I know that I need to act, yet I’m weighed down by tons.

This morning, I realized that I’ve been disguising my lack of faith in others as a lack of faith in myself.

The occasion for this minor epiphany was the announcement on Twitter that I’m lonely, and I followed that up by hinting that I feel trapped.

The most visible part of the problem is that I live in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s a wonderful place to live… unless you’re thirty-five, single, and childless. Then you have nearly nothing in common with nearly all of the people you meet.

If it’s good enough for William S. Burroughs to die in, it’s good enough for me to live in for a while.

When in 2004 I told my friends and family that I intended to move to Lawrence, the nearly-uniform response was, “what the fuck’s in Kansas?” There was a woman in the picture at the time — a detail which, like many of its kind, illuminates a sad and ignoble story — and I was originally hopeful that I could get a job with the local paper. That didn’t work out either; at the time their online presence unit had no need for someone with my combination of skills, and more importantly I made a poor impression on my contacts.

I got a fair ration of crap from people here, too. In my own time and place I attended the University of Missouri for three years, the same University of Missouri that was panned by blue t-shirts emblazoned with “Muck Fizzou” across what then seemed like every other chest. Even so, the WTFs and raised eyebrows I earned were not on account of my curriculum vitae, but instead because I moved here from Portland. Everybody wondered why I would leave Portland, forsaking it for Kansas of all places.

What I could not adequately and casually explain was that Portland is a pretty toxic place for me.

It’s okay, Mom. I’ll be okay.

Those were the last words that I spoke to my mother.

I had stayed up until 5:30 in the morning, then gone to sleep. I was roused by a telephone call from Grandma, who told me that I needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. As I took the train to the hospital an hour later (damn schedules) it seemed as if I was seeing out the window through a camera, rather than my own eyes.

I went to Mom’s room in the ICU, emotionally distant and tired; Grandma was briefly suspicious that I was drunk or hungover. And there was Mom, who was by this time (and so quickly!) barely more than a lump on the bed. I’ve never been able to shake the impression that she held on until I got there.

I was watching her eyes, cloudy with narcotics, stroking her hair, and waiting. It was precisely 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. For all that I bitch about being lonely now, and even though I have been desperately lonely far too often in the past, that moment rates as my loneliest so far.

The waiting ended quickly. The loneliness didn’t.

There was nothing I could do to stop it. I will go to my own death believing that there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.

…To stop it, or to stop a long list of awful things that Mom put herself through, or was subjected to, throughout her life.

Lawrence suggessted itself because of a number of seeming coincidences, and because it was a Midwestern college town — an environment I knew.

It must be said, though, that my point had little to do with any appeal that Lawrence held for me, but was instead about getting far, far away from home and getting over myself.

I have a hard enough time controlling myself, much less anyone else.

Six years on, I’ve figured a few things out. I know with some confidence that:

For all that, I’ve spent an awful lot of time being lied to and generally jerked around by the people closest to me. I was well past my twenty-first birthday before I started to move on from that… and the matter of “getting over myself” is mostly about finishing what’s been started.

I still handle lies poorly, even when I can empathize with the liar.

More to the point, I live with the constant fear that events, or people who have some say in how I conduct my life, can and will uproot me or leave me out on a limb. I am cnostantly afraid that my trust will be betrayed.

That’s what I knew for the longest time. That’s never gone away. Sometimes I wonder how often I make it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I can never keep that stream of consciousness flowing for long.

Of course, “betrayal” and “ambush” share a big chunk of real estate on Venn digrams.

Meanwhile, I refuse to give any asshole the satisfaction of seeing me come unglued — or worse still, endanger any of my outwardly healthy interpersonal relationships by virtue of what those people see when I’m angry.

…So I turn it in on myself. I go to great lengths to avoid finding myself in a position where I might actually be called upon to really trust anyone.

Is it any wonder at all that I’m lonely? I think not.

Music

Peter Gabriel, “I Grieve”
@allmusic

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“A Deer in the Headlights”

“A Deer in the Headlights” —by Ben Henick, 23 June 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic