When I was in college, my mom had a baby. This new child, my youngest brother, was almost 22 years younger than me. It was a very exciting event in our lives, and I thought it was cool to come home from school and hold this little guy in my arms, thinking about what it would be like when I would one day have my own children. I’d walk him, sing him to sleep, play with him – all the things I knew I’d do one day when I became a father.
One evening, I was watching TV while I was holding him so my mother could make dinner. He got increasingly fussy, and I got increasingly annoyed. I wanted to watch my show, and he was getting in the way of that. This was before the days of DVR, so there was no pause button, no ability to record and watch it later. I wanted to go dump him off on mom and get back to The Simpsons, but on some level, I knew that was a pretty silly thing to do. I should just figure out what he needed and take care of it, my own wants be damned. I was faced with a choice between the needs of this helpless little child and my own desire to be entertained, and I was actually struggling with that choice. I don’t like to be inconvenienced, and that’s that.
And that’s when it struck me: selfishness really gets in the way of the important things in life.
Lesson learned? Not a chance. Sure, that thought stuck with me. I think I even chose my brother over the show that night (what a hero, right?). But selfishness remained a feature of my life for however many years its been since that day.
Fast forward to today. I have a wife and five kids. I’ve had to learn to give up lots of shows, lots of sleep, and lots of lousy days at work, and lots of other things to take care of my family. In some ways, I’ve learned to be a lot more generous than I was when I was younger. For example, I used to be pretty stingy. Now, I have no problem writing a check, or providing food to be given to the hungry. Yesterday, my wife and kids dropped off 15 meals at Catholic Charities to help the needy. I’m happy to know that my money is going to good causes. Just so long as I don’t actually have to do anything about it myself.
I remember how once, in high school, I helped the Missionaries of Charity do a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. It was a moving experience. One I never did again. I can think of several examples of charitable activities I’ve dabbled in, only to let them go because I just didn’t feel like doing them. I had to get up early, or give up a Saturday, or spend my coveted free time working on something other than what I wanted to do.
You see what I’m saying? I’m awful at this stuff. In the reigning trio of social justice buzzwords – time, talent and treasure – treasure is the only one I’m willing to part with. And that only in reasonable quantities.
But I’ve been thinking lately about all of this. I’m at a point in my life where things have reached a certain stasis, and every waking thought isn’t occupied with getting a roof over our heads or a steady job or better relationship with my wife and kids, or all the myriad things I’ve worried about day and night for the past decade. Sure, I’m still working on improving all of those things, but in a very real sense, I’ve come up for air and realized that life goes on without me and my concerns. The world isn’t the big, bad, scary place that I thought was keeping me down. It’s a place that’s certainly full of big and bad and scary things, but it’s also full of opportunity. For success, for financial gain, for happiness, for joy, and for acts of charity.
Another experience sticks in my mind from college. During my semester abroad, I traveled a good bit in former Soviet Bloc countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. I’ll never forget arriving at the train station in Krakow and seeing a young man with no arms sitting in a blue t-shirt, a withered paper cup between his stumps, begging for coins. I looked at him and I just knew with certainty that he wasn’t born this way. He lost those arms in an accident, probably working (at a far too young age) with some kind of machinery. And there was nothing to be done about it. His life went from promising to painful, just like that. And I saw this repeated again and again – the poverty, the squalor, the lack of shelter in the bitter cold of these countries where my ancestors worked and lived. The images are burned in my memory. I made a commitment to myself at that time that some day, when I was successful enough, I’d go back and find a way to help those people.
That was over a decade ago. I don’t know if there’s a charity there that helps these people, but I’ve remembered the commitment I made, and I want to find it. Or something like it. In a way, it’s not even as much about the people I could help as it is about me. Maybe that’s just another form of selfishness, but I don’t see how I can ever really become a better man than I am today unless I go outside of myself, out of my own head and my own problems and do for others. I hope that even if I start a journey toward charity for the wrong reasons, it will be transformative enough that I’ll begin doing it for the right ones.
I’ve had the benefit of being surrounded by family and friends who would drop anything to help me, or even perfect strangers. My wife is that kind of person. My grandfather was that kind of person.
I want to be that kind of person too. And I’ll never get there unless I learn to not just accept, but embrace inconvenience.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that writing in my own voice is important. But I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been talking, and frankly, I write a lot better than I speak. Chalk it up to ADD, lack of confidence, or daydreaming, but my speech meanders even more than my posts.
Even so, I think there’s a need to achieve synthesis. (And yes, I would actually say a sentence like that out loud.)
One of the things I’ve noticed recently is how much more serious my writing is than my speaking. People who know me personally know that I’m passionate – opinionated, sometimes angry, and often funny. I make a lot of jokes. I also swear a lot. More than I should.
It could be related to the fact that I’ve written for Catholic or politically conservative audiences for so long, but I tend to clean up my speech a good bit when I type it out. Gone are the damned swear words, the wit, the excessively controversial or risqué statements. I very rarely type out the words, “That’s what SHE said!” And I never make jokes about enemas.
Perhaps this is aspirational. I want to be a smarter, more mature guy than I am in real life. Maybe it’s stylistic – we all learn to write with a good bit more formality than we speak, and if we read a lot, this style is picked up through imitation. Either way, I think that my real self and my written persona need to talk about a merger. I think the real me could do with an image upgrade, and the written me could stand to loosen up a bit. I need to stop writing for what I think my audiences expect, and write what I want to talk about with all the enthusiasm I’m capable of. Then, I think it’s safe to assume, whatever I’m saying will come out better.
And brevity ain’t so bad either.
Have you ever watched shows like This Old House or Survivorman or MacGyver and wondered how people learn the skills that essentially allow them to fabricate pure awesomeness using nothing but their bare hands?
I am proficient at the creative arts. I can write, photograph, draw, whip up a graphic design, cook, etc. But somehow that doesn’t translate to manual dexterity. I am not – I repeat, AM NOT – a handy guy. The rule in our house is that when something starts to break, I’m not allowed to touch it, or I’ll break it worse. Granted, I’ve enjoyed a few small victories. I installed a dishwasher and two ceiling fans in the house we lived in 7 years ago, but I also moved away shortly after that, so who knows if it’s still standing? Jamie, on the other hand, is a whiz with her hands. She can make, fix, bake, braid, bend, twist, glue, mix – you name it. And it just about always comes out well.
But just because I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to MacGyvering, doesn’t mean team Skojec can’t come in for the win. Especially when it saves money. And lately, we’ve found a few tricks for doing just that. Most notably, we’ve begun making our own laundry detergent and deodorant. And it’s cheaper and works better. I mean, a lot cheaper and a lot better. The detergent gets out just about any stain you could ask for, and costs less than a buck for about 10 gallons. The deodorant is unscented (though you could add scent if you wanted to) and works longer than my Speed Stick Ocean Scent. I’d guess it costs us less than a quarter to make a stick, but I’m not sure. The most expensive ingredient in the deodorant is the cosmetic-grade coconut oil, and we got a five gallon bucket of that for nothing from someone on Freecycle.
Now, compare that to buying Tide, even at Costco, or a two pack of my Speed Stick. Tide in the family size is roughly $20 at the best price you can find. We go through 1-2 of those a month with five kids. And Speed Stick is a cheap deodorant, but it still goes for about $4 a two pack, and lasts maybe a month or two for just me. There are two other people in the household using deodorant, though, and we can make enough for all three of us for less than a buck. (There are a number of health benefits to using homemade deodorant vs. the chemistry set you buy in the store.) I haven’t added up all the savings we’re getting from this, but I’m guessing it’s significant overtime. Detergent alone was probably costing us at least $500 a year.
Next up, we’re going to tackle making our own dishwasher soap. We’ve got all the ingredients, we just need to do it.
And I should mention something else: it’s easy. This isn’t like homebrewing (which we’ve also done) where you have to invest a whole bunch into equipment and then buy expensive ingredients and do a ton of work and then eventually wind up with a beer or bottle of wine that’s 50 cents or a dollar cheaper than you get in the store. Homebrewing isn’t something you do for financial reasons. You do it because it’s fun. But with these common household products, you can make them with items you probably have lying around the house, or can buy on the cheap. Off the top of my head, I don’t know the exact recipes we use, but I’ll give some close estimates based on what I could pull off of Google with a 2 second search.
Homemade Laundry Soap
- 1/3 bar Fels Naptha or other type of soap, as listed above
- ½ cup washing soda
- ½ cup borax powder
~You will also need a small bucket, about 2 gallon size~
Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan. Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket. Now add your soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. You use ½ cup per load.
6-8 Tbsp Coconut oil (solid state)
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch (arrowroot is preferred)
Combine equal portions of baking soda & arrowroot powder.
Slowly add coconut oil and work it in with a spoon or hand blender until it maintains a firm but pliable texture. It should be about the same texture as commercial deodorant, solid but able to be applied easily. If it is too wet, add further arrowroot powder/cornstarch to thicken.
You can either scoop this recipe into your old deodorant dispensers or place in a small container with lid and apply with fingers with each use. Makes about 1 cup. This recipe lasts about 3 months for two people with regular daily use.
Homemade dishwasher detergent (soap) recipe
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup kosher salt
You’ll notice a common theme in these items. Baking or washing soda and borax are real workhorses for home cleaning and do a great job. And they’re really cheap. These two things should make you smile again and again.
I’d like to take some of these thrift projects to the next level, and start making real handicrafts that are also useful around the home. We’ve talked about making some artisanal soaps, homemade candles, and so on. I think that could be fun, even therapeutic. I’ve said it before, but I’m a maker in a doer’s job. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as I have an outlet for my creativity. It can be tough to make time for that – it’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos, done any design work, or sat down and sketched out a drawing or painted a picture. But projects like these, gardening, and so on – they’re good for you. They can also save you money and even make you money. So get on it!
“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m already sick and tired of Lent.”
- Dr. Regis Martin, 8AM Theology Class, Every Ash Wednesday
So even though I don’t write about it often these days, long-time readers will know that I’m Catholic. Lent has always been just about my least favorite time of the liturgical year. Not because enduring Lent in the modern-day Church is particularly difficult – read about the old school Roman Catholic or the current Orthodox Lenten fasting rules, and you realize you’re getting off easy with the current rules on fast and abstinence. Even so, I’ve never been a fan of any kind of voluntary suffering. I’ve always felt like life deals quite enough punishment to most of us without our needing to take on more pain for the fun of it.
This Lent is interesting to me for several reasons. I’ve talked about it ad nauseam, but because my family has gone primal, everything we eat is different than it used to be. Lots of people give up their favorite gustatory delights as a penitential privation for Lent. But we’ve already given up all bread, pasta, desserts, pastries, cereals, candy, juices, and most alcohol. I’ve had priests recommend small sacrifices like not putting sugar in my coffee. Already doing that now. And I gave up caffeine entirely about three months ago, so that’s not an addiction I need to quit. There just isn’t much food left to give up, so that’s off the table, no pun intended.
Perhaps coincidentally, I find it interesting that one of the recommendations of the Primal Blueprint is Intermittent Fasting – which has health benefits that go beyond simply losing weight. Fasting isn’t just a spiritual practice, it would seem, it’s a physical one too. It’s good for us to fast now and then in ways we probably never knew. And since human beings exist as both physical and spiritual creatures, I can’t help but think that this recommendation from our Creator takes both of these aspects into account.
I’m not entirely certain what practices or penances I’ll engage in for Lent this year. I’m fairly certain I’m going to abstain from Facebook during Lent, primarily because I find that it’s a big time waster and my time would be better spent writing here, or working on other projects. I have more ideas than I ever give myself time to execute on, so the fewer excuses for not getting to them, the better. With that in mind, I’m probably also going to scale way back on TV. I don’t watch an inordinate amount, but after reading and writing all day at work, it’s hard to come home and want to sit down with a book. I’m far more inclined to watch a show, or a movie, once I finally have the kids in bed. If I do make myself read books though, I might even force some spiritual reading into my intellectual diet, which I’m sure would be good for me.
Which brings me to what may really make this Lent pivotal for me: the fact that I actually care that it’s Lent at all. The past couple of years of my life have been filled with both hardships and blessings, and often enough, they’re one and the same thing. I’ve done a lot of soul searching during that time, and I’ve come up against some real internal struggles with my faith and the things I have not only long believed, but written about and even taught for many years. Some time ago, I arrived at the conclusion that my Catholic faith, though it has so long formed the deepest part of my personal identity, was not something I was entirely comfortable with or ever freely chose. When one grows up Catholic, it’s all but impossible to escape the notion that separating yourself from the Church – even for the purpose of attaining sufficient distance to achieve clarity of thought – is not an option. I can’t “take a break” from Catholicism without committing serious sin. I don’t get to go on a guilt-free 6 month moratorium from Mass, or from moral precepts, while I decide whether or not the Catholic Church presents me with the most compelling case that it, and no other alternative, is the absolute truth.
