Tag Archives: Personal

The Fractal Man (First Iteration)

If I leave for work early enough, I don’t see them.

I can drive in total darkness, and though I know they are all around me, somehow I can keep my mind calm. I take back roads and places were lights are never on, but inevitably that means I am only surrounded by more of them.

The time change has been playing hell with my plans. Not only has it negatively affected my sleep schedule, but now the sun rises and I can’t even step outside my house before I see one.

Trees, dead trees. They’re everywhere you look.

winter-trees

It doesn’t snow much where I live. With snow the pattern is blurred, the image less sharp. My mind can float between long patches of white and it never tries to land. Of course I know that each snowflake is one too, but it’s the trees that haunt me. The trees that demand my attention.

The sky is perpetual gray. It should have been spring weeks ago, but all we seem to have is winter. Every day it’s cold and my windshield is covered with a diffusion limited aggregate which I quickly try to dissolve with my heater. Then I drive and there’s L-system’s everywhere.

I don’t see the math. As good as I am, I’m a programmer after all, I don’t have the RAM to look at a tree and see how it was made. But I see the pattern, see each branch split and then split again, each part similar if not identical to the part that came before.

In the spring, summer and fall the leaves hide the pattern. Sure, there are iterated function systems for leaves but they’re too chaotic to nail down. They’re focused on numbers. L-systems, however, they’re just words, letters, commands. The mind is built on an L-system. The brain is a three-dimensional Hilbert curve. The lungs, an inversion of the trees I see every morning. Maybe that’s why they steal my breath away when I look at them.

I try to focus on the road, on the wavering yellow line, the cracked pavement, the dust on my dashboard. Anything to keep my world inside the car, into the few feet directly in front of me. Of course this isn’t a very safe way to drive, but somehow I manage.

Work is calmer. Desks, cabinets, tables, chairs, cups of coffee as long as it’s kept in a thermos where the steam cannot escape. It’s all so human, so Euclidean, so simple. Nothing is chaotic. Each day is a repetition of the one previous. Every conversation is a variation on the same couple of phrases. Each cubicle individual but the same, arranged in grids, with calm regular hallways.

cubicles

The food is simpler too. Hamburgers in round disks. Fries in long rectangles, or tots in cylinders if the mood strikes. Anything organic has been homogenized, processed, packaged until it is comfortable for the human form to consume. Even the pi/4 radians of pizza.

I don’t like my work. I mean who does really? But it’s the only time I don’t really think about them. My building’s in an industrial park with lots of stark parking lots, and the few trees that are in the distance can only be seen from the windows of people with much better offices than mine.

But inevitably the day ends and I have one of those work places where people are actually encouraged to keep regular eight hour schedules so I can’t hide in my cubicle waiting for it to be dark again. Fortunately, there’s a bar right down the road. It’s surrounded by trees of course, but the windows are shuttered, the room kept dark for the TV’s and pool tables. I drink weak beer and wait, every now and again going outside for a cigarette to see if it’s safe to move again.

I really should quit smoking, but somehow the thought of what the habit is doing to those perfect bronchioles makes me smile, helps me to calm down. But the habit also forces me outside and outside is where they can find me.

The beer dulls the senses enough to put a haze on the world around me, further helping my efforts to stay inside the car. I don’t get drunk very easily, I’m a pretty big guy after all, but if I drink the right I amount I can dull my senses until I can get back to my house.

I sit in the living room again because I don’t have the courage to enter my office. My books are there. I could just get rid of them, after all they’re the reason any of this is happening in the first place. But knowledge isn’t something you can just package up and send out of your life. And those books call to me at night, dying to reveal their secret truths of the universe to which they have only given me a glimpse.

Instead I drown myself in the banality of reality television and game shows, eating the same frozen burrito every night for dinner. I go to bed, and I pray that my dreams are black, calm, silent.

