I Hate Amazing Art

Okay, that’s not true. I mean, it is true, but it isn’t true. Amazing art infuriates me. No, that’s another true but isn’t true situation. Is there a word for that? I feel like there should be a word for that. Hopefully not one of those long German words that I see, think about how perfect it is that the word exists, vow to memorize, then immediately forget.

Amazing art makes me feel bad. No, it makes me feel good. But it makes me feel bad. And that’s a directly proportional relationship: the better it makes me feel, the worse I feel. Probably due in equal parts to The Calling and The Perfectionism.

The Calling is that feeling that you were Meant To Do Something. You might not necessarily know what that Something is, but you can feel it tugging at the edges of your mind. That there is some Greatness lurking deep inside you, if you can only find the proper outlet to bring that Greatness forth into the world. I hear it’s pretty common in ADHD types and even more common in the hallways of mental wards.

The Calling can be very frustrating when it’s unresolved. Imagine if Don Quixote had never seen a windmill. He knows that there are giants out there and he knows he’s meant to defeat them, but he doesn’t know what they look like, where they are, or what he’s supposed to do if he ever runs into one. That may be a little bit of a strained analogy, but I’m fresh off The Newsroom and The Expanse, so I’m feeling a little Quixotic.

Amazing Art speaks to The Calling inside me. It whispers in the back of my mind that yes, maybe this is that thing I’m meant to do. Maybe this is the thing that can give birth to whatever this thing is inside me that oh so desperately wants to see the light. Meanwhile The Perfectionism is screaming that I can’t I can’t I can’t. I don’t know how to do the thing perfectly, and it would take way too long to learn how to do the thing perfectly, therefore that’s not the right thing to express The Calling and I need to think of something other way. This is why I currently have scattered around me in my office

  • Watercolors
  • Acrylic paints
  • Embroidery
  • Wool for felting
  • Sheet music
  • Ukuleles
  • A piano
  • A theremin
  • Various cloth material
  • A kalimba
  • Various homemade musical instruments
  • Laser-cut and laser-engraved wood
  • A rainbow of pens, markers, crayons and colored pencils
  • A box of rubber chickens
  • Comics
  • Art books
  • Instructional manuals
  • Lego
  • Bubbles
  • Magnets
  • Electronics

These are just the things I see by spinning around in my chair a couple of times and not even spinning that slowly. If I went through the house enumerating all of the various forms of art and entertainment I’ve picked up and put down repeatedly over the years trying to figure out The Calling, I’d have the longest post I’ve ever written and the deepest depression I’ve ever felt. And both of those are high bars to clear.

Do I excel at any of those things? No. Have any of those things released me from The Calling? Also no. Have any of these things had one brief moment where I felt like I was close to Something Really Big that could possibly be The Calling? Yes, all of them. Did any of those things have a moment following that brief moment where I felt like an inept fraud who could never reach The Calling in that manner? Yes, all of them.

“You should just find something that makes you happy and just find joy in doing that at whatever level you can. Just enjoy the process and be content in creating something.” I will enjoy the process of punching you in the face.

With all of the different things I have done and dabbled in, many have started as simple enjoyment. My patented five step creative process usually works like this:

  1. I like some songs that have a piano in them.
  2. I buy a piano.
  3. I like the way the piano makes noise when I push on the keys.
  4. You know, I’m pretty good at pushing random keys and making something that sounds vaguely like a tune.
  5. I need to learn everything about music theory and learn to play these six other instruments so that I can compose my ten hour symphonic masterwork that will win all of the awards and be referred to by all following generations as what real music should be.

Step number four is usually the big variable for how long I stick with something or how often I come back to it to try again. Something like music is easily returned to for me, because it’s possible to make noise without a lot of skill. If you have a broad enough definition of the word “music,” then smashing piano keys for awhile can have you approaching something that almost fits the definition. Yes, it takes time, training, skill, and talent to be able to smash the keys in a way everyone else will call music, but you can see a finish line with it somewhere in the far distance.

