Yes, This Was a Real Dream

Just woke up from a dream
where I was telling my mom about
the time I decided to take the bus
downtown,
and got asked by a woman on a run
for a stick of gum
(which I didn’t have)
so I offered to buy her some
at the convenience store down the street
so I ran back into my apartment
to get some change from my change jar
and discovered my front room was a bar
with people wandering around
because the bar was having an open mic
but not until later (the bar opened at 4 PM)
so I shooed them out
and locked the door
and had to crawl out the window
to walk to the store
jingling the coins in my hand
and counting them over and over
to meet the woman
and buy her some gum.

Interactions of the Slow Decay of Physical Objects and Stress-induced Depression

Months ago, during the cold rainy late winter/early spring, my driver’s side window stopped going up just after I had gotten to work and shown the guard my badge. Having no time to deal with it on a cold rainy morning, I covered the window with a handy piece of cardboard and went to work.

That evening after work I drove my car over to my dad’s house, where he helped me with the initial diagnosis: the window switch for the power windows. I bolted the window closed, left the inside door panel off because I figured I’d put it all back once I had the part, and drove it that way for a couple of days.

But when the switch arrived, it turned out to not be the faulty part. Nope, it was the motor and regulator. Once more to search online for a cheap replacement, and another few days driving my car with the guts of the door exposed until the motor showed up.

But at the time I was going through a wearying game of not being able to pay my rent, and fighting with my landlord about it, and all my mental energy went towards two things: trying to keep my job so I’d at least have some money, and hoping I could land a better paying job so I could keep the apartment I had lived in for 19 years. I had no more energy for fixing a functional but decaying car.

I limped by with the window still bolted in place for another couple of weeks. The car’s state matched my mental state: just holding on but clearly falling apart. I couldn’t roll down the window, and with the inside door panel still not replaced, I had to pull a lever to open the door. But it was OK for now. And I thought I was OK for the moment, too.

Weeks later I did get the motor installed, and for now, the window went up and down. I was dismayed to find out, however, that the window still got stuck sometimes about halfway closed. I had to pull at it, or push it up from underneath, to get it to close completely sometimes. Not always, but often enough that I just stopped rolling down my window unless I absolutely had to.

I stopped rolling down the window when it was nice out; I’d just run the a/c. I didn’t roll it down for the security guards at work; just pressed my badge against the window. At gas stations, I’d open the door to give my credit card to the attendant unless I felt really lucky. I noticed that the window got jammed less frequently on warmer days, more on colder or wetter days.

But my stress and depression kept increasing, which led to me taking at least a day off every week, which meant I didn’t get paid (I’d long since used up my paid sick time), which meant it was harder and harder to pay my rent. A classic downward spiral.

Letters from lawyers began to arrive, and I had to do something, so I admitted defeat, packed up most of my stuff, and found a room with family I could stay in temporarily until I could find cheaper living quarters.

One day, I was getting out of my car, and the metal rod that opened the door got caught on a pocket of my pants. It tore my pants and snapped the rod out of place. I tried to see how it went back in but was too frustrated to really try.

Again, rather than fixing the mechanical problem, I just adapted to the new normal. I’d roll my window down to reach outside and unlatch the door that way. But I wouldn’t roll it all the way down; just to the point where it wouldn’t jam. And even then, sometimes the window needed a little push or pull to go all the way back up.

There I was, driving around with the guts of my door in my peripheral vision. It reminded me every time I drove that I was failing. Was my mental state causing me to give up? Or was I giving up and causing things to fail? I knew that the window jamming in the channels was causing strain on the motor, and it would all eventually fail. But for now…

It all worked… just barely. I could live with it. I had to work on finding a more permanent place to live. I had to keep my job. I had to focus on other things.

This past week, the window stopped going up and down again.  It made nasty grinding sounds. It happened when I was on my way to a drug test I had to pass to get a potential raise at work (long story made short: I would still be a contractor but there would be one less middleman taking a cut of my pay). I climbed over the center console and out the passenger door and realized I had let things slide too far.

I told no one about this until Saturday morning. I knew I had to repair this car. And I had the mental energy to do it because I had gotten the raise. I was fixing my financial life. I could fix my transportation, too.

I texted my friend Ken to ask him if he had any time soon to help me fix the window and the door latch and put it all back together. I needed help.

His reply:

Bring it over.

No questions asked. Just bring it over. I knew he had his kids this weekend and he loves his kids very much. I felt a bit of panic. Right now?! I asked him if I was interrupting any plans he had.

Meh. It’s fine. I miss my friend and need some normal interaction time.

