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reflections on wayfinding

always learning


Sunday Morning Pages 03-10
guardian
olifhar
Morning pages is a simple exercise: write two pages about whatever is on your mind without editing. In this format, I'll just write until I fill the text box (scroll the top text out of view) twice.

I'll post whatever I end up writing, including typos.


Woke up this morning feeling sluggish and congested. It's probably the donuts and the non-butter spread from yesterday. I think it did a number on my mood as well, because I'm thinking about a bunch of stuff. Not fun stuff. Thinking about the future, about doors having closed, and all that.

When I got up, or shortly after I got up (first I watched some YouTube videos) out of bed, Bryce went on a video call with one of his friends. If I'm not in a good mood, hearing him talk about his life with his friends is kind of demoralizing. I'm not directly envious of him, but I feel more aware of the lack of things in my life.

I don't think I have a big, strongly connected network of friends like he does, or how other people do. Partly, it's just because of my personality. I am picky about with whom I choose to associate. But it's also that it's hard for me to connect to people, or more precisely, feel connected to people. I can socialize just fine, but the connection feels shallow, because there's all this stuff I'm carrying around behind (?) me that I can't really share or be open about.

At this point I hear the, "Why do you have to?" sort of objections, something maybe someone would say if I were talking to them.

II.

Whatever, I'm not going to explain that part. I'll just end by saying that I do like feeling connected and I don't like feeling alone in my issues. I still don't feel like I can talk out everything I'm experiencing with anyone and be heard, at least with the friends I talk to on a more regular basis. Or the people I talk to on a regular basis.

I'm tempted right now to write to explain stuff to people who don't know much about how my life is right now, how my social life is organized. I'll avoid that, but I do feel anxiety about assumptions. I feel pretty isolated a lot of the time, even though I interact with people.

That's not so true recently, maybe because I'm getting more into classes. But outside of classes, when I'm out and around town, or even worse, when I'm alone in the house, I do feel isolated.

A recurring theme is I don't feel like people understand what I'm going through, which makes it sound like there's a secondary problem, which there are, or underlying issues, which there are, but it's sort of circular. I'm older than all my cousins, as well as my brothers. I can't really talk to them without changing the dynamic.

And then I'm cheery with friends. I'm just so optimistic about what actions I can take, trying not to look like I'm moping. I don't want to mope.

What I said before was correct: I'd want people not to give up if they were in my position. Not give up even on a day by day basis. But having some kind of hopeful orientation, the "maybe, you never know" attitudes that people always say—very, very vexing. Sometimes painful. I've had so many disappointments in that category that it's really hard to say that. I don't think it works, because I don't believe it. If there's a "maybe, you never know" kind of thing out there, I assume that unless I work very hard and maintain it as a goal, it won't happen.

And if I or another person is saying, "maybe, you never know", then it means that neither they nor I know about a path to get there.

There were a lot of things like that when I got to Japan. People were telling me that they were so excited for me. But now it's over. I am disappointed in a lot of things I wasn't able to do. I have experienced things that have been meaningful, that I wouldn't have been able to experience otherwise.

I don't want to hinge it on social approval, but it feels like a lie to say that I'm satisfied. It's frustrating. It's easier for me to feel heartbroken, feel disappointed, and then do things to deal with that. And I can appreciate the other things that have happened regardless.

I feel like it's analogous to having tried to run a business. I worked seven years for this, and then had one and a half years. I could have done better. I could have been more prepared. That's the lesson I guess. But in the end, I didn't accomplish what I hoped to accomplish.

Let's just let that stand. Let's not try to brush the stuff under the rug. To do that feels insulting to the whole experience, and to reality.

I didn't even end up writing about what I feel bad about today. Mostly, I've been feeling sad about the future. And about getting older and being a balding fat guy with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Really, I don't think about the debt sometimes—mostly, I feel like a small, balding fat guy with no money and poor social standing.

I can deal with that, maybe. Because I can change. But I can't change the idea that time is going forward. I can't have in the future what I didn't have in the past, because we can't change the past.

I don't want to give up on this. I'm not giving up on this. But that's what's on my mind.

Wanting to get stronger / towards an emotional strength movement
guardian
olifhar
Sometimes I reach a state where I feel I've given up. It's not an ultimate act of giving up on life, but it has a smaller yet similar feeling of being trapped, with nothing to look forward to. No hope, no inspiration. So sense of worth in the past, present, or future. Just muddling through, endlessly. Why strive anymore?

I think the clear answer to that is: when I think of it, if I saw someone else in this position, I would want them to strive. I wouldn't want them to give up on getting better. Because I know it's possible to face similar challenges, similar constraints, but still be able to find joy. It's possible to have a sense of self worth, even with the world going wrong.

If I had someone in my life who was in that bad place, I wouldn't want them to give up. I wouldn't want them to accept that there was nothing else left but moping, muddling, and suffering simply because they couldn't imagine good things in the future.

