Christmas, Briefly in New York

Edited from a story I posted in the #hellotoday channel of our Slack, 2016-12-25

My parents wanted to go to NYC to see some of the displays and the Rockafeller Center tree. Marlon straight up refused to go.

I really did not want to go but I thought it would not be so bad.

It started off okay, with us parking in JC to take the PATH in at Grove Street. But I struggled to find a place with a public restroom, so I ended up using a Johnny on the Spot after asking a security guard at a construction site. I realized I'd forgotten my iPhone charging cable, despite bringing my external battery. My phone was already dead

Then I helped a pair of Chinese women (limited English) who wanted to refill their Metrocard but only had cash, no credit/debit cards. One of them gave me cash, and I put it on my debit card.

It was interesting to be on the PATH again. 33rd to Herald Square. Then it began to go downhill for me. I really wanted the rest of the family to enjoy, but I was personally getting progressively more irritated at the crowds that were there to see all the touristy stuff I semi-resented ever since I lived in city, which I still live otherwise. Huge lines for bathrooms. Overpriced holiday food stalls in parks. People stopping in the middle of crowded sidewalks to take pictures, pictures, pictures. Social media culture has magnified and made this shit worse

The last straw was when we got to Fifth and about 49th. There was a massive crush of people stopping on the freaking corner to watch and capture the Sam's Fifth Avenue store light show. I got separated from everyone. The packed crowd jostling against each other extended for about a block and people were still stopping to take goddamn pictures. I was full on enraged at all this, and it took me about 15 minutes to get half a freaking block, shuffling and pressed up against people, getting shoved from behind and causing me to shove the people in front of me.

Unable to contact the rest of the family otherwise, I went to a Duane Reade/Walgreens and bought an overpriced Lightning cable. I knew full well that it would be relatively useless to me after this night, since most 3rd party cables do not it fit through my life proof case. I had to remove the case.

I decided I was not going to jostle back through the stagnant crowd again just to meet up with them so we could jostle through more crowds to see freaking tourist things I don't give a shit about seeing in person.

As soon as my phone turned on, I sent a series of texts to everyone:

You can go wherever. Don't wait for me. I bought a charging cable from Duane Reade so I will be getting your messages.

At some point I will meet you somewhere that is NOT CROWDED. Just tell me where. I am not going into Rockafeller or back on Fifth

And to the expected "where are you" and "we will wait for you"

Don't call to clarify with me. It will just be a pain in the butt. Just go on wherever you want to go to. I will hang out away from the crowds. I really don't care about any of the displays or touristy things anyway. There is nothing here I want to see and the crowd in Rockafeller is a nightmare

Just message me if you need tips getting around

I began to walk west, which was the opposite direction of the big crowds, but soon I hit the pedestrian traffic around Times Square, which is another place I find irritating. I was thinking of just stopping in a McDonalds, but I decided to keep going. I considered seeing if my friends Lawrence and Connie in Hells Kitchen were at home, but I felt a bit hungry and decided to stop a cheap restaurant I vaguely recommended ordering from.

I am just walking around on 9th by myself. I can meet you if you go sit down somewhere or once you're done seeing Rockafeller / Times Square area

Peace and quiet -- at least for the city. I was able to stop being angry. I didn't find that restaurant I was thinking of, but I spotted a tiny, authentic looking noodle place (named Hand Pulled Noodles II)

The only table was almost right up against the door. I didn't mind at all. When have I minded something like that? They gave me a pot of jasmine green tea and I ordered a beef stew noodle bowl. After all that, it was just the best.

I told him I'd meet them there, and then ate my soup eagerly and noisily, like you're supposed to. I finished up the remaining soup by drinking from the bowl directly. I used the bathroom and told them to keep the 20 (which was the same bill Chinese lady had given me). The cashier looked at me, stunned, but I told her, hey it's Christmas. I didn't mention that this was the redeeming part of the whole trip

Zipped up my jacket, retied my shoes, put on some headphones, and headed over to 33rd and Broadway at a nice, brisk city pace.

Met up with the family at the base of the 34th street entrance to the PATH station.

I wasn't sure if my parents were angry at me for refusing to meet them in the crowded center. But later I figured they were just tired, but satisfied with what they did

Got back to the car on Warren and Columbus Ave. Put on Sakanaction as we got onto the Turnpike. As we glides down the highway, I found the array lights of the industrial centers and the airport stretching into the distance more beautiful than anything the packed crowds had stopped to ogle.

