Christmas Gifts

Christmas is always kind of an awkward time for me. It isn’t that I’m an atheist pagan, it is the gift giving. Out of the Five Love Languages I rank lowest in “gift giving”. I don’t care if I receive gift and I am terrible at getting gifts for others. Not only do I not know what to get people, it actually decreases my life happiness because of the pressure and stress. This is the one season where giving someone a gift is a strong expectation, it is seen as a true representation of your love or care for others but that isn’t how I work.

I’m just happy the season is over. I wish we lived in a culture where other love languages were seen as just as valuable during the holiday season. Things like travelling to see people or taking time to do things are how I represent my love, not gifts. And when I do get people gifts it tends to be cash or gift cards because that seems the most practical, but often that is seen as an insult. Oh well, the season is over for another year.

Privilege

A conversation today got me thinking about my privilege. It is no surprise that as a white, hetero-passing, young(ish), male who is of average attractiveness I am treated differently than someone with different traits. Our success in life is not solely a result of our hard work, the way we are treated by others based on nothing but appearance can change the outcomes of our lives. Generally, in my life, it is very minor things, but one area where my privilege was obvious was my first bike tour.

In the summer of 2012 I rode my bike from Washington DC to Los Angeles. I was alone for most of those two months. During that 3,500 mile ride I was never afraid that a stranger was going to hurt me, rob me, or rape me. When I rode my bike down the center of rural towns that had Confederate flags in the windows I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t make it out alive. When I walked into grocery stores I wasn’t afraid that I’d be kicked out. When I needed help or shelter I was reasonably sure that the random farmer, car driving by, or firefighter would say yes. There are a lot of opportunities that I have in my life simply because of where, when, and to whom I was born.

Wherever I go I am generally treated with respect. I don’t think I deserve less respect. Rather, I think everyone should be treated equally and with respect. There are enough things about life and nature that are hard and prohibit us from doing things we might want to do, we shouldn’t put up other social barriers against others. I wish everyone could follow the path I did and could save a little money and bike across the US if they wanted to without fear of harm, but that simply isn’t the case. Depending on your race, gender, or sexual orientation you could become a victim easily.

To be honest, I don’t know what to do about it. I can recognize (to an extent) my own privilege, and alter my own behavior to make sure I am not hindering the opportunities of others or treating others unfairly, and I can keep looking for other privileges I have not noticed before. But, I have no idea what to do next. I have no idea how to effect change.

Moving Forward

Today is the last day that I’ll be on holiday “vacation”, and that means when we get back to Dallas it will be time to start the routine again and ring in the new year. While on this break I intentionally neglected a lot of my habits as a reward to myself and as a way to minimize my stress and guilt that comes from holiday gorging, playing video games, and slacking. The three notable exceptions are that I still took my daily nootropics/supplements, I did some Duolingo German work daily, and I completed the work and classes for my writing Coursara course. Other than that, I just let myself roll with each day and didn’t worry about exercise, meditation, etc. Thanks to this break I have a clearer idea of what and how I want to make 2016 my best year yet.

First, I am going to take my health more seriously. That means not making excuses for bad eating habits. Just because I am biking almost daily that does not mean I should consume unhealthy foods or lots of beer. I also need to make time for strengthening exercises using body weight or the equipment I have available. I should be able to easily improvise weights with what I have on me.

Second, I want to really learn German. I have a three-pronged approach that is cheap and should be successful. I will continue with daily Duolingo, I’ll listen to the Pimsleur lessons on Audible, and I will watch a German language film 1-2 times per week. I am also going to research other free options online to see if any would fit my lifestyle.

Third, Anna and I are going to get started on “The Adventures of Higgins” (tentative title), a series of children’s books about our bike travels from the perspective of our dog. It will be a picture book that tells his stories exploring the US and will have basic lessons about geography, different cultures around the country, history, fitness, etc. I am going to use the “Isaac Morehouse Method” and try to do one thing daily to keep this project moving forward. This will provide me with an outlet for creativity, writing, and entrepreneurship. And maybe if it is a success it will bring in some cash too. I hope to have our first short book out this year and ready to send to friends who have kids for product testing.

Fourth, get into a regular meditation practice. Meditation, like flossing, is one of those things that I know I should be doing but somehow have a hard time getting into the habit. I know there are incredibly health benefits to mindful meditation and I have time to do it. I need to make it a priority.

So, those are my goals for 2016. I might create some sort of milestone for each with small daily or weekly tasks, or maybe I’ll just wing it. My current spreedsheet that has a point system seems to be working well for me so far. 2015 was the best year of my life and was filled with incredibly adventures and wonderful growth that comes from trials and success. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring me.

Ex Sext Ethics

Yesterday, I encountered an all too common, but kind of modern, ethical dilemma. While searching through my old emails for an address I stumbled upon a message that contained nude pictures of an ex. Since the invention of pocket porn studies (smart phones) most people in modern relationships have sent nude pics to their lovers and friends and, until the popularity of Snapchat, those pictures were pretty permanent. That brings me to my conundrum, what do I do with pictures of ex partners?

My intuition is to just trash them, but intuition isn’t good enough to guide just actions. My primary moral guide (the non-aggression principle) isn’t really a lot of help. I am certainly not harming or aggressing against my ex by having these pictures or by using them for masturbatory pleasure. I guess you could make the argument that there is an implied contract when you send the pictures that they are only to be used and kept during the duration of the relationship. I’m not sure if implicit agreements are really a good thing to assume, and these particular pictures are from a fuck-buddy who I am still on good terms with. It wasn’t a romantic relationship and it wasn’t a bad separation, we just stopped living in the same area. Should I treat photos in the same way that I would treat other items?

Take, as an imperfect example, a situation where an ex let me borrow a jacket and after we separated I still had the jacket. If it was raining outside and I needed to go out to get the mail, would it be unethical of me to wear the jacket to keep dry? I would think not. It isn’t harming anything. But, does the situation change if I have access to other jackets but simply prefer my ex-partner’s jacket because it is comfortable, familiar, and I know it will get the job done? Again, I would think not. I am still not harming anyone. Is sexual release (and pleasure) a different ethical category? I don’t think so.

This also raises other questions. Like, is it wrong to think about an ex or a friend or a celebrity while masturbating? The “be excellent to each other” half of my moral code offers little to no guidance. Using my mind to receive pleasure through fantasy harms nobody by itself. I think it is probably socially unacceptable to admit to fantasizing or using photos of your friends for sexual pleasure, but society is pretty terrible as a moral compass, especially a society like in the US that is incredibly sex-negative and shaming.

So, I am left without a real answer. I think the appropriate middle-ground would be to contact the women in the photos and ask if they want me to destroy them or if they care if I keep them. We live in an interesting time.

Time for Some Holiday Sin

The holiday season is upon us. I spent the last couple of days driving up from Dallas to St. Louis to spend time with my partner’s family, and the next week or so is going to be filled with a whirlwind of family, food, and travel. To be honest, I was kind of stressing out about all this. I felt like I had finally settled into a healthy routine of exercise 4-5 times a week, eating right, working on learning German, reading regularly, and taking a couple of courses on Coursera. Now, all of that is disrupted and it really frustrated me. Luckily, I had kind of a drunk epiphany last night and my attitude changed.

Instead of worrying about how behind I’m getting or how that cookie is going to effect my waistline, I’ve decided to view this time as a reward. I deserve to be gluttonous and lazy and slack off for a few days. I’m going to spend some time enjoying all the sinning that is excused in the name of holiday cheer. If I find myself with some spare time I will work on Coursera and reading, but that is unlikely. Instead I can play Hearthstone, take naps, and try to sneak in some banging even though the family is around.

I think a big part of this drunk epiphany has come from my meditation practice, which I’ve really started to make an important part of my day. Mindfulness has made examining my thoughts without judgement almost second nature. When I was feeling stressed or bummed I was able to take a step back, look at why I was feeling that way, and analyze if there was anything I could do to change the circumstances. I couldn’t really change the travel and such, but I could change the way I viewed their impact on my life. Instead of a disrupting obligation they became a welcome reward for being awesome. So, now I’m looking forward to a week without work, chores, or concern over my fitness. That stuff will all be waiting for me in January.

College Days

Last night my partner and our friends decided to party like college. We played drinking games and consumed copious amounts of alcohol. Now I have a hangover and I can’t think of anything else to write, but I want to blog daily.

I’m going to go lay on the couch, watch Netflix, drink water, and eat greasy food for the rest of the day. I’m just glad that I don’t need to put on pants.

 

The End of the Ride

In an effort to improve my writing I am participating in a free Coursera course “Writing for Young Readers”. Writing for children isn’t a particular passion for me but I figured it is good to do more writing and have others read what I wrote. What follows is my first assignment for that class. Due to the assignment limitations (500 words) the story is a very short version of the true events, but I’m writing a book about my cross-country bike ride and the final day will be explained more extensively in the book. Any comments or advice would be appreciated.

I awoke to the sound of lawn sprinklers dangerously close to my tent. In my hazy, early morning daze I knew something wasn’t quite right but my mind was moving too slowly to figure it out. Then it hit me. Literally. Water began to blast into my tent, soaking through the thin nylon and creating a growing puddle around my sleeping bag. The sun was barely coming over the hills and I wanted nothing more than to curl back up and go to sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen. Besides, this was my final day and I should be excited.

Over the last two months I had been riding my bicycle across the United States. After over three thousand miles and countless memories I had finally made it to my final day, the day when I would see the Pacific Ocean and start my new life in Los Angeles. I was happy and excited, but I was also a bit sad to see this journey come to an end. A part of me wanted to keep riding forever and neglect the responsibility that came with adulthood. It was easy being on the road with no concerns beyond finding a place to sleep or grabbing a meal. That leisure life of cycling had come to an end and ahead of me was the unknown. I had no job in Los Angeles, all I had was a friend who was willing to let me sleep on his couch until I got my life together.

So, I grudgingly got up and got ready for the last hundred miles. I went through the morning routine of coffee, breakfast, and packing that had become second-nature to me. Most of the day went by as a blur, a collection of faded memories that blended with the rest of my ride. At some point every farm, every town, and every road starts to look the same. Even the photos I took barely remind me of what I felt at that time. That changed once I got onto the final trail before I hit the ocean.

I rode that trail almost as if in a dream. My mind was unable to comprehend that the moment had finally arrived. Seeing the ocean had been something I had played over in my mind hundreds of times over the previous months. This moment kept me motivated when my bike broke down in West Virginia, when I faced 50 mph winds in New Mexico, and all the other times that I broke down mentally and doubted myself.

I can still picture the ocean coming into view, taking my breath away. Tears streamed down my face as I walked to that clear blue water. I fell to my knees and just sat there, sobbing and smiling. It was bittersweet, but the adventure was over. I had done it. I had biked across the United States.

Mountain Top

Tears mix with sweat on my cheek as I look ahead.

I have crested the mountain and the land reaches out into eternity.

My body aches with the pain from the last miles.

My mind is reeling in disbelief at what I’ve done.

For a perfect, silent moment I smile at the universe, and it smiles back.

That moment, pushing into eternity is fragile, a mere bubble upon the wind.

But it is everything, it is forever.

The tears flow like a river and fall to the ground, merging with the earth and letting it know that I was here.

I did this. I conquered. I survived.

GOP Debate

I’ve made a pretty solid effort to minimize how much attention I pay to politics this year, for a variety of reasons. Presidential politics, much like professional sports, has the ability to control your emotions but you have no real control over the outcome. It is just a mathematical reality that your vote for President means basically nothing. There might be a weak argument that putting in work during the primaries can pay off, but this cycle that doesn’t seem to be the case. But, a group of us got together with a bunch of booze and a drinking game sheet so we decided to watch the shitshow.

To be honest, that debate terrified me. The whole stage (sans Rand) was filled with people who are willing to murder innocent civilians and implement draconian policies to restrict our rights. It was an interesting situation where in an attempt to be strong they preached paranoia and cowardice. It is a cowards move to take away freedom because you are scared.

Besides, much of what they said would be impossible to implement and likely unconstitutional. But the GOP candidates don’t really care about that. They see themselves as a benevolent paternalistic dictator who could keep us safe if only we would obey their orders and let them chain us inside our homes. Over and over again they said keeping Americans safe is their first duty… as if that type of control over a population is possible or even desirable.

In order to guarantee 100% safety from “terrorism” (whatever that even means at this point) they would have to put in place a North Korean level police state. Borders would need to be closed, communication monitored and restricted, economic bans on certain items put in place… it would require complete control over the lives of every person in the country. The reality is, you can’t guarantee safety. There are always going to be incidents and uncertainty in the world. It is ironic that conservatives will point to the rapid decline in violence in the country when the gun debate rolls around, but then they will turn to the state to protect them from terrorism as if that is some sort of imminent danger in our day-to-day lives.

It is this kind of crazy shit that makes me want to leave the United States. There are other countries that are more free, have lower taxes, and safer from internal fascism. Many of the candidates kept saying that America is the greatest nation (or that we need to return to some magical time when America was great), but that simply isn’t true. There is no objective measure in which America is the greatest, or probably even in the top 15 at this point. You can’t say we are “free” when we have the largest prison population in the world. You can’t say we are “strong” when we are terrified of every shadow on the wall, will sacrifice our freedom for security, and act like a insecure schoolyard bully.

The world is safer now than it has ever been. Yes, there is an incredibly small chance that a terrorist act could happen, but that chance is so small that it should have no effect on how we live our lives. And we certainly shouldn’t sacrifice our principles, rights, and basic humanity in order to minimize it. I don’t know how anyone on that stage can call themselves Christian and support the policies they talked about. No true follower of Christ would support killing innocent people, engaging in racial profiling, or locking the hungry out of the country. There is just now way around it, if you are supporting any of these GOP candidates and call yourself a Christian then you have sold out your faith in exchange for politics.

Harry Potter’s Universe

I watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for the first time last night. During the last couple of weeks I’ve been watching the films for the first time. I haven’t read the books yet, but I had some random thoughts about the universe that has been created:

If a school similar to Hogwarts existed in the Muggle-world, or in our own reality, it would be terrifying. What you have is essentially a secret organization that trains children based on their innate skills. The training is incredibly violent. What happens at Hogwarts would be like normal humans learning to use military grade weapons, make poisons, learn to seduce people, make bombs, hot-wire and drive cars, etc.

In addition, there does not to be any formal education on ethics. I haven’t seen any evidence in the movies that the professors really explain the value of life, how to appropriately use your powers, a duty to protect those who can’t defend themselves, or how to use only the minimum force necessary when using power. Also, they do not seem to learn any non-magic skills. There are no math, reading, language, social sciences, or computer classes. They are being raised purely to use magic in such a way that it is impossible for them to succeed in the muggle world. If an organization did that with children in our world it would be horrifying and rightfully condemned.

Others have pointed this next point out as well, but where are the sex ed classes and discussions of consent. You have dozens (hundreds?) of students living in a castle for nine months with minimal supervision from adults. The professors can’t stop students from sneaking around and you know there is some banging going on in the off hours. So, do they have a class that discusses birth control spells? And, more importantly, why are they given several tools that could easily be used to rape? Both the magic potion and the spell where they change form could be used to trick someone into thinking they are consenting. You would think those two spells would be forbidden or something for new students, or at least appropriate counters-spells and potions would be available.

Now, despite the criticisms of the universe that JK has created, I am really enjoying the films and I’m sure I will enjoy the books. It violates my cardinal rule of fantasy* but I have enjoyed the characters (especially Luna) and adventures they get on. I can easily suspend my disbelief or issues with a universe and enjoy it, and this is one of those cases. I do find it fun to think about and analyze though.

* In fantasy the magic should have some sort of internal consistency and make sense in its use. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss does a phenomenal job of creating a universe where the use of magic is internally consistent and believable.