Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cash Money

My grandma asked me this week if I am going to return to work.  I came up with an answer, but I don't know that the answer I gave entirely satisfies me.  I told her that I don't really intend to return to work, which is true in the short term, but the conundrum of what to do with my life is a thorny one.

There are two reasons to work.  First off is money, but secondly is the structure that works brings to life.  Sometimes having lots to do and many hours scheduled keeps me doing things instead of just sitting around.  I get a lot more productive when I have to be!  I don't think that actually would improve my life overall though because it would certainly increase my stress and it would be hard on Wendy.  Our life right now relies on me being able to just handle everything that she doesn't want to handle and our schedule is based quite substantially on me being home.  We don't have to worry about who will cook or do dishes or how we will get to the library in time.  I just do it, and that relieves so much tension.

To figure out if the money from working would make me want to go back to it I need to sort out exactly what I would buy with that money.  Our savings are ticking up these days at a rate that makes me comfortable, but we certainly aren't rich.  We don't have financial worries, but we also have to live frugally to achieve this.  So what would me earning 60k a year bring us?

A lot of that money would get soaked up by work costs and taxes.  Some costs are direct, like buying work clothes and transportation, but other costs creep in.  We would end up eating out more, paying people to do stuff for us, and maybe forking over money to keep Elli entertained and taken care of while work was happening.  Consider all that, and the actual net benefit is probably in the 30k / year range.

The thing I most want to buy is a bigger condo.  For 240k we could upgrade ourselves to the big units at the top of our building, which have a better layout, double the living room space (so we could actually entertain more than 3 guests at a time....), bigger kitchen, an office... it would be glorious.

But 240k is 8 years of work.  It does last a lifetime, but because there are greater taxes associated I should probably budget more like 300k, which pushes it up to 10 years of work.

10 years.  That is a LOT of selling beds.  Or writing code, or interfacing between coders and clients, or whatever it is I end up doing.  I have another 50 years ahead of me, and I am not at all convinced I want to spend 20% of it in a giant ball of stress trying to save up for a bigger condo.

The only other thing I can think of that I really want to buy but am hesitant to pay for it tattooes.  If I could get thoroughly inked up without having to worry about money I would, but when I think of an elaborate tattoo that costs 10k and then consider it would take 4 months of work to earn, I can't justify the expense.  I would rather just have my own plain boring skin than put in 4 months at a job.

When Elli moves out these values may change.  My need for space will go down, but my desire for more stuff to do and more structure will no doubt go up.  Also the stressors on Wendy will drop dramatically and the need for me to be home will be less.

So while working again is possible, right now I do the math and it just doesn't seem like the thing to do.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to do something I love which is worth it for its own sake, but as long as work is work it seems like my place right now is at home.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Average vision

It turns out that Elli has average vision for her family.  I have excellent vision, Wendy has horrible vision, and Elli is somewhere in the middle, which puts her squarely in 'Needs glasses, but it isn't critical' territory.

A week ago Elli came home complaining that she couldn't see the board at school properly so I booked her an appointment with the optometrist.  The result is that she mild nearsightedness, enough that she doesn't necessarily *need* glasses, but given that she is having trouble at school with her vision we decided to get them right away.  Introducing Elli to optometrist appointments was an interesting parent moment because she wasn't sure what to expect.  I can see the thinking - eyes are so sensitive, is this going to hurt or be scary?

It isn't painful or scary though, and after I described what would happen she was actually kind of excited about it.

I thought that she would be bummed out by the results.  I certainly would be irritated by the necessity to carry glasses around; if nothing else I don't want to keep track of another object.  Also my money demon has a bit of a fit at the cost of frames!

But contrary to expectations Elli was thrilled with needing glasses.  She explained that she was excited because glasses are her first accessory.  She doesn't have earrings, she doesn't wear necklaces or rings, and much to her dismay she doesn't have a tiara.  But now she has glasses so she has a thing to wear that is special and which she gets to pick out herself.

