She had only spoke with the person for five minutes or fewer, and concluded from that interaction that they were a nice person, purely from the delivered cake and introductory mannerisms.

For my boss it didn't end up in disappointment since she didn't deal with the person any further than that, but mentally it made internal eye roll because I knew that person far more intimately, and knew from hours of experience that they were not nice. They were manipulative, a pathological liar, frequently push their opinions, resorted to yelling often, threw tantrums and then pretended it never happened, and so on. Judging from the fuller spectrum of behaviors I've observed, I know this person is far from nice. They only appear so when they want to make a good appearance and gain the approval of someone. Five minutes of interaction is WAY insufficient for determining how a person really is, except to be able to form an initial first impression. Although it didn't harm my boss' emotional well-being, this example does show how forming an estimate too quickly can lead to wildly inaccurate conclusions.

Take home point: Take your time when judging people! Distinguish between an estimate that's only a first impression, a deeper analysis of the person's being, a conclusion of their ultimate nature, and so on.

2.) Context and location: Or, in other words, the situations and scenarios in which you deal with a particular person. No one ever acts the same in every setting, regardless of the people available, the factors present, the actions they're performing, and so on. And obviously, a person will act differently in public in front of everyone than they will in private with one other person behind closed doors.

For me, this has probably been one of the biggest agitating factors in trying to relay an estimate of a particular person to someone else. I'll deal with the person one-on-one for hours behind closed doors, in absolute privacy, while the other person only deals with them for far less time out in public and out in the open, and only there. I observe far more of a different type of evidence that the other person does, because anyone will act considerably different in private where they're most comfortable displaying traits they wouldn't in public, but the person I'm trying to relay the estimate to will be incredulous because they can't get over what they observe in dealing with this person in public. Despite my ability to prove an individual is atrociously intrusive and temperamental in private, one-on-one interactions, the other person will cling to their estimate that the person is "nice" because, of course, that's all they see trait-wise when they deal with the person in restaurants, stores, etc.

Here might be a good time to consider that in forming judgments about people it can be a good idea to take other people's estimate into consideration, as they might be able to provide evidence and examples to you that you would be otherwise unable to experience yourself. For instance -- to leap to an extreme example for quick clarity -- a person who is absolutely kind to you in person, always, may prove to be unforgivably evil if another person reveals to you that they were a molestation victim of this person, and that he continues traumatizing people today. You might never suffer such an act from him, but that added context from another person ought to factor into the conclusion you draw about that molester.   

Here is also a good time to emphasize that all the factors on this list interact and cannot be isolated. For proof, I was once sent a letter by a complete and absolute stranger who gently encouraged me to resume relations with a terrible person I cut out of my life, for this person had spent many hours chatting and socializing with that other person in public, and held them in good regard. As noted above, taking time is important to forming proper judgments . . . but on this item we realize context is too. The writer had spent lots of time in dealing with the person I refused to, but in both a drastically different and unvaried context that they were continuously exposed to only certain portions of this person's character, which led to a drastically different estimate and, of course, their inability to see how I could justify deploring them.

The person that I had cut off in question I had dealt with for years, in a vast variety of situations and locations, for vast hours at time, both in public group settings and one-on-one privacy, and had been continuously exposed to astoundingly negative traits that I observed to be inexcusably stressful and, most important, constant throughout my years of dealing with them, which is why I refused to deal with them. I've experienced for years a ton of negatives that far outweighed any and all positives, and had more than enough time to conclude that this is a constant in this person's character, i.e. a part of their nature they regularly display, and refused to deal with them accordingly because I had enough time and evidence to conclude that future relations will be just as miserable, if not more so. This letter writer, however, was both unaware of these factors and probably never experienced them since they dealt with the person in public, so they saw an entirely different picture. Again, while it may not have resulted in grief for this particular person later on, it does show how a limited context can lead to wildly inaccurate conclusions. At the very least, this inaccurate conclusion would interfere with my willingness to befriend the letter-writer, as they're encouraging me to deal with someone who is damaging to my happiness.

In addition to time, realize that people act differently dependent upon the location, the other people they're dealing with, the scenarios, and so on. To use the coworker example above, dealing with the coworker for only a half-hour a day may give you only enough evidence of how they are as a coworker, because they're likely to only act in particular ways as your coworker, and in vastly different ways in their home life, at a store, in a group of people they don't know, etc.

3.) Relationship: Or in other words, exactly how you're connected to this person. A person will treat differently a perfect stranger than a family member they've known all their life, and still differently a family member they've just met at a reunion, and so on. How people relate to each other shows a whole other spectrum of behavior, reaching far broader than genetic relations versus voluntary associations. Here this item ought to emphasize that we should pay attention to how people treat others, not just ourselves.

A particularly frustrating example I have is all the bullies I had to deal with at my last job at a pizzeria. There offers some pretty poignant examples, as it shows how almost randomly selective people can be.

One particular bully I had was once my friend, when one day he randomly turned to perpetual anger to me, and bullied me from then on. I had not interfered with his well-being in the least nor spoken in derogatory terms behind his back, so the reason for his anger is extremely unclear, but his behavior was certainly unjustifiable. He glared at me, gave me the silent treatment, intentionally wasted my time during work, stood in my path when I was trying to clean a floor, and even once threw dishes at me. I had done nothing whatsoever to deserve those behaviors, yet suffered them. While once my friend, I came to hate him with a deep fury.

The let-down aspect of this is that most everyone else either had a decent enough relationship with him, or even thought fondly of him, which hurt me since those people were supposedly my friend too. After observing him over a period of months on multiple days, I came to understand that he was selectively bullying me, and only me in that workplace, for no explicit reason. Yet, despite being aware of this, most everyone else continued associating with him on positive grounds while being aware of his gross injustice towards me.

What this shows is how seemingly random any single person can be in how he treats others. He might be just and good to one, and randomly unjust to another for no clear reason. A high estimate you hold of one person could easily be impacted by observing him being unreasonably cruel to another, so we ought to pay attention to how one person treats *others* outside of oneself, to again broaden the context of evidence one has to pass an accurate judgment.

In my workplace example, my other coworkers, to be righteous and respectful to our friendship, should have taking to condemning him or severing relations, as they knew what he did was totally out of line, so it was a betrayal to our friendship to continue being friends with me while passively observing him outright bully me, even display violent gestures at me. To judge my previous friendships there in return, my attachment to those people is greatly lessened or even eliminated by the fact that they would allow their "friend" to inflict so much stress and misery on me while being his friend as well. It's simply not right.

4.) Psychological pressure: Here's probably the most unique and confusing one, which is largely a derivation of the time aspect. What I mean by "psychological pressure" is how one's emotional reactions change -- by intensifying, weakening, going from positive to negative, etc. -- depending on not only how much time one has spent dealing with another, but also how one has been subjected to another person's behavior patterns in repetition. 