I drove it over there and we disassembled the window again and found the broken part. A drive out to the U-Pull-It junkyard on a pleasant summer day, a hunt for the part, and then back to his garage. When we got it assembled, I pointed out it still was slow or sluggish at the same point and felt resigned to defeat.

Ken messed with the window a bit and pointed out that there was a way to adjust how the regulator was angled, and just like that, the window went up and down as smooth as butter.

Then he dug around in the door and got the metal rod back in place to open the door from the inside. All I had to do was replace the inside door panel, and it would be back to the normal level of old car, and not Millennium Falcon level of open panels and exposed wiring. I didn’t do that there, at Ken’s house, because the parts were all back at my house. But I instantly felt better.

Tonight, I got the door panel back on and took the car for a little spin before bedtime. I actually enjoyed driving it, instead of the dread and regret I felt for having neglected it for so long. It’s working now just as designed.

Did I fix my car because I am fixing my life? Or is fixing my life helping me get the things around me fixed, too? I had to ask Ken for help, something that has been very difficult for me, and I assumed he wouldn’t be able to. He, however, like most of my friends and family, was immediately ready to assist.

I didn’t have the capacity to ask for help these last several months; in fact, none of my friends even knew my car wasn’t working right. But now, knowing I’m getting paid more for the same work, I could ask.

Which part is cause, and which, effect?

Skyrim Memories – Coda

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As of today, about an hour ago, I collected my last achievement in Skyrim. Not even the Special Edition. Oldrim, the original.

Paid a guy online to transfer my saves to PC, bought a second copy of the game, and kept going. I’ve played stealth archer builds, magic-only builds. I’ve played it vanilla, I’ve modded it. I thought I’d done it all. I always assumed I was in it for the story and the immersion and that I didn’t care about being a completist. Figured I just had some Hearthfire achievements to get and didn’t care.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

When the Special Edition came out, I started another whole playthrough, too, so there are another 150+ hours on a brand-new character.

But… a couple of weeks ago I decided to see what achievements I still had left to get. There were 12: two of the College of Winterhold quests (despite me having done that whole quest chain at least three times; not sure why those were in there); a couple of crime-related ones like having a 1000 septim bounty in every hold or escaping from jail; fighting a legendary dragon, which, again, I am almost certain I have done several times on my highest-level ‘toon (level 81); craft something from stalhrim; and the aforementioned house-building achievements.

I’m done. But that doesn’t mean I’ve spent my last hour in Skyrim. I will return.

I love this game.

No Ghosts but What We Imagine

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No ghosts but what we imagine.

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Went out to get some dinner, stopped at the library to pick up a hold, then didn’t want to go straight home. Saw the full moon in the deep indigo sky, yellow and unfocused by the high thin clouds, and just drove around and sang along with a favorite playlist.
 
And everything around me had a memory attached to it. I’ve lived in this patch of the world for so long now.
 
That song reminded me of a similar dark night in a different car a long time ago.
 
Drove through downtown Milwaukie and remembered seeing a movie with an old friend at the theater there on a similar cold night.
 
That back street? In high school, my friend with the car would drive up and down it, very fast, too fast. How did we never crash?
 
There’s the street corner I would wait for the bus when coming home from my girlfriend’s house.
 
I’ve lived here, in this little corner of Portland, in this 3 square mile patch of Oregon and America and the world, for so long now. I’m surrounded by ghosts, except I’m an atheist, so I call them memories.
 
I’m feeling sad and lost, and eager. Ready for change, and yet tired of changing. Rootless but grounded.
 
Goodbye old year. So long, farewell, see you never again.
 
Hello new year, hi, welcome, ready or not here I come.

A Simple Trick: Disabling a Specific Key

Most of the time, I learn something new because I have a problem to solve. I’ll tolerate some annoyances as long as they’re minor but if they go on for a while or start becoming worse, I go looking for a solution.

I’ve been playing Fallout 4 a bit lately. I know I’m not the most dextrous gamer around. I am, however, far more comfortable with mouse and keyboard than I am with any controller. So when I get into a combat situation and I start flailing around on the keyboard trying to shoot the super mutants, I have found myself hitting the Windows key, which pauses the game and drops me back to the desktop.

Supermutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.
Super mutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.

The first few times I just groaned, alt-tabbed back to the game, hit ESC and carried on. But it kept happening. I knew there must be a way to just turn off the Windows key entirely, at least while I was playing. Trouble is, I use that key regularly when I’m not playing. What about a more elegant solution?

Enter AutoHotkey (AHK). It’s a scripting program that runs in the background, waits for keyboard input, and then uses that to trigger actions. I use it as a text expander already: when I type “sphn”, for instance, AHK will expand that to my phone number. Super handy!