Put another way, the notion of Hell as a consequence of choosing things other than those prescribed by God (or more specifically, His Church) is, in effect, a psychological gun to the head. There is no escape from the mentality that you must keep doing the very things you are struggling with believing or face the consequences. And any relationship that is so compulsory feels, to me at least, an unlikely place to encounter the love that is supposed to be the hallmark of man’s relationship with Christ.
I have tested the limits of what distance my Catholic guilt will allow me in the last few years. I can’t say it’s a very long leash. I have discovered, despite some serious temptations to atheism, that I do not like the man I would become if there were nothing to believe in. Personally, I find Dostoyevsky’s apocryphal maxim to be true: “If God is not, then everything is permissible.” There is no sounding the depths of human selfishness if there is no reason not to explore them.
The fact remains that I prefer to believe, and I still suspect that God and His Church are where I will find the truth, even though I continue to struggle. I do not have, as my Protestant friends would say, “A personal relationship with Jesus.” I find God to be the most impersonal of all persons, the most intangible of all realities, the most inscrutable and unknowable of all truths. Love is, as I’m sure Aquinas argued somewhere along the way, based upon knowledge. And yet what I actually know about God, in any rational, understandable way, is very little, despite 20 years of near-constant study. I certainly do not know enough to love Him in a way that compels me to willingly embrace the radical virtue and sacrifice that true Christianity demands. So there is nothing left to it but to unwillingly embrace these things, I suppose.
Some would argue that the alternative is worse, but I’ve seen a great deal of happiness in the lives of many atheistic hedonists, and I have known no few devout and faithful people who live lives without joy. I have experienced this contrast in my own life. The notion that sin doesn’t make people happy is, I think, a convenient lie. I have known too many jolly sinners. That said, happiness in this life is not salvation, and as Blaise Pascal pointed out to skeptics like me, that is quite a trade-off. There is a reason why Augustine plead with God, “Give me chastity, but just not yet!” It wasn’t because he was bored with his sinfulness. The pleasures of this world may never fill the God-shaped hole, but for many who pursue them, they do a fantastic job of making them forget that the God-shaped hole needs to be filled.
I don’t want to fill that void with anything else anymore, but I’m still a little punchy. I’m not sure what the catalyst was for this little sojourn into darkness, but it’s going to take time for me to open up again. So I take baby steps. There have been many events in my life that the faithful man would see as miracles, and the cynic would see as happy coincidences. Either way, I feel gratitude for them, so I make it a habit of thanking God every day, even on the days when I’m not sure that makes sense. Gratitude is a key to happiness, and may in fact be a key to faithfulness. It’s hard to be bitter when you’re feeling thankful. And I’d rather thank God than fate.
I’ve also learned a solid-gold lesson during this time. I’ve learned that if I want to have a happy, successful life, I have to count on myself, on my family, on my friends, and not on miracles and providence. It doesn’t mean I don’t pray for things. I just don’t count on those prayers moving the mountains I need to move anymore. For a guy like me, there has always been a temptation to a sort of providential laziness, a God-tempting fatalism that takes the pressure off of me and puts it on the Big Guy. “Seek ye first the kingdom and righteousness”, and all of that. And in that mindset, when prayers don’t get answered/life doesn’t go your way, you can blame Him. I did a lot of blaming for a while. Then I put my big boy pants on and decided that nobody was responsible for my happiness but me. Maybe that, more than anything else, was why I had to go through this. I had to stop depending on God for everything long enough that I could learn to depend on myself too. Who knows?
To be honest, I didn’t sit down to write a post about all of this. For obvious reasons, I have been reticent about sharing these personal struggles. I certainly have no desire to lead others astray through my own doubt and confusion. But perhaps because I have been through the darkest, lowest places already, I sense that there is hope, which I will likely only find with the help of others.
So if you would be so kind, would you pray for me this Lent? Would you pray that my Faith, if I ever really had such a thing, will be restored? That I will come to truly know Him? That I can learn to love God, and not just to fear Him?
Thank you. And know that when I do pray, I will pray for you.
Hey there. I see that my visitor stats dropped from about 5 per day down to about 1 per day over the last day or so, so I just wanted to say something to calm the masses. My site got taken down, MMA style, by my web hosting company, because some asshole hacked my steveskojec.com email account and was sending out SPAM about uncomfortable Mongolian sex positions, or something like that. It’s hard to remember, because I had A FREAKING THOUSAND bounced emails in my inbox. A real laugh a minute.
