Monthly Archives: July 2018

Perspective, or Necessary Remix

I popped into Kroger after work to grab a few things for this weekend, and on my way out, this caught my eye:

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons. We live in a wealthy area. We ourselves are not wealthy (although we are working hard to change our behavioral economics in order to retire early–that journey will be covered extensively in other posts), but we live in a planned community NW of Little Rock proper. “Planned community” is often tied to “affluent,” in case that wasn’t clear.

This is easily the nicest place I’ve lived. We rent a perfectly-sized condo (I never knew the difference between a condo and a townhouse until we moved here), and we’ve downsized half of our possessions, if not more. We’ve changed careers and “lost” $40k in yearly income. We still have more than enough. And yet, for me, this emptiness. This questioning.

Some kind of If.

So, an innocuous red crate situated behind the cashiers caught my eye, and a not-dormant-but-not-where-it-should-be part of me thought, “Well, shit.”

There are needy everywhere. Before you start wringing your hands and wondering what religious or organizational affiliations I claim, let me stop you right there, Chief. I don’t have one. I have an evolving system of beliefs that can’t be satisfied by one house, one camp. I’m fine with that. I figure I’ll work on it as I go. I’m of the opinion that all of this (whatever this is) is larger than we can possible imagine, and we barely have conceived of our true cosmic insignificance. We can’t really help that, yet.

I have more than enough to eat. There are people that live less than four miles from me that don’t. I’m not okay with that.

These days, the sucker’s argument can draw one into troll-fests and bait posts faster than you can say, “Oh man, my life’s already over?!?” Let me try a different route.

My sister hipped me to food rescue programs in cities all over the U.S. in which volunteers gather food that would otherwise soon spoil and be needlessly wasted. These volunteers receive a notification, pick up the food items, and deliver them to those who need them. It’s a thing of beauty. Last I checked, Little Rock isn’t quite there, but I think there are other grass root programs that serve the same purpose.

I took a quick drive with Casey to see the Little Free Food Pantry, and it’s fashioned just like the little libraries I’ve seen in small communities. Take what you need, and give what you can. Cool.

This is where some might say, “Oh yeah, it’s in front of a church.” It becomes a hang-up. I don’t regularly attend church, so I don’t get drawn into the minutiae of “What kind of church is it” and so on. That’s not the point. Food goes into the box. People who need it get food from the box. People who want to give put food into the box. I love it. It makes me a little emotional thinking about it.

See, I don’t do much. I create fake pressures to fret and to worry about things that don’t actually concern me. I’m a mess at times.

However, I have a great life. I have opportunities all the time. I’m surrounded by nice, caring people. My pondering and preoccupation of the Human Condition torments me because I don’t do anything about it. It’s a cognitive behavioral issue, and it’s not the first time I’ve thought about it or written about it.

I wrote this quickly just to put it out there, because I’m out of practice working to be a better human. Spooky Mike said it best: “Dig it! Humans helping humans. It’s big.” These moments are often all we have. I think I need to spend mine a little better sometimes.

I’m a little all over the place with this one, but I know some of you will get it. We don’t have a lot of time, but we have a lot more time than some do.

It might be time to see what else there is that we can do.

“Can’t you just zonk me out?” or “Sink the Bismarck”

I’m a slow learner. Not in the traditional sense, but more in a behavioral sense. The last eighteen years could be characterized thus: I develop habits which may or may not be detrimental for my well-being, a mild chaos ensues, I narrowly dodge disaster, and then I venture into something else.

It’s a pattern, and I see it. The question as I get older is really a simple What If. Will I stay ahead of the curve, or will I keep repeating a slight variation of the same pattern? Can I break new ground while accelerating change somewhere else?

My recent and seemingly more permanent diversion is figuring out how to steadily change my behaviors while largely self-educating in finance, en route to an early “retirement.” Where I just spent the last 23 years, most people are looking for a Forever job with some “nice benefits” and a pension. It hasn’t worked out well for those of us below a certain age. Without slandering specific industries, as many Valley residents strongly identify with their career choice–indeed, they bunker down and attempt to ride out conditions that simply cannot be sustained elsewhere in the country–there never seems to be a realization that a job is not truly part of who we are. The times have changed.

