Category: ramblings

On Stating Your Opinion Online

Want to know something that depresses me? (There’s a lot, but how about just one thing?) I wrote two opinion pieces in the last week or so. The first was one I thought about for hours in advance. I spent a long time pondering what I would say, and I put in a ton of effort into getting my thoughts down on the page. It turned into my post on racism. The second I rattled off in about ten minutes. It’s my now infamous post vilifying Grape Nuts.

Guess which one generated more discussion, debate, and ultimate more views.

Yup. Grape Nuts.

I’ve been thinking about why that is over the last few days, and there are a few reasons I’ve come up with. I imagine it’s a mixture of these, but I’ll take them one at a time.

First, my blog posts primarily generate views through Facebook. As much as I would love to one day foster a forum where people not associated with Facebook will come and interact with each other in the comments section of my blog, that just isn’t in the cards for now. Facebook promotes posts that people will interact with. The more people interact with one, the more it includes that post in other people’s feeds. The Grape Nuts post generated a lot of discussion, probably because people felt pretty safe expressing their opinion about the topic. There was a lot of banter back and forth, and it was a fun post. Very low risk of feelings getting hurt or of someone saying the wrong thing.

The racism post just couldn’t compete in that arena. There were a few comments and a few likes, but the post appeared and then sunk into the abyss without making enough ripples to get pushed by any algorithm. So why wouldn’t people want to comment and talk about something that many, many people have strong feelings about?

One reason might be they’re just tired of the topic. They’re drained about the debate on both sides, and they’re just not up to defending an opinion for the umpteenth time. While my Facebook posts generally remain civil, you never know when someone’s going to crawl out of the woodwork and say something mean or spiteful or ignorant, and who wants that?

But I tend to think a bigger reason is that people are worried about saying the wrong thing. About being judged by the internet masses, one way or the other. And that’s an area that’s really concerning to me. It’s an area where I believe both sides of the political spectrum could really be helped by changing.

Case in point: JK Rowling. She has said some callous, poorly-thought-out things on trans rights in the past, and she doubled down yesterday by penning a huge long essay saying just where she stands on the matter. I read it, and there are problematic things throughout the post. I’m not going to derail my post today by analyzing it. (I’m both not nearly well informed enough to do so, nor am I remotely qualified to do so.) However, one thing I feel comfortable saying about her post is that the appropriate response is not to pepper her with name calling and death threats. I’d like to think the instances of that are the exception, not the rule, but from what she says, there have been many many instances of that.

Granted, perhaps she’s already had multiple instances of people explaining to her how she’s being harmful in her continued approach to discussing these issues in public, but at this point she also clearly feels like she’s under attack, and that’s causing her to dig in even further.

This isn’t something unique to her situation. The YA scene can be a really thorny one to wade into these days, with a very heavy groupthink mentality. Say something that’s slightly out of line, or inadvertently off base, and the repercussions can be swift and fierce. I’ve spoken to multiple authors who have decided to just never say anything about anything other than writing, out of fear of making a blunder.

That’s certainly their right, but is that a helpful environment to foster? By ruthlessly crushing thought on both sides of the aisle, we perpetuate an arms race of sorts, where the only people speaking are the die hards who have their caps lock key permanently engaged.

I have waded into more a few treacherous waters, discussing religion, gay rights, gun control, abortion, and more. I have yet to have any real repercussions from those posts. Why is that? One reason (likely the biggest) is that I’m relatively obscure. It’s not as if my posts get spread to the winds and reach enough eyeballs to get anywhere near a critical mass of mob mentality going. Another could be that I’m a white male, so that squelches many of the racist or sexist attacks that might be aimed at me otherwise.

What I’d like to think is at least partly due to that is that I’m as open and honest about my thought process as I can be. My posts are almost never written in absolutes. (Except for Grape Nuts. Blech.) I explain what I think and why, but I leave room for others to disagree with me, and for me to be wrong. Ironically, I believe this is also a reason why my posts are not more widely read. People who are more willing to make strong stands end up getting more views. (Which probably explains why that Grape Nuts post resonated . . .) If all I cared about were eyeballs, then I ought to either become an arch conservative or an arch liberal.

But that’s not what I want. I’d much rather encourage people to think about an issue. To maybe see the other side of it, or to help me see why what I already believe might be misguided. I believe that’s the sort of approach that might lead the country toward a more unified populous, and this continued game of “Gotcha!” on all sides is only exacerbating the problem.

