Getting offline – the good old-fashioned way

offline no wireless symbolI keep thinking about what life was like before the Internet. I know, it’s hard to imagine — especially as I’m writing this (and you’re reading this) online.

The Web has so completely altered how we do things, how we think about things, and what we think about, it’s very difficult to remember what it was like before.

But there was a time before the Internet. I can remember it, however faintly. And I remember how quiet my weekends used to be, when I would spend hours just reading, studying books I had, instead of surfing around online.

I feel very ambivalent about this, to be honest. I do love all the expanded access to research and interesting information that the Web makes possible. At the same time, though, it’s so full of distractions, that I’ve missed a lot of insights about much of the information out there, because something (literally) shinier has popped up in my view before I could digest what I was reading.  Online advertising has not done us a whole lot of good, in that respect. And I think that fragmented, flashy way of hijacking our attention is a seriously Bad Thing.

Especially for people like me.

Interestingly, my electronic life has taken a new turn. A few months back, I bought a new-to-me computer for an amazing prize. A new version costs over $3,000, but I got mine (used) for just a little over $300. Score! Yes, it was refurbished, and yes, there were some “dings”. But it works great. It’s fast and powerful and has a huge amount of disk space, so I’ve been able to transfer all my various files in all my various external hard drives to a single place. That, in itself, is progress, because I have a lot of files, and I need to be able to find  them without sifting through a bunch of different drives.

The only thing is, the PC doesn’t have a wireless card. And it’s on the other side of the house from my router with the wired connection. So, I can’t get online, unless I lug it downstairs and plug it in.

At first, I was pretty upset. I spend a lot of time online, and I need access for a lot of stuff I do. On the other hand, I’ve been increasingly worried about the effects that online life is having on my state of mind, as well as my body. I spend way too much time sitting in front of of social media, clicking links and entertaining myself, when I should really be doing something productive. I can’t even count all the hours I’ve lost to Facebook,  Twitter, and other social media. Even Google News tends to be a time-eater for me.

I’ve been wanting to get away from online life for some time. The thing is, I do a lot of my writing while online (especially here), researching and following leads. That puts me at risk for “squirrel!” syndrome — where I can easily be pulled in by the shiny-flashy lure of some clickbait headline or link. It doesn’t take much, at times, to pull me off-course, and that’s been happening, now, for years.

So much so that many things I’ve intended to do have fallen by the wayside. Because I just got distracted.

That’s about to change. Because my new computer isn’t connected to the internet. Not only am I protected from the prying eyes of people who may mean me harm online, but I’m also shielded from the constant distractions of online life. I’ve been needing to make this change — revert back to my old ways of writing, when it was just me, my ideas, and a keyboard (and yes, I used to use a typewriter, back in the day). Clear out the clutter — the uninvited intrusions that suck away my most precious possession : time, as though they’re entitled to it.

Screw all that. Screw them. They’re not invited. I want my space back, I want my thoughts back. I’ll still be able to write things like this without being online. I’ll still be able to draft these posts and the transfer them to another computer that is connected. I just won’t be constantly distracted by other stuff that has no place in my life and shouldn’t even come anywhere near me.

As much as I love the web and all the connections it gives me, there’s a time to say “enough is enough”.

I’m saying that now and doing the right thing. It was an accident… completely unintentional. But my unconnected computer is totally for the best.

Totally.

Onward.

Lighting a candle of my own, while the world seems to burn around me

hand holding lit match, lighting a small candle
We can’t do everything, but we can do some thing

I’m focusing on just being really kind to other people.

… Carving out my own little space of heaven on earth, where others can be treated with dignity and respect and offered what they need most – connection with a living, breathing person who sees their worth and humanity.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that a lot of people just want to connect, just want to talk, just want to be treated like a real human being.

And that’s what I’m going for these days.

In the supermarket… sharing a moment with someone trying to figure out which package of chicken to buy… in the elevator, just chatting with someone who wants to be acknowledged… at work, where everyone is worried and uncertain… at home, where my spouse wants to just hang out and spend some time together.

It takes time to connect with other people. It takes energy. And at the end of a long day, I don’t always have the strength to do as much as I would like, or to do it as well as I’d like.