And as it turns out, there’s a way to get to have specific key combinations tied to specific programs. So I could have it just ignore the Windows key, but only when Fallout 4 had the focus.

I went looking, and found that I only had to add the following lines to an AHK script I’m already using:

#IfWinActive, ahk_class Fallout4
~LWin Up:: return

The first line tells AHK to only run the next line if the window that’s named “Fallout4” is the active window. And the next line is what I want to happen: do nothing at all when the Windows key is released.

Now, no matter what flailing I do when feral ghouls attack, I won’t take myself out of the game by tapping the wrong key, letting me stay in the moment. Much better!

There’s probably plenty more uses for this trick, like re-mapping all the controls (or just the annoying ones) in a stubborn program. Thankfully, AHK is well-documented. For now, though, I’m happy I went looking for the answer to this question.

Books For Free

I spent Monday with Terry, going through a house on his street, basically looting with permission of the owners. 

The owner has sold the house and moved out, leaving behind lots and lots of stuff. The house is going to be torn down and something new built on the lot. The owners are pocketing a nice profit. Such is Portland these days. 

But the reason Terry and I were interested was the fact that the owners were big fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and they had a lot of books. I recovered 19 titles, plus a blank pocket sized journal, some of which I’ve read long ago, most of which I have not. 

A big pile of books.
A big pile of books.

I already have a nice pile of “to be read” books, though, so who knows when I will get to any of these. But more books are always welcome. They’re less trouble than taking in stray cats, for sure. 

Focus Training Day

I did it. I spent the entire morning completely unplugged. I woke up around 7:30 AM, turned off my phone, turned off my computers, made some breakfast, wrote in my journal, and then read through two full, honest-to-Sagan, paper books.

No computer screens. No teevee showing a binge of YouTube or Netflix. No taking breaks every few minutes to see what was trending on Facebook or  Twitter. I didn’t even really know what time it was, exactly; the only clock I have that isn’t also a computer is on the microwave in the kitchen, and I only went in there to get more coffee.

I woke up and wrote a page in my journal, longhand, just organizing my thoughts. I haven’t written in my journal since October last year.

I’ve felt distracted and despairing that I would ever be able to read a book in a reasonable amount of time ever again. Every time I’ve tried, recently, I get nervous and distracted and eventually give up, even on “easy” reads. Even on short books.

I’ve had Charles Bukowski On Cats on loan from the library since August last year. I’ve renewed the damned thing over and over again. It’s barely 120 pages, and it’s poems and short-short stories and vignettes and drawings. And still, I haven’t been able to finish it. This morning, I read through it while making breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, garlic hashbrowns, English muffin, coffee), and then while I was eating breakfast and then finishing it.

I finished it. And it was still early. I had planned to stay offline until noon, if I could manage it. I sat in my office and looked out the window and felt the pull to turn on my computer, if only to update Goodreads, tell the world I’d finished this book.

Instead, I got up, put the sheets in the laundry, and pulled down another book on my “to be read” pile: Hunter Stockton Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sat down on the couch and started reading. Got to about page 40, flipped ahead to see that the whole thing was only 200 pages, realized I could put a serious dent in this before my self-imposed screen jail time had elapsed.

When I reached the end of Part One, almost exactly halfway through, I got up, stretched, pulled the sheets out of the dryer and put them on the bed, and noted the time: 10:30 AM. I could finish this book in one sitting. Like I’d done in the distant past. I actually had the focus, the drive, the attention span to read a whole novel in a few hours.

I can’t tell you what a revelation and what a relief this is to me. Once I got into HST’s prose, I stopped worrying what was trending on Twitter. I no longer cared what arguments were happening on Facebook. I did, briefly, wonder if my friends or family were trying to reach me, but I allowed myself to feel that anxiety, then kept reading. I’d be available all too soon. I can catch up. The world can wait for just a bit longer.

And I have returned. I feel calmer and less stressed. Reading is meditative. Having the words of someone else in my brain lets me soothe the fears of my own inner voice. I’m recharged, and ready to return to the global consciousness.

Take a break from the Internet from time to time. It helps.

The Way You Held Me Up When I Was Down

Today was a heartbreaking day, a day I have been dreading since the election, a day were America swore in as president possibly the worst American in our time, a man whose biographers agree is self-centered, insecure, and a bully. A man who ran a campaign of hate and divisiveness, a man with a record-breaking commitment to lying lies. An admitted sexual predator. The list goes on.

And in my heart of hearts I know: Donald Trump is not a unique snowflake. There are still plenty of people in our country who see nothing wrong in that list above. They may even frame it all the same way I did, and even then, think that behavior is a reasonable reaction to the world today. I know how we got here, I do. As much as I didn’t want to face it, as hard as I tried to believe we were getting better, I knew: America still has plenty of anger, hate, and bigotry.