Market forces, technology, terrorism, politics, the changes wrought by social media and a few dozen more reasons have micro-shaped our behavioral economies. I long harbored a sense of unease in my last two professions. Something wasn’t right, but I could never put my finger on it. That something was that I cannot find identity in a job. In this I know I am not alone. However, since I am a slow learner, apparently I needed to create massive debt through half a decade of bad behavior, then spend the next decade digging out. This was how I earned my epiphany. More on that some other time, maybe. It’s likely that it doesn’t have much to do with anyone else’s vision. That’s fine.

As far back as 2002 or so, I had a little money in investments. Didn’t last long there. Had to buy six cars, drink thousands of bottles of beer. That kind of thing. Light finally struck my brain after a disastrous stint in Arkansas public schools. My Southern friends, I promise you this: a giant section of the United States is unaware of desegregation lawsuits. It’s really just not a thing in 2018 elsewhere. I can’t spend any more time on that here or in my mind. Just know that the Great Divide that other states worked through faded much more than it did here, and that was a few decades ago. ‘Nuff said.

Years eleven and twelve of teaching high school being the nails in that career coffin, I started to ponder the Macro again. Why do we have to wait until 65 to retire? Why do people work jobs they don’t really like for forty years to get a pension and possibly live where they don’t want to? Do people really think they’ll live forever? Here are two great quick reads about the origin of “retirement age” here: and here:

Some of these questions are bigger than I can answer right now, and some are awfully personal. My answers will differ from yours. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think I’m going to live a healthy and functioning life until 95. That’s not really written into my genetic code. I’m also not saying that I can’t make a series of changes that would enhance and prolong my life. Those are experiments for another time.

What I am saying is We Don’t Have Time. We Never Did. I’m super happy if you found a job that really defines you and marks your time on this rock floating through space. I don’t think that works for a lot of folks these days.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting things related to this most recent quest. I’ve been working on it for about a year. I’m hoping to have some guest posts from other like-minded folks. Not everyone is in the same camp as me, but I think this content could bring a lot of value. At the very least, it might have us question a few ideas. That’s never a bad thing.

The Second Half

We saw Jurassic World:Fallen Kingdom today, and there was an incomplete feeling as the credits rolled. I felt cheated. The movie had some predictable and some cool moments, but I felt an uncomfortable shift in a franchise that was somewhat reliable in expectation. The feeling started when the erupting volcano forces the evacuation of Isla Nublar, but it intensified as Owen and Claire watch a Brachiosaurus reach the edge of the island. I admit I am probably a little more susceptible than the average viewer to movie moments like these, but Jesus, it was a terrible feeling. Twitter reacted like, well, like Twitter does, but to me, a rather ordinary, seemingly innocuous heart-tugger moment in a popcorn flick felt a lot heavier.

I guess it’s the way of things these days. Every moment of news or announcement carries dread, and I have had enough of the Ominous. For much of June, it felt like people couldn’t wait to extend their misery to everyone around them–like they were trying to match their unhappiness with the oppressive heat. Granted, my circles are smaller these days, work-wise, but c’mon, already. I’m naturally pessimistic, and even I tried to call a timeout mid-month. Today’s matinee put me over the edge. I don’t want any more negativity. I’ve tried to run down the reasons I could be feeling this way, but I really think a lot of it is environmental. I also don’t think it has to be. Here, then, is what I propose for the second half of this year: let’s share cool things. Let’s get back to celebrating things. Not in a social validation feedback loop, either.

I just spent three months straight transitioning out of a 12-year career, and I am barely adequate in my new industry. Old dogs, new tricks, that kind of thing. I’m not sad or unhappy that I made the switch; to the contrary–I should’ve made that move sooner. That’s what’s funny about constant transition, though…it wears one thin. There are days when I miss cooking on the Vulcan Wolf (remember this?) after a long day in the classroom than my current Where-the-Hell-am-I-now adventures, but I’m sure that’s all part of the eventuality of everything down here. Stranger in a strange land.

Maybe there’s a lot more to the dinosaur standing forlornly on the edge of what should have been paradise, consumed by fire. It’s definitely not what summers are made of, though. I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that we should be watching, and it’s definitely not the feeling I am interested in having. Honestly, I’m not just disappointed in the filmmakers for that scene. They let us down.

However, for the second half of this year, it looks like I’ll need to get back to some behavioral psychology on myself. I don’t think the masses out there are very interested in spreading happiness, so it looks like we’ll be doing it for ourselves. To that end, I’ll be sharing whatever things help get me through a rough day or give me something to think about. I don’t want to sound like it’s a bigger deal than it is–I just don’t think there’s a lot of happiness going around right now.

It’s time to play a game or two with Ashley now. Sleep well.