Category: ramblings

Life in Easy Mode

I read an article the other day about the many ways tools, cars, clothes, and life in general have been designed for a male audience, making it harder for females to do the same things. For example, women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. Why? Because car crashes have been tested for years with male-model test dummies. Test dummies that are the height and weight and mass distribution of the average male.

Another example: most public spaces have an equal amount of space set aside for restrooms for men and women, and yet (as anyone who’s ever walked past any restrooms during intermission can tell you) there’s always a huge line for women and almost nothing for men. Why not? Because a men’s room can accommodate more users at a time, using the same foot print. And not only that, but men are finished with their business much more quickly than women.

The whole article is really worth the read, and I recommend you check it out. But it got me thinking on a broader scale about how often things like this come up in our society. I don’t believe the people who designed these things really set out to be sexist. They just made a few base assumptions and never questioned those assumptions over time, to the point that those assumptions became engrained in the way our society is set up.

As a man, it’s easier for me to use current smart phones, because my hands are bigger. It’s easier for me to use voice-recognition software, because it’s been designed to recognized male voices more easily than female voices. (70% more accurate for men than women!) I can go to the store and buy any “one size fits all” thing and be pretty confident it will fit me, because it’s been designed with male proportions in mind.

This extends beyond sex. It’s easier for me as a white male to walk down a dark street at night, because I don’t have to worry (for the most part) about people wanting to rape me. I also don’t have to be as concerned about the police (or bystanders) being suspicious of me. Just another white guy! Nothing to see here.

The thing is, this is something that’s very hard to recognize when you’re one of the people who’ve benefitted from it over the years. I never stopped to think about how awkward smart phone sizes these days are, because they work for me fine. Some people take umbrage at the thought that “white privilege” might exist. That somehow being white made things easier for them. After all, things have been very difficult for them already. And I’m not trying to belittle their struggles at all when I say that. Just because someone else had it harder does not make my personal challenges any less challenging.

But it also doesn’t mean I should ignore the fact that other people are struggling even more due to things outside their control.

It also doesn’t mean that when someone speaks up about something, it can be dismissed because “that’s not my experience.” The more I think about things, the more I see that personal experience only accounts for so much. We go through our lives thinking most people have it more or less like we do. But we’re all different. Even in the same country, the experience of a Mainer is going to be very different from the experience of someone in California.

Is there “male privilege”? You bet. Does it mean that everyone who’s been enabling that privilege for years has been part of some nefarious grand conspiracy? No. It just means they took certain assumptions for granted and never questioned those assumptions after that. And so when I get in a car to go home today, I’m 47% less likely to get seriously injured if my car crashes than if Denisa gets into that same crash.

That’s privilege.

I’m happy to see these assumptions being to be questioned, and I look forward to more questions in the future. Because while it’s great that the world has generally been designed with me in mind, I’ve also been the victim in some aspects. Let’s call it “average height privilege.” If I’m on a plane or in a theater, chances are those seats are not going to fit me at all. And when someone leans back in their airplane seat? My knees are going to suffer. Not because that person is a jerk, but because the plane wasn’t designed with people who are my height in mind.

Once you can recognize how you’ve been personally affected by some of these biases, maybe it becomes easier to recognize how other biases might be affecting others, even if you yourself haven’t been impacted by them at all.


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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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.

When Success Blinds You to Failure

I’m not quite sure how else to describe this phenomenon, but I’ve seen it pop up at multiple times in my life. I’ve had experiences talking to people who are very successful in their industry. My hope had been to ask them for advice for how I could go about being as successful. But what I discovered in those conversations is that something happens to people in the process of becoming successful. They are no longer able to accurately see what it was like before they were successful: when they were just failures.

I don’t mean to write about “failures” like it’s a bad thing. For this post, consider “failure” the state of being “not fabulously successful.” So in that sense, almost all of us are failures. (Wow. This is starting off on a very bleak note. Sorry about that.) I also don’t mean to be critical of the people who are successful. They’re trying to give good, solid advice. It’s just that they no longer have the necessary frame of reference to be able to do that.

A good example that illustrates what I’m getting at comes from Arrested Development:

Lucille has become so separated from the day to day operations of her normal life that she can no longer accurately relate to problems too far removed from her. And yes, in this case, she’s a cold hearted wretch of a person, but the “$10 banana” issue comes up again and again.

Take this article from CNN today, where Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wonders why in the world furloughed government employees don’t just take out loans to cover their short term debts. There was an earlier anecdote about a White House official who wanted to look at the furlough like a long, paid vacation.

Yes, these people are tone deaf. But I also would like to believe they’re trying to see the world as accurately as they can. It’s just their frame of reference is so widely skewed from the reality of the people they’re trying to offer suggestions to that their suggestions come off as completely unhelpful.

If someone were to come to me today and ask for advice about how best to get started as a librarian, I don’t think I’d be the best person to give advice. I’d definitely do my best, but I’m now 12 years out from that time of my life. I’m a library director, and the things I have to focus on now are very different than what I needed to do when I was first applying for jobs. I think in this case that I’d still be able to give some good advice, but at the same time, I think the people who are trying to give advice in the examples above think they’re doing the same thing . . .

The fact is, success changes you. It changes the way you relate to money. Changes to how you relate to co-workers. Changes the way to how you relate to normal problems that crop up every day. And often all of those normal problems are the things that need to be tackled right off when you haven’t reached that “successful” level yet. Which is why advice from successful people can be really off.

Do I want to know what Bill Gates thinks about how to get ahead in life? Should I go to George Clooney to talk about how to get a break in the movie business? If you’re looking for practical advice, I’d suggest finding someone just a few rungs above you on the ladder. Someone who can give you concrete advice on how to navigate the next few steps.

Worry about getting to the top when it’s just a rung or two away.


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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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 Difference Between a Bad, Fine, and Great Day

The longer I’m around, the more I’m convinced that most days are just about the same, quality wise. I mean, typically the same thing happens most days. (This is, of course, discounting huge life events like births, deaths, marriages, graduations, etc.) What I mean is that I can have three Saturdays and compare them to each other. One could be bad, one could be just okay, and one could be great. But when I take a step back to see what really set apart each day from the others, I discover that for the most part, all three are identical.

In other words, it doesn’t take much to turn a bad day into a great day, and vice versa.

This is something I really began noticing as a parent. My kids will, from time to time, complain about how bad their day is going, or talk about how they’re having the best day ever. And I look at what’s going on with them, and I’ve seen a lot of what makes the difference is just a matter of perception.

On bad days, a few things go wrong, or one thing goes really wrong, and it becomes difficult to get your balance. From then on, everything you do is viewed through a negative lens, and it’s easy to start looking for the bad over the course of the day. On good days, it’s the opposite. Some things go right, and then you feel like everything is great.

The strange thing (to me) is that often bad days will have good things about them, and good days will have bad. It’s just my ability to accurately see those events for what they are that gets me messed up.

I can be a fairly moody person. I’m good at putting on a show when I’m out in public, but all you have to do is ask Denisa, and she’ll tell you how I can get in funky moods from time to time. Not constantly, but certainly enough to be annoying. I’ll feel like nothing’s going right at all, and I can be pretty negative about things for the space of a few hours or an entire day, until something happens to kick me out of it. I don’t think it’s full blown depression, but it’s probably depression lite. When I’m in one of those moods, nothing can really cheer me up. Good things can happen, but I’m so set on seeing the bad, it’s like I’ve become immune to the good.

It would be great if I could just take a step back and talk myself out of the bad days. Focus only on the good things that are happening to me. I can mentally think it. When I’m having one of those bad days, I know it’s just emotions, and I know things are okay, but it’s impossible to pep talk myself up and into the sunshine again.

This is actually one of the reasons I make lists. I’ve found that one of the big culprits for me to get depressed about a day is for me to feel like I got nothing accomplished. Like I just wasted my day away. This is true for a work day (when I should be getting work done) and a day off (when I want to be having a good time). So I will literally make lists of fun things I want to do on a day, to make sure I do those fun things. That sounds pretty lame as I write it, but it’s true, and it generally works.

I’ll do this in a less structured way with my kids sometimes. At the beginning of a vacation or snow day, I’ll sit people down over breakfast and say, “Okay. Tomorrow, when we’re looking back at how awesome today was, what are some things we’ll list off for why today was so much fun?” And then we do those things. But in the end, that generally doesn’t take a whole ton of time. It amounts to playing a board game together for an hour. Or drawing together. Or watching a movie with popcorn. But it’s consciously looking at the positive, and that helps.

An hour or two can make the difference for an entire 24 hours, one way or the other.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on 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.

