Injuries and Ailments

Injuries and ailments can rob an individual of some part of their life.  This is true for physical and emotional and spiritual ailments and injuries.  A broken leg or a broken heart or a broken relationship, each of these are an injury or an ailment.  Each of these, and others, steal some portion of our lives and leave us left with less for ourselves.

Injuries sap our energy.  When a person has a physical ailment of some type or an injury or is recovering from surgery, the body’s healing of itself takes some energy.  The body triggers a fatigue response when muscles or bones are on the mend.  This leaves less energy for you.  A broken spirit can leave you just as fatigued.

These things also steal your attention, consume your waking hours and even haunt your dreams.  In the extreme, the entire focus of your life is directed toward not yourself but your ailment.  The longer this diversion persists, the more of your life that slips away, irretrievably, until “it” becomes your life, whatever “it” is.

Don’t let your injuries, your ailments, define you. Heal, move on, and live.

2020

Mr. Zimmerman, one of my high school English teachers, presented our class with his paradigm for life at the beginning of the school year, as, I am sure, he did for each year’s class before us. I imagine he continued this tradition for each year’s class after us until he became Harry S. Truman High School’s principal. Despite it being one of the cheesier life plans one will ever encounter, I remember it fondly.

He first drew on the chalkboard (yes, we used chalkboards back then) a circle and then drew three lines through the circle, dividing that circle into six equal sections. In the top three sections he wrote the letters “P”, “I”, and “E” and he filled in the bottom three with “S”, “M”, and “C”, like this:

Mr. Zimmerman went on to explain the meaning of this diagram of his, maintaining that each slice of the “pie” represented a different aspect of our lives and that the slices ought to be all about the same size and that we ought to devote equal attention to each slice.

So, in memory of Mr. Zimmerman, here is what I plan for my slices in 2020:

Physical – Mr. Zimmerman was not really big on the physical fitness aspect of life. He was, after all, a high school English teacher. He did, though, recognize the importance of being physically active and physically engaged. I have a number of physical goals for this coming year. I want to continue running and aim to compete in a half marathon, at least. I also plan to run 700 miles over the course of the year, quite an increase over what I ran in 2019. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Intellectual – The need to stay focused and not wander randomly is my main intellectual challenge. For 2020, I will keep my reading centered largely on classics which I have heretofore neglected. I will start with Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. To those I will add just a few current novels and finish Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and read Plutarch’s Lives. This past year I read Republic and a few other works by Plato. I would like to follow that up in 2020 with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, if I can find a translation that makes sense to me.

Emotional – I am a fairly even person emotionally, not out of control on the upside nor the downside. So, for 2020, I guess it will be steady as as (s)he goes. Or, perhaps, what would do me some good would be more emotional involvement in the world around me and, with it, more emotional maturity. Maybe I need to open myself up to experiencing life’s highs and lows more. Laugh more, cry more. More weddings and funerals in 2020?

Social – While I am not a very social person, I am not anti-social, either. I guess you could call me “asocial” if you want to call me anything. As I become more emotionally involved with the world around me, I expect that I will shorten the social distance between myself and others. I know I should want to be more social, but, in reality, I am happy as I am now.

Moral – The more I look at myself, the more I see the need for a more moral me. Morals, after all, are the animating force behind a person’s actions, or at least should be. A more moral me would be a more outraged me and a more compassionate me and a more socially engaged me and a more emotionally charged and mature me. It will begin with a more moral me.

Cultural – I feel that the cultural part of me is the part that presents one of the biggest opportunities for growth. After 2019 slipped by without me being all that culturally active, I have decided to be much more culturally active this coming year than last. Reading plays is one thing, but there is nothing like seeing them performed. I will be taking in a modern re-telling of Richard III, the play Teenage Dick by Mike Lew, which will be at Washington DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theater in June. That should be a nice wrap-up to reading the bard’s plays. I also have a number of other live performances planned. Additionally, I will be expanding upon the limited amount of Italian I learned in 2019 before visiting Rome and Cinque Terre. I am committed to more travel abroad in the future, but for now that is a hope, not a plan.

I am quite sure I have not done justice to Mr. Zimmerman’s “pie” but at least I have a start.

Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman.

Immortality

Read the photo essay (if you can call looking at photographs “reading” them) from Issue 148 of Granta, the Summer Fiction issue, along with the accompanying commentary. The photo essay was on H+, transhumanism, by the multi-talented Matthieu Gafsou. Each photo dealt, in some way, with mechanical and electronic and software augmentation and supplementation of humans. The pictures were mostly stark, cold, clinical. This starkness enhanced the effect of the technology and dampened most real human elements in the shots. In one photo, a rat looks more human than the human technician, who appears to be more of a component of the technology than a person.

