Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hacks for Being On Time

Hello Dear Reader,
Got being on time?

I knew I had to write this essay when a friend told me she was having trouble lately getting to places on time. “Lately,” because just lately her life has become rough. “I had to write,” because textbooks and society are innocent about these things—and this offends me.

The physical skills are straightforward, and you know them: Use a calendar, a day-timer, plan the route, plan what time to leave, et cetera, et cetera. But my friend’s struggle is not physical, and not covered in Business Management 101. I know this about her because I too once struggled, and then found success, but only because the “hacks” I used were “from the street,” not from society’s wisdom.

Hack: such a useful concept. It comes from the computer world. A programmer might write you a letter that begins, “Forgive me for writing you such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one.” The long letter, un-polished, un-concise, would be a “hack.” Computer code is supposed to be as short, clean and elegant as possible, but a long ugly passage of code, just to get the job done, would be a hack. 

If a computer printer cover breaks in half, and instead of waiting for a spare part you use duct tape, then that is a hack. When your polished pretty coat hook falls off the wall, and you merely hammer in a spike—that’s a hack. A hack, then, is something crude, even ugly, which has a virtue: It works. At the same time, if your mother-in-law comes over, you might want to stand in front of the duct taped thingy to hide it. 

My favorite hack for getting up in the morning, which I have never tried myself, was told to me by a guy who put a mechanical alarm clock in a tin basin… and then put the basin in front of his brother’s door.

In my own rough family, growing up, being on time was elusive for all of us. My dad had a 15-minute commute to work: I’m not saying he charged out the door every morning like Dagwood Bumstead, but… I once heard family members say that the folks at work must have had no-money bets each day on whether he would be on time. 

Years later, when Dad was a senior citizen, I went to see him, intending to later drive him somewhere. I realized: he hadn’t changed a bit! He still couldn’t pick a time to leave, announce it, and commit to it. Therefore other people could not synchronize their preparations to all leave at the same time. Sounds spineless, I know.

When I was in eleventh grade, I had a little backbone: I was practising the bagpipes daily for one hour, plus a further half hour. Not something I ever did in earlier grades, and not something that anybody else in my family ever did—not ever. In contrast, I know a man who beat an African drum for just five minutes every day, right when he came home from work. At the end of a year, he could play the drum. Only now, as an adult, do I look back and realize something about my family: No one ever spent five minutes a day regularly on any art or craft or hobby or textbook. (At least, not that I can recall) Weird: This means I grew up in a family of drifting, spineless jellyfish.

As I have blogged before, it was not until my mid-thirties that someone clued me in that I had “abuse issues.” I didn’t realize this when I first moved away, I only knew I had “low self esteem or something,” and that I was “stupid or something.” How rough. Hence my big problem with getting to places on time, with catching busses on time, and with leaving my house on time. What I needed? A hack!

Here’s what I promised myself: I would walk out my door, walk along the sidewalk, and not run to catch the bus, not even if I was nearly close enough to touch it as it rolled away. I walked right to the bus door as if I was merely out for fresh air. So I missed several busses, until my subconscious learned I was not bluffing.

From the bus line I would then walk down to my destination or activity, such a community centre show, even if I had missed my earlier intended bus. I’d walk to the destination… and if I was even a minute late, then, you guessed it: Turn on my heel, and walk back up to the bus stop. I missed out on a few things, until my subconscious got the message to shape up—for I surely wasn’t going to run. The hack worked. 

I am the only one in my eight-person family to finish a university degree. I guess I succeeded because I didn’t register to start classes until I had all my hacks lined up in a row. 

I know Canadian universities are all tough because nobody up there needs to put the adjective “good” in front of “university.” All of them are good. 

Meanwhile, it’s been documented: Canadian immigrant and visionary Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities, said that society was organized, with student loans and so forth, so that Human Resources departments, for job applicants, would use “having a degree” as an initial screening device. Not to show an applicant’s knowledge, (Unless for a specialty career degree) but to show they could handle the demands of a degree.

Have you heard of “writer’s block?” I think, unknown to society, there must be such a thing as “term paper block.” This would be when you fearfully look at blank paper and cry “I can’t do this! My other term papers must have been a fluke! I can’t do university! I’ll just have to quit in shame and despair, and then, as Pooh’s embarrassed friend Piglet would say, “run away to sea and be a sailor.”” 

So guess what I did about my term papers? Not what normal students did, when their nerve failed them. The student newspaper once did an “advice to freshmen” article about how nearly every professor would grant an extension, which nearly every normal student would ask for, at one time or another. But not me. I didn’t dare.