This is totally beyond my comprehension.  I accept it, but sure don't get it.  I have a hard time accepting pants, and those have pockets for my keys and phone.  Putting a thing on my head that might fall off or get lost?  Ick!  Having to pick out which frames I want and have people judge my fashion sense on that basis?  Faugh.

But she loves them.

One more parenting moment where I sit back and am surprised at the way things turned out.  It is a good surprise though as I was expecting her to need glasses at some point and it was an effortless thing, as medical crises go.  And heck, maybe it will even help her in school.

Of course she picked pink frames.  That part wasn't surprising in the least.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Open ended questions

The other night Elli asked me "What do you think of being a dad and an uncle?"

It isn't a hard topic, but figuring out how to answer that question was tricky.  I have a nephew and a niece, and I wasn't sure if she was referring to one or the other in particular.  I am closer to my nephew because he is my brother's kid, but my niece has more recently arrived.  I had a bit of a protective reaction when I found out my nephew was born, and the same thing did not occur when my niece arrived.

I tried to get Elli to elaborate on what exactly she wanted to understand, but she either didn't understand what she wanted, couldn't explain it, or didn't want to explain.  All of those things happen regularly, children's limited understanding being what it is, so I ended up going on a long, rambling explanation about how being a parent and being an uncle changed me.

I don't feel like being an uncle really matters much.  It doesn't change my identity one whit, and it has only a tiny effect on my life.  I can't say if other people feel that way, but for me parenthood has been a huge thing that changed everything about how I live while having a niece and nephew was pretty irrelevant.

This ambiguity about what exactly Elli wanted to know is one of the things about parenting that I didn't anticipate.  I knew there would be challenges, but I didn't expect how often the challenges would take the form of pure confusion.  I don't know what Elli wants, and she probably doesn't know what she wants, so I am just flailing about wildly trying to give her information and hoping that it works out.

There is real fun in answering these questions though.  I didn't anticipate that so much either.  I like just rambling on about stuff, and if I don't have a particular teaching goal in mind I can just pour out my brain and let her examine it.

Parenthood doesn't define me.  That is one concrete thing I was able to tell her.  I do the parenting thing, but being Dad isn't my identity.  I am just Sky, a guy who has a kid.

I wonder what lessons she takes from these sorts of conversations.  I don't want to ascribe too much import to any individual thing, but I wish I could know what the effects of my choices are on her.  For science, if nothing else.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wanting to help

You can't tell people what to do.  I have definitely found this when it comes to relationships.  There is no point in trying to tell people that they should break up with someone, no matter how bad it is.  All that happens is they get bitter at you or become more entrenched in their problems.  People have to come around to figuring out that their situations are crappy on their own.  It isn't just in the arena of relationships that this advice seems to apply though, it also it just as true when it comes to substance use.

There have been a bunch of incidents in my life in the past while where people have been using substances in way they aren't happy about and I have sat there, unsure if or how I could help.  If they aren't convinced they have a problem then I really can't do much as I don't think that trying to convince them works.  I don't judge people by some arbitrary metric - I don't say that X drinks of alcohol or coffee makes you an addict, or that Y pulls on a cigarette or joint is an issue.  You have an addiction problem when your addiction causes problems, not when you meet some particular usage benchmark.  When someone doesn't feel they have a problem, it isn't my place to tell them they do.

The trick is when they decide they have a problem and I have to figure out what to do to help them cope.

I could try to say "Hey, maybe you have had enough for tonight...", which is fairly blunt, or just try to arrange things such that the environment controls the usage on its own.  If I invite people over and don't have their substance around, it is easier to avoid the issue.

But I just haven't found that anything I do helps.  At best I have no effect, and at worst I end up in opposition to people's desires and conflict threatens.  Even when that conflict comes up, it doesn't change how anyone behaves, so why even try?

It is hard to not try to help people who have said that they are trying to stop doing a thing, or that they know that doing that thing is hurting them.  I don't want to be anyone's keeper, or run their life, but I want to do what I can to help them make the decisions they want to make.

