When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan

The reality of the human condition is such that we can’t prepare for all eventualities. When you suffer from mental illness, the uncertainty that accompanies day-to-day life can be distressing. That uncertainty is why I get to the airport earlier than anyone I know, and why I have a strict morning routine.

However, when dealing with a vacation, or a move, or a vacation and a move in the same week, the amount I can plan for goes out the window. The challenge for me is accepting that I can’t prepare for all the eventualities and that something will go wrong. It is easy to tell myself that message and much harder to sit with the feelings of anxiety when the inevitable happens.

It is with that thought that I say that we will be moving into our house 6 days later than we originally planned. Luckily, my aunt and uncle are fantastic and are putting us up for a few days.

Come Visit!

Hey, friends. Clare and I are heading to Rochester for the next phase of our adventure. Every time we move, I struggle with my mental health. This time around I have a deeper toolbox and am in a much better place. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be easy. One of the strategies I learned this year is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance means accepting that this transition will be hard.

To make it a little easier, I have a favor to ask of you. Visit us! I know Rochester is a little out of the way, but there are lots of great things to see and do in Rochester.

  1. We could enjoy local art from September 8th to the 9th at the Clothesline Art Festival

  2. Let’s get weird at the Rochester Fringe Festival from September 12-22

  3. In the first week of November, we can hang out at the High Falls Women’s Film Festival.

  4. Or, from November 16th to the 17th we can check out the cool tech at the Maker Faire.

  5. Then, all winter we can ski Bristol mountain and other surrounding mountains and cross-country skiing on Rochester’s many excellent groomed trails.

So, if you have a free weekend and you want to see Western New York (and Clare and me) come to visit us in Rochester. I will cook you tasty food, and you can help me explore my new city.


 

Quidditch is a dumb sport

Quidditch is the worst sport ever invented. Here are four reasons:

1. There is no minimum length of the match.

The Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff match in Book 1 lasts 5 minutes! Can you imagine making a trip to the pitch to watch a match for 5 minutes?!

2. The snitch is worth 150 points.

Score differentials for average basketball games are separated by 10 points (4 - 5 baskets). Score differentials for average NFL games are 11 points (2 - 4 scoring plays). Based on other sports, scoring with the quaffle is completely useless.

3. As a spectator sport, it is useless.

The most important aspect of the game - the snitch - is completely invisible from the stands.

4. There isn't a standard broom - so the better-funded team is positioned to dominate since the equipment plays such a huge role in the game.

Feeling Down

Today has been a tough day. I am leaving another city that I have grown to love. I am leaving friends and comrades whom I love. I want to see this as another adventure, but, I’ve had enough adventure. I’m tired, I’m sad, and I feel weighted down by depression.

There are so many things that I am excited about in our move to Rochester. I’m trying to focus on those. We will own our home. We will be there for at least four years. I have family and friends who already live there. But, moves have been traumatizing for me, and that makes me scared of this one. 

Admit Every Refugee

In 1932, in response to desperate poverty and unacceptable levels of wealth inequality, El Salvadorian peasants rose to protest their government. The government responded by slaughtering the protesters. Historians estimate that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians were killed by the government.

More than three decades of oppression and rising tensions followed "La Matanza." The government continued to kill protestors in the streets. In 1978 the government killed at least 687 union organizers and leftist sympathizers. In 1979 that number rose to 1,796.

 Foto De Cadáveres Comunístas"

Foto De Cadáveres Comunístas"

Then, in 1979, with the support of the United States government, there was a military coup of the government. The U.S. was afraid that the people would rise in revolution against their government. The Americans preferred a right-wing military junta to a communist revolution of the people.

In the 1980s, death squads - supported by the United States - began a violent repression of Salvadorians and people began to flee the country.

 Members of the Salvadoran Army's First Brigade salute on Soldiers Day, May 6, 1990, in Flor Blanca Stadium, San Salvador. Photograph ©  Jeremy Bigwood. 

Members of the Salvadoran Army's First Brigade salute on Soldiers Day, May 6, 1990, in Flor Blanca Stadium, San Salvador. Photograph © Jeremy Bigwood. 