Anyway, I assuaged the hosting company by certifying that I do not have access to pharmaceutical grade genital enhancement chemicals or a kindly Nigerian uncle with AIDS and a bank account problem, so I’m back online.
Yay me! I bet I hit 10 site visits today because of my comeback moment.
I’ve been writing my whole life. When I was little, before I could do much with words, I made stories by drawing out each scene, frame by frame, on a notepad. I’d sit in the back of my parents’ station wagon and I’d sketch out the adventure du jour. The ballpoint pen-and-ink helicopter chasing the motorcycle, bullets striking the asphalt, explosions happening everywhere. I’d make myself car sick back there thinking it through, but I wouldn’t stop. What I had in my head needed to be put down on paper.
I wrote stories in school. Somewhere, in a box, I still have one of my earliest, written and drawn out in crayon, the front and back dust jacket made from hideous wallpaper glued to the makeshift book. In the fifth grade, I placed second in my first writing contest. It was for a bumpersticker campaign about seatbelt use. I received a $50 savings bond. By the end of fifth grade, I won first place in an all-school story contest. I more or less blatantly ripped off The Indian in the Cupboard in my breakout hit, The Drawing that Came to Life, and I earned myself a trip to Bantam publishing, so I could have a sense of what the process was for real writers. My dad took me, and while I was excited, I lost interest quickly. The only tangible thing I brought home with me that day was a copy of Ursula K. LeGuinn’s A Wizard of Earthsea, which started a decade-long dalliance with the fantasy genre, that ultimately culminated in a life-long enjoyment of the more mature and interesting obsession I have with Science Fiction.
I let my writing slip somewhat as I cruised through high school, still earning high praise for my test essays and English and history papers but not doing much with it. I went to college for communication arts, but I focused on Radio and Television Production, not journalism or other disciplines of the scribe. But it was in college, ultimately, that I re-discovered my love for the written word. In a series of journals I sent home via an arcane email system while spending a semester abroad, I developed (unbeknownst to me) a fan base of individuals who had received my dispatches as forwards from my mother, and I returned to the U.S. with lots of suggestions that I continue the craft. My senior year of college, I landed a column in the student newspaper, and it wound up being fairly popular (if at times a bit too controversial for administrative tastes.) Several years after college, I got my first paid writing gig, when I landed a column with Inside Catholic, formerly (and, now, again) known as Crisis Magazine. Since then, my writing has appeared in multiple publications, corporate blogs, personal and business websites, and even under the signature of some rather more successful and well-to-do people than I am who simply didn’t write as well, or have the time to take up the keyboard for themselves.
All of this is to say (in a long-winded and self-promoting memoir-like fashion) that I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve produced a lot of material over the years that I’d like to be able to showcase for anyone interested in taking me on for a gig. For the writer, there is perhaps no more valued possession than his portfolio of work. And while I still have a box with clippings of my newspaper columns, childhood stories, and the like, for everything I’ve written since 2001, the portfolio is entirely online.
I should say, it was entirely online.
Over the years, websites I’ve written for have disappeared, changed their URL structure, archived or deleted old content, or in some other way invalidated my links. Just this week, Crisis relaunched with a new website look, and it appears my archived content on the site More three-quarters of the links on my portfolio page now either go nowhere, or to whatever PDF I could patch together from digging through The Wayback Machine.
This is, frankly, a pain. I don’t want to only offer links to locally hosted PDF files, which are bulky and slow to download. I don’t want to have to convert HTML to PDF either, since sometimes this comes out rather less nice looking than the original page.
The simplest solution, I suppose, would be for me to get more things published instead of relying on links to older content. This answer of course presumes that I possess plenty of time and spare creative energy to produce new content, which lately I haven’t, but which I certainly should have if I want to sell anyone on the fact that I can still write and do so worth a damn.
But there’s still the nagging question of legacy content, and how to best display it. I really like a good deal of the work I’ve put up for public consumption, and I’d prefer to be able to keep it available for as long as possible. Any ideas on how to best handle this challenge?
Today marks the final day of the 21 day Primal Blueprint challenge for Jamie and me. I’m not sure that I mentioned the time frame before, but phase one of this plan is spread out over three weeks. Three weeks for your body to adapt to the new way of doing things, three weeks to convert your system from a carb burning, bloated, slow-ass hulk to a lean, mean, fat-burning machine.