Of course, the visuals, along with Daisy Hildyard’s commentary, got me thinking. The aim of transhumanists, generally, is immortality, to live forever. To me, this seems like a totally worthless, empty goal.

First, consider the practicalities of immortality. If you can make the body and the mind durable enough to last forever, you had better not be the only one to do so. To be the sole immortal would be to isolate you from the rest of humanity in unimaginable ways. Unimaginable in that no one would understand you and you would understand no one because neither you nor the rest of humanity could imagine what it is like to be the other.

The opposite situation, where everyone is immortal, would be scarcely better. The person you most detest would be around, forever. There would be no escape. The same would be true for other fates: they would last forever.

Then, of course, there is the absurd conclusion to a life that never ends, outliving the earth itself. (I know, I know, we’ll inhabit other worlds.)

A more subtle problem also arises. Anyone with a moderate understanding of mathematics knows quite well what an inverse relationship is. The relevance of this is that the worth we attach to things, how much we value them, what they really mean to us, is inversely related to how often they occur and how long they last. What if you were to only hear your favorite song one more time in your life? Wouldn’t you listen to it more intensely than ever? And wouldn’t it be memorable? Conversely, if you were going to hear that same song an infinite number of times, the joy of each listening would shrink to zero, and, no matter how many zeros you add end to end, you still have zero. Your very most favorite song would become worthless.

Same for your best friend. In fact, you would have no friends because you would attach zero worth to any time you spent with any of them because, after all, that time you eventually spend with them over the course of eternity would be infinite and the inverse of infinite is: zero.

The only escape from this infinite morass of absurd meaninglessness would be, of course, death. The irony there is that, after spending all one’s energy and time and resources on living forever and, ultimately, missing out on really living at all, one would throw in the towel.

I’m in no rush, but when it’s time for me to go, I’ll just go.

The Fiction of Software

I write software for a living. Throughout a diverse succession of software projects, I have programmed in dozens of different languages on an array of computing platforms. Outside of my work life, I read books, a variety of books, including novels, classics, history, technical and scientific works, biography, philosophy. I also read software, which is not as crazy as it might sound. Sometimes there is some helpful information contained in software that I use and, occasionally, in software that I have written. Most software, of course, does not make for as interesting of reading as does most books. On the other hand, some software is highly entertaining.

Over the years (decades, actually) something has gradually worked its way into my consciousness. I have become aware that software and fiction share many similarities. In fact, in several respects, a short story might resemble a short program more than it might resemble another work of fiction.

The first way in which software resembles fiction is setting. A story has to have some context, some setting. That setting might involve place. It might also have a time aspect to it, when the story occurs. Language might also be a part of the setting. So, too, for software. Software also happens (or executes in the parlance of the computing world) in a setting, a setting both of circumstance and of time. It, too, is written in a language, a language often (but not always) suited to the circumstance and time of its execution. Different programming languages have different nuances which suit them to different types of programming. Regardless of the language or nuance, though, each program occupies some problem space, some domain, and that domain plays a huge role in what happens in the program.

Fiction also has characters. Some of the most memorable fiction has the most memorable characters. Think of some of your favorites. Software is full of characters, too. Those characters are called different things in different programming paradigms, but they are there and each one has, well, it has character. Sometimes these characters are called variables or objects or entities or whatever, but they all have some presence. They all have a role and they all behave in certain ways, although sometimes those ways are obscure and mysterious. Each one is there for some specific purpose, if it is well written software. Sometimes, though, in some not so well written software, just as in some not so well written fiction, there are some useless supernumeraries, extras, entities that tend to obscure rather than clarify the story at hand.

Of course, what would a story be without a plot, a sequence of events that transpire. Ditto for software. Software that does nothing is not really software.

Finally, setting, characters, and plot are all directed toward a purpose, both in fiction and in software. After all, a story must have a point of some sort and not just meander about aimlessly, although some fiction seems to do just that. At the bottom of it all, the function of software and of fiction is resolution of some problem or some conflict, something that needs to be set right. What might be needed is to deliver a message nearly instantaneously or it might be the hero in a novel making sense of her life, whatever. Both have to move a narrative toward a resolution. That’s what software and fiction do.

8618 Addendum

Years ago, when I was much younger, in high school and before that, my mom had this bothersome desire to frequently rearrange the plants in our yard.  Not just bulbs and mums and small manageable plants, but bushes, hedges, and even trees.  Big ones, sometimes.  Of course, fulfillment of these wishes fell on my shoulders.  Literally.

This penchant for moving plants of all sizes continued even after I went off to college and our yard had become her yard (somehow Dad escaped having to participate in all of this and I never found out how he managed that.)  Over time, her plant movings became more ambitious.  On one trip home from college I was handed a shovel and directed to a twenty foot tall pine tree in the back yard that “would look better in front of the house.”