I could have stopped a little longer to talk to the woman in the supermarket. I could have said something more intelligent to the veteran who was sharing the elevator ride to the 2nd floor. At work, I could go out of my way to be a little more friendly to people. At home, I could spend more time just hanging out with my spouse, talking about things we both care about.

I can think of many things I would like to do better. And each time I make the effort, I learn a little bit more.

I’m not perfect. But I can do something.

And so I shall.

Onward. Together.

Only the connected survive

board-connectionOn my morning exercise bike ride, I came across a great blog post about rising suicide rates in America and the treatment gaps that may contribute to the sudden rise – http://1boringoldman.com/index.php/2016/04/25/whats-missing-2/. There were some great points made.

There’s a second post following that about how our official approach to mental health problems — develop drug therapies — correlates with less focus on actual treatment beyond a pill. Both of them are good food for thought.

The thing that strikes me is that I’m not surprised.  I have been suicidal a number of times in the course of my life — although I never acted on it. And I know very well the feeling that it’s pointless to go on, because there’s nothing I could ever do to change my circumstances, and nobody really cares, anyway. Personally, I think that if I’d grown up with a mobile device, I probably would have put an end to my suffering many years ago, because even if your device does make you feel connected, it’s doing the exact opposite.

“The one thing we know for sure is that interpersonal isolation is a part of suicidality,” says the author of the blog, and that sounds about right to me. Feeling cut off from your world, unconnected, alienated, adrift, with no direction, no anchor, nothing to give you a sense of where you are in the world… what’s the point of going on? What indeed?

And with traumatic brain injury, that can be a real problem. Because we can lose our sense of our Selves. We can lose all connection with ourselves and who we are. To me, loss of a Sense-Of-Self is a major contributor to suicide risk. Because you’re not just losing your sense of connection to others. You’re losing your sense of connection to yourself. If you can’t feel yourself, how can you feel connected to anyone else?

It’s a problem.

But I didn’t actually start thinking about this post, in terms of suicide. Rather, I was thinking about my work situation, and how isolated I felt myself become in the years after my TBI in 2004. I’ve been thinking a lot about why — after 25+ years in high tech — I feel like an outsider and an amateur at times. It makes no sense. I have a ton of deep experience, and I have the kind of expertise and insights that you can only get from doing what I do for two and a half decades — and longer.

So, why do I have such a skewed vision of myself and my place in my chosen industry?

I believe it’s because of my lack of connection with the larger community. Fatigue is a major challenge for me, as is extreme sensitivity in groups and crowds where a lot of people are talking, and conversations shift and change with the winds. There are a number of tech meetups in a nearby city, but I haven’t got the energy or the inclination to go out and meet people. There was a professional conference just a few weeks ago that I had signed up for, but I was too tired to go.

So, I missed a chance to connect with others and widen my professional circle.

And that’s a real problem. To stay current and “relevant” — as well as find out about decent jobs — I need to get out there, mix and mingle, and get seen.  Talk to people. Connect with my community, my tribe. I’ve been far too isolated for the past 10+ years, and I need to do something about that.

Of course, I’ve been getting myself back on the good foot, and I’ve needed to heal. But now seems like an excellent time to start branching out again, to see what more I can make of my life and my career. That includes branching out in my current job, even though it may not actually be around for much longer. I just need to do more connecting with others. Because like life in general, the more connected you are, the better your chances of survival.

So… onward.

Well, hello…

followersYou know, I really do try to keep up with everyone who follows this blog. I’ve got 678 followers right now. That’s not astronomical, and compared to some who have thousands of followers, it’s a pittance, but it’s something. And I appreciate each person who follows me. I truly do.

So, thank you.

I periodically check my list of followers to make sure I have followed everyone who has followed me. I like to keep in touch with what others are writing and thinking about. I read people’s blogs while I’m riding the exercise bike in the mornings — it’s a good way to wake up to the day.

Plus, it’s just good practice to return the favor of someone following you… provided, of course, they’re not dangerous and/or promoting ideas and behavior that cause indiscriminate hate, harm, pain, and suffering to people who are simply different from them.

Granted, 600+ blogs is a lot to follow, but it really gives me a nice range of writing and thinking to choose from. So, if you’re one of the bloggers who follows me/is followed by me, thank you for widening my world.