506b0ec4fb04d60a510017ee._w.540_h.405_s.fit_

And this is how I spend my days, or at least that’s how it’s been for the last three years. The world is an endlessly repeating self-similar place, and I’m beginning to wonder if things will be this way forever.

To be continued

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Filed under Short Stories

Writing For No One

Writing is something I do in private, but everything I write is public, or at least destined to be.

I’ve never been much of a diary keeper, even though I love to buy journals and notebooks. A personal chronicle of the day-to-day events of my life would be pretty boring, even to me. There have been some periods in my life where I journalled every day but even these are largely story ideas, or adolescent obsessions I’d just as soon forget.

If I was going to write a diary, it would probably something like this blog, a chronicle of what I was thinking about at a particular time. The entries are certainly of a time, some tied specifically to current events, others just to my own thoughts. But more often than not I’m trying to write these posts for an audience, to share my reflections, or to spark some conversation. There’s nothing particularly private about this sort of writing, even if it can occasionally feel intimate.

Some authors have letters that are only released after they die, but I am definitely a product of my generation when it comes to long form communication. “The Letters of Ben Trube” would be a pretty thin volume, and would probably need a lot of pictures to reach a publishable length. I haven’t written an honest to God letter in years, and most e-mail I write is for work, or quick blurbs to nail down the evening’s details with “The Little Red Haired Girl.”

Fundamentally it comes down to this:

I don’t write something if I don’t intend for someone to read it.

I’m not sure if I need writing that is just for myself, but it is something I wonder about. So much of our lives these days are lived publicly. There are definitely parts of my life that are private, but the only way they’ll stay that way is if they stay in my head.

My Dad does Bible study every morning, and he writes in a notebook his thoughts on the passage, often following questions from a particular Bible study or his own thoughts and prayers of the moment. I have never read these journals, and I’m not even sure if Dad goes back to them after he’s written them, but this is a form of writing that is certainly private. I’ve tried similar practices myself but I tend to stop quickly as they seem like too much work to try to fit into my already busy life. I don’t mind talking about scripture but somehow writing about it in the morning is too much work, even though writing is something that flows more naturally.

I don’t know if it’s that I’m engaging different parts of my brain, or just taking more time to stop and think, but writing is more natural to me than talking. I seem like a rational and reasonable human being on the page, even if I can be quite irascible in real life. A Bible study would seem like the perfect sort of writing to do in private, but even there I know I would have the temptation to share my thoughts of a particular morning with all of you, and pretty soon it would be just another source of fuel for the blog.

As you may have guessed I don’t have an answer right now, as seems to be the case with a lot of these sorts of reflective posts. About the only thing I can commit to is the desire to try new patterns, new routines and types of writing. I don’t feel like I’m missing something by not having private writing, but at the same time I wonder about it.

What do you guys think? Do you keep journals, writing only for yourself?

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Filed under Faith + Life, Writing

Sit five inches from the table, and eat till you touch

There’s one stereotypical married man problem I will probably never have.

“And what are you thankful for this year?”

“Another wonderful year with the little red haired girl.”

That’s right, my anniversary is just after thanksgiving (the 29th).  Four years ago two families were gathering at my soon to be mother in law’s house to celebrate the coming union and eat lots of delicious turkey. Most of the relatives that were coming to the wedding came to the meal so we had an unusually large turnout. Even my dog, Simon, was part of the festivities, gnawing a nice little tunnel into one of the pecan pies when someone wasn’t watching.

This year it’s our first thanksgiving as hosts. It’s a lot smaller than four years ago, but no less exciting. For us this time of year is about celebrating another year together and that is something we’re always thankful for.

And pie.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving. We’re going on vacation next week so I’ll see you all in December!

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Look Man, No Thyroid!

I think thyroids are the next tonsils.

As in, “Well it’s your twentieth birthday. Time to get your thyroid removed.”

That leaves a year for them to get the Synthroid right before you start imbibing in other drugs. Ever since I had my thyroid removed a year ago, I’ve heard about more people with thyroid problems, or scars just like mine, even as recently as last night. I hate to admit that my first question is not, “how are you doing?”, it’s “who you getting to do the surgery?” or “wanna see my scar?”

At least in my head. Usually there’s a relay somewhere that kicks into place that prevents these kinds of inane questions from spilling out.

I had thyroid cancer, and Hoshimotos, plus hyperparathyroidism (the exact opposite of what Randy had on Home Improvement). My “very special episode” was a year ago this Sunday. The James Cancer hospital has been sending me mail, asking me to go to support groups, or a Cancer Survivor’s tailgate.

I’m watching the game at home.

As I talked about six months ago, I had a “brush with cancer“, lowercase c. I don’t feel part of this community. In fact I’m not exactly sure what community I’m a part of (all I know is Catherine Bell had pretty much the same thing and starred on JAG for eight years).

They said my scar would get better, and it has, but not as much as I’d like. It twitches, it’s uncomfortable under shirts, and it’s a little obvious when not under shirts. And the surgery it represents saved my life. I get a few more headaches than I used to, and if I don’t keep the synthroid steady I pay for it with tired sluggish days, but otherwise things are the same.

I’m certainly grateful, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know what to make of having “cancer” at 26, or not really being able to call it cancer. I don’t talk about it much, but I think about it. But my thinking isn’t really going anywhere. I’m kind of in a loop, waiting til the day my scar fades enough that I can forget about it.

I feel like having thyroid cancer is a trial run for what a real crisis will be like. You have lasting reminders, the pills you take every day (green now instead of purple), and a scar that realistically will take years to fade. You have a fair bit of uncertainty that comes with any surgery. But you don’t do chemo, you don’t even usually have to do radiation (I haven’t). I didn’t lose my hair, my appetite, or miss much work. I do quarterly blood draws, and gets some regular checkups and that’s it. No real worries about recurrence, few daily physical impacts. You really should try it. It’s fun on the bun.

Sensed a bit of gallows humor yet? When I had the cancer I got a box of milk duds and joked that they were cancer bites, since they were about the right size. Very inappropriate I know.

Maybe in another six months I’ll have more to say, but I’m not sure. It’s hard to know in life which experiences you should just let fade away, and which you should hold onto, try to learn from. I am technically a “cancer survivor”.

Maybe one of these days I won’t need the quotes.

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Filed under Faith + Life

Making Good Use Of Feeling Bad

There’s a piece of common wisdom about writing:

Some of the best creative moments are when you’re frustrated, angry or sad. The key is to channel those emotions into your work.

I don’t emotionally channel. I compartmentalize.

It’s been kind of a rough week (especially the weekend). Have I gone on a creative bender?

No.

Mainly I’ve played a lot of System Shock 2 and watched King of the Hill. When I’m at work, I’ve been diving into tough development projects, keeping my brain busy solving engineering problems that have a solution.

I’m not saying that emotional experiences can’t be the inspiration for good work. But I don’t like the idea of using writing as a coping mechanism. I have used writing, including several pieces on this blog, to express thoughts and feelings I’ve been mulling over for a while. But when I write those pieces, I’m not doing it in the midst of the feelings I’ve been having. The closest I ever came was a year ago when my character was saying a prayer that at the time fit what I was feeling as much as it did for him. That might have been half a page.

Emotions should play a role in understanding how your characters are thinking and feeling in a situation, but the writing process itself is a fairly unemotional process (at least for me). If I wrote based solely on my moods I wouldn’t write at all. Discipline and daily exercise are what make for better writing (among other things).

Maybe there are pieces or projects that make sense to sink one’s emotional energy into. For me, that energy is better spent shooting cyborg ninjas and wondering when a scary female AI is going to betray me.

Do you “channel” your emotions onto the page?

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Focus!

So, ironically enough, I just got paid to give my political opinion.

Last Thursday I was invited to take part in a focus group on political and civic issues. We met on Monday night. Normally I don’t go in for this sort of thing. I don’t do surveys over the phone, and even less of the ones I get in my e-mail. I generally think that we poll too much as Americans, that we’re always asking for opinions before people have really had a chance to form them.

But $100 to sit in a room for two hours and talk, I’ll bite.

Aside from jokes my wife was making about the name “Harvest Research” and how she’d worry they’d taken my brain if I didn’t come home (a real nice joke to make to someone who’s been playing System Shock 2 for the last week), I was worried that I was going to be thrown in the midst of a fairly confrontational and controversial setting.

It’s one thing to be listen to extremist views of Facebook and the like, it’s quite another to be dragged into a conversation at work, or to choose to sit in a room with people who don’t agree with you.

I enjoyed it.

There were definitely a couple of early cringe moments, particularly when playing word association games with current and potential Presidents. There are a couple of the classic attacks of both sides that when I hear them causes me to have to use all my will power not to vent in frustration. However, the same could equally be said  of some of the things I say, and I was impressed at how civil and even convivial the conversation was.

We were a surprisingly diverse group, even with just eight people, all guys around my age. While we had been told to let every one talk and finish their sentences, there was no real disincentive preventing us from debating with one another, or even going on the offensive. We’d get paid either way. But we didn’t fight. Instead everyone displayed fairly sophisticated opinions and emotions regarding the election, the various political parties and the candidates. I felt comfortable sharing some of my own mixed views and disappointments, as well as my aspirations and hopes.

Additionally, we experienced a phenomena that I (perhaps this is biased) think is unique to men. Within less than two hours, a group of men who had little in common, and in fact openly disagreed with each other on important issues, were cracking jokes, both about ourselves, the situation, and our fellow focus group members. We took what I thought was going to be a kind of stressful situation, and made it fun.

It was the typical weird focus group experience. There were one way mirrors, and everything was being taped. But it was also a surprisingly vibrant and interesting discussion of the issues, without trying to make converts of the other people in the room. It was refreshing, at a time when I’ve been seeing a reacting to vitriol that is being spewed in so many other places on the web.

We need to do this more. Find people who disagree with us and invite them to dinner. Talk honestly about our feelings and our beliefs and really listen. Maybe it was the formalized setting. Maybe we felt we should behave because we were getting paid. But I actually think it was more than that. We can be better versions of ourselves if we just make a little effort.

And yes I still have my brain, though I think one of my kidneys is missing.

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It’s All Coming Back To Me Now

I’ve been retreading some old ground lately.

Some of it’s nostalgia. Watching old TV shows I like to watch, remembering things through chance find that I had almost forgotten (like Making Fiends). But more than that, I’m going back to some of the ideas and passions that fascinated me a number of years ago.

I guess it started with NaNoWriMo. I made my novel project for that month the redrafting of my high-school first novel (which holds the place as my first or my third book depending on when you ask me). It had been years since I had thought about those characters, those scenarios. Some things were familiar, and played out as they had before. Others changed, grew deeper or at least different. The reasons are obvious, I’m not the same guy I was in high-school. I’ve had more experiences, refined my writing process, and have new ideas about what’s interesting to explore.

And yet I still find myself coming back to a few old standbys.

Recently it’s been Fractals. It’s been years since I’ve seriously done any fractal programming or research but as those who follow the blog regularly will know, I’ve gotten back into them with a vengeance. I’m even considering having a Friday Fractal of the month (or fortnight) feature on the blog to showcase some of the behind the scenes work I’m doing at the moment. I don’t know what brought me back exactly (a NOVA special and a certain ridiculously tall writer friend of mine might have had something to do with it), but I find that even though that particular passion has laid dormant for so many years, it has lost none of its vigor.

There’s always a push as a writer and as a person to keep trying something new. To embrace a new project, or new TV show, or a new passion. But revisiting old thoughts is necessary as well, and can often lead to new ideas and projects. Nothing is ever too old to be reconsidered.

What things do you keep coming back to? What is that experience like for you?

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