I’ve been watching Mysteries at the Museum on Netflix. It is really good for putting on while I do things like sorting invoices or stamping books. The show takes interesting artifacts from smaller museums all of the country and tells the stories that landed the object in a museum. I enjoy hearing the stories and learning about pockets of history I hadn’t known before.
One of the things that becomes apparent to me is that in every era, humans are still human. They make the same sorts of mistakes and show similar brilliance. Throughout history there has been political upheaval, local scandal, astounding bravery, and brilliant discovery. My era of existence has far more in common with historical era than modern folks tend to think. The mechanisms are different, but theft is still theft whether it uses a sword or a computer.
Another thing I am noticing is that many of these historical stories take place during my living memory. Some of them I even remember seeing in the news. It brought to my attention that the older I get, the more of my life is considered historical. My Grandma was an adult during World War II, which I studied in school. 9/11 is beginning to be taught in history classes to current day teenagers who were born after it happened. I don’t mind this really. It doesn’t make me feel old. But it does remind me that the older people get, the more history they carry with them. Talking to older folks is very worthwhile. My grandma is gone. Getting her to tell stories about her childhood took lots of coaxing. She wasn’t a natural storyteller. There is so much about her life that we don’t know.
I noticed a third thing when I saw a pair of episodes close to each other. One told a story of smuggling fugitive slaves from the US South into the northern states for freedom. Another told about smuggling Chinese refugees into the US. In both cases the action was the same: helping oppressed people travel from a place of fear to a place of hope. Yet one story was pitched as an act of heroism while the other was presented as a crime. It is true that the mass smuggling of people had a profit motive that was likely not present for the smuggling of single fugitives, yet I couldn’t help but think about the fact that history is always biased. Any time we hear a story it is colored by the person and the society who tells it. A person who is a villain in one context may be perceived as a hero in another.
This is true not just for historical events, but every single day. I once had a front row seat to a friend’s divorce. I got to hear from both halves of the splitting couple, and gradually I came to understand why it is hard to be close to a situation like that without taking sides. I’m still friends with one half of the former couple and long ago out of touch with the other half. Every story has another side, another way of seeing things. This is part of why my head gets so noisy because I automatically try to see those alternative views. Yet eventually I have to choose how to act, which means I have to chose which version to act upon.
Life is complicated. People are fascinating. History shows us this, particularly when we look at the small scale stories instead of the large sweeps that are taught in school.
At this moment I am sitting in my warehouse, waiting for a truck to deliver four pallets of Force Multiplication. I’m also wishing that the AC in the warehouse worked better, may need to call the landlord about that. The truck is due to come sometime between now and two hours from now. Hence me sitting and waiting at my warehouse. Fortunately I have an internet hot spot and a pile of computer work that I can be doing. It is good to get ahead on the computer work, because the arrival of books is the beginning of the physical work of shipping. After I’m done sitting here, I’ll need to go home and sort invoices. Howard and I will need to plan a signing day and order the stamp for sketch editions. Packages of unsigned books should start going out during the first half of next week.
Mixed in with the shipping work will be ongoing work for Planet Mercenary and the Seventy Maxims book. And then there is family stuff. And the days when my brain simply will not kick into gear to get things done. I don’t like those days. Some of them are required to emotionally process events. I had to sort through all the thoughts and feelings that were stirred up by helping clear my grandparents’ house. I also had to sort some emotions relating to the end of school and shifting roles in our house. The heightened level of ambient anxiety meant that some of it attached to pending business tasks and conversations. I had to detangle that. It gets pretty messy and noisy in my head
And with that quick update, I need to go find my contract brain so I can re-write for a contractor we want to hire.
We made it home. The drive we expected to take ten hours stretched to twelve. Most of the delay was because I-80 was turned into a parking lot outside of Elko while road crews doused and removed a burning semi from blocking both eastbound lanes. It was strange to stand outside of my car talking to others who were also outside their cars on a road where we all usually zip by at 80 mph.