Painting, on the other hand, I have trouble even seeing the starting line. Sure, I can mess around for a bit to create something I can call “abstract,” but that gets me nowhere along the path of The Calling. A random blob on the page that looks like someone sneezed with a bloody nose isn’t the same as a drawing of a person, no matter how much you squint or call it art.

Oh shit. Holy fuck. Shit. Okay, I can’t remember how I first made this connection, since (obviously) my brain tends to ramble along ahead of me, skipping and singing through the woods as I try to catch up to it with my typing. Anyway, at some point my brain stopped at a pond to look at its reflection (stay with me here) and realized that The Calling was not only a part of it, but it was woven throughout the very fibers of my body and wrapped around my heart.

The Calling is cancer.

No no no, I’m not saying cancer is my calling. I’m saying the only other thing I’ve had wrapped around my heart and draining the joy out of my life was cancer. What is the metaphysical mental equivalent of chemotherapy? Well that’s going to keep me up all night now.

Just a note from Simon

I have a little bit of stuff from last week to talk about, but instead I’m going to talk about today since it’s still on the tip of my mind. Also, I’ve been having more problems typing lately so that might rear its ugly head. I don’t have any kind of autocorrect/autofill/spellcheck stuff enabled, because I want to be able to see what’s happening. Granted, I catch a lot of it by the time I get to the end of the sentence, but still. Aside from occasionally doing weird things out here, it can be a real bitch to get passwords entered when the sight doesn’t have the little eyeball to click. Anyway, today.

When Dad’s memory started going, he would always talk about how stupid he was now. If I had a nickel for every time he said “I can’t do that, I’m too stupid” once this thing started digging into his brain, I’d have quite a few nickels. He kept equating memory with intelligence. If I can’t remember anything, then obviously I’m not smart. This was frustrating on a number of levels.

You see, Dad was smart. Really smart. If something needed to be fixed or created, he could come up with the way to do it. He was a machinist, and his favorite part was making the machines do what he wanted. He had his own business building drag cars and came up with designs good enough to be stolen by the top kit manufacturer. And yes, a lot of his intelligence also came from his memory. He was great at remembering all kinds of stuff and applying those things he remembered to the situation at hand.

When I started racing, he was always tinkering with the bike. I spent a lot of practice time testing settings. I’d go out for a lap, then come in so he could change something. Back out for a lap, back in so he could change it in the other direction. He learned a lot about our bikes and as a side effect, he made me a great tester. When I’d come in that third time, I’d have to describe to him what changed in the bike. Not “last time you went up two clicks on the rebound,” but “when I was braking hard into the slow corner, the rear end was really smacking into me and the front end was trying to dive under the rut.” That was why we made a great team: I could tell him how the bike felt, and he knew what to change to fix it.

Like most things from my motocross life, that transferred over into real world skills. When I worked phone support, I could describe what the person was seeing like I was looking over their shoulder. Any time I’ve been injured, I can explain to the doctor exactly where and what kind of pain I’m feeling. Barb has marveled over all of the different medical nuances I’ve been able to describe over the years, especially during the cancer years. My dental hygienist has remarked on several occasions about my ability to describe what’s happening in my mouth.

That made a lot more sense in my brain.

Anyway, Dad was really smart and he felt stupid as his memory started to leave him. I would try to get him to understand that it wasn’t his processor that was failing him, it was his hard drive. He could still do the calculations, he just needed to store the equations in a different place. An external hard drive, like a notebook. Today however, I realized it might not have just been his memory loss that made him feel stupid.

We’ve got this big project at work where we’re trying to upgrade a thirty year old system to something more modern. Seriously, the whole company is currently run off of a Microsoft Access 97 database. All of the tech is a mishmash of versions of things cobbled together to work off this ancient system. They’ve tried to update everything a couple of times in the past, but This Time It’s Serious. We’re going to be going from Windows XP and Access 97 to iPads and web forms.