We need to face that head-on if we want to come back from this, I think.

My depression stems from the sinking feeling that we have to fight it. On the other hand, on a more positive note, as a friend pointed out to me: my goal is clear. There is no disputing the very wrong ideals that are showing themselves now: racism, sexism, hatred of the poor. And fascism. Actual, for reals, corporate-interests-before-everything-else, fascism. Turns out, it can happen here.

Because the evil is now so clear, because evil’s supporters are now so vocal, it’s easy to identify them and that makes it easy to resist. If you ever wondered what you would have done when the Nazis rose to power, well, now’s your perfect chance.

Fight. Fight smart, but give no quarter. Hatred may be on the rise but this time we have a chance to knock it back for a good, long time.

Resist.

Make art.

Sing.

Dance.

Laugh.

Love, and love everyone.

And support those who do all those things, too. We’re all in this together. We are all individuals, but we share a purpose: making this world a better one for every single human.

Fascists hate all of that.

Herding Cats Is The Perfect Analogy

A friend on Facebook shared this essay about the political left in America infighting, by Sammy Leonard, and it’s got me thinking about how differently the right and the left operate, at least in America.

Disclaimer up top: if you weren’t already aware, I consider myself a liberal, democratic socialist, leftist, communist… all of those. My tagline for the longest time was “a little to the left of Bernie Sanders,” and that was before Senator Sanders ran for president and suddenly everyone knew who he was. I supported Bernie in the primary, right up until he was clearly losing, at which point I switched to the Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I did that for pragmatic reasons, not idealistic ones. I did it because the GOP nominee was Trump, and having him in the White House would be beyond disastrous.

Lucky us, we get to see if my (and so many others’) fears are accurate, alas.

Back to my main point, however. The above-linked article shows me that among the left, there are large demographics that are still holding on to their ideals and not joining forces with other left-aligned groups to make common cause against a clear and present danger like the Trump administration is shaping up to be.

Why doesn’t the left know how to work together?

There are probably many reasons, but let me offer at least one. Liberals all tend to operate from a particular frame of reference; they share ideals and goals. One of those shared goals is the idea that speaking up, dissenting to an authority figure, is a net good. Liberals like to protest, they like free speech, they don’t automatically accept what our leaders tell us without some evidence behind it.

I’m generalizing, of course, and it’s somewhat easy to find counter-examples of conservatives protesting, dissenting to authority, and valuing free speech. What I’m suggesting is that liberals put all that higher in priority than do conservatives.

A more top priority for conservatives, baked right into the name, is preserving order, following chains of command, and offering deference (often spoken of as “respect”) for authority. Let the leaders lead, they say. This ideal gives the right the edge in organizing against a common threat, and that’s the part that those on the left either never had, or have forgotten about.

Many electrons have been spent outlining the demographic differences in the Republican and the Democratic parties. The GOP is largely older, largely white, largely male, largely middle-class or better off, while the Democrats include large coalitions of blacks, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQA, younger voters, and more women. That is a consequence that arises when the left champions ideals of inclusiveness and diversity.

What that means is that the left has some learning to do. Specifically, liberals need to learn better how to avoid infighting, how to accept that people are imperfect and may not fully agree with each other, but that we can all push together on those policies and goals we share. Maybe we can even learn to help people in other coalitions to achieve what they need even if we don’t fully agree with them, as long as they can help us when our goals are being tested.

It’s a strategy that has worked for the right, which is made up of at least three large coalitions with differeing goals: the Christian authoritarians, the neo-con geo-political strategists, and the pro-gun pro-capitalism paleoconservatives. When crafting their party platforms, they make sure that every faction gets some attention, so they can count on every group working for the overall good of the party (often at the expense of the country and the world, at least in my view).

The Democratic Party doesn’t really operate like that, and it shows in the fault lines we continue to see today. Bernie Bros are still bitter and angry at what they see as party leadership pushing Hillary Clinton as the nominee, for right or wrong. Blacks are upset at being abandoned over the very serious issues of being a black person in America, which to this day results in far too many deaths; Sec. Clinton did not really address this in her platform, although black women still turned out in large numbers for her anyway.

And Cory Booker gets reamed for a non-binding vote that’s seen as being anti-Bernie, when in fact it wasn’t Bernie’s bill (he was a co-sponsor but Sen. Kobluchar authored it) and Sen. Booker voted for Wyden’s far more direct bill, despite supposedly being in Big Pharma’s pockets. I have to admit, I fell for this smear, too, and repeated some memes showing how terrible Booker was, without knowing all the facts. I can get better.

I hope we all can get better, the faster, the better.