To people observing relationships from the outside looking in, this must be the most confusing: It's easy to fail to comprehend or emphasize with a strong emotion a person may feel towards another, because they might view, say, a behavioral pattern a few times or even just once, and try drawing their conclusions from that. To speak of the negative, people are all too easy to err on failing to understand why a certain behavioral pattern would enrage you, even if they've experienced it themselves. The answer is easy: There is a total psychological different in reacting to a negative behavioral pattern once, and reacting to it again after the 200th time.

Let's use a weird example to clarify. Imagine someone taps you on the shoulder dozens of times, intentionally trying to annoy you, and always refusing to cease after you acknowledge and ask them to stop. You would obviously and justly get very upset, even severely angry, after being subjected to dozens of instants of this behavior pattern, which continues and continues despite your calls for cessation. One tap on the shoulder would be polite and sufficient to get one's attention, and really very few people would get upset at that, but dozens and dozens in a row? Of course anyone would get angry!

But also imagine that an outsider walks in on you and that tapper just as the final tap sends your temper over the edge, and you begin yelling at the person and pushing away for him to stop. In your context, you're totally justified: He's clearly trying to antagonize you on purpose, deserves no politeness due to his persistence, and even deserves physical force (the pushing away) since he continues despite your vocal pleading, but to the person who just came in it could easily look like the person tapped you on the shoulder once and that you're the one being irrational and aggressive. It's not true, but it's all the outsider can see.

So this applies everywhere else. It can be very confusing to understand why a particular person might become outrageously disgusted at a particular person's mannerisms, such as eating loudly, when you haven't dealt with that specific person as long as the other one has. You may have experienced the loud eating on but one occasion; they could have been observing it for years

Even if you do have patience as solid as a rock, there's always the possibly of subjecting it to enough water to erode it away. What doesn't annoy you but once may enrage you after the 24th incident.

The number of times we're subjected to particular patterns and trends certainly does have a big impact on our emotions, and can drastically change our estimate of a person over time if they continue. You might be completely tolerant and patient in dealing with a person's irrational temper the first time around, but after two years and dozens of incidents later it may build up to enough stress -- enough psychological pressure -- that it may become grounds for never speaking to the person again.

Aside from emphasizing the effect time has on relationships, this also emphasizes context. When you're an outsider, you're not going to witness the same amount of evidence of a person's character if you only deal with them as a coworker in comparison to someone who lives with them. That can make it very hard to fathom why a person might experience certain emotions, either positive or negative, because you may not have experienced a fraction of the consistent patterns and trends the other person has. A woman you hardly know who mainly attracts your indifference might have a love-sick suitor at her hand who spends far more hours with her than you, while a guy you consider yourself good friends with could be making his roommate vomit from the stress of living with him. Time both changes and intensifies or weakens emotions.

This factor has probably been my personal number one obstacle in trying to convince other people to consider adopting an estimate of a particular person. They simply don't see the amount of evidence that I've seen, or how it changes perception after being subjected to it repeatedly. The letter writer above who encouraged me to deal with a person I disassociated from probably had only known the person for a series of months, whereas I've dealt with the person for nearly two decades and consequently knew and experienced far, far, far more than that writer ever would. Additionally, in trying to relay a negative estimate to another about a person I lived with, it was far too easy for them to encourage me to brush it off and just tolerate it when their relationship with the person was severely delimited while I was subjected to the negative behaviors nearly 24/7 across multiple years. Dealing with a person's irrationality for hours a day over years is definitely going to be interpreted differently from the perspective of a person who may only observe it for fifteen minutes a week or less.

In short, if you find yourself finding it difficult to understand why a person might feel such strong emotions about another, consider the difference in time you spend with them: As the number of experiences from which the emotion stems multiply, so does the emotion's intensity and endurance.

* * * * *

There might be, if not certainly, be more factors relevant in trying to accurately judge a person, but here's a list of things to keep in mind, which should make the process easier. There's probably never going to be a fool-proof way to be able to form just estimates of a person in a prompt manner, as you'll never have *direct* access to the sincerity of their intentions (say, to change for the better) nor will you ever be able to mystically predict how the passing of time might change them as they continue to exercise their freewill and make choices, but this ought to at least limit the more serious errors.

This is important from both the perspective of judging the people you deal with AND understanding how people may have formed their estimates of others, and why they formed them. Aside from the obvious necessity of avoiding bad people in your life, it's also important in that it's relevant to determining when it's rational to encourage persons to maintain healthy relationships, and when to leave them alone from negatives they want to walk away from.

The latter is the primary reason why I've had to regretfully cut off so much of my family when I moved to Texas. I wanted to excommunicate but two toxic people in my life who added little else but misery and stress, and everyone's persistent disagreement and irrational calls for me to reassociate made me conclude that they were also detrimental to my happiness. While more than likely rooted in inexcusable evasion, their failure to understand how the amount of time I spent with the person, the various contexts and locations I dealt with them in,  the nature of our relationship, and the nature of "psychological pressure" made them unable to comprehend the intensity of disgust I felt towards those people, so they treated me as if I were somehow being unreasonable and overreactive. I have seen and experienced far more than they have, and had far more puzzle pieces to put together in getting a picture of that person's nature, so they should have considered that and left me alone since the relations were so immensely unhappy. They lost their contact with me as a result of their persistent encouragement for me to resume unhappy, toxic dealings.

Judge and prepare to be judged, for it is necessary to be able to keep good people in your life, excise bad, try to help your friends maintain happy relations, and know when to leave them alone otherwise.       

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Being Wordy Enough?

My writing is a little scatterbrained at the moment, isn't it? Well, it's getting the space filled up here nonetheless, and I have to say I haven't been giving myself sufficient writing release lately, so the temptation is a little built up. Argh, if I woke up early then I'd be better off with more time.

Here's the current musing: What's the fine line between being concise and having said a sufficient amount to get your meaning across? The difficulty I come across in certain issues is that I notice I often has to say a lot in order to get my full meaning out, but sometimes it takes an awful lot of words and a little time to do so. I wonder about it because it makes certain issues hard to discuss, as I consider the amount of words to be necessary, yet it might be complained that I communicated excess, unnecessary information.

One such example would be Diana Hsieh's answer to a question I submitted to her podcast. Generally it's a good answer, but she derails a bit. While she says my question was a little overly verbal, I think I may not have said enough, because in the specific cases I've observed there's enough evidence to objectively conclude that the particular people in question were being irrational.

For one, by frequent interruptions I mean interruptions that were rude, unnecessary, and sometimes dishonest because I was upfront about it to the person, yet they wouldn't change their behavior. Many people I've spoken to have often taken to interrupting me every few seconds, hardly allowing me to string sentences together, and will stubbornly refuse to alter their behavior after I point out how annoyed I am by their interjections, and, most importantly, how I treat them that way. Sometimes I've discussed the issue of a one person's interruption habit multiple times, yet they'll both refuse to change it or to even address my complaint; they just pretend like I've never explicated it and go on interrupting.