The trip was long and I was already over stressed and anxious when it began. A fact Kiki noticed when she took a turn driving and I alerted to check the road every time she made a course correction that was a little sharper than expected. Her driving is fine, my brain was in hyper alert mode. It had been all weekend. (Events in the news did not reduce this anxiety. At all. Grief upon grief.)
We got home near midnight, and I shuffled my tired self through the garage into the kitchen. A waft of cool clean air enveloped me. “Oh it smells like home!” I said. Which is a nice parallel because the smell of my Grandma’s house was one of the first things I noticed when arriving there. Except now that Quincy smell is all tangled up with hard work, hyper alertness, and anxiety.
There was this moment, after all the coming-home chatter had died down. After all the hugs had been exchanged. I was looking at one of my blank, white walls. This house I live in is not quirky. It is not interesting. It is a cookie cutter home built in tandem with twenty or thirty other homes in my neighborhood. I have the exact same floor plan as many of my neighbors. In comparison to my grandparent’s house, my house is boring. In that moment, surrounded by the cool smell of home, I realized I like my house better. It is mine. The roof doesn’t leak. I have almost twenty years of accumulated living in my house. I’m about to embark on a process of remodeling sections of it so that I’ll like it even more.
After spending all weekend with a base level grief that I have to participate in giving up my grandparent’s house, it was a relief to realize that the home I’m keeping is the one I’d rather have anyway.
Today I’m unpacking and trying to remember what business tasks I should be doing. I unpacked some of the things I brought home.
After I removed the layer of grime and dust everything was much shinier.
This picture does not cat the way that the light shines through the colored glass. It is beautiful and makes me happy.
And there is a little space in my office given over to Grandma and Grandpa. Them together older and younger, vases from her, and a wood plane that I remember Grandpa teaching me how to use.
We took today off from hauling and sorting, but I still wandered about taking pictures and noticing things. Like these giant calipers that Grandpa acquired from somewhere. They weigh at least forty pounds. I’ve no idea what he planned to use them for.
This is a cabinet in Grandma’s kitchen. She may have covered it with contact paper herself. I’m not sure. But I find it strangely lovely if not typical for kitchen cupboards.
All over the property I see places where nature is attempting to reclaim structures. This ivy is climbing up the spiral stairs to the apartment above the garage.
I am not certain where these giant lamps came from, or why Grandpa has three of them. They’re the size of a human torso.
Grandma’s lilac bushes are thriving even without her here to water them.
Most of the doors in the house lock with hooks and eyes or with these sliding locks. This was a challenge when we were kids and accidentally locked ourselves into spaces.
Grandpa had at least two Oscilloscopes. My brother plugged one in, but it will require fixing to be functional. I’ve always been fascinated by the quantity of dials on this machine. So many things to adjust. I remember seeing it work.
This bowl was in Grandma’s kitchen. I usually got to see the wheat pattern when scooping out the last of the mashed potatoes. Even the chips remind me of the long years of use.
Grandpa wrote notes on many pieces of equipment.
It seems that Grandpa decided that the old means of turning on this electric stove weren’t good enough, so he re-rigged the entire thing with switches. Then he labeled it with big black marker so that other people would have a clue how it worked. Sometimes his solutions added greatly to the life of objects, other times they just gave him additional tinkering work as the thing constantly broke down. Not sure where this stove fit on that spectrum.
Grandpa often sorted his tools using blocks of wood with holes drilled into them. We found at least a dozen of these, all filled with assortments of duplicate tools. Most of the tools were obviously used when he acquired them.
Every now and then I pause to look up at the tall trees that grace the property. They are beautiful. This tiny community really is a lovely place to be.
Over forty whole televisions, many more pieces of televisions. Many of the televisions were in wooden cabinets.
All of this was hauled out and sorted. Some was delivered to recycling center, thrift store, or dump. The rest gets hauled off over the next week.
Estimated size of this garage is 600 square feet or less. It was packed.
My Grandpa was a radio repairman who expanded into televisions when they became common. He had a workshop and a tendency to acquire things which he intended to fix. These are the televisions we removed from his garage today.
This is a view of about a third of the garage, many televisions remain.
