Thanksgiving, Day 11: The Internet

“Oooh, they have the internet on computers now!”

Again, this is an easy one – I spent much of my day making some homebrew materials for studying Japanese, which was what I do when I don’t actually want to study.

Sometimes I think about what it must have been like for people only a few short decades ago who chose to live abroad. Keeping in touch with friends and family, knowing what’s going on at home and being able to keep up on the political and cultural comings and goings of the culture you grew up in. There’s plenty you can get from newspapers and TV and letters from home, but the immediacy of it all is lost. Home is truly very far away under those circumstances.

Now, of course, home is right on my desktop. I can talk to friends and family, share evens in real time and know what they know. Even though I do appreciate the distance at times, the fact is that the internet keeps me close to the place I grew up in. I can buy my comics through iTunes, follow the news on countless websites, keep up with the most up to the minute internet culture on Reddit, and watch the hottest television shows through means that are ENTIRELY LEGAL AND ETHICAL OF COURSE.

I can use Skype to talk to my family for nearly nothing. I can take a photo and share it with everyone I know on Facebook in mere moments. Any random thought, I can Tweet out and get a response to. I can do my podcast and reach the ears of tens, nay DOZENS of listeners. In short, though my physical body may be thousands of miles from where it was, my internet presence is far vaster. I literally cannot imagine what it would be like to live here without it.

But then again…

Perhaps the people who lived abroad in the days before the internet was so ubiquitous had benefits that I’m denying myself. Without a convenient link to their home culture, they would have had to immerse themselves in the new one. Without all those people at home to talk to, they would have to talk to people nearby. Without having their old friends available at a moment’s notice, they would have had to go out and make new ones. It is entire possible – hell, almost certain – that having the internet as my lifeline to the U.S. has kept me from truly immersing myself in Japan, no matter how many years I’ve lived here. Maybe if I somehow cut ties completely, I would gain the benefits of having to commit to the place in which I live. There certainly are benefits that would come with that…

Then there’s all the top-shelf images of men cavorting with other men that the internet has to offer. Saucy!

But still…

I suppose there is a certain sentimentalism in my heart, though. I have lots of things that I can’t bear to part with, even if I really should. I have a couple of boxes in a closet that I haven’t opened since the day I moved in – by all rights, I should be able to just tape them up and throw them away. But I can’t. Knowing that they’re there is pleasing to me. It’s a good feeling knowing that while I may not need them right at this moment, they’ll be there if I ever do. And I suppose it’s that sentimental desire to hold on to things that the internet enables in me.

I don’t want to let go of the people I left back in the States. I don’t want to let go of our music and culture, our news and stories and lives. I don’t want to let go of the people I love, because they are so much more important to me than things in a box. They are part of who I am, and at this place and this time I like who I am. I see no need to radically change who I am just to conform to where I am.

Without the internet, I would be a very different person. Maybe better, maybe worse, I don’t know. But that person isn’t someone I care to meet at this point in my life. Not when there’s so much out there for me to see.

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Thanksgiving, Day 4: Persistence

I wasn’t planning on doing this one today – but then I went shopping.

You may recall the post of a week ago or so, in which I both admitted to having started running and – at great length – talked about how much I didn’t enjoy it. That hasn’t changed in the last week. In fact, in absence of the C25K goal, it seems to have become more difficult to keep going. What I need is a real, achievable goal to run towards (so to speak), or else I’ll grasp on to whatever flimsy excuse I need to convince myself that I don’t need to do it anymore.

This afternoon, The Boyfriend and I went shopping, mainly just so I could get a new sweater – the old one had worn holes in the elbows, which is the curse of the teacher. We went to Uniqlo, found the sweaters, and thought that would be that. But then it occurred to me… I have pants that don’t quite fit right anymore. They sag and settle and feel generally uncomfortable. I know my belt needs some new holes, too.

Would it be possible…?

Also, it seems that I became a Batman villain.

Long story short [1], I was actually able to buy pants. In a Japanese store. Pants that fit.

If I had been prepared properly, there would have been a cavalcade of shopping, but I restrained myself. A pair of jeans, a couple of cardigans, and a new coat that I can actually button, if I so choose. When I came home and tried them on, The Boyfriend was taken aback by the difference. As it turns out, wearing clothes that actually fit make you look better. This was something I had long grown used to not thinking about.

Point is, I’m within a week or so of having dropped ten kilograms, and it’s showing up. For the first time in a very long time, I’ll have options open to me that could amount to more than jeans and a t-shirt. It’ll be quite the adjustment, and I’m not ready to commit to actual money yet – Uniqlo has the benefit of being very, shall we say, affordable. But perhaps one day I’ll be able to look at clothes that I like and not think, “That’ll never work.”

Of course, at 4:30 in the morning, as I round the corner into the first kilometer or so, that’s a pretty abstract thought to keep me going. But I can at least add to that thought the knowledge of how I’ve gotten here. This persistence – something I’ve never been able to keep hold of – has brought me this far. Perhaps it can see me further.

—–
[1] Too late.

In Which I Confess to Something of which I am Irrationally Ashamed

I promised myself I’d actually talk about this publicly at some point, even though I never wanted to. Rather than write a big build-up and then disappoint you, Faithful Readers, I’ll get straight to the point and tell you the thing that I would have hidden forever, if I could have:

I just finished the Couch to 5k running program.

To be fair, I don’t even have a couch…

If you’re not familiar with it, C25K (as the cool kids put it) is a highly structured interval training program that’s designed to turn non-runners into runners. You start out on Day One doing brief intervals of jogging and walking, and by the end you’re running for thirty minutes straight, no matter that you were convinced it was something as beyond your power as cracking the moon in half with your thoughts.

I started at the end of August, and just finished this past Friday, and believe me, no one is more surprised than I am. I did it because, well, my doctor reminded me that I’m staring down the barrel of 40, and it would be a good idea to start getting my shit in order. That, and the Singularity isn’t due for another thirty years or so, so I need to be alive enough in meatspace to be able to transfer my consciousness into an imperishable android body and live forever.

The gym was out of the question. I don’t need to pay ¥10,000 a month to hate myself when I can do it on my own at home for free. I’ve done the gym before, and there’s nothing more disheartening, in my mind, than going to the gym. It’s all the worst metaphors for life bundled into one room – the treadmill, where you work really hard and don’t get anywhere; the weights, where you’re constantly reminded of your own weaknesses; the other people, who are almost certainly judging you every chance they get… And the music is universally awful.

So I found C25K, and the related community on Reddit, and decided that it would be worth the shot. There was no money that needed to be spent, other than on a pair of shoes, and if it didn’t work, well, no one needed to know. [1] My neighborhood was a perfect place to do it, as it was flat and there were a lot of streets to choose from. The only real downside was that in order to fit it into my day, I would have to go out running in the morning.

4:30 in the morning, to be exact.

This is the moderate level of suckitude, just for your reference…

At first, it sucked. Then it sucked slightly less. And then a whole lot more. And then the suckitude kind of evened out to a reliable level of nonspecific unpleasantness, which is where it stands today. Don’t get me wrong – it worked. I went from wishing that I could die after only three minutes to wishing I could die after thirty. Those are thirty minutes more than I would have been able to run during any other time in my life, so I count that as an achievement.

I lost weight, too. Between this and calorie-counting towards a net-2000 kcal diet, I’ve dropped from 100 kg to 92 kg. [2] Most of my pants don’t fit right anymore, and a few people have already remarked that I look like I’ve lost weight (although when I look in the mirror, I don’t see it. Should have taken pictures, I suppose.)

That being said, though, I still hate running. If someone invented a pill that would give me all the positive benefits of a daily run, I would take it every day and never move at anything faster than a slow mosey for the rest of my life.

Up until I started this program, part of my self-identity was explicitly not being someone who does sports or physical activity. I’d had such a crappy record with sports in my youth that I saw it as the antithesis of what I was as a person. Not a healthy way to look at it, but there it is.

And, as long as we’re being honest with each other, I hoped for something like this.