There really are cases where people's health probably won't improve. Where there isn't much hope left. But I know for someone in my precise position, as downtrodden as I feel, I can get better.

So when I want to sink down into nothingness to hide from the world, to hide from my own feelings of hollowness, I know it's important to affirm: "I want to get better."

I want to feel happier more of the time, in spite of these challenges. I want to have a continued sense of purpose and self worth, in the face of disappointment and even crisis.

It doesn't feel like it, and it's not worth shit to larger society, but I know I still have a lot right now. I have my health. I have some time. I have knowledge.

Maybe I can't reach certain kinds of success. Maybe I'll be facing setbacks for years to come. But maybe even more so, I want to become a stronger person who can find joy, inspiration, and purpose even in that turmoil. Even if no one gives me a gram of respect.

I have some ideas for this, which I'll write about later. I think Guy Winch's work helped connect a lot of different threads. Emotional hygene and emotional first aid are actions we can take to improve our emotional health. I think there's room for becoming more emotionally fit and resilient overall, just how we use exercise and nutrition to help our bodies stay healthy. We learn physical skills systematically, through sometimes just through perseverance. There's got to be a way to train our emotional-behavioral skills as well.

a bad relationship with hope, three time frames of not having, rage against the tortoise
guardian
olifhar
It was around half past 5AM here when I started writing this. I felt better then than I did the other day, but now the sleep deficit is hitting me.

I spent a lot of yesterday feeling anxious and confused. I didn't get out of bed for a long time. I kept going back into bed. I observed I was covering my head a lot, even though it wasn't that cold. This told me that I felt like I was hiding from something. I didn't get any work done.

I feel that things are clearer for me right now, though the situation is harsher than I want to admit. Overall, things will take a lot of hard work and patience. I will get older. I will miss out on things that other people have that I might also want, because my life situation is different. This is true for everyone, but it's hard to find acceptance there when I'm also dealing with vague societal pressure to have a certain kind of success.

I have a bad relationship with hope, and I think I might want to change what it means to me. For me, hope is something like being optimistic about something happening, or optimistic about being able to affect whether something will happen.

I don't think that's quite the same kind of hope I hear about when I hear other, interesting people talk about hope. My version is a lot about expectation and control.

I don't have a good answer yet about what a better version would look like. I know that, "Who knows—maybe X will happen!" or "Don't worry—things will work out with Y in the end!" just don't work well. I tend to see a lot of disappointments in my life—things that so many people said would work out automatically, but didn't.

Sometimes people ask why things are as they are. How do I answer that? Even I find my life really strange. But I find everyone else's normal lives even stranger, full of things I've never experienced. I live in a place different from your baseline world, which you take for granted, which I argue you hardly understand yourself.

Anyway, going back to the idea about hard work and patience: I still feel like I'm only beginning to understand how that works in the real world and across the timescale of weeks, months, and years.

The real challenge comes in accepting what hasn't happened in my life, what doesn't happen, and not being afraid that certain things won't happen.

I often feel bad about how things went in my late teens and twenties. I racked up debt, didn't make money, didn't progress in my career, and didn't experience romance. I didn't study abroad, didn't graduate from college, got fat, and for the most part didn't have an offline social life. I still find explaining these things to people, when the subject comes up, to be both difficult and embarrassing. After all, all this came from lack of skills and mistakes.

When I experienced life change and I went for Japan, the disappointments of the past set up me up for new disappointments. I projected so many high hopes on all the things I could do, partly seeking to making up for the lack of things in my 20s and early 30s.

But I had no social connections to start, my communication skills were extremely limited, and I was always running out of money. I felt self conscious on a daily basis for not living up to the hype of such an unconventional move. I felt embarrassed that after such a long interval spent on language learning, I could only do so much. I knew that some people probably expected me to be living out my previous dream, which in some ways was true. But those expectations fed anxiety, and I'm still looking to make progress dealing with them.

In the fall, I threw what felt like all my conscious attention into my classes, but still really struggled. I didn't feel like anyone understood what the hell I was doing. Online university classes, or even an older adult returning to get an undergraduate education is Japanese people find odd. And I didn't interact much with my classmates, so it felt like I was suffering all that stress alone.

Now, I have switched to looking at the future, beyond our departure from Japan, and I do find I feel better. But taking in the reality—that it will take me several years more to make the kind of significant life improvements—leaves me with a sinking feeling.

I know I am very fortunate to be able to fix many of my mistakes, because it could be much worse. But it's hard not to think about my reference class of peers, people with something to show, in a social validated sense. In a few years I will in some sense be where they were when they were 25, but I will be 37. My hair is falling out right now.

I know, there are infinite ways to look at and reframe the situation. But emotionally, I keep falling into this trough that lines up with a lack of social validation for where I am and what I'm doing. I become bitter and loath to celebrate others' successes, because it highlights what I didn't/don't/won't have. Not having stuff makes it harder to connect to people, both because it's harder to relate, and because with fewer resources, it's relatively more expensive to get to where the people are at.

