i don’t hate you.

A friend recently told me he thought I was upset with him because I “defriended” him on Facebook. Remembering similar drama that came with LiveJournal’s friend system, I wanted to post this picture:

FB login screenshotI deactivated my Facebook account a few years ago. (I needed to cut down distractions in my life and focus on being productive; it’s not a slam on the service at all.)

About a year ago, much to my surprise, someone hacked back into that account from an iPhone somewhere in California and spammed the former list of “friends.” When that happened, I recovered my password, logged back in and filed a formal account deletion with Facebook. I then did the same with my old LiveJournal account.

So no, friends, I didn’t “defriend” you, don’t worry :)

the story of a cat

I keep forgetting to post this story from February 2009.

My friends and I were on a small trip to central Italy (Umbria). We were staying in a small villa in the middle of nowhere, by ourselves, and making day trips to various nearby towns to explore whatever they had to offer.

One bright day, we were wandering the sloped streets of Spoleto on a Saturday when we happened across a cute cat outside of an art/framing shop:

The cutest little cat...

She pranced back and forth, demanding attention. Each of us in turn gave her a scritch, which she accepted proudly before moving down the line to the next person.

During this action, we attracted the notice of the shop owner, who had been sorting his collection lazily. I looked up and noticed he was looking at us petting the kitty, realizing it was either his, or one he at least looked after regularly.

He put down his framed poster, smiled the largest smile I’d seen that trip (and there had been many!) and shouted two words through the panes of glass at us to our endless amusement:

“Prima donna!”

Prim Donna!Wish I had a better picture, but what a facial shape and markings! Good memories.

forever anonymous

Dragging myself to consciousness, I gasped for air. The images of  gravestones and memorials of the intellectual elite, festooned with working mainframe key punches and proofs of famous mathematical theorem in honour of their contributions to society, still lingered. I could still feel the dirt being shoveled on top of me prematurely, as I struggled to break free of my restraints. The bottoms of my lungs burned like the teenage mistake of inhaling deeply from a clove cigarette. Still, it burned less than the stinging sensation of my sub-conscious clawing through a thin layer of conceit I’d previously put up in my life to hide the twin holes of fear and shame.

What a terrible metaphor. I’ll start again.

Lately I’ve been working harder on my doctoral research, in the hopes that this may be my best chance to leave something of value behind in this world. I’ve chosen not to raise children, and judging from the superior job my friends J., D., N. and S. are doing with theirs, I made the right choice. I then look at my friends with some life calling they’ve dedicated themselves to since childhood, and wonder how different my life would have been if I only could have settled on one thing to do, rather than insisting on being a polymath.

Then I think of the reality: it’s a huge conceit to pretend that anyone will remember me at all 5 years after my death, let alone 500. The odds against that are so low that they’re unthinkable. But why the terror of it happening, if it’s so likely? And how does this square against my personal philosophy that it’s the ideas that count, not the people?

OK, so I’ll substitute idea for name, and the good feeling I would get from knowing I helped other people far into the future. It’s still a huge conceit to pretend that anyone will remember my ideas at all 5 years after I come up with them, let alone 500. So why fear the inevitable? And why put so much pressure on myself to achieve something that’s rare (and, most likely, out of my hands)?

Interestingly, I don’t fear death. I think I overcame that one many years ago when I struggled with some of the other demons in my life, and came out on top. Perhaps this is my chance to overcome this ridiculous idea as well. There was definitely a time at which I really bought into the idea that helping just one person was as good as helping a whole flotilla – and I’ve definitely helped at least one person in an immense way. What changed?

Now, after talking it out online, I’m fairly sure it was the dawning realization, though not quite ecological, that the resources I have burned (money, time and patience of those smarter than I, and yes, non-renewables like jet fuel and natural gas) are above the average. I also have been given a lot of unique and interesting opportunities, and gained a lot of special skills. It was then I decided that I had to do everything I could to put all of that good stuff back into the world, in as many ways as possible. Anything else is just conspicuous consumption. I owe it to everyone else to do as good as a job as I can to pay things back.

The thing is, my life is almost all about paying it back in one way or another. I’ve had my phases of acting spoiled, but after being forced (almost at knife-point) to volunteer my time in college, helping others has become a sort of addiction, perhaps even an unhealthy one. My job for many years now has nothing but helping other people get their jobs done more effectively. I teach, I learn (then re-teach what I learn), I research (and then teach what I find out), and I volunteer my time when I know full well I really should be taking it for myself. I helped keep a household of friends going when no others could really make ends meet. I’ve helped those in need find money for surgery, and given them the emotional strength necessary to pull through. It’s never felt like an obligation. But it’s never felt like it’s enough.