I also can't be sure that I truly understand the problem.  I have my own compulsions and poor decisions, no doubt, but substance abuse isn't on that list.  I drank a lot of caffeine in years gone by, but quitting was trivial for me, and that is the closest to kicking a substance habit I have had.  My compulsions are things like sex and video games, which while they can be compelling, lack the biological factor of substance usage.  That difference is huge and it means that I can't really grasp other people's experiences and that disconnect may lead me to misunderstand what they need.

I can and do provide encouragement and acceptance.  These things are a given.  Nonetheless, I want to do more.  I want to help shoulder the burden, if I can, but I can't ever seem to find a way to take it on myself.  I have the strength to spare, if I could just way a way to apply it, but every active application just seems to do nothing helpful.

Maybe that's all there is.  Maybe there is nothing I can really do aside from listen and offer a shoulder to lean on, and people just have to solve their own problems.  I don't like it, and especially now with so many people I know being distraught at the state of the world these things seem to be coming up more often than before.

If you are asking "Is it me?  Am I the potential addict Sky is talking about?" then the answer is maybe you are.  But you are in good company, at least.  You can take comfort in that.  There are many people with the same kinds of struggles, mostly they are wonderful and amazing folks, and you are most definitely not alone. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016


This post will reference both sex and kink, though not in any way explicitly.  Proceed only if you are comfortable reading about this aspect of my life.

I had a new experience this week, and it was one of those that is a combination of totally new and entirely expected.

I had some really intense, really kinky sex with The Flautist. Then we wandered out into my living room and sat down to eat, as refuelling was desperately needed.  (So far, expected.)  I thought back onto the sex that was just had and realized it was far away.  That is, it felt foggy, distant, almost not there.  I could recount the list of events and I don't think I lost any memories, but it was as though it happened last week rather than five minutes ago.  This had never happened to me before.

However, I know what to call it: dissociation.  That sense of being separated from oneself, of fogginess, is a standard part of dissociation.

I think a lot of people would be worried by this.  I wasn't, in fact I found it rather fascinating.  My brain working in new ways is usually just cool to me.  Dissociation isn't bad in and of itself, rather it is just a part of human functioning that can be useful in some situations but can be a problem for some people if it goes too far.  This didn't cause me any distress though because there wasn't any problem; the dissociation itself wasn't an issue and nothing bad happened because of it.

Pretty clearly this was due to my dual nature.  In sexual situations Passion is in charge, and when the sex gets kinky and I can really let myself go Director fades to nearly nothing.  I am nothing but a ball of primal instinct and raw emotion, lust and fury in equal measure.  Afterwards Passion was dormant and Director was entirely in charge so it makes sense that the memories would seem indistinct and far away because Director can't access the Passion mindset.  Memories laid down in an extreme mindset are harder to access outside of that mindset, and this applies to all of human experience, not just my own.

Of course my reaction was to immediately start talking about it in detached, technical terms since Director was in charge and that is how he rolls.  The Flautist was kind of worried and seemed concerned that something was wrong.  Most normal people that finish having sex and then immediately start talking about how their memories are weird and they are experiencing dissociation would be distressed.  The average person is not just going to take that stuff in stride.

I rushed to reassure her that everything was fine.  Yes, normal people who talk like this are probably freaking out, but I am not normal, particularly in this way.

This actually happens to me a lot.  Not the dissociation after sex thing, but the talking about stuff in a totally detached, emotionless way that worries other people.  I often end up entirely in Director mode, examining issues within myself or the world around me that most people would freak out about.  I get mechanical almost, carefully taking apart ideas that would be emotionally fraught for most.  When I do this I find people often get concerned, thinking that I must be really upset or unhinged and I cannot be trusted.  I have to quickly reassure them that I am fine, and am just really interested in the details of this thing, not actually angry/sad/distraught.

If I am upset, I will say "I am upset."  When I go on about potentially upsetting things but appear completely fine, I am actually completely fine.  This is abnormal.  For some reason.

This tendency of mine is a problem since I live around other people.  It is useful sometimes to be able to be super detached like that, but it does make it really hard for the rest of the world to get me.  I have to work to remind myself that people don't normally deal with things this way, and that I need to pretend to have standard emotional responses to grease the wheels of daily interactions.