I thought about what I frequently think about -- anxieties about people expecting me to want the same things in life that they do. A sort of disbelief that anyone would be indifferent to things like having a nice house, a good career (or creator of the next Big Thing), a prestigious title (Vice President of something or another), a huge salary, and an impressive office. There are crowds packed, jostling against each other to get to those things.

I realized that today had been a microcosm of my life, and what I value from it.

The peace I found when I got away to enjoy a bit of soup and some tea at a tiny table by myself, seeing beauty in the sight of lights coming from myriad warehouses and industrial installations, the sense of liveliness of walking through the city on my own terms -- these are small examples of the quality things I am looking for on the big scale.


Three thoughts, part three

I called the package sorting job a firebreak. Certain worries of the past, much of the career failure baggage from the past ten years can burn and burn, but they won't cross over. I might have been wrong, though. At the very least, I was wrong about its completeness. The sense of refuge I mentioned began to crack today. As I shifted, flipped, and shoved boxes, I found myself worrying about my parents.

I know my dad is stressed out about finances. I know he asks why he has had to keep working, when he could have retired five years ago. I know he is stressed about having to pay several hundred for my student loans, when I never graduated from everywhere. I know frustrated with my brother and my progress in our lives. I know he asks himself what he did wrong as a father, and why we are unsuccessful, when the children of the people he knows have respectable careers, families, other achievements.

I don't share my father's perspective, or his values. But I can respect the things he finds valuable, and acknowledge his disappointments and his pain.

So how would I be able to tell him, with things strained as they are, that I am not interested in a career--any career, really? How could it possibly help to explain that a career doesn't look like a future to me? I don't think most of most of my friends would get that. How would that not come across as misguided, ungrateful, self-absorbed, and just plain wrong? I don't think I've accomplished anything in my life that would convince either of my parents--or most of the people I know--that I could be right about this at all.

I feel better when we drive over to the hub. For a while, I get extra shielding from these worries. We have a job to do, a tough, tiring job. But I am good at what I do, and the people who work with me are grateful. I am not face to face with reminders that there is work undone, that things are physically falling into disrepair.

The packages come down the conveyor belt. Even if I don't pick everything that is supposed to go down the chute, I move fast, and make a difference down the line. They keep asking me if I could stay for the night sort as well, and are disappointed when I decline. You're a good worker, and we could really use your help, they say.

Heavy flows block out other thoughts--it's move swiftly, pay attention, or miss the ten, twenty packages coming down the line, sometimes piled on top of each other.

But during the light flows, if I can't think of anything to talk about with my counterpart, I just think to myself. And the worries from outside creep in.

The third thought I had that day: you cannot simply exit.

There are no clean breaks or perfect transitions in life. There is no such thing as truly starting over. There will always be baggage you carry with you.

Picking packages off of the belt is tiring. My knees ache, my fingers ache. I refilled my one liter Nalgene during the ten minute break, but now it's empty again. I'm sweating it all out. My eyes, still darting around from label to label, feel weary. When the upside down tote box marking the end of the sort comes around the bend on the belt--what a relief. I was eager to leave behind home and its worries. But at the end of the shift, I am tired and eager to return.

Maybe a firebreak can stop the wildfire from spreading to your side. But eventually, you have to leave the sanctuary. You must cross over to the burned out remnants of the forest, to see what has changed, and what is still alive.

Three thoughts, part two

Today was a light day at the package sorting hub. We finished extremely early. While that means fewer hours, I found it convenient, since I will need to be up very early tomorrow morning to head to NYC.

The light load was also fortunate, since my counterpart--I'll call him Cowen--was not in. He stands on the other side of the belt and also assists in intercepting certain packages. Without him there, the light load was moderately difficult.

Being alone at my station meant that I had the whole time to think to myself. Or, depending on how you look at it, I had to think to myself the whole time.

Every once in a while, my mood dips. Some days I don't get enough sleep (around nine hours for me) and that can lead to anxiety and depression. Other times I experience an event that brings up bad emotions. Shame often predominates my depressive moods. At least, that's what I call it--it's the opposite of feeling proud.

I'm only bringing this up because the second thought I had that day came up when I was trying to keep myself from slipping into a bad mood earlier that day. The thought was:

Sometimes, to get out of a bad situation, you have to cross something out.

I feel like that makes sense in a practical way. If you're stuck or trapped in a bad place, position, or state, you might be able to get free by removing something. Remove some of the walls or surfaces keeping you pinned down.