Fortunately, we have consultants doing the heavy lifting, one of whom is the guy who moved me over to the IT role where I’d always have his support. Until he quit a couple of months later and started working for his friend’s consulting company who our company keeps on retainer. He had started working on all of this conversion before leaving, so he’s spearheading the effort now. There are a lot of moving pieces, so he gives me things to do like setting up equipment or labeling shelves for inventory or what have you. Things that I can figure out a plan for, then turn off my brain and plow through it.

Today, I was unboxing a bunch of barcode scanners, putting IDs and velcro on them, putting velcro on the back of the cases of our fleet of iPads, then sticking them together. I worked out my system for what was going to go where and when and got to work. After two or three rounds, I realized I felt… simple.

If there’s one thing that pisses me off the most about my brain, it’s how I’m losing the words to describe things. “Simple” was the first thing that came to mind as it was happening, and it’s as good a word as any, I suppose. I was taking a scanner, taking the back off a label, sticking the label to the scanner, sticking a piece of velcro right under the sticker, then moving on to the next. I had already unboxed all of the scanners, made all of my labels, cut my pieces of velcro. Now it was just a little production line with nothing to do but follow the steps. Simple tasks being done by a simple man.

That’s what I pictured from the outside, anyway. I had my “I’m not listening to you” headphones on, listening to my music, a distant unfocused smile on my face as I plodded along through my task. Like Lenny in Of Mice and Men before he started killing rabbits.

Picturing myself like this, I thought of Dad and wondered if this was part of what he was talking about. While I was thinking of myself as “simple,” another generation could easily read that as “stupid.” Maybe it was a language barrier thing of his own.

So here I was, Simple Simon, doing all of my little tasks and I felt… content. I think that’s what drew my attention in the first place. Feeling content is something that happens very rarely in my world. That feeling of content was what was behind that simple smile, but what was behind the contentment? As usual when things start going right, I had to start overanalyzing and that’s when it hit me.

My brain was silent.

It wasn’t silent in a whiteout way, where I’m trying to access something and there’s nothing there (still just the two times that’s happened so far). Instead, it was like when the power goes out during a snowstorm. Initially, you’re surprised at how noisy your house had been. Even if you were just sitting on your couch reading, you suddenly notice how much noise the lights had been making. You miss the low hum of the refrigerator. That electrical aura that encapsulates your environment 24/7 is suddenly gone. With the electromagnetic interference out of the way, you realize you can hear the silence outdoors. Those seemingly quiet electrical lines are somehow even more quiet. There’s hardly anyone outside because of the snowstorm, so you don’t even hear traffic moving anywhere. You can almost hear each snowflake when they touch the ground outside.

Is this what the regular people are like? All of those people without ADD and constant inner narratives and thoughts and words and ideas and feelings and everything in a constant mental maelstrom. Do they get to experience this quiet all the time? Of course, I was spoiling it a little while trying to think it out, much like we do in that snowstorm, craning our necks and straining our ears to hear that noise that we know is there somewhere, until we wind up wandering outside and becoming the noise ourselves.

This must be what peace is like. Inner peace, outer peace, whatever. Just being able to sit somewhere, music in your ears, a task at your fingertips, and silence in your brain. I tried to hold on to that feeling, that quietness for as long as possible. Eventually, the power always comes back on and the traffic starts back up again and my brain is no different. When the lights come back on, we miss that feeling of absolute silence, deep down in our soul, even as we rejoice at having light and cold food in the fridge again. I’m happy that my brain spun back up into problem-solving mode, but I long to have that silence again. That contentment. That simplicity.

Finally, a Translator!

Okay, maybe not so much a translator as a glossary. As I mentioned a few days (weeks? months?) ago, my brain has gotten more rigorous at coming up with new words for words I’m trying to access. The most recent was the name of the medical device that doctors install to regulate a patient’s heartbeat. You know – the tachometer.