I suppose that I started moving toward this the week before we started. I had an insatiable craving for vegetables and healthier foods, after indulging for a solid month or two on office cookies, junk food, homemade pizzas, jalapeño poppers, you name it. And the drinking. I enjoy alcohol, and I can seriously put it away. The Christmas season was full of Benchmark Bourbon and Kraken Rum, along with derivatives thereof like the unbelievably delicious Milk Punch. (I’m not going to link to the recipe because you don’t need a combination of Bourbon, Milk, Half-and-Half, and powdered sugar. Trust me. Oh wait, I kind of just gave it away…) I lost three pounds that first week, and after going Primal, I just kept losing. I’ve lost 14 pounds total since New Years’ Day, and I’m still losing.
More than the weight loss, though, I feel better, I look thinner, I stand taller, I have more energy, and my overall moods have improved. I’m eating far less now that I’ve adapted to this new way of eating. I’m way more satisfied after meals, and they taste good. I can have a breakfast of bacon and eggs at 6:45AM and go straight through until 1PM without being hungry. That never happened before. I was always snacking by 10AM.
I’m also moving every day. I walk for 30 minutes at lunch. I’m doing pushups and other exercises, and I take the stairs instead of the elevator now.
The changes I’ve experienced since switching to this diet (I hate the word “diet” – it’s a lifestyle change, but that sounds just as stupid) I can only describe as positive. Most times I’ve tried thing like this – The South Beach Diet comes to mind – I have lost weight, but I’ve given up on the program at my first opportunity. This isn’t something I even want to change. I get my cravings, don’t get me wrong. I actually had a bite of rice tonight, and a spoonful of honey in my tea – things I’m allowed in sparing moderation, but not until I hit my ideal weight. But I don’t want to jeopardize the success I’ve had. I have another 60 or 70 pounds to lose before I’m at a really healthy weight, and I want to get there. My kids deserve a dad who can get his fat ass off the couch and go play with them. A dad who will be around for more than the next 20 or 30 years. Frankly, I deserve better than allowing food and drink to be my only “acceptable” vices for coping with life, stress, and whatever curveballs come my way. This is a diet for foodies anyway – you can eat lots of great things, you can eat as much of them as you want, you just can’t eat every kind of food you want. That’s a fair trade.
And if the health benefits are as big of a deal as it seems – my wife isn’t in chronic pain from her arthritis and back problems anymore, and this woman claims that eating primally got her out of her wheelchair and helped her to live with MS – then it’ll be even more worth it in the long run.
The conclusion is that I have no intention of quitting this any time soon. I’m in it for the long haul. I half-jokingly told my wife I was going to lose 30 pounds this year back at the beginning of January. Now that I’ve gone primal, I’m already half way there. I didn’t honestly think I can do it. I’m a zero-motivation kind of guy.
If I can do it, you can too. If you’re looking to eat better, lose weight, have more energy, and just feel better than you have since you were a kid, you should seriously check this program out.
Sick days are funny. I don’t have very many of them. And when I do, I don’t know what to do with myself.
I watched a movie with the kids. Then I watched a documentary. Then I read some things on the Internet. I responded to a few emails. Now what? I got up off the couch, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. My head is kind of swimming, and my body still aches. I actually got plenty of sleep last night, and I’m not ready for more. So I’m just kind of in limbo.
What now? What do you do?
I’m so bored.
Children have always been given to flights of imagination. They love a good story, a well-spun fairy tale, a dash off into the woods to fight with unseen, ethereal foes.
But now, perhaps more than ever, Children are unable to grow up with a solid grasp of reality. Movies create such a convincing fiction in the young and inexperienced mind, that’s it’s impossible to distinguish the latest product of Industrial Light and Magic from every other mystery they have yet to experience in the larger world.
I was talking to my 5-year-old son Ivan about robots. About how it would be fun to build one, even though I don’t know how. I saw a look coming into his eyes, and it occurred to me to offer a disclaimer.
“We couldn’t make a robot like in the robot boxing movie,” I said, referencing Real Steel, which we just recently watched. “Robots like that don’t exist.”
“Why not?” He asked.
“Because they’re too advanced. People don’t know how to make them.”
“They just can’t. The robots you see in movies like that, or in Transformers, they’re made on a computer. Like a video game. It’s not real. They’re not really there with the people.”