Before I started C25K,though, I allowed myself the hope that this would change. I hoped that it would become something I loved to do. I imagined myself running to the store or the train station just because I could. I thought I would feel the way I do in dreams – like I’m not so much running as I am gliding, enthralled by the sense of pure motion. I thought I would discover something new in myself.

That never happened.

I know a lot of people talk about “endorphins” or “runner’s high” and feelings of great energy and even euphoria while running, and while I cannot prove that such things at part of a complex conspiracy of lies designed to ensnare new people into the hobby of running so as to share the misery as much as possible, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. [3] After ten weeks, I still don’t enjoy it. I don’t know if I ever will.

I wish I did, I really do. It would give me a visceral reason for doing this, rather than an intellectual one. I know that I’ve run and walked 137 km over the last ten weeks. I know that I went from thinking that three minutes was a hellish eternity to thinking it was just another half-lap around the block. I know that I have worked hard and seen results.

But I don’t feel it. Once I’ve stopped sweating and gone to work, a running day feels just like a non-running day. I don’t feel like I have any more energy or endurance than I did ten weeks ago. I don’t feel like anything is different at all. Maybe it’s an improvement so gradual that I haven’t noticed, but…

Well, I’d kind of hoped I would notice.

In any case, I’m going to keep it up, mainly because its a thing that needs to be done. I have to set goals that matter, though. I have no intention of entering any races, because I just don’t care enough, and I don’t have the time or energy in my day to try for 10k or longer. I am using the Walk to Rivendell idea – only 600 km to go – and I still have about 11 kg to shed before I’m down to a size I’d like to be. But if I ever get to a point where I’m running just for the sake of running, I guarantee you – that’ll be the day I stop running.

This, of course, ties into the reasons I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing (except for The Boyfriend and a bunch of strangers on Reddit).

Thank you… for your encouragement…

Partly because I was certain from the beginning that I would fail. I figured if no one knew, then there would be less shame in failing. And for some reason, encouragement makes it worse – if people are cheering me on, it makes it all the more shameful when I finally let them down. The last thing I wanted was messages of support from people who mattered, because that would make my inevitable failure all the more terrible.

But more importantly, announcing that I was doing this felt like – feels like – a fundamental betrayal of the person I’ve always presented myself (and believed myself) to be. Telling everyone that I had started running was like announcing that I was getting married to a woman. Like showing you a picture of the ballot where I had voted for Mitt Romney. Starting a Sex and the City fan blog, you see what I mean. Being a runner wasn’t something I ever thought I would be, and it was something I never wanted to be because it wasn’t who I was.

And yet.

So why reveal this Terrible Secret now? Well, it seemed like time. After all, I did finish the program, which is momentous in and of itself. And I knew there would come a point where not fessing up to it would be tantamount to lying to everyone I know, without any real good reason for it. It is an irrational shame, after all. If I’m going to lie and hide something from my friends and family, it should be something I’m rightfully ashamed of, like that little incident with those Boy Scouts, the herpetological museum, and a fifty gallon drum of tapioca pudding.

I may have said too much.

——–
[1] Well, The Boyfriend knew. It’s kind of hard to hide a nine-week running program from the person you live with, although I probably would have if I could have.
[2] No, I’m not doing the conversions for you. That’s what Google is for.
[3] Mind you, I can’t prove that it isn’t, either. Your move, runners.

On Finitude

I debated whether I should post this, to be honest. It seems like I’m letting more hang out than I really should, given the circumstances, but that’s the purpose of this blog. I may not update it as often as I should, but it’s the place to go when there’s an idea in my head that just won’t leave. And if I have to vent to someone, the ceaselessly hungry internet is as good a someone to vent to as any.

————————

Here’s the setup: the school I work at hires full-time teachers on a three year contract. Because it is a private school, run by a private university system, they are beholden to private sector labor laws, the effect of which is that they are allowed to let teachers go after three years with little more than a bunch of flowers and a sincere “Thank you.” The legal logistics of it are murky, of course, but the take-away is this: my time at Ritsumeikan Uji will end in April, and there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing I can do about it.