This is where MS-13 comes into the picture. José Miguel Cruz details this progression in his Washington Post piece from earlier this year:

The early members were [Salvadorian] teenagers [fleeing the civil war] who hung out on street corners and bonded around reefer and rock concerts, not unlike thousands of other kids living in Southern California’s underprivileged communities.
Things started to change when many of the same kids were arrested during massive “anti-gang” police operations in the 1980s and ultimately sent to juvenile centers across California. Those sweeps, part of a militaristic zero-tolerance response to the nation’s social problems, failed to acknowledge that such problems were the direct result of underfunded social programs and systemic marginalization. Instead of serving as a deterrent, they further weakened social ties and increased exclusion, and thus facilitated the transformation and consolidation of MS-13 into a serious criminal enterprise. It was in the juvenile centers and prisons that local kids — joined soon by immigrants — interacted with hardened criminals and learned how to run a gang. The criminal bent that shaped MS-13 emerged from U.S. prisons and juvenile centers, not from countries south of the border.
The Clinton administration made things worse after the enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, deporting thousands of foreign-born residents convicted of crimes. The deportations turned the gang loose in El Salvador and its neighbors. Gang members went from California jails to Central American streets.

To recap: The United States helped start a violent civil war because of they were afraid of the people being in charge. Teenagers, fleeing violence in their home country, were caught up in racist policing in the United States. Those teens were indoctrinated into a culture of violence in American prisons. Then, these people were sent back to their home country where they created one of the most violent gangs in history. 

The refugee's coming to our southern border are fleeing a monster that we had a hand in creating every step of the way. Instead of admitting we were wrong and giving these traumatized people a chance of a better life, we are putting them in prison, separating them from their children, and keeping children in concentration camps.

We aren't to blame for the sins of those who ran our country a generation ago, but we are responsible for righting their wrongs. If we don't welcome our fellow humans who are fleeing violence, we will all be complicit in serious human rights violations. And helping these refugees is literally the least we can do if we want to start addressing our country's past wrongs.

Celebrity Suicide and Radical Acceptance

When Robin Williams killed himself in 2014, there was a 10% increase in suicide for the four months following his death. That worked out to roughly 2,000 extra deaths in four months.

I can't explain all of these copycat suicides, but I can talk about how they used to affect me.

For the majority of my life, suicide sat on a stool in the back of my mind, a  temptress whispering in my ear that she knew a way out. My strategy used to be a constant activity. I never sat with silence if I could avoid it - I drowned out the siren call of death.

But, when someone famous, like  Robin Williams, killed themselves, that siren call became all but irresistible. Not only were these people not in pain anymore, but everyone talked about how wonderful they were. Suicide made them unassailable.

The reality that we exist in tells us that we aren't enough. Our society tries to convince us that buying some product will make us better people. Reading a book will help us "find our truth." There is always some next step that we need to take to be good enough. We bombard everyone with the idea that judgment comes from all sides, and that to be "enough," we must be financially successful but also effortlessly cool and possess all the right stuff.

To someone like me, suffering from mental illness, those messages felt overwhelming. I was running up a "down" escalator, hoping I could get to the top and rest. Suicide looked like a shortcut.

Gone would be all those emails to which I never responded and deadlines I missed. Forgotten would be the slights that I imagined my friends and family holding against me. After I died, all anyone would talk about was how great I was. That fictional version of me would be better for them than the real me. I read Robin Williams' obituaries and daydreamed about what people would write about me.

With the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I am reminded of how far I have come. I no longer feel the temptation to kill myself. Freeing myself from this is my most significant accomplishment of the past year. I achieved it through meditation and radical acceptance.

I want to talk about radical acceptance because it is powerful and counter-intuitive. When my therapist suggested that I try radical acceptance, my reaction was to say, "I refuse to accept the world as it is. People are suffering, and I have to be doing something about it."

Mary, my therapist, helped me to reframe this idea. I wasn't accomplishing much by viewing every problem or issue as a fight to be fought. I was only being overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was up against. Radical acceptance allows for the truth that it is impossible for me to change everything. I still dream of a better world, but making every change isn't my burden.


The idea of radical acceptance can be vague, so here are some examples that helped me:

Feeling: Sadness
Old internal monologue: Why am I sad? What can I do to address my sadness?
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel sad.


Feeling: Lonely
Old internal monologue: Call a friend then. What would I even say to them? Wouldn't it be weird to text them out of the blue? What if they don't respond, won't that be worse?  Are you too scared to call a friend?
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel lonely.

Feeling:  Anger
Old internal monologue: What an idiot. It is going to feel so great to tell that dude on Facebook what an idiot he is.
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel angry.

Feeling: Undeserving
Old internal monologue:  Why can't you be better at work? Why aren't you writing code right now? You know what needs to be done. Goddamn, you are lazy.
Radical acceptance internal monologue:  It is okay to feel like I'm not good enough.


The key to radical acceptance is compassion. Radical acceptance isn't "giving up" or "surrendering," like I first thought. Radical acceptance cracks open the door to let in self-compassion. It acknowledges that emotions are part of the human experience and that the feelings that arise in any given situation are just that -- feelings. Feelings don't determine our worth, but our judgment of those feelings causes tremendous pain.

We live in a world where competing narratives beset us. On one side  everything tells us, "you are not enough." The other is full of self-help gurus telling us that we are above such petty consumerism, which then leaves us riddled with meta-guilt every time we feel inadequate.

In this world, accepting that "sometimes I feel like I'm not enough, and that is okay" is radical. And for me, taking the world as it is allows me to participate in it more freely and without constant fear of self-judgment.

 

 

 

Consitency over Novelty

I love new, bold ideas. They catch my imagination and infiltrate my every thought. The plan could be for an application, a business, a form of government or a novel. The result is the same - I can think of nothing else - until a new idea comes along.

The time between my "new ideas" ranges from one day to two weeks. Given the scale of many of my ideas, two weeks isn't enough time to make a dent in their implementation. So, the ideas die.

I comfort myself by saying that, "if the ideas were any good, I would pursue them."

But some of the ideas are good. And I don't implement them either.

This year, along with a few friends, I helped restart the Philadelphia branch of the Industrial Workers of the World. The branch's charter took a lot of time, paperwork, and planning to get. While we did that, we doubled the size of the branch and planned several successful events.

I am proud of everything we accomplished this year.

There are two main lessons I learned from the last year and my tenure as Secretary of the branch.

The first lesson is that I can lean on my friends for help. There were a couple of months where I couldn't handle all of the responsibility, and I asked for help. My fellow workers took on some of my duties, and I was able to recover.

The second lesson I learned was that making a little progress every week can be more effective than trying to focus all your energy on a single goal. As long as I did something every week - progress got made.

A New Coffee Cup

My favorite coffee cup served it's last today. After several years of being the faithful vessel out of which, I drank my favorite drink it can no longer hold liquid.

 Goodnight, sweet prince.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Today starts the search for a replacement mug. It must hold at least 16oz, have a handle wide enough for my fingers to fit, and a lip that is thick enough to feel luxurious.

I won't be shopping online for my new coffee mug. I must undertake this journey in person.

A Food Drive for West Virginia Teachers

The Philadelphia Industrial Workers of the World is collecting non-perishable food items to donate to striking teachers in West Virginia. We will be driving the collected food to fellow workers next week.

If you want to contribute to the food drive, you can leave non-perishable food items in the food drive box at Wooden Shoe Books on south street.

Are you not sure what to donate? Here are some ideas:

1. Canned beans

2. Peanut butter

3. Canned fruit in fruit juice (not syrup)

4. Canned vegetables,

5. Rice

6. Quinoa

7. Nuts

8. Shelf-stable milk

9. Whole grain pasta

10. Pasta sauce

11. Cereal

12. Dried fruits

If the strike ends before we can deliver the food, we will be donating the food to the Cedar Haven Nursing Home strikers.

Today's Meeting

Today we had our largest meeting of the Philadelphia IWW GMB to date. It was awesome. We are starting to move campaigns in a positive direction. We had a contingent of Fellow Workers in from Harrisburg. And we are starting to have meetings that flow well.

I am so proud of everyone. And I am so excited for the months to come.

Miso Soup

One of my favorite vegan recipes of late is miso soup. It takes five minutes to prepare, it is filling, and it has veggies in it.

Ingredients:

2 cups of water
8 oz extra firm tofu, cubed.
2 tablespoons miso paste
1 handful of chopped kale
1/2 cup of snow peas
2 green onions, chopped

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of water to boil.
2. Add kale and snow peas and turn down the heat. 
3. While the kale and snow peas are cooking, take three tablespoons of hot soup water and mix with the miso paste in a separate bowl.
4. Add the tofu to the soup and cook for about a minute.
5. Add the miso paste and green onions. Serve immediately.
 

Dharma Practice and Anarchism

As part of my mental health journey over the last six months, I have been reading about Buddhism. My favorite book so far was, "Why Buddhism is True," by Robert Wright. I am currently reading "Buddhism Without Belief" by Stephen Bachelor. The idea I like from both of these books is that when you remove teachings of the Buddha from the context of religion, you get actionable instructions for how to address suffering in your life.