On Friendship and Time

As I was driving to Augusta yesterday on my birthday, I found myself reflecting on what’s changed in my life over the years. Specifically, I was thinking back on all the birthdays I’ve spent with my family, both when I was growing up and after I’d married Denisa. There’s been a lot of change over the years, and that led me to thinking about the friendships I’ve made over time, and how they’ve changed as well.

I’ve had a few “best friends” in my life. Of the ones I had growing up and in college, I no longer have much chance to communicate with any of them. Now and then I’ll get an email or a Facebook message or a Like on a post, but for the most part, those friendships are no longer a functioning part of my life.

I remember the summer before I left on my mission, my best friend from college, Sue, came out to stay at my house in Pennsylvania for about a week. We had an absolute blast. Went into New York City to see The King and I on Broadway. Drove to Amish country to check things out over there. Just hung out and spent time together. But over all of it was this pallor, because I knew it would come to an end.

At last I had to take her to the airport. This was back in the days when you actually walked out with the passengers to the terminals, and you sat together waiting for their plane to board. In many ways, I prefer the modern approach. I’m terrible at long goodbyes, and those old airport goodbyes were the pits. I remember sitting there just feeling sick to my stomach, because this was it. The End.

I already had enough experience with friendships to realize that they can drastically change as your circumstances shift. My friends from high school had all gone different ways. We still saw each other now and then, but life moved on. We weren’t as close anymore, and I knew we would never be. And here I was in an airport, saying goodbye to yet another stage of my life.

Sue and I kept in touch while I was on my mission. She was gone to Honduras on a mission of her own when I returned. Honduran postal service leaves much to be desired, speaking from experience. By the time she was home, I was engaged (secretly) to Denisa. (Though I told Sue about the engagement. Not many people knew. Less than a handful. Sue was one.)

Close friendships like that have a real rough time lasting through one of the friends getting married. Which is as it should be, honestly. Denisa is my best friend now, and there’s only so much room in a person’s life.

One of the things I’ve always valued and prided myself in was loyalty. I don’t necessarily make really good friends that often. I am a friendly person, and I’ll happily talk with many many acquaintances, but close friends take a while for me to develop, typically. Once someone’s in that “close friend” circle, though, it’s generally for life, as far as I’m concerned. If one of my close friends from high school or college were to reach out to me for help, I would try to do whatever I could to help them. Not necessarily for the person they are now, but for the friend they used to be, if that makes sense.

And generally, I’ve found those old friendships have deep roots. They go into hibernation, and when I have the opportunity to see old friends and interact with them, I’m often so relieved and happy to see everything is still there, and it’s like we never stopped being friends at all.

And now this post has gotten far too reflective for a Friday. I’m not even really sure where it was heading. It was more this package of thoughts that occurred to me on a drive home from Augusta, and I wanted to somehow give voice to it. I’m not tragically sad about old friendships that are no longer thriving. My personal feeling is that they will one day be resumed, each one of them. Of course, that gets us onto theological ground, and I think I’ve wandered far enough afield in today’s post to stop short of going there.

But I’ll end with a final thought. I used to actually write poems. True story. My favorite to write were classical Elizabethan sonnets. I loved the constraints the poem’s form put on me. Trying to pack as much meaning into such a structure was a fun word game.

And while I was on my mission in Germany, still reflecting on the aftermath of that goodbye in the Philadelphia airport, I wrote this one on friendship. I can still recite it from memory, and I still feel it sums up my feelings very well on the subject. And so I present it to you.

Have a pleasant Friday, and here’s hoping I’m back to my normal peppy self by Monday. Thanks for reading.

On Friendship

Is friendship’s flame so soundly smothered out
By hushed good-byes that slip through silent lips?
Can certainty be made to mimic doubt?
Does anchor chain the ocean or the ship?
Toy boat that burst and bubbled down the brook
Abruptly stopped. Caught. Tangled by the twigs
That lurk beneath the sunny surface. Shook,
Then merrily resumed its zags and zigs.
Great Neptune never changes for a chain,
And knowledge never dawdles doubtingly.
The silence of goodbye is mute in vain,
For friendship’s fire shouts out eternally.
The current rest may last three beats or four,
But rest assured: the song will play once more.

Resistance Fatigue

There are days when I wonder how in the world the Rebel Alliance ever managed to keep it together long enough to bring down the Emperor. I mean, it’s one thing to have outrage and anger against something the first time it happens. And the second. And maybe the third. But there comes a time, sooner or later, when you’ve been fighting the same fight over and over and over, and you don’t see any real change happening because of that fight. And that’s when you start to wonder why in the world you’re bothering.