Anyway, I thought I was keeping up with all my follows ‘n’ such.

But looking back at my WordPress list… as it turns out, probably about 10% of my followers are not marked as being followed by me. And a lot of them are from years ago… How did they fall through the cracks?

Really strange.

I was so sure I was keeping up. I clicked the buttons. I paged through the listings. But still, there were a lot of folks I had not followed. How did that happen?

Ha – story of my life. I have a tendency to be sooooo sure that I have everything covered, only to discover surprise!! that I really don’t. Just another reminder that I need to check my results more than once, to make sure I’ve done/said/supposed the right thing. That certainty that I feel about being right… well, it often steers me wrong. So, I have to stay honest and humble about these things and do the extra legwork to follow up.

Argh!
Argh!

Which really frustrates me, to tell the truth. I mean well, and I want to do well, but my brain seems to conspire against me. And I have to back-track to figure things out… which is also frustrating because my memory sometimes fails me, and I’m working with less information than I would like.

It’s a little like carrying water in a woven basket. So often I get to my destination without all my ducks in a row, so I have to go back to the well and fill up again, but I still keep losing the pieces of the puzzle.

Ah, well. A day in the life.

The main thing is to keep focused on what is most important — how my life is going, how I’m feeling about it, how much energy I have for the good things.

Good things like the birds at my birdfeeder, who are so, so happy that I filled it up with fresh seed. I have been remiss for the past several months. I even bought a bag of seed, and it sat in my kitchen for 2 weeks, before I got around to filling the feeder. Now it’s full. At least, it was early this morning. The birds have been so busy at it, I probably need to top it off later today.

And get more seed, the next time I go shopping.

Poor birds. I got so caught up in my own drama, my own concerns about work and life and my health, that I lost sight of the things that put a positive spin on things — helping those in need… like the hungry birds in my back yard.

When we get out of ourselves and put aside our preoccupation with the pain and frustration of our limitations, we begin to truly live. We all have our limitations, we all have our wounds and our hurts. It’s what we do with them and the knowledge they grant us, that makes it all worth it.

And with that, I wish you a good day.

I look forward to reading even more of the blogs I’m now connected with.

Wow. Blast from the past…

I remember…

A week or so ago, I got a message from someone I have not seen in nearly 30 years. The last time I saw them, we were like siblings – so close, almost like lovers (except that we were each romantically involved with others in our small circle of friends). We were each others’ protectors and confidantes, through all the relationship drama that happens when you’re 22 years old.

I haven’t had that kind of a friendship with anyone, since – even my spouse.

That was back when I was drinking myself silly, most days. I was also still struggling with the after-effects of at least 5 mild TBIs, during my high school years. Plus, I was a falling-down drunk, so I may have hit my head during one of my forays, too.

Long story short, we parted ways under very bad circumstances. I was an ass.  And I split without an explanation. Just picked up and left and never responded to the letters they sent.

I was so lost, so confused, so messed-up and furious with the world. And when I started to get clearer and cleaned up my act, I tried looking for them online. But I found nothing, other than a single picture of them at a holiday party with an organization they worked for.

Then nothing. I searched again, but the picture was taken down. I can find pretty much anyone or anything online, so the fact that they were nowhere to be found made me think they were dead. It was crushing. I had wrecked things so badly with us, because of so much I had not figured out… and I believed I’d lost my chance to apologize and make amends.

Fast forward a few years. Doing a search, I found them again – just a single mention of their name at an organization where they worked, in the town where they had lived when I’d known them. No picture, no telephone, but I knew it was them.  I toyed with the idea of getting back in touch, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it as well as I wanted.

Fast forward a few more years, and another search shows them at a different organization in their town. Again, no telephone number or email. Again, I couldn’t figure out what to do.

So, I gave up. And I downloaded one of the songs we used to sing along to, back in the day. I listened to it, now and then, while driving around.

Then I stopped. That was over. It was done. Let it go.

Fast forward again… to last month. All of a sudden, a message from them shows up. They reached out to me. They found me. And they wanted to make contact.

It was something I thought would never, ever happen. But there it was.There they were.