Standing in the garage with Kiki, she looked around and said “I didn’t even really know him, but he’s here.” Yes. That building is filled with who he was. and there are finally enough TVs removed that we can see it. We can see what he valued and how he organized it. Grandpa was all about function and re-using things.
I remember his hands were rough and always stained with dirt or grease. Apparently he went through a lot of bandaids and then kept all the containers because those little metal cans would surely be useful for something eventually.
In contrast, Grandma collected beautiful things. Here you can see a few of her lamps. Along with the clown doll which creeped me out, particularly after I’d seen the movie Poltergeist.
We’ve sorted through lots of glassware, all sorted and carefully stored. Here are the decanters that she displayed in her windows.
Up above the lovely decanters is a reminder of why the house has to go. Water damage.
And then there are the places where we’ve tried to keep out the wildlife with only limited success.
Today was spent sorting, labeling, and hauling off larger items. Tomorrow more of my siblings will have arrived and we’ll have a much larger work crew. The hauling will continue as will the discoveries. All the work reminds my of why I love this house and why we have to let it go. It reminds me of why I love my Grandparents, and my sadness that they are no longer here. This process has me remembering things I had forgotten and telling some of those stories to my kids. I’m thinking about what people leave behind them when they go. For now I need to rest. I’m going to be stiff and sore tomorrow.
It is a house made out of spare parts. I can see this in everything from the doors which are painted black plywood with garden gate handles and hinges to the roof which was made from reclaimed airplane metal. Shale rocks are found in the construction and the walkways, topped by logs probably cut from trees on the property itself. It is a hodge podge place with odd nooks and strange arrangements. Yet the hands which made this house loved it and they had a sense of beauty. It shows everywhere. No wonder that my Grandma, a collector of beautiful things, fell in love with the house. The fact that it constantly needed repair and alteration made it a perfect place for my Grandpa as well, he tinkered with everything.
I love the quirks of this house, like the skylight which is constructed of sturdy plastic that is ruffled in the same way that those potato chips with ridges are.
The rain is slowly winning. It turns out that airplane metal becomes brittle as it ages over sixty years or more. Then it cracks. Most rooms in the house have evidence of water damage. A mildew smell here, stained wallpaper there. Right next to the things I love, I see reminders why we have to let the house go. The house is beginning to fall apart, and it can only be rescued by someone who is willing to pour money into fixing it up. That person has to be willing to live in it and notice the leaks the moment they happen instead of months later when the damage has spread out from the initial spot. No one in our extended family can do this.
I ran my hands over the walls of the rock room. I wish the photograph could catch the shimmer of these rocks. I’ll try again tomorrow with different lighting. Each rock is beautiful, obviously selected carefully and placed by hand.
In the rock room I noticed this cabinet, which is almost certainly my Grandpa’s work.
Every room has a mix of eras. Kitchen fixtures from the sixties hold dishes from the eighties and a wall clock that is pure digital modern. Sometimes I can tell which things my Grandparents added and what things are original. I think the front door is original.
The whole house is beautiful, strange, old, new, damaged, beloved.
I read The Crucible in high school. I might even have read it the same year that I read Lord of the Flies. I remember the teacher leading us carefully through discussions of mob justice and leadership through popularity. We, earnest honors students that we were, all spoke solemnly about how terrible it was to have people convicted and punished based on the voice of the crowd. It was a different year when I read The Scarlet Letter and learned about the pillory, a place of public shaming for sinners. I remember thinking how glad I was to not live in a place where mob justice and public shaming were normal.
In history class I learned about civil rights and why people must speak out. I learned about oppressed people who refused to obey laws that they felt were wrong. By doing so, they required that the oppression become physical and public instead of social and quiet. This forced those in power to confront their own behavior. And by “those in power” I’m talking about all the people who didn’t have lesser status under “Separate But Equal” and Jim Crow laws.
These days I look at the news and see inequality. I see people getting lighter sentences than seems fair for the damage they caused. I see others ending up dead for small infractions or no infractions at all. I notice that there is a correlation between skin color and severity of punishment and a similar correlation tied to social class. Our justice system fails. Often. It is difficult to create a system that is truly equitable when all of the people in it are imperfect at best, and biased at worst. Yet there is something lovely in what the founders of my country attempted. Instead of judgement from on high, there is a small group of flawed people who try their hardest to be impartial as they examine evidence. And they are instructed “innocent until proven guilty.” That ideal is not always applied, but it is supposed to be there.
