Feeding off my playlist

Here’s my morning:

  1. Wake up at a quarter after four. While it’s still dark.
  2. Check e-mail and the overnight stream of Twitter messages. Wonder if this is the first time in months that Stephanie Sullivan has slept in.
  3. Struggle with writer’s block for two hours, screwing around on Twitter meanwhile.
  4. Feel my heart lifted by my playlist.
  5. Shut down the media player instance that runs every morning, playing Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony No. 9.
  6. Discover that the other player instance has bounced to that same track.
  7. Allow that coincidence to break the writer’s block.

The thing about Symphony No. 9 is that it helps me focus.

It’s also one of the works that can drag me measurably closer to that frame of mind in which I will bawl my eyes out.

It’s possible that one of these days I will pull together a comprehensive list of that kind of music.

Such music is relevant, because I haven’t shed tears with a will in more than fifteen years.

I suppose — if you’ve been reading — that you wonder how I’ve managed to go six years without crying over my mother’s passing.

The short answer is that I got that out of the way ahead of time.

Thoughtlessness

October 1994 was a big deal for me. In rough order, I:

Here’s how all that turned out:

Those last two outcomes are related.

The afternoon after I got the news about the impending divorce, S. and I met after class on the plaza between Brady Commons and the GCB. I don’t remember the substance of our conversation, though I’m certain that we discussed the fact that her grandfather was days away from passing on. What I remember too clearly is that before that conversation was over, I was bawling into her shoulder like a lost toddler… without any regard whatsoever for any damn thing.

Immediately after she told me three months later to go away and stay away, I made a point of trying (unsuccessfully) to squeeze out some tears, and chose without thinking to do it directly under her window. Whether the wind carried away the sound or not, I consider that the single most thoughtless choice I’ve ever made (among a lifetime’s myriad of thoughtless choices), and still haven’t forgiven myself for it.

In the course of the tears, one of the voices in my internal dialogue had gone silent, and the other was droning a drumbeat waltz of “she’s done for, she’s done for, she’s done for, she’s done for.”

I had no idea what form the hell would take, but I knew that I was in for several years of proverbial hell. As it turned out, I was right — and I was not alone. Watching a beautiful, brilliant woman destroy herself one day at a time until there’s nothing left but a husk, and then watching that husk carry on aimlessly for another three years… leaves a body drained. In that event, others cannot divide your sorrow. At the very least, they cannot divide mine, and I cannot divide theirs.

If Mom was still alive, I have no doubt that my publishing credits would’ve gone a long way toward assuaging her own conviction that she’d fucked up too much — and I’ve never withheld my thoughts that with respect to raw skill, I owe those credits to the examples she set, more than anything else. Thus went one of the two thoughts that haunted me during the year I spent writing the book (and doing little else).

Gravity makes mass into weight

It is difficult for me to cry because… I do not have the freedom. By lurches I’ve boxed myself in: I fear violating boundaries, I fear giving away too much, I fear falling short of expectations. I fear that I will not be able to summon tears when the ability to do so would mean the difference between wanting to live, and wanting to die.

I think about the extent to which music and other stimuli wave the past before my mind’s eye. While living in Lawrence I’ve broken the habit of obsessing for hours at a time and wearing my regrets like a suit of clothes…

Two months after I moved to Lawrence I finally summoned the peace of mind needed to confirm my suspicion that S. had married. Working several hunches, I applied my net-fu and got my hands on enough information to walk away satisfied. Similar excursions in the years since have only deepened my satisfaction, though confidence that S. is herself content is a critical ingredient of that sentiment.

Given the steel that I’m sure is there I figure that she’s 20 or 25 years from being an offically “tough bird” — but it’s rough not to hold absolute knowledge, in that respect.

In the six years since it’s occurred to me that while S. may have broken my heart, that act pushed me onto an entirely different path than the one I’d’ve followed otherwise. I want for solvency and contentment, but the path I’ve followed for the better part of the last fifteen years has chipped away at the worst parts of my arrogance and given me the skills needed to affect the lives of millions of people at a time — skills I never would’ve learned if I’d nurtured any chance of having S. back in my life.

However, the knowledge that even regrets can lead to a happy ending has not yet given me the strength to break the momentum that I feel carries me out of the past — and into an appallingly similar future.

The Lord’s Prayer rings in my head everyday, and the fact that it cannot do all of its work just yet means that I still have a ways to go.

Music

Antonín Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”
@amazon:
  1. Adagio; allegro molto
  2. Largo
  3. Scherzo. Molto vivace
  4. Allegro con fuoco [the best-known movement]
@allmusic

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Past Trends, Future Results

Past Trends, Future Results —by Ben Henick, 30 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