If I came from a pond of spineless jellyfish, then asking for an extension was asking for trouble. Not just because an extension would be merely punting my problem down the road, but because a lifestyle choice to be a jellyfish was just too despairing. My hack: To look at my blank term paper and promise: “On the day it is due, I am handing it in, no matter what.” Even if I only had two paragraphs written. Or even just the title and my name. Seriously? Yes. You can’t bluff yourself with these things, you have to mean it. That’s the only way this hack works. The subconscious gets the message. 

You are probably wondering if I ever handed in a two-paragraph term paper… No, I may have gotten a C minus-minus, but I always passed. (In fact, I was in the top half of my classes)

Too crazy? Too rough? You might be suspecting I had low self esteem, self hatred, self sabotage or something like that. If so, then… of-course-I-could incorporate these negative qualities into my hack, right? My friend, hearing my examples of how to be on time, liked the idea of incorporating qualities that society doesn’t like to talk about. I mean, unless for a textbook on managing salesmen, I haven’t seen any business books that talk about self esteem, have you?… 

Lastly, unlike my dad, it helped me when I dared to have clarity to face up to announcing to myself, even unto writing it down, what normal people call “a time to leave.” For me? Make that a “go no-go” time. 

Dear reader, I sure hope you won’t need the same hacks as I did, but if you do try to improvise hacks (besides mine) then you would have to come up with some on your own: You just can’t count on society for these things.

Sean Crawford,
More thoughts:
~A mental reason for being late to a community centre: You subconsciously fear the judgement of yourself or others that might arise when you there, so you somehow fritter around at home, without knowing why. 

~If you say, “I really ought to jog” then your problem is apt to be mental, not physical.

~A hack for getting up early on weekends to join the crowd at the jogging club: Don’t, in despair, start setting your alarm early, earlier and still earlier. Instead, set the alarm for only 59 seconds before you absolutely have to get up. Make that your launch window for “go no-go.” Then you can’t kid yourself. And if you choose to sleep in, then you have at most 59 seconds of indecisive recrimination. Enjoy your life.

~Any businessman who tries to tell you “self esteem” cannot be raised, doesn’t exist, or that it’s a ‘woo woo Southern California thing,’ shouldn’t be allowed to manage the sales department. Maybe he could be a marketing manager—No, that wouldn’t work either, for a lot of advertising begins with a smack to people’s “self esteem” (Parrot: “Squawk!-You’ve got ring around the collar.” Deep voiced announcer: “But don’t be afraid! You need new exciting Brand X, now in a new improved zip top box…” 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Learning from 2006

Hello Reader,
Got a queer view of the world?

Sometimes I am reminded this world is queerer than the painted-over flattened version I normally imagine…

I try not to get too offended at that May 2006 copy of The Atlantic magazine I wrote about back in October. It’s like how I get offended when I see photographs from our old western frontier days: complicated, messy, not like the simplified Hollywood narrative I am accustomed to. 

I even wince at modern Europe being complicated: Did you know there are six “micro states” that don’t show on political maps of Europe, or that the city of Vienna has three languages?

Here in Calgary I surprised a friend by teaching him that, contrary to popular belief, you can be Jewish and still be an atheist. (And he taught me things) Back west here, Jews are like homosexuals used to be: present in theory, but normally assumed to be off stage and out of mind. Out east, in contrast, from my reading of columnist Dear Abby, I think folks rattle off “church-or-temple” as easily as we say “parent-or-guardian.” Jewish holidays out there are public holidays, as documented in their University calendars, available at my local campus. A college teacher told me the traffic noises even change on those days—she said her friend had missed their long distance phone call because the friend had been using morning traffic as her alarm clock, and slept in. 

Yeah, sometimes we make our lives too complicated—Better to just set two clocks for getting up. Why two? Because for mine you have to set the time and set the alarm, pull out the pin, wind the main clock and wind the alarm bell: that’s five separate variables—at least I don’t need any snooze button, not if I put the time-delayed second clock over by the door.

From May of 2006 I see the U.S. is not, despite the American’s wishful gloss, a melting pot from sea to shining sea.

QUOTE (page 130, by Marc Cooper)
…The historic migration we are witnessing is radically remaking American culture, producing what some call, in a new twist on on old term, a “Los Angelization” of the country. More and more neighborhoods, even some entire towns, are now predominantly Spanish-speaking. Other areas are officially bilingual.

I am so offended from feeling, once again, “always the last to know.” To think I could have known back in May, years ago.