Some of it comes from there being so many different arenas to fight in. At the moment, I feel like there’s the clear national arena, but there’s also plenty to be worried about for me at the state and local levels too. And the craziest thing about it all is that I feel like people on both sides of each one of these fights feel this way. I read articles by Trump supporters who are just aghast that the poor man can be so misunderstood. The same goes for LePage supporters at the state level here in Maine.

Some of the cause for all of this is that the people on the edges keep pushing those edges further. If the country were a plate, balanced on a point, then the Republicans and Democrats running all over the plate, rushing to the edges and stomping on them as hard as they can is putting that balance in danger. And sure, right now it’s the Republicans who seem set on making the whole thing shatter, but I do believe it’s a series of cause and effects. Bill Clinton was in power, and Republicans clamored against him. Bush came to power, and Democrats were appalled. Obama came to power, and Republicans freaked out for eight years. And now we have the result of that imbalance: Trump was able to be elected.


But what really brought this all into focus was the local level shenanigans this week. Constant blog readers will recall my school district’s budget is under fire. There’s a vocal group in the community who are upset with the school budget. They’re sick of it getting bigger every year, and they’ve done their darnedest to get it shrunk. And I accept that. I accept that people in a community will disagree about how much money should be spent on various things in that community. If that were all it were, then I’d be fine with the whole thing.

Except it doesn’t stop there, a fact best illustrated by describing the most recent development. One particular member of the “No” side has been more than outspoken about her views. She’s sent spiteful letters to the school board, accused the “Yes” side of lying, created a series of inflammatory signs around town, and even pulled up to curse and yell at school supporters (including children) on the day of the vote. This came to a head this past week when a member of the school board resigned, citing this person as one of the main reasons. The local online  paper wrote an article about it, and I made the mistake of reading the comments section.

It’s beyond disappointing when you see a person bullied to the point of resignation from the board, and the response from some community members is “The bully was just saying what the rest of us thought anyway. Good job bully! We support you!” Really? We can’t even agree as a community that using hateful, inflammatory language and personal attacks should be off limits? Not just that, but we double down on the rhetoric when we’re called on it? That says far more about the people who use and agree with such tactics than it does about any claims they make about their opponents. It’s one thing to lob barbs at people far off in government, but these school board members are part of us. They’re our community. People we see and interact with. If we can’t behave at a local level, what have we come to?

As I believe I’ve said before, I feel like this is a disagreement where one said is willing and open to hear arguments and evidence against raising the budget. They’re ready to implement reasonable solutions, regardless of where those solutions come from. They want to reach and and unify the community and come to a compromise. And the other side has people willing to do the same. But the loudest contingent of that side just seems to want to “win” at any cost.

It’s even more frustrating when they appear to change the definition of “winning” at the drop of a hat. For the second year in a row, town school budget assessments will be at a 0% overall increase, meaning any increase in property taxes for the last two years won’t be from the school budget. And yet now we’re hearing that the “no” side wants taxes to not just not increase, but to go down. I honestly don’t believe they’d be satisfied unless the budget went back to the amount it was at five or more years ago. When you’re trying to negotiate and reason with a group that takes those kind of tactics, you begin to wonder why you should even have a conversation.

And that’s the thing. You get tired. I pushed hard for the budget to pass last month. Last year I did the same. I rallied against Trump during the election. I’ve spoken out on various topics, from health care to gun control to basic human decency. And after a while, it all just wears on you. You wonder if it’s even worth it, and the very thought of standing on the proverbial street corner and shouting out your message just makes you want to slink back to bed.

There’s another school budget meeting tonight. I’m on a deadline for MEMORY THIEF 2, I have a slew of chores to do around the house, and I’m just plain tired. The thought of dragging myself to another one of those time sinks is just depressing.

But I’m going to go.

Because as soon as you start to give up, you’re letting the Empire win. You’re tossing the One Ring to Sauron. You’re saying Death Eaters really aren’t that bad. Yes, it’s tiring. So what? Often the tiring things in life are the things most worth doing.

Tonight, I’ll be the guy in the back, typing on a computer, wearing noise cancelling headphones in an effort to not let this suck more of my life away. Denisa’s going to prod me when I need to vote, and I’ll raise my voice with the rest. Come join me. 7pm. High school auditorium.

%d bloggers like this: