Month: June 2016

Home from Camp

Just came back from picking up my 15 year old from a church girls camp. 3 days early. It turns out that the stresses of camp pushed her mental health issues into a state that the camp staff were not equipped to manage. So she comes home because it is the best of the options available. Some days are hard and not what anyone wants.

Anger and Online Arguments

Sometimes in my wanderings around the internet I happen across contentious posts and comment sections. I do my best to not participate in these, as does Howard, because participating in contention punches our anxiety buttons and can interfere with our ability to work for days. But sometimes, when I’m not directly involved, I dig in and read the post and the reactions. It is an effort on my part to understand this behavior and why we all get pulled into it at some point. I figure if I can learn from the interactions when I’m not involved, then I’ll be better able to either make my points or disengage when I am involved.

One pattern that I notice is one person choosing to wrestle publicly with complicated and emotionally charged thoughts on an issue and then the comments get dog piled with anger and vitriol most of which doesn’t really address the actual words of the original poster. Instead the commenters project motivations onto the poster based on some assumption or belief in the commenter’s head. Often it feels to me like the commenters are responding more to a dozen conversations and situations which happened before this exchange, rather than to the actual ideas expressed in the post.

The other thing I notice is that most of the time people are not actually attempting to convince other people that their position is right. They think they are, but nothing in their words invites consensus. They instead trigger defensiveness because the person feels attacked. These arguments are far more about venting feelings than about changing minds. Hint: if your comment includes the word Idiot (or any other name calling word) then you are venting feelings. We all need to vent. Sometimes we can’t see what our thoughts are until we see them written or say them out loud. Sometimes we can’t clear our head of assumptions until we’ve spoken ignorantly. Yet on the internet all words tend to be treated like we are planting a flag, claiming territory, declaring which side of the issue we are on. As if people won’t alter their thoughts as a political (or emotional) situation evolves.

It is simple psychology that if a person has to defend their thought from attack, they’re more likely to cling to it rather than let it go. Which means attacking someone for being wrong is the least likely method of convincing someone of their wrongness. I think we all forget this on occasion, particularly when we’re in the grip of emotional reaction or a need to vent those emotions. Politics are huge, like forces of nature, and an individual can feel powerless in the face of them. Being powerless is terrifying, being angry takes a sliver of power back from fear, and it is easier to be angry at someone specific because a person is comprehensible. We might win in a conflict with another person. So people become the scapegoats for our fear-driven anger at something large and uncontrollable.

I try to remember this when I see angry responses. I try to look on the angry person with eyes of compassion and send a prayer that they can be less afraid. This is much harder to do if the anger is aimed at me or mine. I have to find an appropriate balance between defense against actual harm, disengaging, de-escalating, and compassion. This compassion is also hard when I am the angry person. I have to pause and figure out why I am angry, what about this particular incident set me off, whether I’m actually angry with the person in front of me or if I’m angry about something else and tempted to land it all on the person who is in reach. On good days I am able to dig even deeper and find the fear which is driving the anger.

I write to sort these things out. I’m much better able to sort out my thoughts on a contentious topic if I don’t have to defend every thought as I pass through it, so most of my political thoughts do not get posted publicly. I have them. Many of them. I have a host of attached anxieties as well. Howard and I habitually talk about events on the world stage or about smaller conflicts in our various communities. Of late the kids have been listening and adding thoughts of their own. So much is shifting around right now and they are trying to figure out what to think and feel about it. Somewhere in the future we’ll figure out which of the myriad predictions was accurate. For now it is all nebulous and scary. Which is why so many people are angry and so ready to attack each other. I wish I could give the entire world a hug and say “It’ll be okay.” Except I can’t say that truthfully. One person’s “okay” is another person’s “terrible”. No matter how things turn out, some people will be rightfully angry about it.

Keeping political thoughts off the internet seems wise as an anxiety management strategy. Yet there are times where I can’t clear a thought from my head until I’ve spoken it out loud. Sometimes this means posting it publicly where it is open to being attacked. This post was one of those. I argued with myself about it, because I know it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the discourse. I also know that in the writing I’ve probably made errant assumptions or false connections. I kind of want to put a footnote on everything I post online saying “All opinions are subject to change, without notice, upon receipt of further information.” Posting is scary, but if I don’t post, then it clogs up my brain, using up creative circuits that I need for other projects. Sometimes we need to speak up because we want to advocate for change in the world. Other times we need to speak up so we can clear our head for new thoughts.

I wish I had a nice wrapped up conclusion for these thoughts, but they’re still evolving. Most of my thoughts are, which is why I will be trying to give space to the thoughts of others without attacking them, so that they can evolve too.

Learning from History

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.

Days slip away

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.

Home Again

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.
Before washing

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.