I'm still trying to figure things out. I've accepted that if I'm actually going to go after things I want in life, figuring it out is going to be mostly up to me. There isn't really a template to follow. And while I can chat with some friends, I get the sense that most of the people around me are following very different scripts. And I'm writing my own. To some extent, I have to remind myself that some of the people I know actually take some cues from what I am doing, even though I'm still really, really making things up.

Since I don't have ready made scripts, I use a lot of models in thinking about things. They aren't perfect, and some of them are at most loose metaphors but they help me a lot.

One model I've been thinking through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I'm pretty sure I'm still stuck towards the bottom of esteem layer. I haven't progressed very much in society's terms--I don't earn a lot of money, I don't have a very prestigious career, and I haven't checked off common life milestones, like having children, getting married, or even a long-term significant other. On the more superficial side, I don't even have many experiences that can generate nice pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram. I don't have a college degree, and by all reasonable expectations, I'm probably going to be struggling with that for a while now. A lot of the time, especially because I'm close to my brothers, I feel all right.

But it gets to me. Last night, I was seeing everyone's baby and engagement and wedding photos.

If only I could cross out a large part of that pesky esteem layer! If only I could say, okay, not going to feel shame. If only I could save all the mental energy preparing to explain my life factors in terms other people can understand, only to have them give pretty pointless advice.

But I do kind of do that, or attempt to do that. From my own experience, my own hierarchy has a truncated esteem layer, or at least a very leaky border between self-actualization and esteem. Whenever things feel safe enough, I begin trying to tackle esteem and self-actualization sort of all at once.

What if I just reject the common social scripts that don't seem like they're going to work for me? A different model helped me see that quitting, exiting, or throwing out arrangements that aren't working for me has been a thing I tend to do naturally.

But you don't quit without side effects. I sure didn't. For social/life scripts, the side effect usually is that you have to write your own stuff. And then a bigger side effect is that people don't understand what's going on with you, while your script is still a work in progress. They'll try to pattern-match you to many tropes that just ain't relevant. And then, there's always the possibility that quitting carried a larger price overall than you first thought.

I'm dreading some encounters with relatives this winter. Even though I've felt that I'm learning very quickly how I want to live my life, and how I don't want to live my life, I know it will seem to them that I'm falling into a particularly bad script. And they will have suggestions about what I should be doing instead.

But for right now, I find myself in an interesting stage. I started training at the package hub just an hour after I completely failed an interview. It was sort of a desperate move at the time. I'd been looking for a job all fall, and I'd expected to keep searching in software development. Back in June, I wouldn't have expected I'd be working on a conveyor belt.

I feel strangely at ease, though. I earn enough to just barely pay bills, so I really don't want to stay forever. But most days, I feel really relieved at not feeling that I could be doing something else. While I'm at the hub, I'm doing my best almost all the time. No one there expects that I should be doing more. The packages keep coming down the belt, and I have to do my best to keep up and pick them off. But that's about it. Really, the hardest times of the week to deal with are my days off.

I know it's very temporary, and very limited, but this arrangement has provided a weird sort of haven from most worries. Maybe I'm not out of the rut yet, but at least there's some shelter for the rain.


Three thoughts, part one

I have three key thoughts floating around today.

One: for me, some distinction exists between actions with an outcome and outcomes with a future. I mean future in some kind of idealistic sense, in the sense of "This person has a future." But also in a personal sense.

I'm working at a transportation and delivery company right now, in a package sorting facility. I won't name it in a public post. But it's one of the big two: our main competitor is the purple and white one. We're a different color.

The shift goes four o'clock to nine o'clock in the evening, from Sunday through Thursday. But I have frequently been there until ten.

The job is more physically demanding than any other job I've had, except maybe when I was doing maintenance. The pay is a few cents over ten dollars an hour. It is tough, as yesterday attested. Today was my sixth day on the job.

The hub is about 20 minutes from my house. My station is on one side of a conveyor belt, standing on a platform about 25 feet in the air. I look at the states and destination numbers at packages going by. If the label on a package matches certain patterns, I take the package and put it down a chute so that it can go onto the belt below me. Otherwise I let it continue down the belt.

It's pretty simple, but not straightforward or easy. If the belt even gets saturated by one layer, it becomes impossible to pick off the packages on my own. Sometimes it gets so hectic that the packages are falling off the belt at my station, or pushing me backwards.