As another example, by arbitrary time limit I really meant an insufficient time limit to formulate an answer, or no time at all even. A girl in music class I was debating once asked me a question, gave me literally two to three seconds to answer it, during which that span she loudly interjected with "Mhm?!" noises to prevent me from responding (since I'd be quieted by believing she's going to say something), and then just up and ended the conversation, refusing to listen any longer. With other people there have even been times where I'll be asked a question and given no time at all to answer, like a fraction second, before the person continues on as if I were somehow unable to answer the question. If their question were written out, there'd be no space between the question mark and next sentence.

Diana is right to say that one shouldn't assume that someone is irrational in all instances where it may only appear so, but in the specific cases that I have observed there is enough evidence to conclude that. However, it takes some words to be able to detail these factors in order to provide sufficient evidence that this is the case. I can state the conclusion all by itself, and it'll still be just as true, but without the evidence I will obviously not seem at all supported to any viewer of the stated conundrum, which will lead them to draw other conclusions, such as that I'm misinterpreting the situation.

This type of verbiage problem makes me hesitant to speak upon a certain breadth of issues, such as why I've chosen to cut my family out of my life. My argument as to why is easy to understand, but the number of factors make it lengthy since the problems encompass over a decade, so my metaphor for descriving my argument is that it's like a giant and easy children's puzzle where the pieces are as big as your torso and extremely easy to put together, but the number of pieces present make it take up the whole floor space: Easy, yet still just slightly time-consuming. As such, I tend to refuse to go into details or discuss the topic, which leads me to the irksome predicament of people claiming to "sympathize" with me, even when the reality of their situation might be drastically different.

So to reiterate, in detailing certain positions that require a certain number of factors in order to relay with full accuracy, how can one better serve to be concise while not sacrificing meaning?

Perhaps the best course is to either make explicit certain assumptions, or to be clear that not all factors are present. Hmm. I intend to read a book on English rhetoric (i.e. speech-giving), so perhaps any mention of concision there will give me the right food for thought.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paper! Paper! What to Do with All the Paper!

Still fighting off a not-so-productive streak, but I am taking good measures to begin setting up a new self-improvement regiment to get me back to my old rigor, such as studying. If I want to regain my enthusiasm for life, I have to perform acts that lead into it. Passion is as passion does.

Anyhow, I'm stepping dangerously back into the territory of dreaded "overplanning," which I've warned myself against, but it looks like it can't be avoided right now. I'm trying to set out my courses as loosely as possible without being so strict in a routine that it intimidates me into procrastination, but I guess it's just a problem that comes with the package.

The most pressing concern at the moment: Notebooks! Oh goodness, notebooks! I want to begin establishing a routine of notetaking again alongside a new study regiment, but how to maintain my notebooks and how many of them to keep is a cumbersome question.

The difficult factor in all of this, because I am not in school, is that I plan on learning in a different and more efficient way. Since I'm striving for pure practical learning, not grades and degrees, I will not be reading every book I pick up cover-to-cover. In fact, my research for any particular learning may lead me to things other than books, such as podcasts, blogs, and videos. The difficulty that adds is that because tiny little minutiae like that won't fill up an entire notebook -- thus meaning I oughtn't prescribe an entire notebook to them -- how can I best maintain my notes accordingly? Sometimes I might dig for information from only half a book, three articles on a website, specific sections of a recorded lecture, and so on. It's so hodge-podge that organizing seems impossible.

The root of the problem is probably that I haven't resolved the conflict yet as to whether or not I want my notes to be referenciable. Written properly, intensively, and clearly enough, I think the mere act of writing the notes could be a sufficient cognitive benefit on its own; do I really need to construct and organize them in a way that I can keep coming back to them for reference? If not, then there's really no problem: Label the notes clearly and don't be too random, such as by assigning certain notebooks to specific subjects, and otherwise don't worry about making them retrievable.

However, if I do want them to be retrievable, then that brings up the organization problem up again. They need to be organized in a fashion where I'd be able to find them again . . . or maybe not? On the other hand, when studying something to any intensive measure it's a given that I'll be focused on it for a time, so perhaps I need not worry about organization, because the present of currently studying something will make the notes retrievable at the time of their writing, both due to a fresh memory of its location and that fact it can be easily located by flipping pages starting from the blank end and working backwards. After a certain amount of time passes maybe I won't need them to be retrievable.

Darn! This open brainstorming isn't seeming to make the questions any more resolvable! At least for just one thing, I know for certain that I'd like to maintain a book titled "Little Reading/Little Thinking," where I can accumulate notes on sporadic readings and thoughts that I survey in non-retrievable form, just leaning on the cognitive benefits of the writing itself. Books that I'll actually study cover-to-cover or mostly cover-to-cover will be easy too, since they'll have entire notebooks dedicated to them. But what of the hodgepodge stuff? And how ought I structure my habits around these writings?

My the confusions of trying to improve your life! Maybe I ought to sleep on it, brainstorm on paper upon waking, and tinker with some other goals first, to distance myself from the problem temporarily. Or maybe just not worry about it and go for broke with the non-retrievable thing. More confusing alternatives!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Changing Language, One Word and Construct at a Time

Back in my teenage years when my development was in its most intense phase I read a ton of Anthony Burgess books, such as the famous A Clockwork Orange, and developed an interest in linguistics as a result. I never actually pursued the interest seriously, but Burgess' influence still sticks today, so I do think about language subjects occasionally on my own terms, however I can.

Here's a question that's been bothering me for years: How is a normal human to do his part in changing the language he speaks? How can any one individual man coin new terms, new constructions, new grammar, and all that and actually be an influence?

However tiny, it really does bother me, because one way Burgess has definitely influenced me is that I often feel free to make up my own words and whatnot with the guiding rule that they be understable within the context of their sentence or paragraph.

Examples! "Befriendable." I wrote that in my last post, but it's not an actual word accepted in the dictionary. Yet, it's totally understandable! It's a way of transforming "befriend" into an adjective!

Or how about using "nightmare" as a verb? I like doing that because it contribute to concision. Instead of writing, "I had a nightmare," you can say "I nightmared,"

The list can go on and on, and throughout my life I'm sure to, er, revolutionize language as much as possible in my own way. Again, if the meaning of the word or the construction used is clear, then what's the problem? I bold and italicize that in dismay!


The dismay stems from those people who are strict to the teachings of grammar books and dictionaries, and won't accept as proper anything outside of them or in contradiction. "Befriendable" not in the dictionary? Not a valid word, they'd say! Using "nightmare" as a verb? Ungrammatical, they'd scream.

But shouldn't the only concerns in proper communication be clarity and concision? The inventions above, really, contribute to both, yet probably would get marked down by an English teacher in high school.

I wonder what I as a single man can do because the reality of the matter is that language is going to change, and it's going to change somehow. It's so odd: How can the strict grammar and dictionary adherents be so against witnessing people coin new words and invent new constructions while accepting past teachings? Someone sometime in the past had to invent it before it was included into a dictionary or grammar book, before it got accepted into human language in general. It's not as if dictionary and grammar book writers dictated language all by themselves purely through their books.