The authors - and I guess the Buddha as well - refer to these instructions as a dharma practice. According to the Buddha, one must act on four truths to achieve enlightenment:

1. Understand anguish
2. Let go of anguish's origins
3. Realize the cessation of anguish
4. Cultivate the path

In my life, it is safe to substitute depression for anguish. In my meditation practice, I am working on numbers one and two. I am finding the effort worthwhile, and I feel the grips of depression slowly loosening.

The exploration of a dharma practice challenges my political views. As I have discussed in previous blog posts, my political alignment is closest to anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, or left-communism. Much of the political reading I do lays the blame for societal ills at the feet of capitalism. I won't do the arguments justice here but for now, let's assume they are true. Let's assume that one can trace the economic suffering and emotional suffering in our world to the alienation from our community. And that alienation is a direct result of capitalism.

One could mistakenly frame the philosophy of the left in the dharma practice as understanding that human anguish comes from capitalism. I think this framing misses an important nuance. Capitalism causes a lot of suffering, but the emotional pain caused by economic systems is inherently different than the suffering innate in the human condition. 

The suffering of pain, of death, and of loss is profoundly human. We are promised - through marketing and ideological propaganda that the free market will save us from our pain, lengthen our lives and protect us from loss. We can buy insurance to guard us from financial disaster, take pills for our pain, and someday upload our brains into a computer to live forever. If only we believe in capitalism, we can create a world where, if you work hard enough, you won't suffer. This is a lie. The best that capitalism can do is distract you from your suffering.

The Buddha's philosophy is that suffering is part of the human existence. All of us die - there is nothing special about those of us currently alive. All of us experience heartbreak, loneliness, anger, and fear. These feelings are what it means to be human. The only way forward, according to the Buddha, is to accept these sufferings, to study them, to understand them. And through understanding our suffering, its hold on us will dissipate.

Understanding this intersection was a big revelation for me. To say that an anarchist or communist society will relieve human suffering is a lie no better than the one that capitalism sells us. Instead, anarchism is a promise that we can be more connected to our humanity and less alienated from our community. And if we want a future with a more honest existence, we must first understand our human suffering. We must let go of the lies capitalism feeds us. No economic system will protect us from our humanity, but capitalism alienates us from it.

To recognize a classless society, we must accept our suffering - not run from it. If we hold the promise of utopia as the reason for dismantling capitalism, it ignores the understanding that we are the source of our suffering. Instead of hoping that the death of capitalism will end human suffering - we must understand human suffering to end capitalism.


 

Leaning In To Discomfort

Today I experienced an overwhelming sense of severe anxiety and depression. There is so much to do and no time to do it. I felt frozen in my chair. 

I decided to step back and meditate for an hour during lunch. I sat with the pressure - which manifested as physical pressure. I felt my shoulders curl under the weight of the day. Under the weight of my to-do list. After an hour, the force lifted - every so slightly, and I felt the ability to breathe return.

Starting a Cooperative

I would, someday, like to start a cooperative of some kind. I think that software would be an excellent place to start. Software companies tend to be high margin and have low start-up costs. Also, the most substantial ongoing cost is labor. So, if everyone is an owner and not paid a salary, we no longer have to spend as much time allocating resources.

There are two big problems. One: I don't have an idea. Two: I don't like doing things for money. Whenever there is the need to turn something profitable - I become disinterested.

I'll solve problem one first - maybe I can overcome two at some later date.

Haskell and Elm

At work, we are struggling with a MAJOR refactor. An underlying assumption made in the design of our data model makes the newest feature request from our product department a rewrite. That assumption shows up in implicit decisions made around the application.

Now, we need to change this assumption. And, predictably, the application breaks everywhere and in unpredictable ways.

In my free time, I have been picking up Elm and Haskell. And what I love about both of these languages is how hard it to make implicit assumptions about data - the type system REQUIRES you to be explicit about your data structures and where you are passing them around. By defining a type alias, you explicitly tell the application what data should look like and when you try to pass a function data that doesn't match the type alias the program doesn't compile.

 The benefit of having the strict type system is that it alerts you to most of the areas where breaking changes exist in the application during compilation.

Yes, dealing with Haskell and Elm's type system can feel a little heavy at first. But I find that I write fewer tests and write better code in these languages than I do in dynamically typed or object-oriented languages.

The Half-Marathon

If you read my blog, you will know that  I injured my back six weeks ago. Well, two weeks ago I was cleared to start running again and yesterday I, mostly, ran a half-marathon. So, I am tired, and between the running and the family visiting this weekend, I did not write a blog post yesterday. I also don't have the energy to write about some of the topics I have been pondering. So, I will be back at it tomorrow.