I'll describe it more later. For now, it's enough to say that I'm sore and tired the rest of the time I'm not at work. And I lost my first paycheck to finance charges--my account is negative until next Friday.

To trace how I got here, I'll will eventually have to work my way back, and recap what I've been doing over the past year or so. Maybe I'll try to describe where I failed, and how, if I can find it, I succeeded. I'm not completely sure, in any case. The question, "How the hell did I end up here?" floats around in my head a lot. Last year, around this time, I never would have guessed I'd be doing this.

But for now, I'll just tie it into the thought in my head earlier.

I think I am doing an okay job picking packages so far. The facility just opened two weeks ago. On Wednesday, before thanksgiving, they had a ceremony to celebrate the opening.

Some company big shots came and said a few words. One of the themes each of these guys kept touching on was that there is room for advancement if we work hard and stay loyal to the company. You hear how good a company it is from supervisors and other people who have stayed on for years. Great benefits, they said. The head of Atlantic operations recounted how he started as an unloader in a small facility in Kansas. His only ambition was to work his way up to driver.

"You can make a great future for yourself here," he said. "I'm proof." He gestured to some of the other managers and executives. "They're proof."

Lots of chances for advancement. Stick around, and you have a future.

It's future if you want the job. I don't really want the job of any of the supervisors who trained me. I doubt I want the job of any of the executives or the drivers.

But as I ranted on Slack:

Even though the pay sucks, the hours suck (even though it's part time), and I'm sore and tired the rest of the time--

If someone came up to me and asked, "Hey, how about you do this [software job] that pays a lot more?" I would still be hesitant. I don't know what that says about the the way things are right now.

But I know I should basically expect to be stuck here until I really begin to make a move

I'm not really sure what this all means

So this is probably the second toughest job I've had. And it doesn't pay much more than hanging clothing. But I'm hesitant to do the work to trade this for a better paying, higher skilled line of work that I've supposedly done before. I wish I could explain why in a succinct fashion. I will be honest instead. There are a lot of I don't knows. That's part of the reason I am writing.

I'm glad I live in a society with this much opportunity, that I don't have so many obligations in my life that I'd be afraid of turning down opportunities. It's been a trademark of mine since I was young, saying NO to career paths and money-making moves.

Of course I do want a future. I feel happiest when I am looking forward to a future. But there is a difference between that and paths that lead to better outcomes. A much better income, working in a nice office, being able to contribute back to my family, being able to pay off my debts -- those would be great outcomes.

It doesn't feel like a future. But I can't bring myself to really look forward to those things. I don't know how to put my whole heart into resolving those issues. It feels like things changed, and I got older. But I know it will still feel as it's felt for much of these last six, seven, eight years -- that my life is still on pause, waiting to get started again.

A stopped conveyor belt would be a good partial metaphor for some part of this, but I would have to explain my job further. I see package labels with state labels and destinations numbers when I close my eyes. Sometimes my brain registers part of a wall or a doorway as an Amazon box standing on its end.

I don't really want to talk about work that much right now. They told us today that we have to come in early tomorrow to handle the Cyber Monday loads.

I started a week ago. But it's felt like one continuous day. Things moving, but little sense of change. There has to be more to life than transactions, changes in tempo, with paid breaks strewn in-between. There has to be more to life than envelopes and boxes and chutes and ladders.

It looks like I am meandering here. I had two more thoughts to discuss, and it looks like I've forgotten what they are. I will have to remember tomorrow.

Review: We Shall Remain Ep. 1 - "After the Mayflower"

Here is a review of We Shall Remain Episode 1: "After the Mayflower". I wrote it as part of the Native Americans of North America class I am currently taking.

As of this post, the episode is available on YouTube. I highly recommend it!

We Shall Remain Ep. 1: "After the Mayflower"

We Shall Remain is a historical documentary television series about American Indians. It begins first contact with Europeans, until today. It was produced as part of the long running and critically-acclaimed PBS historical series American Experience. The purpose of the series, in the producers' words, is to show "how Native peoples valiantly resisted expulsion from their lands and fought the extinction of their culture".

The first episode, "After the Mayflower" tells the story of the Wampanoag, an Algonquian-speaking people. The Wampanoag were at the forefront of the difficult relationship between the English and the American Indian peoples: the United States holiday of Thanksgiving has written their alliance with the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

The series tells the story from the perspective of two generations of Wampanaug leadership, and how it would coem to shape the future of American history. It begins with sachem Massanoit, who chose to enter into an alliance with the small group of English separatists who landed in what would become Plymouth Bay Colony, allowing them to survive. It ends with Massanoit's son Metacom, known as Philip. Philip became sachem after this father's death. He would become famous for leading a confederacy of tribes against the English in what would later be called King Philip's War.