After Mom passed away back in January, I thought that my days of moving Mom’s plants were over.

Silly me.

Before she left us, long before she left us, about fifteen years ago, when Mary, the kids, Rusty, and I lived at 8618, Mom gave us a rose bush which we planted near a front corner of the house.  The bush flourished, to say the least, and, despite trimming by us and the new owners of 8618 after we moved, the outer edge of that rose bush pushed out pretty wide and quite high.  It had become a huge, flowering presence.

That changed, as I witnessed on my walk with Ryan last week, when we saw all the plants trimmed down to almost the ground.  A brief chat with one of the workers on the site informed me that the plants were to be removed completely in short order.  I related the history of the rose bush to him, and without me even needing to ask, he offered to save the rose bush for me.  He warned me, though, that, although he would set the bush aside with his backhoe, it would likely not remain there very long and that the day I saw it, I should take it while I could.

I agreed, happily, and a few days later, as I drove home a bit late from work, I saw the uprooted rose bush and its ball of dirt.

Later that same night, I returned to 8618 and grabbed the plant and its root ball to bring to our house.  I was glad to see that the light rain that day had kept the whole thing damp.    I held it firmly by the base and lifted.

It did not budge.  Not one bit.  I suddenly realized that it outweighed me by a considerable amount.

“She got me, again,” was all I could think.

I eventually knocked enough dirt off the roots so that I could wrestle the rest into the wheelbarrow I had brought with me and which, on the way home seemed to creak as if this would be its last trip.  The bush stub and root ball still weighed about as much as me but somehow I was able to hoist it into the wheelbarrow and deposit it in our current back yard, which will be its final home, I can assure you.

Addendum Postscript: Happened to meet the new owner of 8618, the wife in the wife and husband couple who bought the house from the people who bought the house from us. She said that they bought the house to rebuild and sell and that they would likely not keep any of what was there.

Oh, well.  Time to move on.

Occasion at 8618

I had occasion today to stop by our old house at 8618, which we moved out of just over ten years ago. The occasion for stopping there was that I was out walking our golden retriever, Ryan, which I do every day, and, in fact, I pretty much walk by our old house every day, since we only moved across the street and just a few houses up the road. This occasion was different, though. While much of the inside of the house had already been surreptitiously gutted in the past week, this morning empty eye sockets stared out mournfully where only yesterday windows had remained. The azaleas and rose bush were cut off just above the ground, as were all the daffodils and whatever else had pushed up in this nascent spring. The shorn plants and the lonely sight of all those windowless gaps pulled me in for a closer inspection. Ryan followed patiently.

I would have expected the sight of the recently gutted interior of 8618 exposed in that way to have upset me but, strangely, it did not. Sadness did not prevail but instead curiosity took hold of me. I peeked inside, admiring the brick-and-block sturdiness and all the other hidden details, suddenly revealed, which made the house so rock solid. As I peered inside, I noticed that care had been taken to ensure that whatever was not to be removed was left intact and undamaged. The house is not to be torn down but redone on the inside and, perhaps, added to, as well. I felt an unanticipated sense of comfort with the less-than demolition of the house. It was not to be discarded but reborn. The fact that I was comfortable with the change made me smile.

Shorn, Forlorn, About to be Reborn

Contrast that with the fact that, just three houses further down the road is the first house we occupied in this neighborhood, or, I should say was the first house we occupied in this neighborhood. 8612 was torn down to make way for a new, much larger house of far less character. That exchange of houses upset me as it seemed to be nothing more than an attempt to fill as much width and depth and height as the local zoning ordinances would allow. Square footage replaced a warm, welcoming home. Seeing 8612 discarded saddened me.

Now, I associate wonderful memories with each of those two homes. The first we lived in, 8612, was where we lived when Marie was born and where Liam watched through the front door as epically lousy basketball games were played for hours on end in the park across the street. The house even had a name, “The Blue House,” even though the only blue part of the house was the door.

More of Our Old House

8618 held a very special place in the hearts of the whole family. It was the home where we brought Rusty, our first golden retriever, a rescue, from a shelter down in Virginia. Over time, Rusty became so attached to 8618 that after we moved up the street he would try to sneak out of our new house and run away to go back home. It was also the place where Mary and the kids watched out the bedroom window as Dad donned a hooded sweatshirt and a Darth Vader mask to do battle with a nest of hornets and the place where youngsters awoke before dawn on Christmas morning.

Even More of Our Old House

And so it is sometimes with memories that they outlive the places where they happened. 8612 is gone and 8618 is about to have a fresh new life but both of them will live on in our memories.

Despite the fondness of the memories, though, it is tomorrow that really matters, our next step is more important and more interesting than the step before it.

Ryan and I had a walk to finish and that’s just what we did.