Brain Goblins

Some days, the brain goblins win. Other days, I win and go on about my day, having bested them. And on the best days, they stay far, far away in a deep sleep somewhere. Then there are days like today. Days when they come at me hard, but I stave off their grubby little claws. They attack; I defend; they press; I repel. And at the end of a hard-fought battle, I emerge victorious, but exhausted.

Some days, the brain goblins win; other days, I defeat them, but at such a psychic cost that I don’t actually win. They lose, I don’t win, and damned if they don’t count that one in their favor.

The Legend of St. Clarissa

I wrote an in-world mythographer’s article for my D&D world. This D&D world is being built based on the actions of the players. We’ve been on hiatus for a few months, but I’m gearing up for the next adventure, which will take place roughly 200 years after the last adventure (going for a saga styled campaign). The elements from this that are based on the first adventure are the elven druidess, Nyssa, the pirate ship Clever Girl, the disappearance of the elves (which the players unknowingly triggered), and the “new goddess” who rose to divinity because she’s a faerie queen and trickery is in her nature.

The History of the Legend of St. Clarissa

St. Clarissa is often portrayed as a beautiful elven woman with pale green skin. The scholarly consensus states that elves were not green, so Clarissa’s hue is either an oddity of her position or a confusion of history. Most stories connect St. Clarissa with an elven druid heroine (or villainess, depending on the source) named Kara-Nyssa. The stories of Kara-Nyssa are blurred by retelling and scattered to history, so no true consensus of her nature/character exists. In some stories, she was a mystical champion of the natural world; in some, she was a wandering adventurer (a common theme in old myths); in others, she’s both.

I must include here an obligatory mention of the Clever Girl, the infamous pirate ship and boogeyman of mythographers. Every mytho-historical character supposedly sailed with the Clever Girl, from the Empress of the South to members of the dwarven and elven pantheon, so of course Kara-Nyssa’s tale includes the ship that mysteriously disappeared into the sea.

The Shift from Kara-Nyssa to St. Clarissa

As much scholarly dissension as there is on the mortal life of Kara-Nyssa, the method/tales of her canonization has brewed out-right religious contention, even leading to schism in the cult of the new goddess (note: contention and schism may be part of the new goddess’s portfolio, but that’s a subject for the theologians).

Some say Kara-Nyssa swore fealty to the new goddess at her ascension to divinity and took on the name (or possibly mantle/role) of St. Clarissa; others agree with the story, but say the name “Clarissa” arose via linguistic shift (KAH-rah-NIH-sah => KAHN-iss-ah => KLAH-riss-ah), which is refuted by some who insist such a shift could not have occurred in the 200-400 years (timeline unclear) since Kara-Nyssa’s canonization.

An entirely different branch says that St. Clarissa is in fact the daughter of Kara-Nyssa by another member of the court of the new goddess (whether Kara-Nyssa and her consort ever married is another point of contention, which was cited as the cause of the Rosallow Riots).

Some detractors of the cult of the new goddess claim there never was a Kara-Nyssa and St. Clarissa was an early fabrication of the cult to “flesh out” their fledgling canon. Best historiographic evidence points to stories from before the Disappearance of the Elves (a well-recorded event predating the rise of the cult by at least 50 years) of an elven druidess named Kara-Nyssa (or possibly just Nyssa, with Kara being a later addition or a merger with some regional hero).

Crescendo Imminent

As I sit in the backyard, watching the firepit burn down and drinking the last beer of the year, awaiting my neighbors’ final crescendo on their flippant disregard for the ban of fireworks in urban/suburban areas, I find in myself little regard for the grandiose idea of a new calendar year. This odd construct of human reckoning which divides the revolution of the earth around the sun will have no real impact on my day tomorrow, except of course that I will not have to go into work.

But there are plenty of grand and wonderful things happening because of this odd construct. Waking up the children who couldn’t keep up with our party so they can experience the midnight impromptu light show. Enjoying the flavors of mixed snacks and more mixed drinks. The smells of the fire and sulfur; the sounds of explosions and squealed delight; the flashes of light that will soon overlap so steadily I could read by it. My family, huddling for warmth in the cool Texas winter evening. The joys of life are not marked on calendars, but in memories, not counted in seconds, but in smiles.

Be Gentle

I’ve written previously about my significant size. What I didn’t mention is that I have always been significantly larger than my average peers. As a very small child, my mother warned me to be gentle with the other boys because I might hurt them. Over Christmas dinner, she told a story about how gentle I was, even letting one of my childhood friends (a distant cousin, possibly; a sociopath, probably) beat me even though I could easily have thrown him across the yard. I asked her if she remembered telling me to be gentle with the other boys when I was young, but she did not.

In addition to be the or one of the biggest kids in my class, I was usually the or one of the smartest as well, both in terms of raw computing power (intelligence) and subjects reviewed (knowledge). No one ever told me to be intellectually gentle with people, but I learned fairly quickly not to flaunt my intellect or even talk about it. Talking about it was bragging, wondering why others didn’t think like I did was arrogant, and I could tell that things I found trivial were frustratingly difficult for others. But I was never told to hold back mentally, so I never had to grapple with the extremity of my differences, at least not until I entered the workforce.

It was while working on a business team that I first encountered how different I am from average, how pervasive the term “average” is (turns out, most people have to be average for that word to have any meaning). Even though I’m able to demonstrate with hard data the truth of this claim, I still feel terribly icky writing about it, but there it is. When I started working on a team with a more analytical bent (as opposed to the more practical service industries), I encountered my first mental “be gentle” directive. Rather than protecting any individual’s feelings, it was the directive not to push the envelope beyond where others could follow, not to create any tools that others could not repair in my absence. It was where I learned to disseminate difficult concepts to multiple learning styles, something I’m still trying to improve.

Last week, I announced to my peers and colleagues that I had accepted a new position in our company, one more focused on analytics. As part of the transition, my current manager asked that I create a list of my current duties and ensure there are training documents that explain how to fulfill those duties. In previous months, this same manager has asked me to stop working on projects that are outside of the scope of my current position, even though those projects need to be done by someone and I was the only one with the drive/capacity/gumption to do it. I set those projects aside, but with protest. I was met again with the mental equivalent of “be gentle” with others. I don’t understand it, because if someone is doing something I can’t, I try to learn how to do it, but as my manager pointed out, these things come easier for me than for others. In a different conversation, she advised me to be patient since I process faster; nothing I haven’t heard or understood before.

I’m not transitioning to the new team because of my current manager, and I have been very clear with her about that. My previous manager, before the current one took over this team, sure, but then my previous manager did not know anything about the work our team did/should have been doing. I need to set that stage before the next paragraph. I like my current manager, I appreciate her vision for this team, and my one regret in moving to the new team is that I won’t get to witness first-hand the changes she is going to implement.

Today, I received my manager’s comments on my end of year evaluation. One of the first comments included the directive that in the coming year, “its (sic) extremely important that you concentrate on only items that are assigned to you and not undertake anything additional unless you have discussed with your leadership team beforehand.” (Should that include if my leadership team doesn’t understand what I’m working on?) Additionally, my manager is concerned with my “ability to interact with other parties in a positive manner. … On more than occasion you have questioned leadership decisions in a challenging way.” (How does one question leadership decisions in a non-challenging way?)

Be gentle with the other boys.

Being gentle physically will prove a net positive throughout my life; although it meant getting my ass kicked as a kid, in adult society, there is no need for physical violence and every need for physical restraint. But being gentle intellectually? Maybe it’s just because I’m finally at the “getting my ass kicked by the smaller kids” stage, but I can’t see the positive there.

Something about seeing that in my yearly review tweaked a nerve. I didn’t and won’t respond to it (unprofessional and unproductive). But when I read that and thought back to the previous conversation about not pushing past where others can follow, I thought about the adage “Work smarter, not harder,” and (perhaps unfairly) thought my manager is asking me to “work harder, because others can’t work smarter.” That is an ungracious thought on my part, and I’m big enough (pun intended) to recognize that, which is why I’m writing about it on my pseudonymous blog. I’m not proud of thinking like that, and I was quick to shut down that line of thought.

But for just a moment, and I cannot recall any other thoughts like this in my life, I wondered why I have to restrain myself while teaching them to rise above. I am very free with my knowledge; this has been cited by previous and current managers. I teach others as much as I can, based on the concept that the world can only get better if we share all that we know. I am hopeful enough to believe in a united humanity which freely shares innovation and resources. But in this moment of personal weakness, I asked why do I have to accommodate them, instead of them adjusting to me.