I treat that feeling of emptiness inside as telling me that I still have more work to do, more in me to give to others. Perhaps it is only a twisted redirection of guilt and shame, a hope at becoming immortal in some sense. But I don’t work hard only to see my name in lights (especially since it never happens), or predicate it only on the knowledge I’ll gain something out of it. It’s because I like doing a good job, because it does feel good to know I’ve accomplished something concrete, like presenting my first paper in several years at a conference. I’ll do it even if I’m ignored, or if someone else claims the credit for my work. (Unfortunately this sometimes makes me a poor businesswoman.) And, more importantly than anything else, I know that when I find I am doing something that causes harm to someone else, I change how I act. This is my own private version of walking softly; I have yet to figure out how to correctly carry a big stick, so I walk with my hands in my pockets instead.

And yet I still have dreams like this one tonight that wake me at 3:30 and prevent me from going back to sleep, and keep me writing uncontrollably. What am I missing? Am I acting reasonably? Should I be doing more? Less? Something different? I know I’m not the only person who has felt this way, but I also know my attention span is so poor right now that I can’t think of where to start researching to look at motivations of the great, the noble, the weak and those of the despicable monsters.I need a sanity check (and maybe a kick in the ass) so I can move forward. I refuse to sink into solipsistic musings, but a little introspection every now and again can’t hurt!

mr. looper^W cooper^W hooper

Portrait of Mr. Hooper, early Sesame Street character.Today, for the first time, I saw this Sesame Street clip in which the human cast explains to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died, and won’t be coming back. If you grew up on early Sesame Street, like I did, you may want to brace yourself for the footage’s emotional impact. A transcript is also available if you can’t view the video, or can’t bring yourself to watch it.

My long-time readers know that I’m a major proponent of the pedagogy behind and execution of the early works of the Children’s Television Sesame Workshop, and that one of my side projects helped push them into releasing some of the old content onto DVD. So why is this the first time that I’ve seen this clip? The truth is, when this first aired, I wasn’t allowed to watch it.

Continue reading

thing-a-day 2008 over

Here’s a photo collage of the most photogenic things I made for this year’s thing-a-day. Edit: If you can’t view the video below, the original is here.

I’d recommend thing-a-day to anyone who is looking to push their comfort zone and prove to themselves that they can be creative, and can produce something a day. It was eye-opening for me.

2007 accomplishments

A friend on LJ reminded me that I should post my 2007 accomplishments. I’m having a day (week? month?) of very low self-esteem, so it’s good to take a moment and reflect on what I’ve managed to achieve this year:

  1. Got my admissions corrected at University of Toronto from the M.Ed. program to the Ph.D. program. (2008 is the year of getting going on that again.)
  2. Became a certified Project Management Professional. That’s right, now I’m a certified P(i)MP. Donations of purple crushed velvet or felt hats now being accepted.
  3. Managed to stay at my job for another year. Despite being frustrated at corporate life, and how mega-corporations seem to stifle (then destroy) your creativity, they do pay well. And, when I’m not traveling to a project site, there’s about a 10 foot commute from my bedroom to my home office. Can’t beat that! (Seriously, I accomplished a lot for my employer, and they seem pleased with my performance. I should count my blessings.)
  4. Found the patience to spend more time with children, and helped when I could with my friend’s 18-month old. (No, I’m still not having kids.)
  5. Took the plunge and started work with $boy on the big workshop out back. I didn’t do as much on it as he did, or some of the people who have come by to help, but I did learn a lot about building design, the Toronto planning office, concrete foundations, and excavators.
  6. Visited both Brazil and Argentina for work, and made some good friends down there. If all else fails with my life, I can probably relocate to Mercosur and find happiness.
  7. Visited Japan for 3 weeks with $boy and $girl, seeing old friends and haunts alike. Had a great time.
  8. Climbed Mt. Fuji (from the 5th-station to the top, not from the very base. Still, about a 1km vertical climb.)
  9. Converted my US pilot’s license to Canadian. I can now rent and fly Canadian planes! Yay. Also completed some additional training I needed to do that.
  10. Attended no less than 4 weddings of some great people I’m pleased to know. (No, I’m still not getting married.)
  11. Helped a lot of friends (mainly on IRC) with their work/school/projects/music. I may not have been very creative on my own in 2007, but I think I deserve some brownie points for helping others.
  12. Acquired an exercise bike last month and started working on losing the 20 pounds or so Canada has put on my body (5-7 of those are “winter only” pounds.)
  13. Cooked big meals for lots of friends. Cooking remains one of my core joys.
  14. As much as I love OSS OSes…I learned to suck it up and actually be productive in Windows for work. I can now say I know more about XP & Vista than I have ever done; “at least it pays.”
  15. Strengthened my friendships with a lot of great people.
  16. Settled into home living. I think I am finally done with living in apartments (until I become too old to handle living in a home without assistance.)
  17. Visited my grandfather in New Orleans, at the home he’s moved into. Difficult but touching moment for me.