Because people still have opinions. Strong opinions on all of the hot button topics. They just have stopped telling people about them online. On the one hand, I miss the days when racist opinions were taboo enough that trolls weren’t ready or willing to state them in public. But I also miss the days when people didn’t regularly sift through people’s old social media posts for anything incriminating. People can and do change.

Sometimes I wonder if this will happen to me at some point. If something I’ve written years ago comes across as heartless or inappropriate in today’s environment, and I’m called to task for it. I’d like to think people would judge me based on the entirety of my work, but I know it’s more likely that the focus will all laser in on the one or two posts I wrote that didn’t pass muster. (Please note: I don’t think I’ve said or written anything that will get me in hot water, but you never know.)

Oh well. This has gone on long enough. I’m not sure I came to any enlightening conclusion. I suppose at the end it’s just a statement that people need to engage in hard discussions if we’re going to make real change. Name calling and silence isn’t going to solve these problems. People need a safe space to state an opinion, but they also need to be ready to listen to what people say back, and (most importantly) to be able to admit when they’re wrong. “I was wrong” can come across as a defeat, but admitting it and growing is one of the best ways of becoming a better person.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Quarantine is Ruining Everything

Let’s face it, folks. This whole quarantine thing is the pits. It’s ruining all the important things in life. I mean, zombie apocalypse movies? Totally ruined now. Every time I watch one, I’m just going to think about all the things they got wrong about the apocalypse. If they show a single grocery store scene, and it’s got toilet paper anywhere in sight?

Totally unbelievable.

And if I ever become a zombie, I now know to avoid going to places most zombie apocalypse movies focus on. Forget cities. People apparently flock to beaches to ride out the apocalypse by giving as many germs to each other as possible. And what zombie apocalypse movie would be complete in the future if it doesn’t feature a “Zombie Plague Party,” where people get together to give each other the plague so that they can develop herd immunity to it.

Are you making notes, Hollywood?

Also ruined? Any and all time loop movies. That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers: Groundhog Day is doomed. Because now everyone knows what it’s like to wake up and live the same day over, and over, and over. Seriously. Phil Connors goes through the entire film without a single Zoom meeting, and I for one find that highly suspect. The time loop I’m currently stuck in features at least three Zoom meetings a day, and that’s if I’m lucky. Get it right, movie makers!

Also spoiled? The ability to complain about anything. I mean, at this point if we ever get back to normal, I fear I’m never going to be able to whine about simple things without some doofus saying, “Hey! At least we’re not in quarantine.” And when I try to whine about things while I’m in quarantine, I’m reminded that loads of people have had it worse than me over the course of history. Which is totally true, and completely valid, but you know what? We’re allowed to have a struggle with all this crap-o-la without being made to feel guilty we’re struggling.

Which leads me to the next big thing to fall to this quarantine: logic. I mean, it already fell somewhat when people decided to panic buy toilet paper, but that was just the first domino. Now people are saying things like, “It’s okay if just 3% of the country dies, as long as the economy stays strong.” They’re also making arguments like “The flu kills way more people than this each year, so why is this a big deal?”

You know what never killed anybody? Shoe bombs. And yet, back when I was allowed to travel, I had to X-ray my shoes every single time I got on a plane because some dipstick had a concept that maybe a shoe bomb would work. You know what killed “only a few thousand people”? 9/11. And what moron would get up and say, “I don’t know why you people are so worried about a couple of planes crashing into a building. Way more people die in car crashes every day, and nobody looks at it like a tragedy. Get over it.”

Nope. Reasoning isn’t going to get us anywhere, except to maybe one of those hawt beach parties happening in Florida a week ago. Instead, I get to watch in horror as Trump’s approval rating somehow goes up, with people happy about the job he’s doing. And I wonder if I’m in some sort of bizzaro world, or if everyone’s watching the same news I’m watching. (Clearly not.) Right now, Trump is King of the Frogs, sitting in a pot of water that’s getting hotter and hotter, and claiming the fire underneath that pot is going to magically disappear any moment.

Ugh. Don’t get me started. I have no desire to get into a Facebook argument with people over this, so if you disagree, go you. Go out and lick a hand railing or something. Whatever it is you feel you need to do to prove to the world this disease is overhyped. (Actually, no. No licking hand railings. Unless you sanitize it afterward for the rest of us.)

Sorry folks. I’ve been stuck inside for a while now, and my mind space is all over the place. Maybe sidle on by and catch me after the weekend, which I’m sure will feel way different than the week has felt.