I wrote a note back, and then wrote another. They responded. Then I wrote an extended apology and explanation for why I disappeared. I left out the TBI stuff. Why blame that? I was just an ass, is all. And young.

I haven’t heard back from them. It was a very honest, heartfelt note, and I can imagine they have some catching up to do with their own perspective. We’d had one one of those epic friendships, like soldiers do. Or castaways on a desert island, building a raft together, to head for the open sea and look for more help.

It’s been an emotional bunch of days. I’ve gone through over 25 years worth of upheaval, since last week, but now things are calming down, and it feels good. Like I’ve finally put that one missing piece of the puzzle in place. I don’t know if they’ll ever get back to me again, but the fact is, I finally finally got the chance to say, “I’m sorry. I did wrong.”

And that’s all I’ve really ever wanted.

Last day at the old job went well.

I had a really good last day – last couple of days, in fact.

I finished strong, only spacing out on a couple of meetings yesterday. I did just about everything that I intended to do – with the exception of pulling out every single strand of my knowledge and putting it into coherent documentation. That proved much harder to do, than I originally expected. Translating a lot of non-verbal knowledge into verbal streams that make sense to others, is no small feat.

So, I didn’t kill myself over it.

I spent far more time on just making sure that I left all my bridges intact, that I said good-bye to the people whose company I have really enjoyed, and whose help has really benefited me. It was odd, how many of the supervisors of other groups — who had plenty of interaction with me — didn’t even acknowledge that I was leaving or stop by to say good-bye… crickets, from that level of things. I did manage to connect with a lot of folks along the way, but I was also incredibly busy, and I didn’t get out of the building, at last, until after 6:00 p.m.  Folks told me to leave early, but I wasn’t done yet.

So, I left on a strong note. And I cleaned up my cubicle before I split. None of that nasty crap that people leave when they remove the pictures, unhook the computer, etc. Just a clean space left behind.

The main thing that I wanted to leave behind, was sufficient information and training to get people in a space where they can continue to succeed — and do even better than before. I also wanted to leave on a good note, which I did. I am very, very uncomfortable with good-byes (even though I’ve done so many of them, in my ~30-year professional career). And the fact that it was hard to say good-bye this time, too, says a lot about the connections I’ve built with people.

This time has been very different from other changes, where I am leaving to pursue something better, rather than only fleeing something worse. I’ve been a “professional refugee” for so many years, just going from one job to the next, in search of something better. The thing with my last job is that it is better in some ways than the one prior, but it was far inferior in others. And I realize now that, had I taken a different approach, I probably could have stayed at that other company indefinitely and really risen in the ranks.

Still, there were so many tough things about it — especially the commute — that I’m not sure it would ever work for me. However, if I ever want to go back (which I’m now thinking I may, someday), I know a few ways I can make things easier on myself.

But that’s all water under the bridge. I’m getting ready to move on to the next role, and quite frankly, I have so much opportunity to make this new job into something fantastic. They are giving me carte blanche  to kick it into high gear, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. In fact, the great things about my job-before-last, I can try to incorporate into this new job. And do it on my terms.

I can also incorporate the positive pieces of the job I just left, to make this new position what I want it to be. There were so many good lessons that came from the past year, and what I am finally learning is how to make the most of the good AND bad, while not letting shortcomings get in my way.

And on that note, it’s time to look forward. I’m planning on spending most of the day outside – starting with a long walk in the woods.

Time to enjoy being unemployed for the next 48 hours.

Onward.

Doing to be

I got home late last night. “Late” being nearly 10 p.m. on a work night. Greeted like a returning hero of sorts.

I was back.

I did it.

Part of me thinks this shouldn’t be such a big deal, and a week-long business trip to an industry conference shouldn’t elicit praise and celebration. But part of me also knows that I did good work on this trip, I made good connections, and I made a positive difference in the world, in however small a way.

I was courteous to my colleagues in the convention center. I was kind to the poor on the streets. I was considerate of the hospitality staff, wherever I went. And I actually convinced professional peers who have been afraid of the folks in my department, that we are here to help, and their opinion matters.

I met with wary almost-strangers, and parted ways with new friends.

Actually, come to think of it, I think this should elicit praise and celebration.

Gandhi and Mother Teresa might have done more. Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day probably would have done more. But for where I was, and what I did, I did alright.