I recently got my first Apple Watch in an attempt to offload some brain functions that might occasionally be… lacking. Most specifically note taking and an abundance of reminders. After years of fighting against it, I’ve now given in to having short conversations with Siri. Anyway, I got myself an Ultra (this is back in the Series 8 days, future travelers) due to its durability and gigantic size. The durability’s an obvious plus, since I have a tendency to not pay attention to how my arms are flapping about. The gigantic size is great to make it easier to use with my sausage fingers and to make the watch look more of a normal size with my big paws. The only issue is the included band (the velcro trail whatever band) doesn’t open enough to let the aforementioned big paw slip easily through.

So off to reddit I go to wander r/applewatch for a few hours. In addition to some watch band ideas, I walked away filled with amazement at how much people expect from a watch. One in particular was upset at how the watch was reading his HRV (Heart Rate Variability, something to do with your heart rate fluctuating and a low number is worse than a high number). It had been reading in low numbers (again, bad), but when he checked the HRV being given by the pacemaker installed in his body, his HRV was really a higher healthy number. That’s right, he’s comparing heart readings from a watch on his wrist to heart readings from a device inside his heart.

I had been discussing my new watch with the IT consultant/former boss who had come onsite that day, so I tracked him down to tell this tale. It was going well until I got to the word “pacemaker.” The best I could come up with was “tachometer.” He didn’t pick up on it because he was probably only halfway paying attention to me, but I pondered the proper terminology over the next couple of hours while I did other things. I couldn’t come up with anything better than “tachometer.”

I wasn’t too worried about it since I was doing other things, but did start panic breathing a little as I neared the end of the second hour. So I stopped everything and laser-focused on the problem at hand. Yes, I was sitting in front of a computer that would tell me the answer in seconds, but I was On A Mission. So I sat there staring at my desk for FIVE MINUTES before I finally thought of “pacemaker.” Interestingly, the recovered word was brittle for a little while. I’d think about how I would recount the ordeal to my wife and I’d remember the word started with a P, then have to gather myself to come up with the rest of the word.

While it has been suggested that I might have had “tachycardia” lodged in my brain, I’m pretty sure it was an even simpler comparison. Tachometers measure rpm, so why not bpm?

All of this to say that I now have a way on the site for us (the royal us) to keep track of these new words as well as any other things I come up with. Take a look at The New Moondoggie Dictionary, readily available in the header of the site. If I find a way to link to a specific word, I might use that in the future. I just spent two hours trying to put a copyright notice in my footer without destroying the site, so I’ve had it for programming today.

Update: I’m Awesome

Whaddaya know – it IS like CrossFit! I was worried about nothing. Two puzzles down (I scaled down to the easy ones), the first in 14 minutes, then the second a new 10 minute PR. I am SO gonna tackle double-unders tomorrow morning.

The Power of Negative Thinking

I was putting together a big long post on the mental game in Crossfit and it really started rambling there after a bit. And if I think it was rambling, it would probably be incomprehensible to you guys. So instead, let’s focus right now on negative affirmations.

The important thing to remember at all times is the power your brain has over your body. I’d imagine it varies from person to person, but I know my brain can really mess me up physically. And not just by all of those “A Five Guys burger would be soooooo good right now” thoughts it keeps repeating. For instance, several times in the past when I’ve decided I really need to play hooky from work, I’d get myself sick. When you call your boss, you have to be sure you sound good and sick. I’d get so deep in the act, before I’d realize it I’d be really sick. And as we all know, nothing’s worse than being sick on a sick day.

I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.
– Emo Phillips

Knowing this power my brain has beforehand has already proved astoundingly useful in my life. I’ve never been that good at all of that positive affirmation Stuart Smalley stuff. The closest I can get is by limiting my negative affirmations, which can be quite a task in itself. I even have a good concrete example right here of how this all works for me.

NOTE: If you’re one of my cancer homies, you can zone out ’cause I’m going to tell that story again.

So yeah, Crossfitters – I’m a cancer survivor. Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage IVB – about as advanced as that cancer can get at diagnosis time. Once I was diagnosed, I had one primary rule that I stuck to: I didn’t want to know any side effects of anything that was being given to me. Luckily, I had my wife Barb right there (wave to the crowd, honey), so she became the Holder of the Side Effects. You see, as much as you might want to, you can’t completely ignore your symptoms when you’re in chemo. You may think that your fever’s no big deal, but that might just be a precursor to something really bad happening from drug X.