The strict adherents run into an absurd fallacy. For instance, for those dictionary people who claim that any word not listed in the dictionary is not an valid word run into the conclusion, via reductio ad absurdum, that human language itself is composed entirely of invalid words, because human language has existed long before dictionaries, therefore no dictionaries existed back then to validate used terminology. Humans coined words and made grammar long before any "official" grammar or dictionary book was printed to condone it.

Why such strictness bothers me is because I believe it to be an artificial restraint on the growth of language. Always using clarity and concision as guiding principles, how many new words are given up upon that could contribute new meaning and understanding, and how many constructions that could speed communication are denied birth? Simply, by allowing language to flourish under rational principles, individuals could be enriching it everyday. We'd have more words, concision, style, all that.

I guess on an individual level all I can do -- or anyone can do -- is defend their individual contributions when addressed, and otherwise engage in them freely without restraint. Unless you need to be "officially" proper to please someone high up, such as on a school board, there's really nothing denying new changes to language, except caving into the annoyances of the strict pricks. It's to them that I wonder how I can defend any changes. Hm, just point out their fallacies and explicate my communication principles?

At the very least, don't hate on me, reader, when I use "nightmare" as a verb!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ceasing the Scowl?

I think I'm outrageously handsome and am extremely vain -- in private, thankfully not displayed for public annoyance -- but I still don't like my face to an extent. It disappoints me every time someone treats me like I'm upset or something, or tells me to smile because my face settles into a scowl as its natural relaxed state.

When I look in the mirror with the tension from my face, I can perceive what they perceive: A mean face glances back. Could there be a partial truth to the old wives' tale that if you make a face long enough that it'll freeze that way? To be precise, that the primary facial expressions you hold will ultimately mold how your face will look in its relaxed state?

Without details, anger was definitely a large part of my childhood. Looking at old photos I certainly see a lot of sincere scowling. Has it made my face "freeze" consequently into the scowl? 

I muse upon this in consideration of my self-improvement goals. I've definitely been fighting with loneliness as of late, and can't help but think how many people I drive away by making them believe I walk around in perpetual anger. I definitely notice a contrast in behaviors at work, where the evenings where my facial muscles are at its tightest people talk to me the least, and even leave without saying goodbye.

Disappointing, but if a face can freeze, it can unfreeze. Looking at the concentration exercises on AoM again (exercise number 8), I see that the exercise in which you try to hold a pleasant face while looking in the mirror could be a potential solution to this dilemma, and would hit another bird with one stone by strengthening concentration. It wouldn't be any burden to me, in the perspective of pursuing values, to dedicate a scant few minutes a day looking pleasantly in the mirror not out of vanity, but to increase my aesthetics to others.

I don't want to go through life looking mean and being off-putting. It's time to wipe the bitterness off and be befriendable.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Delayed Affection?

I've noticed something strange about people that seems to be a widely consistent phenonmenon. Have you ever dealt with people who will, at first, seem to be oblivious to any positive mannerism you might show them, but in the next day or so they will ostensibly display a better estimate of you?

For example, I've noticed across a lot of relations that most people tend to be quite resistant to my sense of humor when I first meet them and will largely not react or crack a smile when I try to joke with them. They don't display any hostility or anything, it's just that they seem to be totally immune to response.

However, literally the next day or so I'll find that they'll pleasantly receive me, greeting me warmly and so, and will begin smiling and giving authentic reactions to the humor I display. It's like all it took for them was a night to sleep on it in order to form a particular estimate of me, and then begin acting on that estimate consequently. I think I have yet to see a case where this type of rule hasn't held up. It's formulaic almost: Meet someone, have them respond blandly to almost any single mannerism I show, and then witness the very next day a visible appreciation.

It probably doesn't hold true for all people, but it has affected my ways of treating people when I first meet them. My thought is that it just takes a night's sleep or so for an actual estimate to solidify, so when I first meet someone I try harder to keep positive and humorous despite any apparent resistance or non-reactions they may offer, and usually find our relationship has totally changed the following day. Even if not universally true, it is a worthwhile strategy to use in forming friendships.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning How to Learn Again

A touch more public shaming of myself . . . just a touch more.

Honestly, out of all the things I've been disappointed in about myself the one I've felt most guilty about is the collapse of my dedication for self-improvement, learning is specific. My steeled dedication of past years of constantly improving my character is, in fact, largely why I've named this blog A Giant Doing. The people I grew up around were obsessed with appearances. To be judged a great many things, all you had to do was tailor your appearance in just the right way, and people would believe that about you. If you were nice in public, then people would hold fast to the belief that you are a nice person -- regardless of how you act out your true self behind closed doors. That meant that the worst people I've ever met in my life could be judged to be the total opposite so long as they made the right images. If they smiled to conceal their inner misery then they'd be judged happy people; if they adapted temporary manners to please a particular person then they'd be judged polite, even if they dropped the manners with everyone else; and so on. What people saw is what they believed.

Deep down I reject that totally, for everything it stands for. I believe we are what we do. Quoting Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do." That is where our nature lies, in our actions. To be a great person, you must do great things. Quoting Rod Serling: "A giant is as a giant does."

With those words driving my core I managed to accomplish a many great things of personal worth: I cured a speech impediment I had, I identified my main career interest in life, I transformed my body with a new diet, and more. If my elders are going to be obsessed with how things appear, I'm going to be obsessed with how things  are, and that pushed me to become a self-improvement junkie, as in order to become the best person I possibly can, that means adopting the best practices I possibly can.

One of my proudest practices of the past was self-initiated and guided study of basic school subjects after I dropped out of college. Back then I didn't know what to do with my life, and I thought it was extremely irrational to gather up debt in college with that lack of direction, especially since I lost all trust in the educational system, so I dropped out and opted to educate myself while I figured out what to do with my life, which I thought, and still believe, wise, since I'd be catching up on lost knowledge, not accumulating debt, and introspecting on my life all in one.

I managed quite a dedication to it. For over a year I read textbooks about English grammar, math, philosophy, and so on, taking intensive notes, constructing my own homework assignments, and even doing review. I received not a single letter grade, and yet kept up with it. I've always greatly admired the power of a potent mind, and here I was putting that admiration to its fullest practice.

But stress kicked in, and gradually I was eroded by it. The particular problems I faced while living in Michigan grew so much that I developed obsessive thinking patterns that totally undercut my ability to concentrate on my endeavors, forcing me to spend the majority of my time thinking about and trying to solve the problems, which led to me abandoning my studies in total since I was sickeningly frustrated. Well over a year of battling petty problems made me lose the studying habit altogether, which has only faded into nothingness with the additional year I spent with a horrible landlord who introduced new stress into my life.

Now that I'm in my perfect environment I'd like to get my study habits back. If nothing else in life, I want to achieve maximizing the absolute total potential my mind has to offer. In simple terms, I want to become as smart as I possibly came, and make my mind its strongest for any endeavor I choose to take on.

I'm ashamed of myself for once having been strong enough to pursue a course of self-study for over a year, only to have yielded to pressure and have given it up for over two years now. Recognizing it as such a strong value renders me unable to ever forget about it, just like those annoying conceptual exercises I've frequently mentioned, but have always been annoyed out of making regular.

But despite my present weaknesses, I've already mentioned I have no excuses now. All the problems present in my life -- excluding state, nation, and world problems -- exist entirely in my head. I sure had a rough time getting here, but the roughness only exists in my memory now, which I obsessively revisit. At this point in my life, I have gotten exactly what I wanted: A personal apartment free of roommates, so as to avoid irrational people, and a job in fine dining, where I actually like the people I work with and the prospects of rising up are good. Now is the time to get back on track chasing after my ideals, as this is the perfect situation to do so, and I can't stop the minutes of my life from ticking away. I must get rid of lingering negativity.

Anyhow, I need to reincorporate a new way to integrate learning into my life, so I can resume once again making maximal use of my mental functions, to aid me forth in reaching my absolute fullest potential, the highest I can possibly rise.

Yet, in trying to think of such measures I've been hitting tiny little snags, sufficient to pull my coat and me in it back. Since, over these past two years, my lifestyle has dramatically changed, I also need to dramatically changes my methods and thinking about how I could learn most effectively, so that time is used most productively. In contrast to my fresh-college dropout days where I could literally study all day, I work a lot to earn my living and have a long commute, and have odd and potentially changing days off. Ultimately this changes nothing, but it does require a lot of rethinking of methods since, to make full use of my time, I need to figure out different methodologies in order to be able to adapt to the context and continue being constructive, instead of staying stuck inside the box believing that I must have a chair, textbook, notebook, and hours to be able to accomplish anything resembling learning.

For example, my long commutes to and from work could be very useful introspection times. I love rubberducking -- the introspection method of talking to an inanimate object to aid thinking -- and do it frequently in the car since people will probably assume I'm speaking on a hands-free phone. That would be an ideal time to, say, think about something I read, do memorization exercises, or what have you.

I'm not going to brainstorm a curriculum here, but I will plan what I need to, er, plan so that I begin planning beyond that planning. In other words, I need to identify and address the snags that hold me back -- which I'll do privately in a journal -- and list out the factors of my life that I need to consider in order to be able to adapt my learning appropriately.

Onto list format!:

Concentration: 

 As mentioned earlier this week, I have not given this basic mental skill an iota of the respect it actually deserves, as while it may be trivial and simplistic, it's actually very huge. For one, I've learned it plays a role in the foundation of one's very mental health: If you have negative thinking habits and a poor ability to guide your thoughts, then your poor concentration will serve your misery since you'll be less able to move yourself away from painful thinking patterns, such as revisiting memories of a trauma. In skill development concentration is vital, as concentration send very strong signals to the brain that help initiate change according to the stimuli, so if you allow your mind to wander frequently then you're likely never to get good at anything. You won't learn to write well if you frequently fidget during the actual writing practice, for example. The list goes on. In short, concentration: YOU NEED IT. 

A failure to develop this ability is most likely why I've been so miserable lately. I goof off too much in the morning after waking and stuff in meaningful mental activities only at the last moment, so when it comes time to work the misery is heightened by the current surplus of manual labor. Ugh. Training is needed.

It'll be simple enough to devise something to improve it, though still surely hard in practice. Generally, all one really needs to do is cease fidgeting during any activity that requires the use of the mind, and the maximum elimination of distractions. Something so simple as writing an detailed e-mail to a friend can be a huge benefit: All you have to do is know what you want to say, and keep your mind and eyes on the e-mail as much as possible, until it's finished. Even if it's only for a paragraph or two, with weak concentration this can be remarkably hard: You might want to look around the room, play with your fingers, switch browser tabs, shuffle through songs, and whatnot, all tiny things that are hugely detrimental to concentration. If you push yourself to write that e-mail start to finish with a minimum of distraction, you've already gone a long way, and just need to transfer that thinking to other areas in your life, such as refusing to repeatedly cycle through browser tabs, consume music slowly rather than rapidly switch songs, and so on.

Though, specialized exercises might still help. This Art of Manliness article has been more instructive than expected. In addition to the multitude of exercises it suggests, it also points out that the mark of truly good concentration is the ability to focus on uninteresting things, which is a fresh insight to me. When you think about it, that's right. Things that are interesting or captivating are almost cheating in terms of concentration, since their nature requires little focus *power* on your part; it's easy! When you can easily keep your mind on boring things without actually becoming bored or distraction, then tons of doors open for you, like the ability to learn a great deal more and more effectively without being pushed away by the subject's possibly boring nature.

I'm definitely going to do the simple thing of minimizing distractions in my activities, particularly online, but I'll ruminate on the AoM suggestions. I'm going to be writing a self-improvement list shortly after this.

Efficiency:

This is at the top of my worry list, actually. As mentioned before, my lifestyle has drastically change. Before I was able to study all day if I wanted to; now I spend almost literally half of the 24-hour day working and driving. That means I'm going to have to devise some new methods, such as figuring out how to introspect productively while in the car (and avoiding crashing), how to think constructively at work, and generally make better use of my time so that I'm not tied down to the belief that I need a chair and textbook to be able to do any worthy learning.

Generally, this means I need to learn how to learn on the go, in different environments and contexts, with different materials available and absent. Traditional methods at home, talking in the car, internal thinking at work: Methods that keep me moving forward in my learning all while suiting the situation. Successful planning here will eliminate the worry that I don't have time to study, as I'll simply be using different study methods to adapt to the place and make myself a portable scholar.

The biggest hangup that needs to be fought are all my ingrained conceptions of what "right" learning consists of. For example, I'm sure many have fought with the hangup of being tempted to read a book cover to cover, from fear of the book police, when only a few sections or fewer may be of actual value. This is largely stuck in my own head, for I still hold onto the emotional belief that a book can only be productively learned if studied like that in a formal school setting, when really drastically different methods could save me time by having me pick out only the useful sections, when they're useful, and still being able to integrate it into my mind without running into the error one would in, say, trying to learn multiplication before addition.

Style:

It nearly redundant to the above, but still worthy of individual consideration. Like above, this means that I'll need to devise new methods to suit different situations: Reading and writing at home, talking in the car, internal thinking at work, etc. Only this facet addresses how effective these methods could be on my own personal being. In the past, a lot of stubbornness through hold steadfast to fallacies have hindered my learning before.  

My hearing-impairment, for instance, once made me feel extremely unconfident in my ability to comprehend through listen, so I would frequently self-sabotage myself by purposely lowering my attention whenever I was asked to learn by listening, because I would always wait until reading or written instruction was available. There's nothing wrong with my listening comprehension; it's was my own lack of confident in it that nullified its ability.

Same goes for the new methods I'll have to devise. In my mind there still exists some stubborn errors about what good learning entails. For instance, part of my emotions still stubbornly adheres to the belief that, in note-taking, I must have one entire notebook dedicated to one singular book or subject, which in effect feeds into the belief that I must study a book cover to cover, lest I be buried in notebooks each with only a few pages filled. These new methods will require new note-taking skills, specifically a way to organize notes, because if I'm only studying limited sections of a book or using a book for lectures also then I'll need a note-taking style to adapt to the fact few to no notebooks will be dedicated to one single textbook or subject or whatever.

Conceptual exercises:

AH YES . . . The thing I've been talking about for years, while failing dramatically to make a regular habit despite a sincere desire to habituate it. As per its nature of something I view as a true value, I have a hard time incorporating it, but never forget it.

With the honing, fixing, simplifying, and whatnot that I've done to this it would need its own article to explain, so for simplicity I'll just say that my conceptual exercises are merely a more advanced vocabulary exercise. Instead of just learning a word, its spelling, and its definite, I go beyond by trying to understand the essence of the term, how its connected to other concepts, how much information is required to fully understand it and fully ground it to reality, and what perceptual things it's attached to.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, which is why I've been having so much damn trouble making it a daily habit. I wanted to dedicate myself to do ten of such exercises per day, but have always failed because, man, it's a lot of work. It's a huge nuisance to interrupt the flow of my day to document a single word for later research, and every time I do the exercises there's a huge urge to want to rush through it, sacrificing understanding.

There might be only one solution: Make it a mindset. Instead of making this an isolated exercise where I collect words to research later and do in one fell-swoop exercise, I need to adopt a whole new way of thinking where these exercises seamlessly fit into my thinking habits without interference, so that I can do the exercises rapidly when I need or want to do it, so that it doesn't interrupt the flow of my work, eliminates the annoying nature, and makes is possible for me to go beyond ten concepts daily. The key is to make it a thinking habit, something that will come easily with practice, where eventually the resistance will cease and I'll begin to actually *want* to do them, or do them near-automatically through habit.

But man, that will be a lot of work. In creating new habits you've always got to fight the old ones, and it's always quite a, er, fight. Work that'll be worth it nonetheless.

* * * * * 

These are what I believe to be all that I need to consider in develop a new set of study methods, so that I can begin selecting books and begin studying, so that the potency of my mind rises and with it the strength of my character, my ability to get great things done, and eventually be a giant doing. To be able to perform great actions you must have great knowledge, and great knowledge requires effort in acquisition. No shortcuts or easy ways.

The next step from here is to, well, plan some more, this time explicitly. I'm going to get some paper out and plan out some explicit self-improvement, which I probably won't share here since tracking my self-improvement meticulously is both time-consuming and boring.

To start, I need to train my concentration and attitude. The concentration portion has been explained enough, but by attitude I mean I need to reignite a love of learning. Lately these past years I've have been so drastically overconcerned with the practical use of knowledge that it's paralyzed me from being able to choose a learning subject, as I worry too much about its immediate use. Instead I need to cultivate a general love of learning that will enable me to be interested in learning potentially anything I choose to set my mind on, and judiciously use in order to guide myself to the most useful areas and decide upon practical use later. Not all scientists know the practice uses of their discoveries right away; sometimes someone else figures it out, or they might figure it out at a later date. Worrying too much about practical use can disable one from exploring unknown areas that have no known use, but could surprise you with something useful if you only studied it.

It's time again to trek the fields of knowledge on my own terms, lest I'll never forgive myself for letting my potential slip away.    

 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just Tell Me Why!

Another little observation for, admittedly, temporary filler -- if I do pick up a regular writing schedule (or end up perishing in a ditch): Why do some people, when asked questions, tend to give extremely broad answers that are virtually meaningless without any explanation, and then neglect to give the explanation?

I can only think to make it clear through example. One time as a very young child I walked into a gas station shop and asked the cashier for some scratch-off lottery tickets. My mother let me scratch them on a regular basis, so I was totally unaware of any age laws or anything. When the cashier said "I can't do that" I was absolutely baffled and totally believed there were no such rules against my request. When I asked for an explanation, she just smiled and chuckled. After repeating my request she would, again, say "I can't do that" and smile plus chuckle when asked for an explanation. (Eventually she relented, which, if she ever hoped to persuade me I was acting against the law, only served to solidify my belief that what I was doing was perfectly legal.)

Regardless of my age at the time, it confuses me as to why she didn't even bother to attempt to give an explanation as to why she wasn't allowed to fulfill my request. By offering a floating statement, "I can't do that," all she appeared was random and arbitrary, which she was being just by those words. Geez, even a kid that young back then would know there is such a thing as laws, so why she didn't cite them is beyond me.

Though, I ask this question because I've seen this mentality more than once. When I went to a Cracker Barrel restaurant once I asked for a medium-rare steak, and the waiter said he couldn't fulfill the request because, well, he didn't say. He just said he couldn't, which was extra confusing since I was able to get such at visits before and after this waiter, so I suppose he was informed of work rules other weren't, otherwise there's other factors. I think he denied such a request because perhaps the restaurant is paranoid by food safety and the legal risks, and so mandates that meats be cooked to medium at least, anything lesser too risky. Now that's going overboard I think, but why couldn't the waiter say this to me? Again the floating and arbitrary statement.

At my last job at a pizzeria I recall being instructed to offer such statements when I asked why the restaurant would be unable to fulfill a particular request. By gosh, why no reasons? Is it not clear that offering statements in this way is just going to cause confusion and beg for follow-up questions.

To be clear, though, I don't think these are examples of dictatorial mentalities. That is, people who give statements and then *don't want* them to be challenged or questioned, and want you to accept them idly; just simply don't give reasons. For what reason, I'd like to know.

So to all of them I ask: Why?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Super Mario and Hyperinflation?

Okay, while I'm out and about here, not being dead in a ditch all like, how about some random observations? I think I've mentioned before that one of my writing hangups is that sometimes I fret too much over what to write, to the point I don't write because of the worry. As such, let me just write. I really like posting bite-sized philosophical analysis, so here goes:

One thing I wonder about the media is where a pro-Americanism spirit is actually subtly rising in it. Such a thought occurred to me the past several times I've gone to the movies, as even without intentionally seeking them for that purpose, I did notice an oddly pro-freedom theme to them, all too fitting and timely for our culture.

For instance, I was really surprised to see that Toy Story 3 was essentially about dictatorship. The main cast finds itself in a daycare where older toys had established a dictatorship where politically connected toys live at the expense of others. Near the end of the movie Barbie even quotes a founding father, I believe. It was explicitly pro-freedom and American.

I saw the last Harry Potter movie when it came to theaters, and thinking of Ari Armstrong's analysis I notice that it too was implicitly pro-freedom: Voldemort was a symbolized version of Hitler.

Lastly, just last week I saw the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, which is just chock full of cultural references. The villain has a Russian accent, and in taking over Gotham it smacks of communism. There's even references to Occupy Wall Street in there. Also, there might even be a reference to Islamic terrorism, as [spoiler] the villain acquired a nuclear weapon (Iran) and intended to use it in a suicidal fashion by blowing himself up (as Islamic terrorists do) [/spoiler]. Oh, it's there.

I seldom go to the movies, so this is certainly unfounded speculation. Still, my examples aren't exhausted here . . . there's definitely still some pro-Americanism spirit in the movies somewhere.

In this light, I became amused at seeing the concept for the new Super Mario Bros. game from Nintendo. Apparently this time the game is heavily emphasized upon gathering gold coins. There's even a new power-up that enables the player to gain the Midas' touch and turn things to gold.

This game was developed in Japan, I know, but could it be a criticism of the American economy in its current state? While still fightable, hyperinflation is a real and dangerous possibility in our future, and we are divorced from the gold standard, meaning our paperbacks aren't supported by an inherently valuable material.

I don't play video games and so will probably not understand the premise any deeper, but ha, why is Mario collecting all those coins? Is it to combat hyperinflation in the Mushroom Kingdom? To get fodder to melt down to support a new currency? While my speculation may never be proven, I can't help but think of this as a Japanese rib-jiving about the dangers of fiat money and the importance of gold.

Ha . . . hyperinflation hitting the Mushroom Kingdom . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Unfit: A Listing Out of Vices

Once again I arise to cast away all doubts about my supposedly being dead in a ditch -- in the off chance such a rumor has been spreading -- to do a bout of rambling, though I'll leave without any promises to keep up a regular schedule -- which may revive rumors of me being dead in a ditch (if the tabloids pay attention). Vicious circle.

Cue the Charlie Brown sigh. Oh, I have to admit that I'm deeply frustrated with myself and my life, and not just in my consistent failure to keep up a writing schedule here, but in almost all aspects of my life. Of especial shame is that, at this point, it seems like I might fail the majority of the goals I set for myself this year given my utmost difficulty with the primary one, pulling myself together emotionally and healing, which is sabotaging the others. Though, to look at the goals in terms of their relative value, if I do obtain the primary goal, then it would still be a worthwhile year, regardless. I've got to view it in terms of priorities, and the priority is mental health.

I ought to be ashamed of myself. In all areas of my life, when I compare them to far more ambitious periods, I am severely under-performing and failing grandly to obtain what I myself have deemed ideal for me, all just due to caving into stress.

In interest of gaining an actually valuable education, I devised a course of personal study for my own pure benefit, going so far as to select textbooks, take notes upon them, and assign myself homework, all without the prospect of gaining a degree; just pure mental benefit, to equip me for the world. With some sloppiness, I managed to keep it up for a year . . . studying on my own terms. But do to frequent and irrational interruption from the person I lived with, and the various problems I faced in that period, the regiment collapsed and hasn't been picked up since then. When is the last time I took honest to goodness notes on something? The topic of studying in perpetually on my mind in some portion of my mind, either the front or back, because I realize my goals aren't going to be accomplished without intellect, and intellect doesn't develop itself through passivity. It guilts me.

Upon discovering my culinary passion I used to cook and experiment in the kitchen quite frequently. I loved the beginning stages of that discovery. It was so exciting to pay attention to food so strongly for the first time in my life, and to make grocery shopping a soothing "chore." But a multitude of problems has made me sit on the curb with my head in my palm. I lived with bad and stressful people who gave me little alone time in the kitchen, particularly one person with psychological problems who tried to discourage me, or my previous alcoholic landlord who made me rush because being in the kitchen with her was so stressful. Additionally, I've spent over two years in bad restaurant jobs where I found myself locked to the bottom of the ladder due to my willingness to work my way up, while horrendous people were inexcusably put above my head. Now I opt for easy foods such as prepackaged sausages (despite charcutery being one of this year's goals), seldom cook otherwise, perform "the motions" in other cases, and try few things new.

People also remain more frustrating than ever, though I confess and know it entirely to be a product of my own held bitterness. Years ago I visualized myself being far more sociable and befriended at this point, and yet am as alone as ever. Emotionally I seem to be in denial of my loneliness, as I don't physically feel it, but think of people often. These past years, after all, have been spent escaping. No, not running away from problems, but walking away from ones that were unsolvable by any other means, such as my family who got verbally abusive or evasive when I tried to discuss problems with them, or my old drunken landlord whom I had to call the ambulance on*. Plus, the last job I just got out of was in an insanely stressful restaurant, where the employees are unjustly treated and mistreat each other, and I had to go through quite a bout of bullying there. I'd like to have been more sociable and outgoing at this point -- have my hat in the romance ring and all that -- but instead I find myself indulging in endless amounts of alone time during days off, and feeling like I'll be an isolated loner forever.

(*She was a type-1 diabetic who didn't watch her diet responsibly, so she had frequent low blood sugar episodes.)

These past years I feel like I've been a candle in a jar. Once hot and burning with passion for life, but slowly suffocating by using the oxygen in the atmosphere, due to so many futile experiences. In reflection, I'm in my ideal situation now -- living perfectly alone without irrational people to clutter up my environment, all the alone time in the world for kitchen and studying, and now a good job at a hotel at a fine dining restaurant where I like everyone, though I remained saturated in bitterness and resentment. And yes I admit and fully understand it's irrational! A product of my own failure to fully think things out and fully appreciate the values I have! Yet still, it's so hard to shake it and get rid of it.

Coasting, is what I am now. Coasting idly. I don't feel proud of myself at all, and frequently feel guilt over the fact that I managed to keep stoking the flames of ambition in much more stressful times, with glass ceilings in my career and absolute bombardment by stressful persons, and now am having so much trouble summoning that heat back, here where I've finally gotten what I've wanted for years. Hmph.

Mentally I've felt engaged in a nasty game of tug-of-war with myself. At times, I'm blasting with rage and jog around my room to let off the energy, supplement with energetic music. (Though, I don't have "hate music" persay.) At other times I feel sapped and not particularly offended at my circumstances, but at the same time totally unmotivated to pick myself up, and idle through the day in routine motions.

Bah. I miss those days when harsh studying was a keystone to my daily fulfillment, and I actually wanted to go to work. Now times are far too much spent just purely visualizing ideals in my head, often to ease up the anxiety, and hardly lift a finger in realizing what I see in my head. Bah. Bah, bah, bah.

. . . But enough complaining. In truth, I vent openly here just to make public some things on my mind that I would like to talk about, but have no one else to conduct the conversation with. I'm still a huge fan of rubberducking, the practice of spoken introspection with an inanimate object, but the objects never talk back, of course, and I perceive no other willing listeners in my life. So I suppose I'll lean on you, briefly, for this one article. I find it literally hard to fathom having an active social life, since it's virtually a foreign concept to me; the familiar is bullies, hostility, and abandonment.