I'm stuck in the world of paradox. I can get better, I can make progress, and race ahead, but it seems that by the time I catch up, the tortoise will have already left me in the dust. Nothing to show.

I have one hint right now: that I must build intrinsic motivation working on the things that are important to me. Move a lot of the identity out of having and into doing. Not sure yet how to do that except by working harder, getting more immersed and involved—easier said than done, overall.

About - How I plan to use this space [2019 March 05]
guardian
olifhar
I want to come back to this space as a place to write up my thoughts on things. In the past, I've mostly used blogging as an emotional outlet, but I never really made use of its potential as a thinking-place.

In the past, sometimes I put too much weight on wanting to make something valuable for an audience as soon as possible. It became all or nothing, and the majority of the time it has been nothing. Other times I worried about shouting into a crowd asking for help, but with no one really responding.

I think I'm okay using this place just to document thoughts, without much judgement. And without an expectation of support. These platforms have declined in popularity over recent years, and I no longer really look for comments.

As I've gotten older, I've also learned that while it's really useful to write down some thoughts as they happen, it's also useful not to draw conclusions until you've worked through things a little bit more. Even if I want to discuss things with people, sometimes it's best to think about it a bit more myself.

I'll also spend less time providing life updates. I now feel it's better to just do that explicitly with the people I care about. Maybe there's some value in keeping my extended sphere vaguely in the loop, but that's not what I'm aiming for here.

I also plan to use the relatively unpolished quality of my writing here as a benefit. It's just another place on the internet, and I don't plan to link it in any portfolio or any site. If someone finds their way here, I really doubt they will be interested in staying to form a positive or negative.

In other words, I plan to use this space to think through things, and to occasionally forward that thought process to friends for comment or further discussion. So I will write first for myself, then for other people.
Tags: ,

Path dependency
guardian
olifhar
Last time's outburst was a mixture of thoughts and me trying to provide background for those thoughts. I thought I would develop things further, but as things often are for me, it's hard where the exposition and the development begin and end.

I binge-read Mark Manson's _The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck_ last Thursday and Friday. It's not a self-instruction on narcissism or overconfidence. A more accurate, but less exciting, and even less informative title might have been, "How not to live a meaningful life, maybe what to do instead, and other musings on personal values in models in modern society".

I've read most of the essays on his site that inspired and contributed to the book, but it was a decent read. It still left me short of clear solutions to things, which of course is why I am still thinking and writing about all this.

What it did remind me about, and help me clarify: the centrality of personal values. I think this is one of the biggest sources of internal emotional turmoil in my life.

A major message in _Subtle Art_ was that you need to be careful how you frame your life actions and experiences, especially your efforts, struggles, and suffering, if you want your life to feel consistently meaningful. Most of us know about the common traps: assuming obtaining material goods or comfort will make you happy and fulfilled. (That second part, fulfilled, is more important to me, because I feel, like Manson, that happiness is a transient thing, and focusing on it tempts us to focus on what the world gives to us, rather than our own actions.)

Another trap, that I'm glad to be seeing elsewhere, is the trap of needing to be extraordinary in order to feel worthy as a person. That's something that took me a long time to accept as a criticism that applies to my own life. I thought: it doesn't apply to me because all I'm trying to do is to demonstrate that it was all worth it, despite all my mistakes. I can accept that any kind of need to prove something is basically equivalent to needing to be extraordinary. But the emotions that drive that mindset are still things I'm struggling with for now.

These two extremes aside, the part of the book that I found the most interesting, even though I'm sure I'd read part of it in a blog post before, was the idea of choosing your _suffering_ rather than chasing your ideal lifestyle. I'm not going to peek to see exactly what words he used. We are all going to suffer, we are all going to have struggles in our lives. The question is: what do you want your struggle to be about?

It's not: what outcome is worth the discomfort. I think that's the part that still is throwing me off, because I feel that in order for something to be worthwhile, it should have a good payoff.

But otherwise, what? Otherwise it's a bad idea. Otherwise it's a waste. But that isn't really my assessment. That's other people's values barging in. That's society's status assessment on the worth of your undertaking.

But, I mean, that already exists in two rough forms. One is the market. The other is popular fame. And both ways that society tends to evaluate people's undertakings pretty much suck, in what they overlook, what they fail to acknowledge, and in the kind of dumb stuff that they reward.

Anyway, I like the idea about chasing your particular struggle. This encourages either a process or value orientation over a goal orientation.

Some background on that: Ribbonfarm's Venkatesh Rao lays out a model that classifies people into three basic life orientations: values-oriented, goals-oriented, and process-oriented. It's in a blog post written by him that I liked: How to Fall Off the Wagon. It tries to elaborate on patterns and archetypes. I don't think it's all that correct of a model, but it did get me thinking about things.