Day of Rest at the Quincy House

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.
C calipers

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.
C floral cabinet

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.
C Ivy

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.
c lamp

Grandma’s lilac bushes are thriving even without her here to water them.
C lilac leaves

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.
C locks

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.
C oscilloscope

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.
C plate

Grandpa wrote notes on many pieces of equipment.
C radio

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.
C stove

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.
C tools

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.
C tall trees

Things Removed from Grandpa’s Garage Today

Over forty whole televisions, many more pieces of televisions. Many of the televisions were in wooden cabinets.
Seven 8 track cassette players
Four reel to reel tape recorders
three hair dryers from the 1960s, the kind of hair dryers that came with a long hose and a vinyl hood to go over curlers
two oscilloscopes
twenty small motors of various types
A dozen stereos with radios and record players. Many in large wooden cabinets. (Though a few of these were actually in the house rather than the garage.)
Ten or more blocks of wood that had been drilled with holes so that they could be used as tool racks.
Tools, many many tools, vice grips, wrenches, screw drivers, drill bits, hammers, multiples of everything.
Pieces of tools, handles without hammers, saw blades without saws, etc.
Then there were the frankentools, where part of one tool had been attached to the handle of something else. Usually with an epoxy or silicone glue.
fifteen or twenty work lamps, most non-functioning.
Thirty or forty pounds of screws, bolts, nails, hinges, locks, door knobs, and other metal bits.
hundreds of fuses of any type you can imagine, ditto resistors, and radio tubes.
Three giant lamps that must have been removed from some stadium somewhere.
Thirteen pressure gauges
Four electric heaters
Three bicycles with no wheels. (We found the wheels outside fastened twenty feet up to living trees where they served as clothesline reels. The tree had grown around the bicycle parts so they appeared to be growing out of the tree.)
Random pieces of wood with things attached (voltmeters, circuits, light switches, and sometimes there were hand written notes on the wood saying things like “motor burned out, circuits good.”)
Eight linear feet of radio and TV repair manuals.
Fifteen linear feet of a radio repair magazines.
Twenty or thirty other small electronic devices.

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.

Clearing out, A Day in Pictures

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.
A Grandpa garage
I went through and counted, we have 22 of them left to haul to the recycling center where they will be stripped down for parts. None of them are in current working order. I’m told that my parents had already hauled away piles of TVs on a previous visit here. So my best guess is that Grandpa had around 80 TVs sitting around that he intended to fix or to use for parts to fix something else.

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.
A radio tubes

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.
A prepared

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.
A lamps

We’ve sorted through lots of glassware, all sorted and carefully stored. Here are the decanters that she displayed in her windows.
A windows

Up above the lovely decanters is a reminder of why the house has to go. Water damage.
A window damage

And then there are the places where we’ve tried to keep out the wildlife with only limited success.
A Squirrel hole

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.

Grandma’s House

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.

Quincy house
I’ve written about the house before. It has been two years since I wrote that post. Grandma passed away last October and the time has come to clean out her house and get it ready to sell. I am here this weekend to work and to say goodbye. I walked the house today remembering things as they were and seeing things as they are.

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.
Sky light
I remember the sound of rain hitting this plastic. I also remembered when it started to leak around the edges so layers of plastic sheeting were installed inside and on the roof in an attempt to preserve the light while keeping out the wet.

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.
Rock WallsI remember how warm the wall became when there was a fire in the fireplace on the other side. I stood there as a child, after playing in the snow, holding my hands and face near the wall to get warm again. Grandma would hang our gloves from the wire to dry them out.

In the rock room I noticed this cabinet, which is almost certainly my Grandpa’s work.
Victrola doors
It was exactly like him to pull doors off an old Victrola and put them into use. The Victrola itself is nowhere to be found.

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.
Front Door
It looks hand crafted from multiple pieces of wood. It is solid, with a heft when it opens and closes. Next to it you can see a sample of the gorgeous cedar wood paneling that lines several rooms in the house. It is all cut and laid diagonally in the front room so the eye is drawn to the second floor balcony with it’s sky light.

The whole house is beautiful, strange, old, new, damaged, beloved.
And we have to sell it.
Probably to someone who wants the land, not the house. Even if we do find a buyer who will love the house and fix it up, the house will no longer be ours. The process of fixing it up would change it, remove evidence of my Grandparents. We’d have no right to say anything or see the place again. This weekend is my last chance to be with the house. I want to sit with it in silence, touch the walls, remember the things Grandma scolded me for, remember when Grandpa taught me how to use a lathe and how Grandma scolded him for that. I want to sit with the memory of rolling toys down the slanted space under the stairs and of the games I used to play. My parents are hoping that it doesn’t rain thus leaking on the folks who are sleeping at the house, I don’t want anyone to get wet, but I would love to hear the rain on the roof one more time.

Internet Justice

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.