The episode examines the motivations for these key figures, as well for Wampanaug in general. It depicts them as decision makers trying to help their people survive amidst deadly disease, invasions, economic upheaval, and political betrayal.

Although the stated intent of the series is to help people to see the struggle of the native people of the Americas, the episode accomplishes more than that. It helps the viewer understand early American history from the perspective of the native people. It helps people understand a much talked-about, but often not very deeply understood period.

The episode assumes a vague familiarity with the history of the English colonization of North America and very basic geography. The main subject of the episode takes place in present-day Massachussetts. The episode makes use of maps to illustrate events and key movements of people. Some general background information might help the viewer better appreciate the series, it is not critical for understand what is going on. Most Americans who hav had some history even at the elementary school level will be able to benefit from the episode.

Because it tells the story of English colonization from the Wampanoag perspective, "After the Mayflower" immediately invites the viewer to empathize with the concerns of the tribe and its leaders. It immediately removes misunderstanding that North America was mostly empty before the Europeans. The story begins with the Wampanaug sachem Massanoit trying to find a way forward after sickness killed nine out of every ten of his people. The Pilgrims appear as outsiders. The Wampanaug are cautious, because of the reputation of Europeans as brutal and ruthless. But the Pilgrims who take up residence in the abandoned village of Patuxet include women and children, many of whom die before the end of the first winter. Still, some in the Wampanaug tribal council think they should wipe out the newcomers before they have a chance to do more harm. But seeing the women and children there, Massanoit decides to let newcomers live. As they make contact, he sees an alliance as a way to protect against the threat of rival tribes.

The common narrative of the Thanksgiving holiday centers around the Pilgrims. This religious sect saw Massanoit and the Wampanaug as having been sent by God to further their (the Pilgrims') mission. "After the Mayflower" depicts Massanoit not as a tool, but as leader facing difficult choices and an uncertain future. It begins with the Wampanaug more powerful than the English settlers, who were at the mercy of the environment and people of this foreign land. By doing this, the episode overturns the usual narrative and invites the viewer to see history through the eyes of the people who lived it--without any set path.

The episode looks at several aspects of the Wampanaug culture, and that American Indians in general, affected the relationship with the English. It discusses how the English misunderstood wampum, which were beads made from clam and other shells. The Wampanaug and all tribes of the Eastern Woodlands region respected it and used it as a ceremonial amulet. The English, meanwhile, assumed wampum was merely a type of currency. Without any respect for its cultural significance, they bypassed the usual relationships between coastal and inland tribes, and manufactured wampum to trade for resources like animal furs. This was one factor that led to decisions by Massanoit and other leaders to sell off their land.

Perhaps most of all, the episode teaches us the Indian way of thinking about relationships, and how its mismatch with the English way of doing things shaped relations and conflict between the two groups. When Massanoit entered into the treaty with the settlers at Plymouth, he not only saw it as a pact between equals, but a joining of their peoples. This was the Indian understanding: an alliance meant that their peoples would become as one, and help each other. Massanoit himself was not an ruler, like a Royal Governor or King James, but a leader whose people had picked through consensus, and whom the whole tribe respected. In contrast, the English, particularly the religious sect of the Pilgrims, were wary of living in too much close contact with the Wampanaug or any other Indians. As more English arrived, this concept of the Indians of outsiders that they needed to change and control grew among them.

Although the history of the United States usually follows the English perspective, I expect many viewers to see the English ways of the period as comparatively barbaric: from their penchant for hierarchy and dominance, desire to control outsiders, to their use of punishments like dismemberment, and their use of human heads as war trophies. I think modern viewers will relate more to the consensus-finding, compromise-seeking approaches of Massanoit, who better represents the ideals of leadership in modern democracy and a respect for a common humanity. Even his son, Philip, who took up arms against the English, only did so as a last resort, in response to injustice, broken promises, and political maneuvering to completely destroy the Wampanaug and related peoples.

The personal focus on Massanoit, Philip, and other key figures from the period make this film unique. While the two Wampanaug leaders play the biggest roles in this ultimately sad story, the episode makes a point to show their relationships with the English. Massanoit became close friends with the second-in-command at Plymouth, Edward Winslow. Winslow took it upon himself to be the ambassador to the Wampanaug. When Massanoit seemed to be deathly ill, Winslow came to be there with the sachem. The episode depicts a scene where Winslow embraces a severely ill Massanoit, and helps him to drink and eat. After he recovers, the show has Massanoit say to Winslow, "I will never forget your kindness."

The show takes care to illustrate all the figures in its story as complex people, with their own desires, hopes, and apprehensions. It avoids simplistically characterizing entire groups as simply good or bad--at the very least, it invites the viewer to think about the political, social, and personal motivations that shaped their actions.

The show uses a mixture of narration, historical pictures, commentary by historians, experts, and current day tribal people to present its information. But maybe the most important aspect of the show was using actors to depict the historical figures. This helps to engage the viewer with the historical story and the experiences of the people they are learning about.

This focus on the experience of the Wampanaug has the potential to change viewers' way of looking at history beyond this period. People watching the show get to see just how much promise the alliance between the Wampanaug and the Pilgrims at Plymouth seemed to hold for relationships between the Indians the English in general. The close friendship and respect between Edward Winslow and Massanoit underscores this. Knowing only about their strong bond, that the sons of these two would become fierce enemies seems shocking and surprising. But history, as people around the world live it, really often is that shocking. Even if we look back and analyze the factors, the people who lived through those events had no real way of knowing just how the story would turn out.

The story of Thanksgiving is important to the American national narrative. It depicts the American ideal of mutual help and cooperation of free peoples of different backgrounds. Although much of Thanksgiving is myth, "After the Mayflower" shows us that much of it was true. For a period, the Wampanaug and the religious Pilgrims at Plymouth cooperated and lived together, some forming close friendships. The Wampanaug, in particular, taught the Pilgrims all about how to survive in their land. Under Massanoit's leadership, they included the the English newcomers as part of a united people. But here is where the clear myth of Thanksgiving ends. Most Americans recognize the name of the Mayflower, the ship that brought the group of English religious separatists across the Atlantic Ocean.

Not so many are aware of how closely this event was tied to another event in early American history--the uprising known as King Philip's War. Metacom, or Philip, was the son of the same sachem Massanoit who entered into a treaty with the survivors of the Mayflower. The show shows us the "second" Thanksgiving the settlers at Plymouth celebrated: Philip's defeat, death, and dismemberment at the hands of English forces. The English at Plymouth displayed Philip's severed head on a pole for two decades.

"After the Mayflower" gives us a look into how Massanoit, Philip, and others must have really experienced this important episode in out history. It is a valuable educational tool that invites us into the perspective of native peoples trying to their best in a world of calamity from disease and invasion. The use of actors portraying the key figures adds a special immersive element to the story. This show reminds us how these experiences of native people are a part of our national historical heritage.


PUZZLE Book 2 Session 17 (immediate recap)

We had Session 17 of PUZZLE Book 2 tonight.

During the beginning of the session, we recapped the three separate winter sessions.

Then the action resumed with the party in Carnivale just outside the casino. They had just heard the laughter of the creature known as the Banshee. Jova, the Half-Orc mercenary/hunter, was with them.

The party observed the Banshee at first and exchanged information. Ever tried to see if he could reenter the Casino, but the entrance of the Casino seemed to be strangely missing. The Banshee seemed to take some kind of interest in Jova.

She exclaimed gleefully, "I found him!" She began to slowly draw nearer to Jova and the party, or rather, the space between her and the party seemed to shrink.

She asked Jova, "What is your name?"

The bansee repeatedly asks what Jova's name is.

At this point the party squared off against the Banshee, assuming it was now targeting Jova the same way it had targeted Darastiya. Kyu tells the announced that their objective was to protect Jova and any bystanders. KU-RO moved to stand between Jova and the Banshee. Eross fired.

Vorossus was on all fours. It was alert seemed to be switching between looking at the banshee, Kyu, and Jova.

Eross' bolt hit the Banshee in the shoulder. She shrieked, became sad, and suddenly grew in size.

The banshee said, "I thought... you were going to be nice..." She pauses as if listening to music that only she can hear. The fog expands, and dull brass ramparts rise around them, sealing off the area around the group.

The banshee looked at Eross, grabbed the crossbow bolt. She pulled it through her throat and discarded it.

Small metallic arms came up from the ground and grabbed Eross, pulling him into the earth up to his knees. Dozens of these tiny hands crawled over him.

Ever tried to use his vines to pull Eross, along with the hands, out of the ground. KU-RO used a brilliant beacon on Eross, seemingly disabling the hands. He then pulled Eross towards him.

Both KU-RO and Kyu tried to ascertain if they were in a dream. Octlet's device that detected if they were in a dream was going off. But they figured out that although the area was in a dreamlike state, they were not not actually in a dream.

Not immediately informing him what was going on, Kyu launched a plan to put himself, Eross, and Ever to sleep and then to join Ever. He was going to try to put everyone to sleep with a sleep spell, when KU-RO asked if Eross had any sleepytime bolts. Eross didn't know if he did, and hadn't marked them anyway.

The banshee's gaze kept going around, but mostly fixated on Jova and sometimes Vorossus.

Jova seemed unnerved by the Banshee and confused about what was going on. KU-RO explained some of the plan, and it looked like Jova was still confused. Jova moves Vorossus in front of him and says that he will fight. Whenever Jova and the Banshee make eye contact, the Banshee seems joyful, and asks.

Ever asked KU-RO to ask Jova if he'd seen anything like this. Jova replies that he has no memories of anything like this, but that he does not have many memories in general.

The walls, meanwhile, seemed to be closing in. The banshee looks around and tells them and disappointedly says, "I thought we would be friends..."

The banshee took notice of Ever's golem, exclaiming, "A toy! A toy!"

Ever took out his frog, and the banshee's detached face came to look at the frog.

Eross was about to shoot the face, but Kyu cried out and begged him to stick with the plan. Eross decided to shoot bolts at random at his teammates in hopes that the bolts he chose would be sleepytime bolts. He succeeded in putting the Stranger to sleep. The Stranger began to do his sleep-dancing/jumping. Eross then spent an extra action to put Ever to sleep. He shot the bolt at Ever despite Ever's protests that he should just give him a bolt. Ever managed to stop the bolt from hitting him normally. He scratched himself and fell asleep.

Eross then puts the bag on his head as a hat, damages his head with the tips of the bolts, and falls unconscious.

KU-RO put up a wall of blades between their group and the Banshee. Jova readied his huge doublehanded battle axe. KU-RO told to Jova to "hold here" behind the wall of blades. He then went over to Eross to perform first aid.

Kyu used the Dreamscape Hijack ritual to join the others in the dream. As he casted the ritual, Vorossus moved ever so slightly from in front of Jova to in front of Kyu. The banshee, also, seemed to take notice of Kyu.

Kyu pulled the three of them into Ever's dream. But then he felt like they've woken up. It felt like they are in the same place, although Kyu knew that the dreamscape hijack had succeeded. Even KU-RO saw the others seem to wake up. Only Ever felt like the range of his powers had been enhanced.

The banshee smiled and clapped, having taken notice of the party, saying, "We're going to play a game after all!"

To the Beginning

Yes, I am about to write some cheesy stuff. Prepare yourself.

Life has been good lately. It has been good to me for a while, but only recently have I felt skilled enough to internalize it, to begin to give my own answer.

I make mistakes and have setbacks every day. but I've also do a lot of right things. The memory of my friend gives me determination to move forward my own story. I complain less to myself or to anyone about trouble. I seek fewer chances to postpone or escape or hide or distract myself. I may pursue different activities and goals at times, but my life is one thing.

I wish my friend were here to see this. I wish he were here to share in the future we are all building together. Selfishly, I wanted him to see the stories I could create.

I asked myself before: how many more? How many more friends will be gone before I am ready to share the tales I have been spinning with my days? How many loved ones will never get to see what I want to bring to life?

I hear those questions again daily now, but no longer with fear. I am determined not to wait.

Today, I am neither saint, nor sage, nor warrior nor poet. I'm just a dirty traveler, still not fully used to true hardship, just barely getting started. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look like much now. It doesn't matter if outside circumstances get better or worse. I choose my ​path​ by choosing my next step in the right direction. I strive to become more skillful and to transform the ingredients of the present for the future.

I have many memories. I have many moments, many emotions that are part of me. I've passed through many intersections, dead ends. I've seen seasons and ships pass me by. But the decades do not weigh on me. There are so many with fewer years, more hair on their heads, more money in their pockets, more achievements on their biographies who are nearly corpses. When I consider it even for a moment, I have neither envy nor scorn for them. What I have: pride in my friends and family, in my path, in my determination for the future. Life is short, but that is fine. I am young, and I refuse to be any other way. The length of days and nights wax and wane, but they are laden with purpose. The road stretches far into the distance. The story is just beginning.


First Memory of Adam

Today I learned my friend Adam passed away.

I met him when I when I was volunteering for an event called Singularity Summit, back in fall of 2009. I'd parked a few blocks uptown of the event venue, the 92nd St Y, in Manhattan. I had a bunch of food for the event. Adam helped me carry a big tray of cookies that a volunteer's grandmother had baked on a whim.

I don't remember exactly what we said that morning six and a half years ago. Probably shook hands and introduced ourselves. Probably chatted talked about the event, talked about how we knew everyone involved. Memory is unreliable like that. But I can't get it out of my mind, real or fabricated. How bright that morning was.

Faulty natural analogies for human social life

I was trying to think of metaphors for society that I can use to explore different ideas about life choices. But none of the things that have come to mind are quite working.

The first image I had when I was thinking yesterday was one of a coral reef. Putting aside the idea of distinct species that mostly feed on each other, I thought it might be nice, because you have a nice contrast between different types of creatures. There are the coral polyps, which cover the main structure of the reef. You have armored crustaceans, elusive octopi, schools of fish, and sharks. I thought that might be a good parallel for different niches people can take in society.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the metaphor doesn't really work.

First, the structure of the coral reef is literally built on the hardened corpses of dead coral polyps. As much as we owe to the people who came before us, that idea is a bit too grim--I think that would be implying that people have to literally die off in order for society to advance, which is not a place I want to go.

I also thought I could put aside the idea of different species killing and feeding off each other, and just replace the predation with cooperation and exchange. That's a pretty big jump alone. What messes it up even more: the entire reef system ultimately gets most of its energy from phytoplankton. Agriculture and natural resources also power the human world, but that's sort of the wrong conceptual level. I don't want the metaphor to focus on the economic or biological flow of energy. I'm more interested in things like social norms and incentives affect individual choices and life trajectories.

Is there a good metaphor? I also thought of using a forest instead a coral reef, but I felt uneasy in similar ways. It was also less evocative than a coral reef, because having water as a medium better emphasizes a space of possibility with three dimensions.

Does the human social world resemble a natural ecosystem at all? If it does, maybe it doesn't make sense to take individual persons as analogous to individual organisms in the ecosystem. Maybe people are themselves like parts exchanged by entities on larger levels of social organization. Or maybe natural analogies for human society just doesn't work.

It makes sense that it doesn't help understanding to map a complex phenomenon onto another complex phenomenon, even if the second one seems more concrete.

You don't need more free time?

A few weekends ago, I ran into a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, "You Don't Need More Free Time" by one of the authors of a study on happiness and free time, [Time as a Network Good:
Evidence from Unemployment and the Standard Workweek][time-as-a-network-good]. The study says that it's the timing of free time, not the amount that matters. At least, that is what matters when they measure the sense of well-being among the unemployed. This matches some other findings from happiness research: spending time with people you like is a major source of happiness.

I can appreciate that last part. I've been unemployed or employed with a non-standard schedule during the past few years. I look forward to picking up Marlon from school or work, even if we aren't planning on doing anything together. In the future, until I have my own family, I look forward to still having roommates that I like. I don't like big parties, and I like having a lot of time to pursue my own interests. But living alone sounds like a breeding spot for depression.

Organizations probably want to know how the structure of the workweek affects the mood of employees. Institutions want to know how it affects the jobless, and if the jobless are happier taking welfare rather than seeking work--and this piece of research says no.

All this gets limited for me, personally, because this research doesn't measure the time dimension. To me, free time means choice. It means a chance to pursue skills. You can use the time to support and improve the lives of others. No one actually has more or less time--instead, different people have different degrees of choice about how to use the time. You can spend the time to feel happier today and maybe tomorrow, or you can invest it. And there are other investments than simply exchanging your hours and days for a wage or salary. Why the false dilemma?

It could be that we're not that great at making choices about how to spend our time. If free time is more choice, could too many choices hurt us? That is a much more complicated, interesting, and less measurable question.

But if we want to navigate life for ourselves, if we seek to find our own way off the clear, well labelled routes, we can't afford to bet against choice. Choice, and thus time is precious to us. With the right bets: time gets experience, time gets skill, time gets opportunity. We can have too much of almost anything else. Time is on our side. As much as you can, keep it healthy, keep it invested wisely, or at least keep it free.