As the post explains, all of us will think in terms of goals, processes, and values in different places. But his theory is that each of us, at any particular place in our life, tends to have one overall orientation at a time.

I have tended to be very goal-oriented for a long time. This remained the same even after reading that article and reflecting on the weaknesses of chasing after goals. Even before that, I understood that goals can get hijacked easily, especially by some sense of what other people think you _should_ be working towards.

That's the part that's historically caused problems for me. Since I was young, I've been in search for my own path for generating meaning. But instead of earnestly focusing on that, I tried to tackle a broad set of the wrong things. I hadn't acknowledged my own limitations, partly because I still hadn't had a chance to discover them.

Right now there's still a conflict between the goals that someone in my position _should_ have, versus the things I actually want.

I know at the beginning of this post I said the conflict was over values. That is still more true, because these goals I feel pressured to embrace ultimately come from external values.

Some of that just translates to, "What would reasonable people think of what I am doing?"

Or even, "What would reasonable people _see_ me as doing?"

That last part gets to me, especially with its tie-in to impostor syndrome: if other people saw what was really going on behind the scenes, they'd be appalled and lose all respect for me.

What a trainwreck! What a mess! Forget everything else—get your shit together! And so on.

That still vexes me a lot, but I think looking at things from the perspective of chasing meaning through _process_ equips me with the beginnings of an answer.

A few years back, there was a period where it felt like most interactions I had with all but a few friends and acquaintances was a back and forth on the question, "What the hell are you doing with your life?"

That hasn't been the case recently. I think partly, I've lost touch with people, and partly, it looks like I have a clearer idea about what I am doing. I am actually trying to get shit together. And you know, maybe that would still be the case even under the surface.

I anticipate the conflict when I imagine being open about feeling lost, or frustrated, lonely, depressed, or ashamed. I have the fear and expectation that when you do that, it is, to the rest of the world, an admission that there is something wrong with you, and an invitation of loss of confidence in your own ability to make decisions.

I do have some real life experience when that has happened sometimes—ranging from overzealous advice, to misguided attempts by family members to wrest control away from me when I got in trouble.

But that's usually wrong, too. Because for a while now, when I talk about my problems, unless I specifically ask people, "Do you have any suggestions?" often, the first responses I get from my friends... are questions.

"What do you think you are going to do?"

"What are your options?"

It comes back to me. While that can also be frustrating at times, it also means the people around me do see me as capable of making my own decisions, and sorting out my own priorities. We might just have a misunderstanding about what priorities we have in common, or not.

Even when I get blasted by a billion questions by relatives, I think it also shows their expectation that I've thought things out.

And usually, I really have tried to think things out, even if I haven't come to a suitable conclusion.

Another important point of the book went like this: in today's America, there is a popular notion that if you're struggling, if you're suffering, if you're having a negative experience, unless you can squarely blame that on someone else, there's something _wrong with you_. If you can't somehow publicly prove that you're constantly happy and your life isn't _the best_, it is lame and stupid.

Along with that is widespread lack of acknowledgement that maybe challenges, setbacks, and failures are part of doing something worthwhile.

And there is an even greater blindness that most worthwhile things _aren't_ extraordinary.

I'm ending up injecting a lot of extra background into this. I was trying to get to a certain point about process and choosing the right struggle.

A lot of the actions I will be taking will have uncertain payoffs. It's going to be a lot of improvisation, maybe for a very long time.

That might not be a bad thing. Somehow, I still haven't accepted, emotionally, that I'm good at this. But it's the only way I've found myself out of pinches, since I'm not great at making steady, predictable, sustainable progress. In fact, it's usually when I try to concoct some kind of sure way forward that I get stuck in something unsustainable.

But somehow, the uncertainty still bothers me. It gets in the way of negotiating plans with other people. The worries gnaw on my brain during spare moments. It's still scary.

Meanwhile, many actions with more certain payoffs don't contribute all that much to the future. They are sometimes completely against what I'm trying to do, but more often, they're just immediate gratification—or release from fear. It's often easy to get distracted, procrastinate, goof off, overeat, and binge watch irrelevant videos, especially if it blocks out anxieties and their physical symptoms.

Amid all this fear and worry and desire to escape from the present comes the voice that says, "Why do you have to make things this hard? Can't you find happiness doing things the normal way?"

The answer has been no, but I haven't really been able to explain. And that becomes another anxiety on top of the already-existing fear. If it drags on for a day, unless I find a way to clarify my thoughts, it's enough to take me into depression for the rest of the week.

Before, the best answer I had was that my goals are not generic like everyone else's. It's the difference between wanting to get good at a particular game you are interested in, versus just finding a game where you can win a lot, and have fun calling yourself a winner. It's the difference between a unique experience versus a commodity. Or creating art versus creating entertainment.

I think this does still hold true, because the distinction between universals and particulars can arise if you model things as networks. Nodes are not unique by themselves, but can take on very unique properties based on their roles in their graphs/networks—how they are connected to other things.

But that gets too abstract, and it was still incomplete as a reply. I mean, sometimes you can't get what you want. If you can't get something you want, are you just going to refuse to settle for anything else forever? What if you want something that is impossible or unlikely—like being an NBA star at 4'11"? Shouldn't you focus on something else more worthwhile?

That's the weakness, because that whole discussion takes place in a goals frame of reference.

But that perspective has an even bigger weakness. Because, if you are looking at goals as endpoints, most of your life will be spent working to get to that some time.

The question, "What if it's not worth it?" is valid.

But if you take a process orientation, and ask: what is the path worth walking, even if it falls short of complete success in the end? What is the fight worth fighting on a daily basis, even if causes you to bleed?

I think many folks have strong opinions on this. But if they try to push their views on you without respecting your experience, if they try to call you _bad_ for wanting to devote your day-to-day experience to something different, it is easier to see through their bullshit. And I think it is easier for me to see through my own fears.

Knotted
guardian
olifhar
Chaos. Confusion. Tumult. Commotion. What's the word I'm looking for?

Setting off to live in Japan for a while set me on a road for untangling a lot of stuff. No, not really untangling. It's complicated, but it's not like if I separate all the strands, things will all be solved. So maybe it's more like: it's opened the door for needing to confront these problems that I've been pushing away for some time.

The low point of my trip to Japan was about two weeks after I arrived, where all I was really doing was cooking, watching some Netflix, then playing Ark until about 0300. I'm now grateful that the game stopped working, because that required me to focus on other things to a larger extent.

I had a lot of pent up shame about my life—and for many years leading up to the trip. But learning Japanese, and then later chasing the possibility of finally putting it into practice allowed me to push those things away.

When I finally started going to Meetups, I felt pretty great. I felt like I finally had an okay place in the world, after all these years. I felt validated about my language learning. At night, though, I still felt sad. I had anxious thoughts, though slightly different ones.

Having a realization: during the second and third sets of an amazing Goose House concert in Diver's City, in Daiba, Tokyo (which I attended with my friend Rob) I found myself feeling sad, as I had many days and nights alone in the house near Kinugasa, Yokosuka. I realized that all the anxious and depressed thoughts revolved around one thing: I felt ashamed about where I was in life, and where I had been in life up to that point.

Acknowledging this was a big release for me. So that's all it was. It really wasn't all that complicated. I just feel ashamed about my life.

Bryce got back the week after, and I had plenty of things to do together. We went to some of the group meetings, some parties, and enjoyed our time together.

After some great experiences, as my time in Japan came to a close, the frustration and embarrassment life began to come back, especially at night. I was able to talk with Bryce about stuff, especially about fears about the future. I didn't feel like it resolved anything in that moment, or made me feel that much better—I prefer listening to people over being listened to.

But at this moment, what I was trying to express seems a lot more simple than it did in that moment. So I think talking about it, rather than letting things race around in my head, had something of an effect.

I know that's why I write most of the time. I don't get any special enjoyment from talking about enjoyable experiences. I don't think I even really like writing so much. But it's one of the best tools I have for attempting to figure things out.

We had a really great final weekend, where friends from the Meetups came to our house for a bit of a potluck. I cooked some Filipino food, which didn't turn out as great as I would have liked, but which everyone seemed to enjoy enough.

The next day, I went walking in the big park behind the house that I'd never been to.

And then, early Monday morning, I was off to the airport, then Hong Kong, then Newark.

Bryce and I had a potential scheme for me to stay in Japan until his tour was over next May. After getting some critical pieces of information, that does not look like that is going to work out.

So I'm left heading to Japan for 90 days at a time.

Signing up for classes is still an option, but I'm not sure I'm willing to sacrifice the money, or the time. Twenty hours a week seems to be the minimum to be granted a student visa. I also found out, probably a year too late, that the student visa application process needs to begin really early. For fall classes, you need to have things ready by mid-winter or so. The deadlines for fall have passed now, and since the next semester begins in April, that leaves me way out of sync.

And getting a decent job isn't an option, either, since I don't even have a bachelor's degree yet.

There aren't firm limits on how many days you can go to Japan on the temporary visitor status, which is the 90 day thing. But in practice, people seem to get denied once they've hit 180 days. And is that for any one year period? Is for the calendar year? It's not even clear from the personal reports I've seen on the web.

So that leaves half of the year open...

But that's not really the main issue. It is a complication to one possible way to address the main issue.

The issues I'm facing have to do with shame, which are driven by my personal problems. Debt. Credit record. Trouble with employment. Lack of a social life. The fact that I'm still residing with my parents while being over thirty years old. The barriers to affording living on my own, because of my financial history.

The problems are clear to me now. But the exact path I need to tread to address these things isn't. And that is what is getting to me today, beyond the sense of disappointment for not being able to stay in Japan for the rest of the year.