And I realized, at that point, I sounded like a comic book villain origin story. How many steps are between griping about the intellect of my peers and building a doomsday device that can only be unlocked by solving a complicated riddle? I don’t know, and I won’t find out. I didn’t hurt that sociopath who beat me as a child, though I could have killed him with my bare hands; I won’t allow myself to nurture any thoughts on the path to the mental equivalent.

I’ll be gentle with the other kids, even when it hurts, even when I can’t see what lies on the other side. Because I’ve mentioned two aspects of mental capacity, knowledge and intelligence, but there’s a third, more important one: wisdom. Like faith, hope, and love in St. Paul’s letter, there are three aspects to the minds, knowledge, intellect, and wisdom; and the greatest of these is wisdom.

This is what It looks like

I am having a very good day in a very good week.

At home, the wife and I have been connecting more every day, enjoying our time together. I’ve been spending more and better time with the kiddos. We are enjoying the Advent season. We finally got back in the pattern of going to church again (haven’t been since Easter).

Two days ago, I accepted an offer on a promotion to a new team and today I got the start date. My current work appeals to me intellectually and I find both my process and results very fulfilling.

I’ve been expressing my creativity, writing and playing my guitar quite a bit lately. I’ve even managed to play some licks I’ve never understood.

My life is holistically good right now.

But 30 minutes ago, my brain fogged over, my insides twisted, and my soul sank. Nothing happened. As far as I can tell, nothing triggered. For no reason I can ascertain, Depression just took hold in my brain. I think I’ve demonstrated above that I still have a positive outlook on life, and writing about them has been a pleasant experience. I’m drinking lots of water (a liter since 9 am), I’ve intentionally looked at the pictures of my children and the cute rubber ducks on my desk, and I’ve stepped away from my desk to take some deep breaths. All those things that neurotypicals suggest when they misunderstand depression.

I am a joyful person with a blessed life. And right now, I want to crawl into a dark cave and cry myself to sleep.

This is what Depression looks like.

 

Shifting Perspectives

My walk from the office to my car these past few weeks has been spent with my head tilted up and to west. Fortunately, I have to walk south and slightly west as I walk from the front door to the lot I use, so no danger of walking into something entirely out of my field of vision.

My attention has been grappled by the apparent dance playing out in our western skies this winter. As I leave the building, the sun has already gone down but its glow still pinks the horizon. A few degrees up, the bright evening star, enigmatic beauty which has captured the eye of countless starry-eyed humans before us, shines with its greatest brilliance. And just west of it, shining brightly across an increasing distance, that mighty lord whose rings draw awed silence from the mouth of everyone who has been blessed with the optical technology to view them. Each night, I see them shift in their apparent positions, and I feel their presences at hand, though they seem but points of light.

Shift

I tilt my head to the north, accounting for my latitude. Now I see the skies aligned perpendicular to the elliptic, as so many posters and paintings have taught us, from the first time our grade school teachers have us recite the names of the planets on a grossly unrealistic representation of our solar system. Venus, our twin, is swinging around the Sun, trailing our orbital period but gaining quickly; Saturn is so distant that we are moving away from it faster than it is turning around its orbit. The Earth is spinning swiftly, its curve now blocking the Sun from my field of vision.

Shift

I am standing on the side of a ball of rock, under a relatively thin layer of air which protects me from the vacuum and violence of space. I say the side because, counter to the genetic programming of billions of years telling me that the sensations in my inner ear aligning me towards the center of Earth’s gravity, I am not standing “up,” at least when compared to the vast majority of mass in this system. I am standing roughly diagonal. That bright light in the night sky in the direction opposite Earth’s spin is another ball of rock with a much denser layer of gas around it (gas that would kill me if I came in contact with it). That ball of rock is currently hurtling along a vector aimed roughly at my ball of rock. Fortunately, both balls of rock is falling into the gravity well of our shared star while also hurtling along vectors functionally perpendicular to the direction of our fall into that gravity well. The falling means that other ball of rock will not be able to reach us; the perpendicular vectors mean we will both fall sideways around the center of the gravity well. This is an orbit, the type of continued movement along a pair of vectors which drove Newton and Leibniz to separately develop calculus. Starting with basic principles, humans build toward understanding the world around us.