Best of all, I did no harm. Which is a far sight more than many people do. And I looked people in the eye when they talked to me. Unless, of course, they were culturally uncomfortable with that. In that case, I looked away. Didn’t intrude. Either way, it was fine.

Thinking back, I will say that I had some very dark hours, on that trip. There I was, 2000 miles from home, sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed, off my daily routine, surrounded by people who all seemed to know each other, some of whom couldn’t be bothered to give me the time of day and actually ditched me several times. Assholes. And they sit right across the hall from me at work.

What the hell was I doing there? I asked myself more than once, at the end of long days, when the fatigue caught up with me and I couldn’t muster enough mojo to feel much of anything about anything other than dread and depression. Start of the day –> mucho moxie. End of the day –> zip, nada, zilch. It’s a rough, rough ride, going from way-way up to way-way down in the space of 18 hours, with your joints aching and screaming, your lower back in knots, your neck and shoulders a mass of tender ropes, your head pounding non-stop… And doing it four nights running.

So, I did the only thing I could — I went out for long walks after convention hours, then went back to my room and drew a hot bath and soaked till the pain was eased, and I could sleep.

In those minutes, as I was debating whether to numb my pain with Advil or get my mind off it with a walk… fighting off that gut-wrenching loneliness that comes from talking to your Beloved (or a good friend) and hearing their voice and knowing they are a looooong plane ride away, and as good as their voice sounds, it’s nothing like having them There Beside You… god, that hurts.

But then the thought came to me that this was a valuable experience to have. For as painful and as awkward as things were for me, I was probably not alone. I was at a conference filled with thousands of people who were also far from home, and many of them may have felt exactly the same way — all by their lonesome in a strange place, without the ones they loved nearby. And there were the ones from other countries and other cultures, speaking a different language and eating different foods and interacting in ways other than what they were used to… for them it must have been even harder.

And so I used it. I used that feeling, that pain, that anguish. I “sat in it” as my therapist friends like to describe it. I marinated in it. I didn’t turn on the television, I didn’t listen to my iPod. I just sat with it and felt it and knew it was real… and knew that there were countless other people in the world around me who were feeling very much like me, right at that same moment.

And I took that feeling, that sense, that experience, and I did something with it. I carried it with me, as I went out into the world, attending sessions at this conference, meeting people and talking with them — both officially and just by-the-by. I took that sense of loneliness, that isolation, and I acted as though each person I ran into felt exactly that same way. And when I caught their eye – or they caught mine – my suspicions were confirmed. And they appreciated the smile. Or the handshake. Or the nod.

See, here’s the thing for me… I’ve got my issues. Who doesn’t? But when I take those issues, those pains, those sorrows, and I do something with them, they completely transform my experience. They turn me from a lonely heart looking for love in all the wrong places, to a human being offering other lonely hearts the kind of compassion and human connection you can’t often get in this techno-virtual world, where the most contact some people have with the rest of the world comes from a few hours spent on Facebook.

And as I simply went through the motions of being courteous and kind and considerate to everyone I met, doing the same sorts of things over and over — holding a door open, nodding hello, smiling and giving someone’s hand a firm shake — I felt like I was coming back to myself. Instead of staying lost in the malaise of my own isolation, when I put the focus on someone and something other than my own insecurity and loneliness, I found the isolation lifting, dissipating, fading to the background. It was always there, but it almost didn’t matter — except for the fact that it made me more aware of the isolation that others were probably feeling, every bit as much as myself.

And in that doing, I became something other than what I was in the silence of my hotel room. In that doing, I found a sort of redemption — not only for me, but for those others, as well. Perhaps even for the others whom those others encountered later on each day. Doing my part to not let my insecurity and self-consciousness get the better of me, turned me into a ‘pebble ambassador’ of sorts — toss me in the human pond and see what happens to the ripples.

The more I did it, the better I felt. And by the time I left, the anxiety and fear and self-conscious insecurity and loneliness had all but gone away. They were always there in the background, sure, but it almost didn’t matter… except to remind me how the rest of the world just might have been feeling — and perhaps even moreso than me.

 

I’m fading, now. Fading fast. Time to sleep. I’ve earned it.