Thankfully The Flautist believes me when I tell her that I am fine.  She isn't the way I am, but she seems to get it, and I am even under the impression that she likes me despite (or because?) of it.  I don't have to edit myself with her, but apparently I do need to offer explanations sometimes when I take a turn for the weird.

I think the person who best gets me in this way is Sthenno.  We often sit around having discussions where we have utterly bizarre ways of being emotional and detached from the topic at hand.  Our reactions make sense to us, but we both know that the rest of the world can't fathom how we work.  We both have a regular feeling of "Whoops, I went and acted like myself there.  Better pretend to be a human really quick so I don't upset everyone."

My experience was weird and unusual, but my response was entirely predictable and reinforced a pattern that is a constant in my life.  No matter how far I go, here I am.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Another post mortem for the pile

My Facebook feed is full of US election post mortem essays.  Everyone wants to weigh in on exactly why it went down the way it did, what it means, and what we can do about it.  Obviously given my political leanings and friend group it is mostly horror at Trump's victory and despondency at the damage he will do.  There is also a lot of misery at the state of the world that such a person could win.

I have many thoughts about the things I have read.

Many articles talk about how Trump won because of misogyny and racism.  This is both true and not true.  Clinton's loss was by a tiny margin, and it is entirely possible that if she were male but otherwise the same that she would have won.  If 1% of Americans swapped their votes from Trump to Clinton the result is a big win for Democrats.  That isn't much of a difference in voting for a huge difference in result.  (Go first past the post!  :P)

But you would be wrong to just chalk it up to "Americans are bigots" and be done with it.  Clinton was absolutely establishment and represented the status quo.  She has massive ties to big banks and shady shit like million dollar gifts from oppressive theocracies.  An awful lot of people were angry at the status quo and voted Trump in protest because he was the one they thought would shake things up.  And he will, at that.  Of course the result he is aiming for is to empower the rich and crush the poor, and he will do as much racist and sexist crap as he can get away with while pursuing those goals.

It is entirely true that Trump won in part because of the anger of people frustrated by their stagnating economic situation.  He won't help them at all, but that anger did help him.  So what do we do about that?

Lots of lefties think that the coastal elites ought to try to understand the rural Americans who so strongly support Trump.  They figure that we should have nice chats with them to understand their problems and get across that billionaires who inherited their wealth who promise to crush immigrants and get rid of health care make things worse, not better.  They think we should explain carefully and without derision how wrong racism and sexism are, how important women's and trans rights are, and how immigrants actually make America stronger and richer.

But let's be real for a second.  Will it be politically expedient to try to get the bigots into the leftist fold for the next election?  Probably.  Do we have some kind of moral obligation to treat awful behaviour with kind words and understanding?  Fuck no.

This article talks a lot about how lefties can understand white working class America, and makes it clear that focusing on things like transgender bathroom issues rather than economics is a problem in terms of elections.  But the article ignores the fact that the Republicans talk a *ton* about abortion and bathrooms, and that it is all well and good for white, cis, straight people to ignore social issues - everything already works pretty well for them, thanks, but it is pretty shit to just insist that the Democrats ignore those issues and leave marginalized minorities to rot in the name of expanding the economy.

Might it *work* to ignore social problems (which is fucking racist and sexist and bigoted, by the way) and try to win elections by talking only about the economy?  Maybe, but it would be a terrible thing to do.  It would tell those working class white people that yes, their problems are the real problems, and we needn't worry about all those trans women of colour.

There are also people talking about how the real problem is the Christian values of rural white America.  I am pretty sympathetic to this view, because Christianity as a whole tends to teach that faith is a virtue.  Believing in things that make no sense because an old man who is part of your in group tells you so is a cornerstone of Christian belief.  So when Trump walks in saying all kinds of ridiculous things that speak to the fears and biases of that group they are primed to believe him.

Personally I think faith is a terrible vice and responsible for much of the ills of our world.  This is one of my biggest gripes with religion - the teaching that it is good and right to believe in whatever you are told by authority.