There is the matter of finding a new job and being able to remain in the country, but that’s not all that’s on my mind right now. With the sure and certain knowledge that I have a deadline, a thought popped into my head that seems vividly appropriate, but at the same time incredibly insulting: “This is how terminally ill people must feel.”

Oh, I should have been a chemistry teacher…

If you are terminally ill and you just read that and thought, “What an asshole,” I will grant that you’re probably right and I apologize. But the questions that flooded my mind seem to be the same that one might think when seeing the end of their life approaching.

Why didn’t I make better use of my time here? Don’t get me wrong – I did a lot and learned a lot and tried to stay involved with the school, but at the same time I know I could have done more. I could have gone against my nature and been more sociable. I could have spent more time with clubs. I could have taken more advantage of the school’s resources and connections to better myself as a teacher. I could have done more than I did. Why didn’t I? Because I was wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of being a teacher. Because I valued my free time now over improvement for later. Because I was lazy and short-sighted, perhaps.

What do I do with the time I have left? If I really were an asshole, I’d just slack off. Take the attitude that since nothing I do matters anymore, then why do anything? But that is contrary to my nature – I can’t do that any more than I can stop eating for the next seven months. What I do may not amount to a hill of beans in the long term, but here and now it’s important, and it’s important that I continue to remain dedicated to it. And there is a part of me that wants to wax hyperbolic [1] and carry a bell around with me, ringing it through the halls while I cry out, “DEAD MAN WALKING!” But that would just be ridiculous.

Think of the CHILDREN!

What about the kids? I’ve taught a lot of good kids at this school, and they go beyond being good students to actually being interesting people. One of the biggest reasons I tried for the permanent position was that I wanted to have a chance to teach these kids again, and to see new interesting people emerge over the years. After three years, I was just starting to get the hang of this gig, and wanted the chance to really flex my creative muscles and find better ways to get the students both using English and interested in it.

On top of that, what do I tell them? At some point, they’re going to start asking about next year and whether I’ll be teaching their class. Do I hedge and dodge and make them wait until the end of the year, when the departing teachers are sent off to a farm upstate? Or do I tell them ahead of time? Or am I seriously overestimating their opinion of me that it would even matter to them?

What’s going to happen to all my stuff? This may sound kind of petty, and I suppose it is, but over the last few years, I’ve built up quite a body of work, lesson plans, and even full courses. I was the drama teacher, one of the few advanced reading teachers, and built the curriculum for the regular first year classes. I made an inordinate amount of lesson plans, many of which I’m quite proud of. What’s going to become of all that work? Who’s going to take over the drama class, and will they know what they’re doing? Who’s going to take over my reading classes, and will they be able to keep them interesting and fresh? Who will keep refining the first year curriculum so that the students get the tools they need to do better in their second and third years? Am I leaving all of what I built in the hands of people who will build upon it, or will it all be shoved into a cabinet somewhere to be forgotten?

Damn GPS. Every frackin’ time…

Where do I go from here? After this, what? The chattering monkey in my brain is convinced that nothing better can come along. This was a great place to work, with wonderful co-workers and facilities. And the pay was good, too. After this, what do I do? Do I go back to the eikaiwa purgatory from whence I came? Do I work part-time, teaching English to businessmen? Do I leave teaching and find something else? Will I stumble across something even better than this? Do I live with a bunch of cats in a van down by the river, eating government tofu and slowly going mad? I have no idea, and that kind of uncertainty doesn’t do me any good.

Keep in mind, though, this is just the way my Scumbag Brain works. If you’ve been following along, you may recall the freakout it had when I got this job – wondering whether I’d actually be good enough to do it, if I’d shame myself out of a career, all that. And that worked out just fine. Better than fine, really. It became a job that I deeply, deeply wish I could keep.

So perhaps this, too, will all work out for the best in the end, no matter how many doomsday scenarios I can spin out. Perhaps in a few years I can look back at this entry and marvel at how anxious I was about something that, ultimately, wasn’t that big a deal.

Let’s hope so.

—-
[1] As is evidenced by the fact that I’m sitting here comparing the loss of my job to dying.