But . . . enough complaining. Note that the word hopeless did not appear in any paragraph as of yet, because I'm still together enough to realize there's remedies to all of this, that as soon as tomorrow I could begin pursuing happiness again, and the ideal can be within reach step by step. Just due to the loneliness did I wish to say the frustrated things above, and know perfectly well there are solutions within reach. I'd just like for people to know about my frustrations sometimes, that's all.

Anyhow, I feel kind of silly now having gone so far as to tout a detailed analysis of all that I've learned about mental health this year as per it being my primary new year's resolution, when clearly I'm still struggling. Ha, but I don't think there's anything wrong with my chosen methodology -- journal writing, rubberducking, all that -- it's just that I don't apply them rigorously and consistently enough.

At root, I think my primary problem is concentration. It's odd to think that such a basic mental function would be so essential to good health, but I think it has far more importance than anyone gives it credit for. Look at it this way: One term I've seen continually around mental health reading is ANTs, which stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts, meaning negative thoughts that your subconscious automatically generates as par habit. If you nurtured the worst of thinking habits, then ANTs are painfully effortless and extremely difficult to combat, as you really have to will yourself to not to have them when you're in a particularly difficult situation where you can't resort to your best remedies. At the perceptual level, this is what most any emotional problem is: A bad thinking habit that generates ANTs. Since ANTs are near effortless, you don't need to concentrate to make it happen, just letting it happen will make it happen.

To deconstruct those bad habits, obviously, they need to be overwritten with good habits. And because at the time those particular good habits don't exist, that means concentration is needed for them to become established. You need to train yourself in better thoughts more and more so that the better habits become easier and easier, while the ANTs fade away.

The biggest lesson I've learned is that, for the most part, if I allow my mind to do thinking unaided by stimuluses, such as books, then I can all too easily go to dangerous places. The whole activity involves going the path of least resistance, and the path of least resistance happens to be the thought patterns that give me so much misery. In fact, despite having maintained the hobby for several years, I've even given up my morning walk by and large, because I've realized that the morning habit allowed my mind to indulge in terrible thinking with rigid consistency. I love walking and find it relaxing . . . but it has to be a tightly controlled activity for my own good, lest negative thoughts become the routine . . . and tone of my consciousness.

In contrast I've also noticed that the more often I mentally exert myself -- such as by focusing on non-fiction books, writing, or other such things -- my mind is cool and calm. It feels like a well-trained dog that stays on the sidewalk instead of chasing after the wildlife, and if I have been rigorous at the start of the day then I'll have almost no further problem the rest of the day. Done repeatedly, my life feels pretty good.

The key to getting back on track and staying on track, then, must be the purposeful exertion of my mind. Idleness can serve as good rest during periods of exhaustion, and then I may allow myself a contemplative trek through my favorite nature park, but as of now I need to severely restrict my "mental free time" to almost nothing, and tried my absolute best to at almost all times to be concentrating on something, so that these new routines intensively practiced will being to overthrow the previous ones, and a new, more positive order is established.

That means that the probable root practice that's serving my troubles are my mornings. I waste an awful lot of them, by waking up, surfing the internet, eating a bar of chocolate, and generally stalling until just before noon or even later before I actually get my day started. Since I'm still currently a dishwasher, that spell trouble, since almost my whole job entails mental free time. I've mastered washing dishes, so until I move on my current position isn't mentally challenging, which means my mind can do whatever I choose it to do, which in that situation, free of books and whatnot to focus on, means usually idling towards the negative and being miserable. My day's are composed consequently of waking, mentally idling, getting a few things done in panic of deadlines before work, and then going to work to mentally drift.

If I had trained my mind in concentration better in the morning before my shifts I'd been a lot better off even if my work was still mental free time, and I know this from experience. Even at start, mornings spent well enough on mental exertion and focus do leave the mind trained enough to hold itself in good measure for the rest of the night, if not the whole night. The way I spend my morning has a lasting impact on the rest of the day. Currently, I wake to mentally idle on the negative as "relaxation," so surprise surprise I'm doing the same at work. Shocking.

All of my other specific methodologies would hold if I were to just hone this basic skill, so a drastic restructuring a routines needs to be completed. It's as simple as that. Regardless of how exhausting or demanding future efforts may demand, the simplicity in pursuing good health leaves me no excuse for not undertaking it, lest I want to live a miserable wreck like some people I've known, whose life cycle went: Birth, suffering, perish. I'm not going to reveal such a person's relation to me, but to see such a life with so much self-inflicted hell, continued all the way up until death, is dark motivation for me to live life to the fullest unless such a horrendous punishment were to befall me.

So, to make for a good morning, I think probably the best thing I could possibly do for myself is write first thing in the morning, just right after waking or getting the computer warmed up. I love my handwritten introspection journal -- it works mental miracles when used right -- and if I quashed the bad habit of scribbling an entry down before rushing to work, or not writing an entry at all, then my mind would be much more settled, as to write for true benefit then it must be done with the fullest concentration possible, with no fidgeting if possible. That last is remarkably hard: Sometimes the urge to look up and let the mind wander is nearly irrepressible, so to write an entry start to finish without pausing or fidgeting would be quite a feat -- a feat of concentration.   

That would be my warm-up activity, to get the old concentration motor -- stupid analogy I know -- ready to go. All activities afterwards should be bent on tackling my to-do lists in some way, whether it be plowing through random items, reading a book, taking notes upon something, or whatever, I just cannot allow myself to have mental free time during. The mind needs to be engaged at nearly all times, and it's no easier than when writing something, reading something, listening to something, or what have you: It's all training. All this ruminating over a chocolate bar or taking a walk around the block has got to stop, as those are the dangerous times that have led to such a mental erosion as this, stuck in my bad memories while my body continues aging into the future. I prod myself sometimes by noting that someday I'll be old and there's no getting out of it; will I be proud then?

Perhaps I might throw regular blogging into the mix as part of the writing requirement -- no promises however -- but for now it is almost an absolute that the sooner I begin writing after waking the better, and that it's for the best to have a mentally exhausting day prior to any working shift, so that the mind will have had a few hours of training in better habits before work, so that during I will be fine and whole, even though it's almost all mental free time.

Hopefully this would make for the final blow against all the internal problems I face. All my other methodology is fine and effective; it's just that I need to be able to concentrate on them when I need to. Then, a better self is possible.

Tomorrow upon waking I ought to take some time to get reintouch (coined) with my ideals, as it's been all to easy to lose sight of exactly it is that I would admire of myself in life. Losing those visages, how could I hope to embody them? It'd be like painting without any set picture in mind: You'd end up with either a blank or smeared canvas . . . most likely an atrociously ugly smeared canvas, representative of an inner state left to chance.

So do I not want to be intelligent? Muscular? Handsome? Well-spoken and concise in communication? Assertive? Frugal and financially afloat? A good cook? A positive impact on the culture? Or a deteriorated nobody, keep alive only by stale accomplishments, unloved, fat from sweets, bad skin, a meek voice, devastated by debt, staying a cooking amateur by opting for easy food, and a part of the horrible trends destroying the world?

Quoting Joe Dispenza: All you have to do is make up your mind.