Getting heavy: What truly offends me? That all the shocked amputations and blasted guts of the Vietnam conflict did not inspire anyone to turn over a new leaf. You may recall the conspiracy by several U.S. government agencies to meet together to agree on a number, to tell the public and politicians, for Viet Cong troop strength. This after a lone C.I.A. operative, Samuel Adams, (yes, a descendant of the patriot, but not a brewery owner) “blew the whistle” internally to say that, scientifically, based on desertions alone, the Viet Cong should have already ceased to exist. I tell you, “conspiracy” is not too strong a word.

As writer Michael Crichton once said, “Science is not done by consensus.”

In Iraq, for the war on terror, the U.S. government was again trying to trick the public, this time by steadily refusing to count enemy dead. Call it War Without Windows. (book title) So two good citizens, O’Hanlon and Cordesman, had to glean their own count, and then they published enemy casualties covering a two year period.

Page 36 has a graph: O’Hanlon’s red line of the "cumulatively killed and imprisoned" goes up at a 45 degree angle, over a bar graph for the insurgent membership, month by month.
Despite steady progress in the killing or detention of Iraqi insurgents, the size of the insurgency seems not to have diminished, as new recruits have joined. 

(There were think-tank meetings at the Pentagon)
At one such meeting, a participant noted the large number of insurgents being killed or detained ( on O’Hanlon’s Iraq Index) and asked Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whether this showed that the insurgency faced clear annihilation. “I asked him, ‘Don’t the numbers look pretty good?’” the participant says, “But he declined to make that claim. He was acknowledging that things weren’t quite as they appeared.”
UNQUOTE (Page 36-37, by Joshua Green)

He declined? Perhaps the lessons of Nam didn’t teach “the establishment” to stop hiding the truth, but merely to stop actively lying, from fear the truth might somehow come out. In Nam, as you know, the government got “in trouble,” getting not a tiny bit pregnant, but a tiny bit dishonored, a little bit exposed, by a great big thing called The (expletive deleted) Tet Offensive.

Some philosophy: While secret negotiations in Washington on declaring communist troop strength may take only a day or two, international negotiations can be like watching paint dry—one gets mighty impatient. A comic once offered these words of comfort… when world negotiations seem unbelievably long, let’s remember that back in the day, when a cold war chess tournament between a Russian and an American had all the front page drama of a Canada-Russia hockey series, how it took so very, very long merely to arrange that innocent chess game. The two masters played on neutral ground, Iceland, and we patriots still remember the match: Because Bobby Fischer beat Boris. (Yes, and “Canada” beat Russia)

I try not to forget, or gloss over, the competitiveness of those cold years.

I was acquainted with a boy—he would be in the background when I visited his parents—who was killed in action with the Canadians in Afghanistan.

I see on page 17, back in the day, that Britain was taking over from the U.S. in Afghanistan, and the Afghan president “…Hamid Karzai, confronted his Pakistani counterpart, Perves Musharraf, in February with evidence that insurgents are being trained, equipped and deployed from Pakistan…Karzai said his hope is that Musharraf will crack down and mitigate the attacks.” This in 2006. 

As you know, Pakistan steadily, year by year… as fresh paint aged, faded, peeled and had to be repainted… has refused to admit they are helping the Taliban by using Pakistan’s intelligence service. I guess these discussions take time. 

Last month, President Trump responded by cutting aid—300 million dollars worth. Change is up to the Pakistanis themselves—I refuse to help by flying over there to teach them what every American Muslim schoolchild would already know: “Islam means peace.”

On a comical note: Back in America, on the domestic front, women were “negotiating” in 2006. Someone soberly edited a serious essay collection called Mommy Wars: Stay-at-home and Career Moms Face Off On Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families. (Random House) 

The response in The Atlantic was an article (Page 110)by Sandra Tsing Loh called Rhymes With Rich subtitled one women’s conscientious objection to the “mommy wars”

Lying in bed the other night, cradling some seltzer water, my stomach gurgling, the word for my malaise suddenly came to me: “afflufemza,” wherein the problems of affluence are recast as the struggles of feminism, and you find yourself in a dreamlike state of reading first-person essays about it, over and over again.

What? Hey, I’m a feminist! And I’m an essayist! Oh man, I’m always the last to know if I’m being insulted. But I think I’m safe, in this case. Besides, I don’t mind being offended if someone is funny about it.

…Well, that’s all, dear reader, for 2006 when an issue of The Atlantic cost U.S. $5.95 …$6.95 in Newfoundland. Maybe I should go try a 2018 edition, but it would probably have a bigger price tag: I’m scared to go look. 

Sean Crawford
2018 Anno Domini
In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

Footnotes… held back… maybe for another time 

Lastly, on a funny, happy note: From the city of the first Fringe Festival, here (link) are some fun artist-hacked street signs, reported by the BBC. Scroll on down.