“To become different from what we are…

…we must have some awareness of what we are.”
Eric Hoffer

True words, those.

We have come to the end of the Proust Questionnaire series, although there certainly are more questions to be answered. I took mine from the online version done by Vanity Fair, but if you Google the PQ, you’ll see a lot of other questions, including the ones that Proust actually answered. Such as:

  • Your favorite names
  • Your favorite heroes in fiction
  • Your favorite occupation
  • Your heroines in world history

And so on.

These are all great questions, but the kind that don’t come up much after, say, college. Once you’re mired in the world of bill-paying, pleasing your bosses, and just praying that your body doesn’t decide to up and quit on you, the existential kind of falls by the wayside. And that’s without even talking about having kids, a responsibility I’m pretty sure I will never shoulder.

The task of just getting through life is what takes up our attention, and we replace our own understanding of who we are with a placeholder, a desktop icon that just reads “I”, without thinking much about what “I” means. But just like the “My Computer” icon on your desktop isn’t actually your computer, this placeholder-self isn’t actually you. From time to time you have to open it up and take a look inside to see what’s there, before the whole thing crashes and you’re left with a philosophical Blue Screen of Death and the horrifying prospect of rebuilding everything from scratch.

Okay, enough metaphors. Let’s get this done. To the end!!

Nosce te Ipsum

Welcome to the third installment of my answers to the Proust Questionnaire, as found over at Vanity Fair. You can answer it for yourself, and they will come up with a hilariously inaccurate celebrity match for you. Enjoy that.

There are bits and pieces where this feels awfully self-indulgent, especially the ones where I get to dig up the more unpleasant parts of my self-image. I know the internet is supposed to be that place where you kind of let loose and just vomit out all your deepest and darkest thoughts [1], but it’s something I try to avoid when I can. Perhaps it’s my New England upbringing, that idea that you shouldn’t talk too much about yourself, or maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to look at my naked brain.

This section doesn’t have quite as much of that in it, though. So we can all be thankful.

11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to remember how to make friends.

As I mentioned back on Day One, I have come to suspect that I’m not actually a friendly person. I think I’m polite, kind, supportive, even funny. I can be nice, helpful, I can teach without being condescending, and I can listen to what people have to say.

Lost somewhere in all that, though, is the kind of openness and willingness to make a genuine connection with others that would best be described as “friendly.” I hold myself back. I keep a certain measured distance between me and other people, and I’m really not sure why.

Tell me about this "friendship" thing you speak of...

I figure I must have been able to do this at some point – after all, I do have friends. And I’m talking real-people friends, not just names on a Facebook list. Barring catastrophic betrayal or the triumph of apathy, we’ll probably be friends for quite some time. But whatever talent it was that I had back in the day seems to have dimmed.

Maybe it’s the situation that I’m in now. My Japanese abilities are limited, so making friends with Japanese people is a whole lot more work for everyone involved than it might be back in the States. I can’t imagine anyone putting up with it long enough for us to get to the point where we can call ourselves “friends.” And what’s holding me back from my English-speaking compatriots? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not an ability that can be parceled out like that, where I can be friendly with one group but not with another. Maybe it’s because relationships here can be transitory and fleeting – just when you get to know someone, they jet back to their home country again. Maybe I’ve become a suspicious bastard who doesn’t trust people enough to believe that their intentions are good, that this friendship is going to be an investment with a good return.

I get jealous of people who have a lot of friends, really. People who have a Group that they can go out with. My colleagues, especially the younger ones, hang out a lot outside of work hours, and sometimes I wish I was willing to make that kind of commitment to other people. Whatever it is, I’ve found in the last decade or so that I’ve really narrowed my relationships down to a near-singularity that includes The Boyfriend and me, and that’s it. And even he thinks I should go out and make more friends.

12. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I wish we hadn’t moved as many times as we did.

On the upside, I'm damn good at packing up a home.

Sometimes I think that my failure to connect well with others has its roots in the involuntary peregrinations of my youth, but again – I do have friends, so I don’t think I can really blame my parents for this one. [2] Having said that, though, I do wish we hadn’t moved as much as we did. I wonder, sometimes, what would have been if we had stayed in one place until I went to college. Would I have had childhood friends of the kind you see in your better class of Stephen King novels? Would I have developed that sense of community that comes with having grown up in a place all your life? What would it be like to have a childhood with continuity, where you could know that the house you lived in would be the only home you know? Where the only time you moved was when you took your place in the world of adults?

I really have no idea, and it’s an entertaining hypothetical at best. There’s no guarantee that having lived in one place all my life would have been any better for me than having moved a lot. After all, I was born in Houston, TX, so it’s entirely possible that I’d be a twang-talkin’ evangelical Christian who was active in his local Megachurch by day and fervently praying to Jesus to take the gay away by night. Hell, I might even have willingly voted for Dubya. Twice.

Yikes.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Setting up a successful (so far) life in Japan.

Plum blossoms always look good.

This was something I never never would have expected. If you had told me, back when I was slogging through Beanie Babies after college, that I would be teaching in a private high school in Japan, I would have laughed right in your face. This was something that I did because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and never really thought that it was something that would last a long time. Maybe stay for a year or two, then come back and do… something. It wasn’t like I was overburdened with career choices before I came here, which may be one of the reasons I’ve stayed for so long.

One year turned into two, which turned into… many. And the thing of it is that I’ve made a pretty good life for myself here. Can it bear some improvement? Absolutely – see number 11 above. But I live in a great place, I have a job that I really enjoy, and The Boyfriend and I have been together for quite a long time now. Things are comfortable, things are good. And before I came here, I never really expected that to happen in my lifetime, in Japan or anywhere else.

14. If you died and came back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A raven.

C’mon, ravens are awesome. They’re near chimp-level intelligent, if not better. They can work out puzzles, work in teams, and plan ahead. They are ancient harbingers of war and death, but also agents of thought and memory. They can live anywhere and eat anything, and if you piss them off, they’ll remember you forever.

Plus, I look good in black.

15. What is your most treasured possession?
My Waterman fountain pen.

This has become a surprisingly popular photo on Flickr.

This was a gift from The Boyfriend quite a few birthdays ago. I was looking for a nice fountain pen, and I saw a green Waterman that I really liked. The price was a bit more than he was looking to spend on a present, so I said I’d cover the extra but it would still count as a present from him.

It really is lovely, too. The green enamel is starting to flake a bit, showing gold underneath, but it writes like a charm and never fails to get compliments. It’s really a pity I don’t like writing stories longhand. It would be an excellent tool for that purpose, I think.

—–

[1] Though that would technically be LiveJournal. WordPress tries to be a bit more upbeat from what I understand, and I’m not exactly boosting the curve there.
[2] Don’t worry, Mom and Dad – I’ll find something to blame on you eventually. There’s a shrink somewhere who needs a yacht.

I know I am, but what are you?

Well, yesterday’s unloading was an interesting experience. While I wish I could say that I feel unburdened or uplifted or something, I haven’t felt much different for having posted all of that, probably because so much of it has been circling around in my head for so long that it just feels like talking to myself some more.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got for questions 6-10 from the Vanity Fair version of the Proust Questionnaire.

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
The unwillingness to empathize.

There is a wonderful quote I’ve seen passed around, and it is of uncertain provenance. Some people attribute it to Plato or to Philo of Alexandria, but the most probable source is a guy named John Watson, who wrote under the pen name of Ian MacLaren.

Yeah, I don’t know who that is either.

Whoever wrote it, it’s a phrase that really resonates with me:

by Simon Walker, via Flickr

Human beings are not telepathic, no matter how much we wish we could be. We all live inside our own heads, acting out dramas that no one else is aware exist, and to each and every one of us, what happens to us is of paramount importance. You may be a cancer sufferer who just got released from twenty years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murdering your own wife, but that still won’t trump the fact that I missed the train this morning and had to stand while a bunch of elementary school kids punched each other and screamed for the whole forty-minute ride.

It’s not that I don’t think your pain is significant – it most certainly is – but I may not know it’s there. And even if I do, I have absolutely no point of reference to begin to understand how you feel, so comparing your pain to mine is pointless. Mine will win because, well, it’s mine.