This is why I am sad, scared, and worried any time I see a hue and cry on the internet. I see faces and crimes published. I see people gathering in crowds to throw virtual stones because someone else cried “sinner!” I’ve read accounts where a person loses their income and has to physically relocate to escape harassment, all because of an ill-considered tweet. I saw when parents were tried in the court of public opinion because somehow their parenting decisions ended up on the news. I know that, historically, handling things quietly was how oppression lasted so long. But most of the time nothing is made better by a mob. There is a world of difference between calling out an elected official because of bad behavior, and a thousand people posting hateful messages on the Facebook wall of a private individual.
The thing that concerns me most about internet mobs (which can turn into physical mobs) is there is no pause. People are angry and they feel something must be done NOW. They know that the justice system is slow and sometimes inadequate, so they feel they must do something themselves. They, or rather we, I am not innocent of this. No one is who has ever been angry on the internet. We latch on to the first action we can think of which vents feelings and feels relevant. This is usually public shaming. So few people pause to think: “Is it my job to judge this individual case?” “What am I really angry at?” “What actions will really solve this injustice I am angry about?” Instead of anger applied to concerted effort for systemic change, the internet hoists up an example. A supposed perpetrator is displayed in public like the pillory, or heads on a pike, or the thief dying in the crow cage. The example sates the anger for a while, and most everyone goes back to what they were doing before. The system rolls on unchanged.
We need fewer mobs and more resolute anger. There are absolutely things that are deserving of anger. And sometimes an example is a useful lever for social change, but most often this is the case when the example is selected by due process or at least careful research and gathering of evidence. Resolute anger is smart and patient. It is loud and unruly when that is necessary in defense of the oppressd. But more often it acts firmly, quietly, carefully to change the very social structures that support injustice. It acts within the systems whenever possible, because the intent is to make the rules better, not to create lawlessness. And when the systems are completely hostile, civil disobedience comes before rioting. None of this bears much resemblance to clicking “share” to someone else’s angry post without looking into the issue yourself. If you’re going to be angry about something, be angry enough to do research. Be angry enough to donate to organizations that you feel are actually working to solve the problem. Be angry enough to start an organization if you can’t find one. Be angry enough to do more than write a sentence or a paragraph. And if you aren’t angry enough to put in this much effort, maybe you should turn your attention to things that matter to you more instead of just adding to the sound and fury which signifies nothing.
This is an event that is obviously created out of love and enthusiasm. I can feel that when I walk in the hall. I can also feel that it is a new show, only two years old. It hasn’t yet settled into what it will become. My personal hope is that it will keep it’s emphasis on actually playing games rather than getting distracted bringing in celebrities. For this year the focus is right. There are areas for people to hit each other with foam swords or shoot each other with Nerf darts. There is an extensive board game library where attendees can try out games. Then there are the rows upon rows of computers set up for LAN gaming and console gaming. Everywhere I went I heard “Would you like to play?”
I did an informal count, and the attendee population was definitely skewed male, at least 3 to 1 maybe 5 to 1. Yet when my daughter sat down to play Super Smash Bros with eight guys, none of them reacted to her gender, just to how she played the game. This is the side of gaming that isn’t as apparent online. The vast majority of people who love playing games are kind and well adjusted. They have excellent social skills and a welcoming attitude. I would love to see this event grow and foster that community even more.
My attendance at the convention was low key. I was mostly serving as transportation for my kids. I brought work and sat at a table alternately working and observing. My kids had a really good time. The show floor had lots of energy, but was never overly crowded. There was plenty of parking. I imagine that it looks and feels much like the early days of GenCon before it became so beloved and crowded. There is one more day of the show. If you’re local and you like games, it is probably worth your time to stop by. saltlakegamingcon.com
I recently found myself in conversation with a person with whom I could not agree. The conversation ended more with final statements than an accord. I’ve given much thought to it over several days because one of the aspects of my anxiety is that I will re-play, re-script, review any contentious conversation for several days after it happens. I am not able to be done with a conversation and walk away. It chases after me and interferes with my ability to think about anything else. A contentious conversation impedes my ability to work for as much as a week. Sometimes, years later, the memory of contention will suddenly drop into the middle of my mind along with a stab of adrenaline as my body is momentarily convinced that the unavoidable outcome of this contention is doom, or death, or failure.
