The sea doesn’t care about you

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Today I feel anxious, maybe a bit frustrated. Also some variety of sadness. Part of it is summed up in a quote I got from an episode of I Should Be Writing: “the sea doesn’t care about you”. That’s a US Coast Guard saying, and basically it means that the world isn’t going to cut you a break just because you feel like it, or because you need it. The world doesn’t care if you’re down, or if you’re a nice guy, or if you have succeeded in everything you have done up to this point through hard work and effort. Today will bring exactly the same kinds of struggles, hurdles and attacks as yesterday, because nobody is keeping score like that. Nobody is trying to make life fair or easier for you. The sea doesn’t care about you. Today, to me, that is profoundly depressing. Today, to me, it means nobody is coming to take care of me. Nobody is going to be there to listen to my complaints or to take my needs into account, because my needs don’t matter. My wants don’t matter. My fears and terrors and anxieties don’t matter. Nobody is coming to save me, but I could really use that today.

Part of it is probably just tiredness. We are working hard to get our old house ready for renting, which is going to be very cool, but has taken so long that it’s wearing me out. I know this problem is never going away, not properly, because now we are going to have two houses to care for and maintain, two mortgages to pay, leases and legal agreements to manage including extra insurance, and then in December we are going to have a baby to take care of, too. And babies don’t care if you are well-rested and cared for. Babies don’t care about your sleep. The sea doesn’t care about you.

What I need today is rest, and for someone to tell me that it gets better. My experience, however, tells me that my complaints don’t just fall on deaf ears, but on actively hostile ears. You’re feeling anxious, tired, depressed and worn out? Suck it up, be a man, and get on with your job. Your concerns are nothing at all, and you need to get over them, quickly, because the storm is always getting worse. Whenever you get on top of a task, that’s when the next level of tasks comes up and you have to master that, on top of everything else. The sea. It doesn’t care about you or how hard you have to work to stay afloat.

So I’ve been keeping this bottled up. It seems like the better option. If I let it out, I’m just whining, and the sea doesn’t care if you whine. The sea is actively trying to kill you, whether you are a novice or an expert sailor.

The only thing I can see at the end of the tunnel is a loss of ambition. If I agree to plateau somewhere, then maybe I can actually learn to deal with that, and the only thing that will get harder is raising children that are growing older, plus struggling to maintain a job in an industry that puts pressure on older guys to move into higher, more demanding roles, and leave the detailed software development to the younger generation. So even if I stay still, the tide rises around me.

I don’t know where I go from here. I don’t have any answers. I can’t even seem to finish off this entry with a positive upswing. I’m still standing, though. I’m still here. I guess that’s a start.

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Praise

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I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Nothing I do ever feels good enough, and I usually feel like I have fallen short of the mark. It’s not like perfectionism, though. A perfectionist, I imagine, would keep working on one task and never let it go, because it feels like it isn’t ready yet. I get to a certain point, can’t see how to make it better, and just freeze. This usually results in abandoning work in a half-finished state.

What I crave, in contrast, is praise for a job well done. I want to hear from other people that they are impressed with what I’ve done. The feeling that it’s not good enough, however, means I tend to hide my work from others. Subconsciously, I’d rather appear slow and incompetent than slightly imperfect.

I remember the first time I submitted a piece of writing to a competition. I was nervous. It was the first time, besides blogging, that people – total strangers from around the world – had read my work to judge it. I had prepared myself for the worst where, in this case, “the worst” was a negative response and a swift kick out the door of the contest.

When the comments came back positive, I remember being in a kind of shock. You’ve seen actors at awards ceremonies laughing, crying and covering their mouths? I thought that was put on for the cameras until I experienced that feeling for myself, and that was just from a couple of strangers saying “Yeah, I kind of liked this story.”

One of my problems is that I find it very difficult to accept this kind of praise from my friends and family. They know me. They’re saying it to my face. Of course they’re not going to be objective about the work itself. Half of the praise I get for my acting is from people who think of me as “the quiet one”, so the contrast between that and me on stage inhabiting a talkative or panicky or animated character is quite striking. It’s easy to write off such praise, especially when I so often hear the words “I had no idea you had that in you”.

So I have trouble making my work available for praise, I have trouble accepting it at face value when it comes, and I have a deep desire to be praised for that work. Failing praise, I crave acceptance and love, although that acceptance and love, when it comes, causes me to completely melt down in a blubbering mess. Which is extremely inconvenient in public, if it happens.

If I have a point, I suppose it is that I don’t have the mental tools to deal with success or failure, and I’m really not sure how to go about developing them. Maybe there’s someone who can help me with that, out there, somewhere.