Shift

An old man and a young boy take turns at the eyepiece of a telescope. The old man knows that light enters the front of the telescope, bounces off a mirror at the back, and enters the optics of under the eyepiece; he talks to the young boy about this as they gaze in awe at the Rings of Saturn. The young boy is filled with something he will learn to call awe, a feeling which grants its object capitalization when written. The young boy is awed by the wonders he sees, but absolutely worships the one who teaches him to look, the old man. The boy knows that the man is strong, agile, wise, and smart, but he learned these things by observation; most of what he knows was learned through the teaching of the old man.

Shift

The young boy is now a grown man, with young children of his own. Under the night sky, his children ask if he sees any constellations. He points to the stars and draws the lines he learned decades ago. With the whiskered cheek of the old man against his then smooth cheek so their eyes could align to the same area of the sky, the old man’s finger drew the lines of asterisms and constellations, reciting names and ancient stories. The grown man repeats this liturgy, and connects to the memory of the old man.

Shift

The ancients believed that the stars and travelers (asteroi and planetoi, in one of the ancient languages) in the sky represented the powers and stories that ruled the world around them. Moderns have learned what those lights are made of, how far off they are, and how they literally are the world around them. The greatest common factor across the history of stargazers has been awe, an overwhelming realization of how small we are in the grand scope, and how important it is that we pass down what we’ve learned so the next generation can build on it, and yes, reach for the stars.

pain isn’t bad

i found the pain i forgot i had. it wasn’t gone; i just put it away. it was something i didn’t understand, couldn’t handle, hadn’t learned. i understand now. I brought it back and we’re going to be better now. I didn’t die when it happened, and I don’t intend to start now.

On Surviving Life After

In the past week, I’ve been thinking about my late father-in-law. In the days after his passing, my mother-in-law asked if I would give his eulogy; I showed her that I had already started writing it. This is an excerpt from that eulogy, on dealing with grief.


As we go through our days without him, the smallest things will remind us of him; indeed, they already have. As you grieve, remember there is no guilt in surviving this loss however comes naturally to you. Laugh when you need to laugh, cry when you need to cry, but do not forget or forsake the strength of our family and our love. The grief we feel now will not shrink, but as the days go on and the time between the present day and his passing grows, this tragedy will be surrounded by the everyday joys and busyness of life. There will come a day when we wake up, go about our business, and then as we’re going to bed, we’ll realize we haven’t thought about our father, grandfather, husband, friend. You may feel a pang of guilt at this realization. It isn’t a bad thing; you haven’t forgotten him. This is life; this is how we survive. He will never be forgotten or far from our hearts.

You Just Lost

The Game.

Let’s discuss this bit of 90’s nostalgia, mostly because by reading this, you’ve already lost the Game, but also because I think it says a lot about my generation. For those of you unfamiliar with the Game, here are the rules.

  1. Everyone is playing the Game, always. Whether you know it, know about it, acknowledge it, or even if you don’t want to play, you’re in.
  2. If you think about the Game, you lose.
  3. If you lose the Game, you must announce that you’ve lost the Game

No one is exactly sure of the Game’s origins, but if you ask someone from a predominantly English speaking country who went to middle school in the 1990s about the Game, they will stare at you confused for a moment, then (in all likelihood) slap a palm to their forehead and groan, “Ugh, I can’t believe I just lost the Game! I’ve been winning for years!”

But that’s not exactly true, is it? Review the rules of the Game. There is no win condition. Some will say that you can win by never learning about the Game before you die, but that is only further indicative of my generation. A game everyone plays and no one can win, where the closest thing you can get to a win is to never learn you’re playing? Is this a mind-game or a myth on the origin of evil?

What the hell does it say about my generation’s outlook on life that we created (or at least, popularized) a game you’re forced to play just by being born and can’t win except by dying ignorant? The Game generation grew up under the massive failure of Reaganomics, the cult of Exceptionalism, and the dawning realization that those scientists in the 50’s claiming humanity was capable of destroying the biosphere might not have been crackpots. Are we really being cynical when we point out that the world seems to be burning if we can point to literal wildfires on unprecedented scales?

Broad View of History

Humanity always seems to fall into a race between enlightenment and self-destruction. So far, a significant portion of our species has survived that conflict, but the fact of it probably gives rise to every other generation decrying the endangerment of the world by humans. Survivor bias explains why these prophets of our own demise are so often pushed to the fringe, but we are foolish if we think that just because we’ve never yet wiped out our species or the entire biosphere that it was never a very real possibility. The race is always on.