There are practical parts that get complicated when you try to balance them. The fastest way to improve my financial situation would be to get the best job I can now and stick with it. But if I pursue that full speed, I sacrifice my freedom to explore the world, especially during this period where I have a place to live sometimes in Asia. And these chances might not come again. I can't go full speed with trying to finish my bachelor's degree without a way to pay for the classes.

Beyond these current problems are the problems I really want to work on in my life, things I find very meaningful. Those are stories and art. They won't pay off my debts any time soon. But they are also the kinds of things that people regret putting off until retirement, instead of starting the process now of building the right skills. Most of the time I'm afraid to admit that creating stories is what is most important to me personally, because most people find it laughable to value this, unless you can prove you have talent. But if you accept it as laughable, when will you start working on getting good in the first place?

Overall solution lies somewhere in patience and persistence. But from there... I know myself enough to know that asking myself to be persistent without creating something compelling to look forward to will fail. If get bored, I get depressed, and years go by. That's what scares me the most. I want to move forward without being miserable in the meantime, because even being miserable off and on is one of the surest ways to sabotage my efforts.

This is the point where my thoughts get into a tangle. So maybe the process isn't about untangling the issues, but untangling the solutions.

In Medias Res 01 Mensis
guardian
olifhar
This weekend marks one month living in Japan.

A month ago I was in the midst of cycling through packing, weighing, and repacking my luggage cases. About thirty minutes later, I would move on to a last minute sort on a pile of documents.

But the story of how I got here is one I'll save for another time.

Most of the past month or so has had to do with getting used to being alone. And occasionally lost. Bryce left for duty early the next morning after I arrived. I followed him on the ten minute walk to the train station, went up and down the main street in our small suburb, and then took about three hours to find my way back to the house. And then I was completely alone, surrounded by strangers, for another three and a half weeks.

I'm in this big house out in the suburbs of Yokosuka. It's big, I think, by Japanese standards and also big for one person's use. There are three rooms and one toilet that I barely use. I've mostly loitered in the kitchen and what I'll call the living room, binge-watching Netflix offerings only available in Japan.

I've switched back and forth between trying to act like a local and trying to be an enlightened expat. Both didn't work out. I posted photos on Instagram, but found that more social media intensified the loneliness. I found no problems with getting people to speak Japanese to me, but I struggled to understand everyday conversations. (Though now I have to acknowledge that most cashiers speak really, really fast.) When a police officer singled me out in Yokohama Station for routine questioning, I let that cast a shadow over my jaunt to Chinatown. Trips to the grocery store took hours.

Two typhoons passed through Tokyo Bay, which gave me an excuse to stay shut in. My friends on our Slack cheered me on to go talk and meet new people, but I processed that as pressure that made things worse. I felt ashamed about not making the most of things, not visibly enjoying myself, and struggling to manage my time at a basic level. I worried about not keeping the outside of the house clean enough. My sleep schedule, which had quickly adapted during the first week, flipped. I was going to sleep and waking up the same time as Germany.

A fourth of my initial ninety days had elapsed. When I leave, what will I have to show for this? That I learned how to use the fish-broiler that is standard in Japanese kitchens? That appreciate that you can take your trash out to the dumpster any day of the week in the US? I felt fine in the house, but outside, my jaw was permanently clenched from worry about standing out too much, about not having a place anywhere in this society, about not knowing what I was doing with my life.

I turned to media as a distraction. I played more games than I had in the past two years. I watched Japanese crime and medical mystery episodes by the half dozen. In the back of my mind I worried that December would roll in, and I'd have spent almost all my time on TV and games.

But something came out of this spiral. While solving puzzles in The Witness and watching mysteries unravel in Subete ga F ni naru, I remembered something important. The state of not knowing, and sometimes being lost is the main point. I never meant to come here just to consume sights, sounds, and experiences to populate my mental and social media scrapbooks. And I didn't quite come here expecting to erect something grand—neither multum ille et terris iactatus et alto, nor the American Commodore Perry with his black iron-clad gun ships.

I brought two suitcases and a heavy backpack with me across the Arctic Ocean and over Siberia, then from Narita down the JR East Soubu-Yokosuka line, a fraction of my belongings. Yet I also brought all of myself and that baggage.

The critical part of me acknowledged that Monday night there was not much shame in that. Even if no one really understood. Hasn't it been this way all along? Finding a meaningful way to communicate experience has always been the central individual struggle of my life. But that's why it is so painful, especially when I am alone, with no one else to see what I see, with whom to share a meal. And that's tough, but it's okay. It's not shameful, even if it sometimes feels that way.

And the most important is the unfolding mystery. Japan is new to me, but people have lived here for several thousand years—it's all been charted. That leaves my own life as the territory to explore. What are you doing here? Not a confrontational demand, not an exhortation. Just a question.

With that small thread of cognizance, I went to sleep Monday night. And the following day, I went to see my friend on my first and his last day in Tokyo.