Now this is the point where the sociopaths among you are saying, “I know, right?” Well calm down before you get all excited.

The mark of being an emotionally functional human being is that once you have that moment where you say, “I value my pain over the pain of others,” you then go on to the next step, which is to say, “But I’m going to act like that isn’t true, because that would make me a dick.” And that’s what we do. We hear another person’s story and say, “Wow, it would be really inappropriate and belittling to complain to this Iraq war vet with PTSD about how the barista at Starbucks never leaves enough room for milk when I buy coffee.”

And you shut. The hell. Up. Because while you cannot truly know what the other person is going through, you can know that it’s bigger than what you have going on. The real kicker is that, for any given person you meet, there’s no guarantee you will ever know what kind of pain they’re going through or what burdens they bear. No one is obligated to reveal that kind of information, and there’s no guarantee you could understand it if they did.

So I guess my point is this: you’ve gotta try and empathize with people, no matter how much you may dislike them or disagree with them. You don’t know the whole story, or what battles they’re fighting, so you’re not in a great position to pass judgement.

But there are people who actively refuse to do this. I had a colleague once who lived by the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” She met someone, judged them, and then that was that. Changing her mind was like shifting the Empire State Building with a series of precisely timed farts. I found that to be not only immensely uncompassionate, but thoroughly dismissive of the nature of the human condition.

There is a converse as well, which I phrase as follows:

Apologies to Mr. Walker. This one's mine.

I had some students last year who were on the American football team, and it was the center of their lives. There wasn’t a single activity or assignment that they couldn’t somehow manage to slip football into.

Now as you may know, I couldn’t care less about sports, and I mean that exactly as it is written. I don’t hate sports, because to hate a thing you have to care about it. If all athletics vanished from the world tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t notice it until the whole city of Boston up and killed itself.

So when one of these boys comes up to me the other day and says that he’d gotten to start in last weekend’s game and that they’d won, do I say, “I’m sorry, and I should care… why?” No, of course not. I congratulate him and shake his hand, not because I care but because he does. This is his victory – meaningless to me, but the world to him, and if our situations were reversed, I would hope to get the same in return.

Being unwilling to imagine the world from another’s point of view, to admit that your perspective on the world is not absolute, is basically shouting a big “Fuck You” to your fellow human beings. You don’t have to approve of everything someone does, or condone every behavior or belief, but you owe it to people to at least try and understand.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?
Comic books.

Calling it an “extravagance” makes it sound like I’m somehow neglecting other, more important financial responsibilities. And who knows, maybe I am. But if you take the word to mean that I spend more money than I should on something that is not strictly necessary, then yeah – comics.

This has always been true, too. Somewhere in my mother’s house are several long boxes with half a thousand comics in them. When I was much younger, most of my paper route and allowance money went into comics, no doubt to the unending consternation of my parents.

As I got older and poorer, I stopped buying as much, because somehow staving off starvation took priority, but once money started coming in again, it went out every Wednesday in a flurry of capes and spandex.

That… sounds like a lot more fun than it was.

These days, I have several shelves of trade paperbacks that still baffle The Boyfriend, and Thursday morning is the day I download the newest batch of comics from DC, who went digital last year. Good thing, too, as American comics are viciously hard to find here.

Why comics and not something more grown-up like wine or travel or high-class rentboys? Well… why not? I’ve known many of these characters longer than I’ve known some of my best friends. I like reading their adventures and seeing all the ways they save the world. I like watching how writers and artists reinterpret the characters, giving them new life and new meaning that their creators probably never imagined.

Simply put, reading comics gives me pleasure, which is pretty much the whole reason for having an extravagance in the first place.

8. On what occasion do you lie?
When the truth won’t do anyone any good.

I really don’t like lying. Whenever possible, I tell the truth or, in the best tradition of the Aes Sedai, something that is true, but not the truth the listener thinks it is. My general position is that the world is already full of liars, dissemblers, and deceivers, and I really don’t need to add to their number.

Having said that, there are times when the truth might not do any good. It might even be harmful, in fact. And I know this is vague and highly situational and useless as a guideline, but if the truth is only going to hurt people, then you need to carefully consider whether a lie might not be better. I can’t tell you when that is, of course. You’ll have to trust your judgment on that.

9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My chewed-up nails.

Pity these don't work for humans.

I had a few good choices for this one – my thinning hair, the forty pounds or so of flesh that steadfastly refuses to just vanish because I want it to, teeth that really should be taken to a dentist one of these days. The glowing tattoo of the rune of Dagon on my forehead that hums an atonal dirge every eighteen minutes and causes children to cry tears of indelible shadow. But my nails were the first and last things to come to mind, so I’ll go with them.

I have been biting my nails since I had teeth. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, there’s a chance I’ll find myself gnawing away on my fingers. Sometimes I bite them ’till I draw blood, which is why I keep Band-Aids in my desk drawer. And that’s really not a thing to be proud of.

The thing is, I don’t consider myself a particularly nervous person, and I doubt anyone who knows me would call me highly-strung or overstressed, so unless there’s some giant ball of Freudian anxiety that I’ve repressed somewhere, I can’t say that I do it out of stress. It’s just habit that I can’t seem to break.

And gods know I’ve tried. I’ve snapped my wrists with rubber bands when I felt the urge to bite, but usually I can’t snap them fast enough – the realization of what I’m doing doesn’t kick in until I’m already doing it. I got that foul-tasting stuff you can paint on your nails, but again – by the time I think, “Ugh, this tastes terrible,” it’s too late. Besides, the human brain is a master at filtering out unpleasantness, so after awhile I would just stop tasting it.

Not entirely inaccurate...

I even tried putting on clear nail polish, with the hopes that the additional layer of enamel would provide some protection.

I stripped it off with my teeth.

Other than encasing my hands in gauntlets for the rest of my days, I’m really out of ideas. I just have to learn to either keep my fingertips out of sight or accept that they look like gnawed-on sausages.

The worst part is that I was able to quit smoking. That’s supposed to be the demon addiction of the modern man, and I beat that. But somehow my inner need to chew on my own flesh cannot be overcome. Dammit.

10. When and where were you happiest?
Any time I come home from traveling.

This is another question that I don’t really like, mainly because it’s nearly impossible to settle on one answer. Happiness is so highly subject to moment and mood and circumstance, and our memories of happiness can be altered with little or no provocation. Trying to thinking a single happiest moment is like trying to capture mist in a fishing net.

I decided, then, to go for a situation that never fails to make me happy, and that’s when I stop traveling.

To give a little perspective, I always thought the saying, “The journey is more important than the destination” was a big old load of stinky, stinky horseshit.

I like destinations. I like being somewhere. I like being able to be in a place and learn about it and discover it.

Only twelve more hours to go...

I hate getting there. I hate having to arrange for the time off, trying to create a schedule that jams as much activity into as small a temporal space as possible. I hate knowing that there’s no way I’m not being robbed blind on transportation costs.

I hate the constant feeling that I’m doing something wrong, like I’m just barely in control of what’s going on. For example, I can never shake that feeling like the Customs officer is going to open my passport and half a kilo of heroin is going to fall out. It feels like there are a thousand things that can go wrong, and I’m only even aware of a few of them.

And then, when I finally get where I’m going, to a place where I want to relax and catch up with people, there is always that knowledge in the back of my head that pretty soon I’m going to have to turn around and do it all again. There’s part of me that’s watching the clock, wondering if I’ll be able to make it to the airport on time, wondering if I can pack everything up efficiently to survive the trip home.

My nightmares are literally about this kind of thing. Being late for transportation, not going the way I want to go, not being in the city I need to be in. For me, travel is just a catastrophic series of clusterfucks that are waiting to happen. They just need one little push – a late taxi, a cranky TSA agent, a weak bladder – to come cascading down and cause me no end of trouble.

The day teleportation becomes a viable travel alternative will be the happiest day of my life…

All right, not quite as personally introspective as last time, but there are still ten more questions to go. See you there.