Class Struggle

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After I read Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), I felt like I should take a crack at writing down my own memories, at least in a similar style, and at least for the practice. Today is the first day I started to feel like I was getting it a little bit right, and I wanted to share my work, so here goes:

The Swimming Class Struggle

Another time, probably not that same year, but I can’t be sure, our entire school year went to swimming lessons together. Or maybe it was just our one class. The main point is that they had divided us at the very beginning of our schooling into three grades of swimmers: “A”, “B” and “C”. The best swimmers were in “A”. They swam laps. They dove for weighted rings on the pool floor. They were athletes.

I was in “C” grade. We did things like sit outside the pool, on the hot concrete, kicking our legs in the air and pretending to swim. This was probably for fear of drowning us. Nobody wants that kind of trouble. And, I have to admit, they had a point. I wasn’t a strong swimmer. When they got me in the pool and told us to edge further down towards the deep end, holding onto the side, everyone else just had their hands on the very edge of the pool. Imagine if someone dropped you off a cliff and you could only grab on by your fingertips. Like that, but floating in water. My body only understood the “hanging off a cliff” part, which was why I preferred to use my whole arm over the 30cm or so of tiles at the pool edge, gripping firmly onto the lip at the other side.

I was probably hyperventilating and doing my best panicky cat-in-the-bath face, too.

The craziest part was that other kids, stuck behind me in the queue, were letting go of the wall to swim around me like some parade of insane people unable to see what kind of danger they were in. Me with my sensible drowning cat style stayed firmly connected to solid ground.

The teachers noticed this. Of course. They came to encourage me to use slightly less of my arm to hang on, and to move faster, countering all of my rational arguments (“I’ll slip off”) with well-reasoned debate (“No, you won’t”). They never tricked me into following their death-wish.

And that’s how I ended up in grade “C”, sitting beside the pool, kicking in the air. You would think, based on all of that previous determination not to drown in the shallow end of a pool under the constant supervision of at least three adults would translate into happiness at not being forced to do any actual swimming. Here’s the thing, though: not wanting to drown is slightly different than not wanting to swim. I wanted to swim. I wanted to learn to swim. And I knew this grade “C” air-kicking nonsense wasn’t going to cut it in a swimming emergency.

So one year I promoted myself. Oh, I should mention, there was never any re-testing. Once I was graded a “C” in swimming, that was it, for life. You start in “C”, you stay in “C”, you die in “C”. Well, not “die”. Still, it was like they weren’t even trying to make us better swimmers. There was never a suggestion that, maybe, one day, we’d be ready to handle actual water. Well, I’d been doing C-grade swimming training for a couple of years. I knew I could keep up with the “B” grade class. So, one year, I just joined them. I made sure to do it at the beginning of a year, too, because that meant a new teacher who didn’t know me as one of the “C” grade. This was going to work! I slipped in with the “B” group who went all the way to the deep end of the pool, and were told to jump in and swim to the other end.

I jumped in. I swam my heart out. Years of air-kicking practice were paying off! I could do this! I was powering to the other end.

Thinking of how it looked from the outside, I’m surprised they had the patience to let me finish the lap. It must have taken several minutes. I may have been passed by the rest of the “B” group, coming back for a second lap. At the end of the pool, a stern adult face greeted me. The swimming teacher, who did remember me.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in the ‘C’ group?”

No. I am supposed to be learning to swim better, and you are supposed to be teaching me, preferably well enough to move up a grade by now.

I could have said that. It wouldn’t have made a difference. What I said instead was probably a mumbled “yes”, followed by a dripping walk of shame back to our spot on the concrete where I could get back to my air-kicking, water-free swimming lessons.

So that’s it. My best work so far, on telling my own memories in story form. I feel like it is simultaneously kind of good, certainly better than what I’d attempted before this, but I can see where it needs work, too. I’m going to keep practicing.

Resolving

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New Year’s resolutions are hard. It’s hard to set up expectations and then, maybe, not meet them. Last year, I had this idea that I would take on a different daily challenge every month, starting with running every day in January. I did that one, and blogged about it too. I think I kind of ran out of things to say about running after a week, and while I enjoyed the running itself, for the most part, it kind of burned me out on running for a little while and on the entire concept of daily challenges for pretty much the rest of the year. Which is obviously not what I wanted.
I did still write a (terrible) book in November, though, so that’s something.
My point is, I can easily get myself into this kind of lose-lose situation where, if I fail at a resolution, I am a self-evident failure, but if I succeed at my resolution, I kill the fun it once had. I don’t want either of those things. I’ve already failed at one resolution, which was to use this app called “1 Second Everyday” to compile a year-long video of tiny snippets of my life. What I’ve learned, just one week in, is that my life is super-boring, and hardly anything happens worth recording on video or, if it does, I’ve missed it by the time I think back on it.
So I don’t know if I’m really making any “resolutions” this year. I may set some goals, but I still harbour a deep-seated dislike of that word, too. I remember “motivational” talks during my school days where people would harp on about setting goals, but offer neither guidance on what kinds of goals to set, nor advice on how to reach your goals once they were set.
So far, I’m just making more time for reading and for writing software – I already knocked together something to help balance our credit card with our budgeting bank accounts – but beyond that, I’m leaving 2016 a bit nebulous. Maybe I’ll try to blog more. Maybe I’ll try to have more fun on some given days. I’ve always wanted to be more fun and less like a metallic automaton. Maybe I’ll try to smile more at strangers on the street. I’ll keep trying to keep in touch with my friends and family more than I usually do, but as an introvert who’s always starting the conversation, that one is both exhausting and kind of anxiety-inducing. Am I bothering people too much? Probably. But this is what humans do, isn’t it? Just text each other to stay in touch? Why can’t I do that easily? What’s wrong with me?
Maybe, as the big, overarching goal, I should just try to give myself a break more often. Little failures don’t have to get me down. Misunderstandings, missteps, buying the wrong sort of whatever, doesn’t have to be the end of the world, or even the end of my good mood for the day. If I need to be more relaxed about life, then this is a good principle to keep in my mind.

Winning by losing

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Today I had some stubbornness come out, or possibly some self-pity. It’s actually hard to tell with me sometimes. Let me walk you through it.

I ordered a BLT for lunch from the cafe downstairs from the office. Another guy called John came through next and ordered something else – a chicken schnitzel sandwich, I think. We both stood waiting for our orders, then one came out. “John?” called the employee. Other John grabbed the nondescript paper bag with a quick “Thanks” and darted off. He was a bit too quick for me to interrupt, and the girl behind the counter didn’t seem to bat an eye, so I figured maybe he’s a regular and they know him? And maybe his order takes less time than mine would? I let him go, but I thought that was probably mine. A few minutes later, another order came out. “John?”

At this point, I thought I’d better double-check, because I had a strong suspicion the two John orders had got mixed up. “Is that the BLT?”

“Ah, no, chicken schnitzel.”

All the employees turned to each other. “Was there another John?”

“Yeah, there’ll be a couple coming through.”

*mumble-mumble*

“Shit.”

The schnitzel got shelved, the kitchen seemed to get a new order and I had to wait a while longer until, finally, “John? Sorry about the wait.”

See, this is my problem. I don’t speak up. I occasionally take this passive-aggressive delight in being forgotten, overlooked and kind of screwed over by other people paying insufficient attention to me. When you feel awful because you neglected me, I win by losing. Nobody wins if some other guy takes my lunch. He doesn’t get his correct order, the cafe wastes food and loses reputation, I wait longer for my food.

But, says part of my brain, you taught them all a valuable lesson about paying attention to you and to their surroundings. Well, brain, maybe I don’t want to be teaching the world a lesson. It’s not my job, and it’s not my problem, except where it directly affects me. That point, where it affects me directly, that’s where I should speak up. It’s when I need to step up and overrule that self-pitying part of my brain that tells me how great, how delightful it’s going to feel when they forget me, because it doesn’t, really.

I guess I’m just tired of the fact that I have to get up and shout about myself in order for the world to treat me as if I exist, in even the smallest and most ordinary of situations. I don’t want that to be how the world works.

Achievements and Accomplishments

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Achievement badges, in the gaming sense, are a meaningless tag assigned to make you feel better about the grind. They’re a way of quantifying the otherwise-intangible results of your labour. They are trophies emptied of all meaning of “winning”. They are milestones on a long, boring, vacuous road. A point that goes “ding” as its one and only purpose. A byproduct of going through the necessary motions.

The thing is, it’s easy to feel like this is the case with life, as well. Your lifetime achievements can feel like just the inevitable side-effect of going through life’s motions. You can write off any of them by saying you had no other option – you fell into a promotion because everyone else left. You finished school because that’s what everyone does. You bought a house because, duh, where the hell else are you going to live?

It’s easy to feel like that if you’re looking at the milestones instead of watching the road. “Yeah, of course I passed the 50km mark. I’m on this road, and it goes past there. There’s no way around it.” It’s the fact that you are on this road, however, that matters. Is it the right road? Is it heading in the right direction? If so, then whether or not you feel your achievements are worth anything or just inevitable, you’re doing great, because you’re on the right road.

This is at least as much advice for myself as for anyone else, but was inspired by a friend: Accomplishment. I think we’re both on our own right roads.

Bye bye, Booboo

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Our budgie, “Booboo”, died over the weekend. Although I wasn’t very attached to the bird, it was distressing to see. In the morning, Deb noticed that the bird had drunk all her water and wasn’t looking well. We gave her some more water and cleaned the cage, but she started drooling and looking weaker, so we took her to the vet.

When we brought her in, she was still walking around. Within an hour she could barely stand. That’s when it got me, seeing poor Booboo lying on the vet’s hand, without even the energy to raise her little head. We could tell she wasn’t going to make it, so the vet put her down.

Death always gets me, large or small, and it got me again this weekend.