Just as you get good, you graduate
guardian
olifhar
Recently I have been really proud of my load quality under pressure. (Load quality refers to how effective your package walls in the trucks are, in terms of space usage and stability.) Last night, I flipped out on this guy who has terrible load quality and wasn't following any of the loading techniques we had been trained in earlier in the week.

At one point, after repeating and rephrasing what I had just said, he just give me this blank, confused stare.

I shouted, "ARE YOU STONED?!" My part-time supervisor was right behind me and was very amused.

But guess what: I won't be loading anymore, except here and there to help out the rest of the guys at the end of the night. I'm getting back my job on the high-volume belt pickoff. Power Steve has been _banned_ by upper management from being on the pickoff because it was taking away from other stuff he's supposed to do. The fellow who was handling the heavy side of the pickoff until now has moved on to a new job.

My going back up there means the areas will get fewer mis-sorted packages, but they're pulling me from the trucks just as I was getting good at loading. I'm pleased about this individually, but it's going to suck for the rest of my buddies (the decent loaders in my area).

We're short-staffed in the trucks as it is. Yesterday, Ivan, a kid who's been working with us since Thanksgiving said to me while we were pulling packages that had fallen into a dead chute (one not hooked up to a truck): "Listen, bro--if I don't work here come next week, it was a pleasure working with you."

Because of the staffing shortage, and whatever other factors, the loads seem to be getting progressively worse. Our area has fewer than one person per truck. Power Steve can't help us until the very end of the night. Thursday is usually a lighter night. But last night, every supervisor in my area looked haggard and worn down. Thomas, the lead part-time supervisor for my side of the building was scarily pale, especially given he is Dominican. He had his glasses off and was muttering, "Thomas is dead. There is no more Thomas. Thomas is dead."

I didn't have the heart to break the news about my reassignment to the rest of the guys, who were still working to fix things up when I left.

And I haven't told anyone at work I'm aiming to be out for sure before the end of March.
Tags:

Quick report after five weeks of box wall truck purgatory
guardian
olifhar
I've been loading the trucks for nearly a month now. My first week was tough, physically and psychologically. But things got better, especially as I got to know the other truck loaders in our area. We would talk, joke, curse, and commiserate about having to heave thirty pound boxes over our heads, with fifty pound boxes falling off the sides of the belt, burying us. I don't think I am giving a good picture of what this is like --some day I will put more effort into describing the scene and the experience. The other folks know how hard it is, dealing with nothing but giant boxes, some of which are bursting open. They know how bad it is when the management sends someone to help, but the newcomer can't build decent walls, and it ends up being a mess. So when any of us finish up in the truck we're covering, we go over and help. In any case, it felt good to be part of the team, and it still does. There's a strong sense of camaraderie among us physical workers.

But my mood had been shifting again last week. It started when the tendon attached to my left bicep began to hurt. Then, my wrists began to hurt. Then my feet really began to ache. I didn't feel like I was recovering -- by Thursday, the end of the week, I'd feel kind of spent at the opening of the shift. Throughout my time working here, on Friday, my first day off, I'd go through the day fending off tiredness, and dealing with various aches and pains. But after I hurt my arm a bit, Tuesday felt like Thursday, and Wednesday -- a work day -- felt like Friday. One arm not working all that well had an impact on how well I could move the rest of my body, and somehow my general stamina. Acetaminophen, Menthol Salicylate cream, constant Gatorade mediated rehydration, and nine to ten hours of sleep could only do too much. I went to Walmart and spend around sixty dollars: neoprene wrist supports, elbow sleeve, shoe inserts.

Last week, one of the guys--let's call him Dennis--quit at the end of a shift. He had really been struggling physically, and asked me how the hell I was still okay. He had broken his toe on his second day of work, when a certain, very reckless worker pushed the roller wheels over his foot. He hadn't invested in steel-toed boots, a requirement for the job. So he just put up with the pain and didn't tell the management, because he was afraid that he would get fired for not wearing the appropriate clothing. Fortunately, he has a day job working in a physical therapy clinic, so he knew what to do with his toe. He was still in pain. The toughest part was that while the lot of us earn a humble $10.50 an hour, he got to do the same hard physical labor for $4. The rest went to child support.

In the back of the truck, he looked at me from across the rollers and said, "I'm raising a son. I'd rather get fired than quit."

But the next day, Dennis was gone. He quit at the end of that shift.

People in this world put up with a lot of pain to get things done in their lives. Many of the people I work with here come to do this low-wage hard labor after working their day jobs. Just to get a little more money for their families. Just to have a bit more money to help out their kids, like one of the guys who was recently able to find a good school for his autistic son.

Since Dennis left, the mood has been more glum when we talk during the ten minute break, or as we're wrapping up the shift. It's not the only thing. We know other people are leaving. There's talk that corporate is circling around, looking to fire the least efficient people in each area.

A veteran hourly worker, who has been at the company for 24 years, told me quietly, "They're trying to flow through the same amount of stuff as the end of Christmas, with half the number of people. They're trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of us."

It's pretty typical corporate capitalism. He told me before that the warehouse workers at Amazon have it worse, being under more scrutiny, with no union protection.

And here, I have respect for most of our immediate supervisors. They started out where we are. They know what it's like to load a nightmare-heavy load. When it gets heavy, they try to help as much as possible. They come and load with us. They climb up and help sort packages.

So, it's disheartening to hear them getting chewed out by the district manager or some safety supervisor for the truck load quality being inefficient, or for there being too many packages that have fallen off the chute. We are all hauling ass, and we are all tired and at our wits' ends with these crazy loads. We are getting crushed. When I'm tired, I have trouble thinking clearly, and more trouble getting packages overhead.

I have this subjective metric: what I call my Not gonna deal with this shit no more meter. When the meter hitting 100% means I am completely fed up. It means I'm ready to walk the hell out, at least for the day. And maybe for good.

Usually, once I feel the end of the sort is really in sight, my meter mellows out. When we make it to end of the night, I might be bitching and cursing, I feel a sense of relief the day is over. Marlon and instinctively talk about the events of the day, an I think that helps a lot.

Yesterday, while loading a mixture of 45lb boxes of industrial parts and boxes of flowers, topped out at 85%. We started work half an hour earlier, and got out half an hour to midnight -- seven hours for what is typically a 4.5 hour shift. At the end, I chatted with the guys, and then with Marlon on the way home, and laughed it off.

Today, even though it was a shorter shift, the meter peaked at 95%. A box tipped over and hit me in the throat. A supervisor (not one I usually work with) came in and helped me load, but the wall he built was unstable and had a huge gap on the top. The aisles were filled with packages, many have, some torn open. I was getting ready to just give up on the truck and walk out. In a few minutes, I mellowed out a bit, and decided that at the end of the night, I'd pull my supervisor aside and give him notice that I'd be quitting in three weeks at the latest.

But the night wrapped up. The belt finally stopped, and we managed to fit the remaining stuff into the almost-full truck. There was chatter and joking and complaining. Lou, our best loader by far, talked about his wife's health issues, which is why he's been out for the last few days. I couldn't bring myself to announce my departure. I didn't want to hurt people's spirits just as we were all sharing some relief of climbing out of that hell.

But I am ready to move on. I postponed making my move for a while. Through December and January, I felt too tired to work on opening up other opportunities. This small job takes a lot of energy. I sleep nine, ten hours, and don't feel like I'm recovering completely day-to-day. But I don't have any other sources of immediate income, nothing saved up. Recently, my wages have been getting garnished to pay debts -- though nothing as bad as what Dennis was paying in child support.

But Marlon and I keep telling ourselves, if we can stand this crazy-ass work, we can overcome almost anything. If I can make it through a shift after shift feeling like I'm just one more 45lb box of t-shirts away from walking out on the spot, I can get my stuff in order in my spare time. I can overcome the physical and logistical and social and financial hurdles.

I don't want to dampen their spirits. But if I don't apply this same hard work to improving my situation, I feel like I'd be letting down my comrades even more.
Tags:

Thought flows
guardian
olifhar
Late last week, they started me loading the trucks. It's a basic thing everyone gets to try out, but they had prioritized keeping me on the top belt, picking off packages. I figure now that things have gotten lighter, they can train me to do more stuff.

Loading in the trucks is tough, but what really gets me is when I am there by myself and the thoughts that pop up.

When the rollers get backed up with packages thoughts about how I'm slow and how everyone thinks I am slow start to pop up. Then come the thoughts that simulate me telling other people and them giving me a simplistic response about not beating myself up about it. Then more thoughts pop up about how other people are mentally tougher. Just a for fun, throw in thoughts about how the majority of my friends within 2 years of my age are Vice Presidents or some kind of doctor, and I doing this, making ten dollars an hour.

I imagine freaking out and knocking over the wall of packages I've just built. I imagine walking out of the truck and telling my full time supervisor that I just can't do this anymore. It's not that it's too tough, it's that I am mentally weak --or something-- and can't handle it. Imagine every guy on the PD shrugging at me and saying, "Come on man!" in a tone that means, "You're a big baby, suck it up!" which is something they would not do.

The scanner is slipping off my fingers. My hand is cramped. It's not scanning. I'm losing my grip. What good was all my talk about strength training if I'm still slower these skinny 19 and 20 year olds? The layers of meta-thoughts are as high as the package wall I've built. The increasingly depressive thoughts stream down, forming piles like the piles of boxes at the entrance of the truck.

All I can do, it feels like, is say loudly to myself, "It's okay. It's fine. Scan and load. Scan and load." Sometimes I almost have to shout it to myself.

This is the same mental process that happens in some social situations, especially parties or professional networking things. At least in a truck I can talk to myself, keep moving, keep telling myself aloud that I'm still a beginner and everything is fine.