It has to. I’ll be in half as many zoom meetings, tops.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Ease of Bad Decisions

I have made some very poor choices over the course of my life. I imagine everyone feels the same way, and it’s likely a justified feeling. (Just being honest here, folks.) Yet somehow, it’s still easy to look at the bad decisions other people are making and marvel at how in the world they’re able to make such choices when the “right answer” is so clear. More than that: people continue to make bad decisions even after they’re given the choice to stop making them. They persist in those decisions, instead. Why is that?

As I’ve thought about the problem, I’ve come up with a few explanations. First of all, I don’t believe anyone just makes a bad choice, knowing it’s a bad choice, just because they want to make a bad choice. Instead, everyone I’ve talked to, and all the bad choices I can think of in my own life, all indicate people have reasons for the choices they make. Reasons that seem to justify the bad choice at the time. It reminds me of a quote from Arrested Development. Tobias, failed therapist, is talking to his wife about potential solutions for their rocky marriage:

Tobias: You know, Lindsay, as a therapist, I have advised a number of couples to explore an open relationship where the couple remains emotionally committed, but free to explore extra-marital encounters.

Lindsay: Well, did it work for those people?

Tobias: No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but … But it might work for us.

We’re all like Tobias at times. We acknowledge that something almost never works for anyone else, and then we turn around and decide it’ll probably work for us. We’re the exception, after all, because we each know how exceptional we really are.

But beyond that, we make bad decisions (and continue to make them) because they’re so easy to make. Some of this is because we’ve unintentionally trained ourselves to believe otherwise. In the movies, bad decisions are accompanied by ominous music. Time seems to slow down. They’re portrayed as fundamentally different than other decisions. Often they have fairly immediate repercussions. So surely if we were to approach making an epically bad decision in real life, the same things would happen. There’d be a way of realizing we’re about to really mess up.

Except that’s not how it works. There’s not even a virtual speed bump. Ruining a friendship, saying a horrible thing, betraying a trust: all of these happen as easily as swatting a fly. One moment it’s alive, and the next it’s dead, and the world keeps right on spinning.

Once we’ve made a bad decision of that magnitude, other bad decisions often follow as we try to shield ourselves from any fallout from that decision. We begin to justify the choice. “That person didn’t really deserve my trust, after all.” “It wasn’t that bad.” “I’ll never do it again.” “As long as no one finds out . . .”

In this way, life is a lot like a complex board game state. At the beginning of a game, choices are easy because there aren’t a lot of ramifications you need to think through when you make a decision. But once those decisions are all in play, and they’re mixed around with decisions other people have been making, then anything you do can affect and be affected by all sorts of other factors. Bad decisions have a tendency to spiral out of control as you try to shield yourself from the consequences of those decisions.

The flippant answer is “Just don’t make bad decisions,” but my post today is mainly a reminder that we all make bad choices, and one of the best ways I have to handle other people’s bad decisions is to remind myself of that fact and remember the times I’ve made mistakes of my own. That can in turn inspire me to be a bit more forgiving of other people’s mistakes, just as I would hope people would be forgiving of mine.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Inflection Points

This morning at breakfast, I was thinking about inflection points: points in my life where single events ended up having very big impacts on my life. Where things could have (or did) changed drastically based on a decision or chance meeting. A couple of examples will help show the principle.

The summer before I entered Eighth Grade, my family moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a planned move. My mom and stepfather dropped me and my siblings off at the airport to go be with my father in Utah for a month, as we did each summer. After dropping us off in Newark, they went for a drive, with no place in particular in mind. They just wanted to go someplace interesting. They ended up in Bucks County, about an hour and a half away from Newark. They drove by a road with an “open house” sign on it. Wanting a break, they decided to get out and look at the house. They liked the house so much, they put in a low ball offer on it. An offer that was accepted right off.

When I came back from Utah, it was to a new house in a new state. Everything that happened to me since then has been different than what would have happened to me if they hadn’t seen that house and made that offer. I have no idea what that alternate reality would be like. Would I have ended up hooking back into this course of events after a while? I’d always wanted to go to BYU, so it’s possible I would have ended up in the same dorm room, but even if that had happened, would I have been the same person, having had a whole different set of friends and experiences leading up to that?

Who knows.

Another inflection point: there was a time about 14 years ago where it looked quite likely that Denisa and I would be moving to Slovakia to oversee the renovation of a castle. Uhrovec Kaštiel, to be specific. It was going to be renovated into a business center and library over the course of several years. (Denisa and I actually looked at about 15 castles that trip, evaluating them for suitability and cost. One of them (that I know of) has since been restored:

This is what Oponice Kaštiel looked like back when we were on our expedition
And this is pretty much the same shot now.