So the way it worked was like this. We go in to see the doctor and he goes into what I’m going to get and what’s going to happen. The second half is where I tune out (let’s hear it for ADD!). He hands me the sheet with all of the side effects (“The ones in this column are normal. The ones in this column you call me about. The ones in this column, you race to the ER.”) and I hand it right to Barb. She kept them all in her notebook and when I felt something weird, I’d ask her about it.

“Honey? I feel kinda queasy and I can’t see the color orange anymore.” Barb would pull out her notebook, run through the lists. “Nope, those are normal.” “Okay, hand me that baseball.” “Those are oranges, honey.”

Not only did I have very few side effects and hardly any of the “bad” ones, I started playing roller hockey in the middle of the first chemo regimen while I was still working full time. That’s not to say that that first hockey game wasn’t worse than any WOD I’ve done so far, but it got easier. I only quit once they started talking stem cell transplant.

Granted, later on, even not knowing the side effects was enough to keep things from happening. Some of those chemo regimens can be quite draconian. But still, I didn’t seem to have as many problems as the rest of my cancer buddies did.

So what you can glean from that rambling is this. Did I ever say anything about thinking positively? About telling yourself you can do it? About how having hope in your head and a song in a heart will get you through anything. No, I didn’t. At least I don’t think I did. Who can remember? The key to this is, you don’t have to think positive. Just don’t think negative.

“Ugh. Fran is today.”

“I’m still sore from the last one.”

“Has it been twenty minutes yet?”

“Wait, we’re supposed to do how many reps?”

They don’t seem that negative on the surface, but this kind of thinking just eats away at your brain. As soon as you feel one of these thoughts bubble up, do whatever it takes to stuff it back down. Find something sparkly to look at. Ask yourself what you really expected to happen when you showed up at the box that morning. Or, if you’re really feeling like a mental badass, take a tip from the second fittest woman in the world, Annie Thorisdottir. She looked like a mental case about half the time, because here she is, pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with sandbags, and she’s frickin’ smiling.

Kettlebells? Smiling. Double unders? Smiling. Handstand push ups? Frowning. Oh wait – she’s upside down. Smiling.

Why the hell is she smiling? Did she not read her Icelandic to American Pain Dictionary to understand that you’re not supposed to do that sort of thing. Maybe. According to her, it’s kind of like how you’re supposed to smile when you talk on the phone if you’re in customer service. Try it right now. Smile. Aside from feeling stupid, smiling at your computer for no reason (and looking a little goofy, I might add), did you feel how smiling changes your whole posture? It may be subtle – try it again. This time, with a flower pot on your head.

Sorry – after getting everyone to smile the first time I was a little overcome with my power. But can you feel what I mean? It’s just that little extra bit of oomph that could mean the difference between a clean box jump and a no rep. Or horribly scraped shins, a busted nose and a thrown out back if you exceedingly clumsy.

So that’s your assignment for tomorrow’s WOD. Do whatever it takes to quell the negative thoughts and try to smile during the WOD. Or, you can kill two birds with one stone – smile during the WOD and think about what the people around you are thinking when they see you smiling, you psycho.

The First Rule of Crossfit: Don’t Compare It to Fight Club

Many people who get involved with Crossfit equate it on some level with Fight Club. It’s hard to blame them when you see the places they overlap. You’ve got a group of people meeting in out-of-the-way places, punishing their bodies over and over, rebuilding their bodies, their minds and their entire outlook on life. Not to mention the fact that the first few workouts, you’re going to feel like you were on the losing end of a lopsided fight.
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I’m not doing it anymore

That is, not doing the thing I was referencing in the last post, FIVE MONTHS AGO. Almost SIX. Oy vey.

The good news (sorta) is, I’m putting together a daily schedule for myself to try to get my life in order and under control and being electronically social is one of the things that’s going to have its own daily block of time. Who knows? Maybe I’ll start answering emails now!