However, we can't just call it done there either because plenty of people who aren't white working class Christian types voted for Trump.  We also can't just ignore huge chunks of society either, and we need to find a way to try to get through to them.  I suspect it is mostly an issue of time because churches and religiosity in the West are crumbling and their influence in on the wane.  Changing these attitudes will happen but it is a slow process.

One thing I think people on all part of the political spectrum ought to do is consider how they view the electorate based on election results.  Trump won with 25.5% of the vote.  If he had gotten 24.5% of the vote, Clinton crushes him.  That is huge in terms of who is president, but it hardly changes the electorate at all.  If you are despondent at the state of American voters that Trump won, but would be totally fine if he lost, you should think carefully about why it is that you would be okay with 24.5% of the people voting for him.

Separating the electorate from the results is important.  Yes, who gets to be President matters a lot, and we should talk about that.  But we shouldn't pin all of our attitudes towards Americans on the result of an election that Clinton won, by popular vote, and which she would have won by electoral college with only a tiny shift.  One really stupid quote from Trump, one more great speech by Clinton, and maybe the entire thing changes, and the electorate is still the same either way.

Don't give in to despair.  Trump is evil, and awful, but you must remember that we have had worse.

Go back a few decades.  Trump's attitudes towards women, people of colour, and queer folks of all stripes wouldn't have been outlandish, they would have been expected.  His faults, great as they are, are only so glaring because the world has come so far.

Trump is one step back, but we can see that the world continues to step forward.  We will continue to step forward, and setbacks will continue to come.  Slow, bumpy progress is inevitable.  The pushback against progressive thought is occurring because *we are winning*.

Remember that Toronto had Rob Ford.  Much of the same rhetoric, much of the same evil.  It seemed like all was lost, but we got past it.  Now we move on.

So go out there and do something Trump would hate.  Be generous to the downtrodden, welcome an immigrant, be as queer as queer can be.  He will eventually be gone, and we will push on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Getting old, or perhaps just stupid

I posted this summer about difficulties I was having with sleep.  I am tossing and turning a lot and my arms have been sore.  I used to always sleep on my side but my shoulders and arm muscles have been complaining so much that I have ended up trying to learn to sleep on my back and that hasn't been going well.

This week it got so bad that I have been just sleeping on the couch every day because I seem to sleep just fine there.  Once I moved to the couch Wendy told me she was suddenly sleeping a lot better because I wasn't keeping her awake with tossing and turning all night.

Finally I bought a new bed, which is coming this weekend.  It makes me laugh because I should be the last person to put up with a bed which was obviously worn out.  I spent years selling beds to people, and even had a big speech about getting a new bed rather than just blaming bad sleep on being old.  People often do that, and while a new bed won't solve everything it is amazing how long people suffered before being willing to buy something new.  I shouldn't have suffered so long.  I gave that speech a zillion times!

It is even worse than that though.  Lots of people don't buy new beds because they are worried about paying too much, not knowing what to buy, or getting ripped off.  I know a ton of people who sell beds, so it is trivial for me to make sure I get a really good deal.  Even if I didn't know people I know how to negotiate and grind people down to get the deal I want.  I have been on the other side of that plenty of times.  Being worried about lack of knowledge or cost just aren't problems for me.

And yet, I waited too long and slept badly for many months.

I think it is my money demon.  It said that I bought a really good bed 15 years ago.  It should still be fine.  I can just stretch it a little bit longer, surely!

But geez, 15 years.  Beds wear out.  New beds have cool new tech.  I should have just gone and bought myself a new bed.  Spending hours each day napping trying to catch up, grunting and groaning when I went to stand because my back was killing me... these are not things I should be doing.

I spent $700 on my bed back in the day.  That works out to 13 cents a day.  Would I be willing to pay 13 cents to get an extra couple hours of sleep, or to stop being sore for a day?  HELL yes.

Sometimes even when you have every reason to do the right thing you just don't do it.  Even when you are an expert.  Even when it is just easy as anything to do it.  Those stupid demons in the back of your head get all noisy and annoying and they wreck everything.

But now I have a nice new bed coming, and soon I will sleep and sleep.