The person to whom I was talking does not have any of these anxiety issues. Because he does not, and because of some innate rigidity of belief, he was incapable of understanding where I was coming from. He felt like he should be able to say whatever he wanted to say and if other people didn’t like it, they could just walk away unaffected. He can do this and assumes that all humans have that capability. I know, to my bones, that sometimes words chase people down and haunt them. Words are sharp implements that can cut people if they’re used carelessly. Both of our beliefs feel irrefutable because they come directly from our own experiences.
Sadly, I’ve come to realize that when the source of conflict is between the fundamental beliefs of one person and another, the conflict can’t really be resolved other than by agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it means the people simply can’t be around each other without hurting each other constantly. We all have issues on which we can’t bend without becoming something other than what we are. We all have places where we are rigid. The tricky part is that the core of a conflict is not always apparent. It is usually wrapped up in some tangential event. Sometimes a conflict is a problem of word choice muddling a fundamental agreement. Those can be sorted by definition of terms and ongoing conversation. Occasionally conflict results in an expansion of mind in both parties, but this requires both parties to be willing to be vulnerable instead of defensive.
In all cases I find that my most useful response to conflict is to take a step backward and consider “what is really the conflict here?” Because I’ve had fights over cheese which were actually about disrespect and loneliness. In each case I have to figure out why I am so upset, which helps me to see why the other person might be as well. Because I know that my brain lies to me, I have to consider that my reaction might have more to do with brain chemistry than the conversation. I had to walk away from a conversation with Howard last week because he was talking about furniture and my brain was interpreting his every word as evidence of my failure as a human being. So I stopped him and walked away, which was frustrating for him. I had to go off by myself and detach furniture choices from my sense of self worth. In that pause I was able to recognize the emotional hole which was affecting me that day. Then we started the conversation fresh and talked about the hole I’d found. There were apologies, plans for keeping holes filled, and we were able to discuss furniture without emotional baggage. Classic example of fundamental agreement being clouded by emotions and words.
Once I can see the core conflict, I have to evaluate whether it actually needs to be resolved at all. This week’s conversation was with a person I don’t have to interact with much. I can just interact less without impacting my life. There are some other ongoing conflicts I’m juggling with people where I greatly value the relationships. My son and I have some very different beliefs about how he can succeed at being an adult. We’ve developed a neutral ground and a vocabulary where I can continue to advocate for my view and he advocates for his. Sometimes we get angry, but both of us value our relationship more than we value being right. When things get too angry we back off and focus on the parts of our lives where we are in complete agreement.
People are complicated. We all carry around heads full of unexamined opinions. We’re formed by our genetics and our upbringing. We’re further shaped by the communities where we spend our time and by how those communities treat us. None of it is fair. Some people have to struggle more than others. Everyone struggles with something. And we’re all a bit myopic because, while experience can teach us how to see some other points of view, no one has enough experience to see all points of view. This means that we will disappoint each other and hurt each other. There will be times when we can’t comprehend another person’s decisions because they are working from entirely different premises for how life functions. It also means that the world is full of people from whom we can learn. We are constantly surrounded with the opportunity for empathy and expanded vision. It is wonderful, heartbreaking, exhausting. It is why curling up under the covers and never coming out again sounds so attractive for folks like me who have panic attacks when we think we’ve disappointed someone.
Conflict is inevitable. That made me sad and scared for a long time. I didn’t want conflict. Ever. Then I got older and realized that the times when I really expanded and became bigger, stronger, more than I was before, all came from conflict. Conflict with another human being is an opportunity for both of the people to grow. I try to remember that when I find myself in the middle of a conflict I did not want.