I have no idea what would have waited for us down that path. It never materialized, mainly because the bottom fell out of the economy a few years later, and that was that. But talk about an inflection point.

Sometimes, however, I think there are things that look like inflection points, but really are just the culmination of a series of events. They’re more the straw that broke the camel’s back than a real moment of pivotal change (or lack of change). To use a scriptural example, people might try to point to David deciding to sleep with Bathsheba as an inflection point, but I’d argue that was the culmination of a series of events that preceded it. It wasn’t as if David went from a solid-as-a-rock follower of God straight to adulterer and murderer. There were a series of steps in between, and if he hadn’t seen Bathsheba bathing naked one evening, it was likely he would have seen or done something else that caused his downfall, because his life was then at a point where a downfall was quite likely.

It makes me think of back pain, actually. When you “throw your back out,” it’s easy to point to the thing you were doing when it all went wrong. I remember I was reaching into the backseat of my car to get something once, and my back suddenly hurt worse than ever. It took a week for me to feel mostly better. But when I talked to a physical therapist about it, he said it wasn’t due to reaching into the back seat. It was due to me overusing the back muscles before then. The final action was just the last straw, not the ultimate cause. If it hadn’t happened reaching into the back seat, it would have happened soon after with another random “cause.”

Though I suppose things like that could still be inflection points, if only for the various possibilities suddenly narrowing down to one particular instance in that moment. For David, his downfall went from “could be any number of things” to “Bathsheba” when he saw her from his rooftop. Maybe we could call that the Schrodinger’s Cat inflection point variety . . .

Anyway, that’s my deep thought for the day. Do any of you have any examples of this in your life that you’ve seen? I find events like this fascinating. Please share.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Nuisances vs. Problems

We had a barbecue on the Fourth of July. I was grilling burgers like a madman, and (long story short) a bunch of grease flew off the grill at me. I dodged most of it, but my left forefinger got a healthy splash of the stuff. Speaking from experience now, grease burns are not a pleasant experience. It’s all blistered now, and it promises to be painful for quite some time to come.

But it’s still just a small spot on one of my fingers. About half the size of a dime. In the grand scheme of How Is My Body Feeling Right Now, it shouldn’t have much of an influence. And yet it’s the part I end up focusing the most on, just because it hurts, and it’s always right there, waiting for me to examine as I contemplate why in the world I didn’t take more precautions when working with burning hot grease.

Because I have a tendency to overthink things, I’ve also thought how this illustrates some other lines of thinking I’ve had over the years. How easy it is, for example, to become so focused on a relatively small problem that you lose sight of the greater good you could be focused on instead.

When we bought our home, we saw all the good things about it first. The things that attracted us to it in the first place. The beautiful wooden spiral staircase. The quaint kitchen. The cool chandeliers. The details a house from 1841 has that make it unique. Once you live in a place for a while, however, you notice the other things. The way the floor doesn’t quite line up right. How that one window doesn’t open the right way. And it’s easy to start to see those flaws each time you look at the space instead of the things you loved to begin with.

The same is true about people, though in my experience, you sometimes notice the flaws before you notice the strengths in a person, depending on the circumstances in which you met. We can sometimes laser in just on the things that irritate us the most, or the one or two bad experiences we had with the person, ignoring all the times that things were fine, and the good things the person represents.

Take the concept and apply it to anything you like. Religion. Politics. Your job. Hobbies. Your marriage. As I think about it, it seems to transfer pretty much anywhere. Yes, there are cases where there are serious problems with a thing, a person, or a relationship. Where the issues run much deeper than a bad burn on your proverbial finger. But I tend to think those are the exceptions, rather than the rule, and that we’d all be much better off if we could focus on the positive majority instead of the negative minority.

Some of the trouble, I think, stems from social media and the way it inevitably shoves people’s personal opinions and beliefs into your face all the time, to the point where you begin to pigeonhole people by those beliefs. Trump Supporter. Sexist. Racist. Democrat. Again, I’m not dismissing the potential harm a group of like-minded people can have on society as a whole, but I also believe that to label someone and dismiss them because of that label is a mistake, and an approach that will ultimately lead to a toxic environment in general, where you’re just as much a part of the problem as the people you’ve dismissed.

There are plenty of problems to go around right now. We need to make sure the ones we’re addressing are real problems, and not surface level nuisances that are nothing more than distractions. Especially on a local, individual level.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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