Mental Illness and Guns

Two people have mentioned to me, in person, that psychiatric records should be available to determine whether or not someone should be able to buy a gun.

 

This is a very dangerous idea.


If your belief is that mental illness is a reason people commit mass shootings, the. The solution needs to be more and better mental health care. If we start discriminating against people with mental illness we will further stigmatize an already stigmatized disease.


By increasing the stigma around mental illness, you decrease the likelihood someone seeks help. If your belief is that mentally ill people are dangerous, you want them to seek treatment.

Marriage

In my last post, I realized that I do have some amount of expertise on marriage. Obviously, I don't have expertise in the grand sense - Clare and I have been married for just over four years - so I don't have the wisdom that your grandparents, married for fifty years have. But, we have been married four years longer than most of our peers. So, in that sense, I'm a mother-fucking expert (no, not in the literal sense, no kids yet).

So here is a quick list of stuff that I think makes our marriage great.

1. Love is work.

Marriage isn't the finish line and maintaining a healthy relationship takes consistent effort. Clare and I work on our marriage every day. Most of the time, working on our marriage means little things. We compliment each other. We each thank the other for doing day-to-day tasks like dishes and laundry. And we talk a lot about our lives.

Other times, it means long conversations that involve temperature checks on how our relationship is working. Sometimes these conversations are difficult. One of us will feel that we aren't getting everything we need from the other and we talk through those feelings. This point brings me to number two.

2.  Over communicate.

We talk about everything. We discuss every up, every down, and every feeling openly and honestly. We do our best to acknowledge our humanity. Being human means that our feelings and emotions aren't under our control - only the way that we react to them. For example, getting married didn't magically make us impervious to the opposite sex, so we have to have conversations about attraction and jealousy. But, we feel that discussing those emotions keeps us grounded in our marriage.

3. Prioritize our marriage.

Clare and I are both ambitious people. We both know we are prone to be wholly absorbed in achieving our goals. If we took our marriage for granted, I think this would play out with both of us being career-obsessed to the detriment of our marriage. However, we both make the conscious effort to channel that ambition into our marriage. I'm not saying that we aren't concerned about our careers - we have made two cross-country moves in pursuit of Clare's career  - just that when career and marriage conflict, the marriage always comes first.

Prioritizing our marriage is a more radical idea than it sounds. I think our culture took a lot of the gender roles in marriage for granted before the 1960s. The woman would be the home-maker, divorce wasn't an option. The world changed. Most families are now two-earner households and women grow up with career ambitions beyond homemaker. But the implicit assumptions of gender roles in relationships remain alive and well in our culture, and those assumptions often go unsaid.These assumptions lead to conflict in relationships. Women still do the majority of the housework and child-rearing but now also have a career. Men assume that their partner will make sacrifices for their career success. Clare and I try to address this head-on.

We don't pretend that both of our careers can have the primary focus. I can't pursue a perfect job while Clare is trying to go to medical school, for example. I need something remote, or I need to accept that I may not be able to stay in the job for very long. Clare can’t do all of the housework while she is in school - so I have learned to keep a clean home.

Even when we do this, we come to difficult decisions. The biggest one we face now is where to go for medical school. As a couple we consider more than “is this the best program.” Clare has to think about my life for the next four years, and our life together. We put every decision through the filter of "how will this affect our marriage." If the answer is in anyway harmful, we will try to see if we can mitigate the effects, and if we can't, we decide against whatever it is.

4. Keep the romance alive.

We got married because we are intensely in love with each other. I think many people assume that type of love fades once you get married.

I say, Fuck that.

Being in love is great. We don't want it to stop, so we don't let it stop. Keeping that level of romance going is a choice both people make together. So, we do the things that we know will maintain that level of affection. Yes, that means a lot of sex. But, it doesn't ONLY mean that. It also means reading on the couch together every night, getting into intense debates about Harry Potter characters, going on dates, and texting each other silly Gifs during the day.

Does love change after being together for more than eight years? Sure. But it transforms from infatuation to a deep respect for each other.

In conclusion, marriage is awesome. When we got married, we got a lot of side-eyes about how young we were. Lots of people talked to us about how hard it is. Society and pop-culture makes marriage seem like a drag.

No one mentioned how much fun marriage is.

Clare and I have a blast. Every day we get to come home and hang out with our best friend. We tell each other everything - so we can be our weird selves without fear of judgment. I love being married to Clare and I look forward to as many years as I can have married to her.