As I struggled to explain this, I realized that it was so hard simply because the suspension of disbelief presented in films in the era of photo-realistic CG is total and complete when encountered by a developing mind. This is, I think, both a good thing – it fuels the imagination and presents limitless possibilities as realities – and a bad thing – it confuses the real with the imagined in ways that confound the apprehension of the real.
Those of us who grew up in an age before Photoshop and rendering farms remember the cheesy attempts at computer-altered reality just a decade or so ago, and how hard it was to really fake something. (I remember when this is what passed for really good robot CG.) But now, even the photographs in news stories are sometimes faked, and unless you are tuned in to that sort of thing, you’re not going to see it coming. The seamless integration of dinosaurs, aliens, or 30-foot-tall robots with real actors in films makes early attempts at blending live action and animation (like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) seem silly by comparison. For adults who suffered through Gremlins, Star Trek, The Dark Crystal, and even the Lucas-man-child-unaltered version of the original Star Wars trilogy remember making the effort to believe that what we were watching was real until we made it real. Go back, though, and watch Arnold Toht melting after looking at the Lost Ark, or Doug Quaid exploding from a space suit air leak on the surface of Total Recall’s Mars, and I challenge you not to think of the California Raisins, or even Jason and the Argonauts. There was a time when claymation was solid-state FX work.
I wonder how this will effect our kids? Their imaginations, their grasp of the possible and impossible, their disappointment when they find out that there are far fewer fantastic creatures in this world than they were led to believe.
And how will it effect their consumption of media? Their ability to be critical viewers? Will it make them more cynical as they come to realize the feast of visual lies they’ve been fed, or will they be filled with wonder, and create things we’ve never seen before?
Facebook’s IPO is big news today. They’re talking about a $5 billion dollar deal here. All this from a social networking site that’s only 7 years old, and has only been open to the public since late 2006.
To this day, if someone says the words “Web 2.0″ or “social media,” you’d be hard-pressed not to let that infamous blue and white logo pop into your mind. It’s the social media platform par excellence. Sure, other players are rising to the top. But Facebook is the 800 million-user gorilla in the room.
Why do I say Facebook is evil? Because I couldn’t possibly waste more time there. It’s like a disturbance in the space time continuum. I sit down to just take a peek, and two hours later, I’m still there, leaving comments, checking comments, doubling back, circling the wagons, using stupid metaphors.
I think I figured out their evil little secret. It’s simple, but deadly.
This little, innocuous-seeming icon is my undoing. It’s a Pavlovian masterwork, proving an endorphin rush right to the part of the brain that makes me want to feel more important than I really am.
“Oh lookie! Someone left me a comment!!! I AM LOVED!!!”
I have no doubt that an evil team of behavioral specialists and psychologists, and maybe even drug dealers, spent months working on this little soul-ensnaring gimmick.
Finally, after years of unquestioning submission, I voluntarily put myself on a Facebook moratorium this week. The plan was to go the whole week without logging in. I did fine on Monday. Tuesday…started out well. Then I wrote a blog post. I Tweeted it, but I only have half as many followers on Twitter as I have friends on Facebook. So of course, I got less traffic than I was really looking for. I resisted for most of the day. But it finally struck me that if I was going to drive any traffic to this stinking blog of mine, I was going to have to pander. So, with ice water in my veins, I logged in and I posted. It was supposed to be a surgical operation – in and out, no dawdling.
But look at that! Someone posted something about selling their PS3 just weeks after they got it! What is up with that? And someone else was talking about how their first day of going without sweets was like coming off of heroin. There must have been 30 comments, and I had to chime in with my own experiences, natch. And then there was that really funny Newt Gingrich picture that a friend sent to me. How could I not at least post that before I logged off again? No, really, just look at it:
And with everything I posted, every comment I left, another little red notification icon would pop up mid-stream. So I’d click it and find more accolades or rebuttals to bask in and respond to.
Ring me a bell, and I kid you not, I will salivate.
The fact is, I like Facebook. I enjoy it, and I enjoy the interaction I have with all 441 “friends” there. But I like it too much. It keeps me from doing more important things, like picking out which flavor pork rinds I want to buy, or playing tower defense. So I think that in the interest of being more productive, I’m going to have to continue to scale way, way back.
When I log in, though, and there’s a “47″ in my little red notification icon, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.
P.S. – Please click “like” at the bottom of this post. It’s about Facebook, so your Facebook friends will probably find it amusing. And meta. And what’s better than something that’s both amusing AND meta?