Posts Tagged ‘Navel Gazing and Miscellany’
Two Months and Counting February 22, 2014 | 04:10 pm

It’s been two months since my baby was born, three since I posted “Congratulations! She's Pregnant! You're Screwed!“. I thought it might be time for a bit of retrospection.

There are a few things that I want to say right away.

First of all, I was hugely helped by idea that becoming a father is a crucible (see the comment by Avdi on the previous post), and that you have to fight for whatever time you need. Anything that is fat in your schedule needs to be eliminated. It’s just that simple. Once the baby comes, your schedule is cutthroat, and it’s all about just pushing through.

Second, I have become an idiot. And, by all reports, this is never going to get better. I cannot remember things as well as I did before the baby, and I’m making stupid mistakes that I wouldn’t have made before. Creativity is harder to come by.

Third, I’ve gotten fat. Deprived of sleep, my body is looking to calories for energy, and my willpower to keep myself from eating is way down. Of course, I could work on adjusting my diet and improving my exercise, but other things are getting my willpower and attention right now.

That aside, let’s begin the retrospective.

I still believe everything that I said in the original post, and dads-to-be are coming out of the woodwork to tell me they feel the same way. Aside from spreading on Avdi’s advice, my only other advice is to keep repeating this mantra: “It gets better.” The first two weeks were exhilarating: between the constant demands from the baby and the excitement of learning how to manage a baby (Protip: look up Harvey Carp’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” video), it was satisfying in that too-busy-to-be-bored kind of way. After that, things got much more routine, and it became a slog. Each week is better than the last, though, in the sense that the baby is easier to deal with. My baby girl is just starting to smile for reasons other than gas, mostly as a muscle reflex from tapping her nose. She’s also sleeping through the night, although that’s apparently uncommon.

At eight weeks, being a father doesn’t seem terribly enjoyable. But this doesn’t surprise me: this part of having a kid wasn’t what I was looking forward to. I’m looking forward to having a kid a few years from now, and then having an adult offspring. A few parents with older kids tell me that they want to be back at this phase, and I don’t get it. My running theory is that they have suffered brain damage, suppressed the trauma, or otherwise forgot just how much this time sucks.

And this time does suck. Breastfeeding is extremely hard, and the mother will need a lot of support. This is especially true in the beginning, when breastfeeding took four hands to really work. Now that we are past that stage, my job has become entertaining my wife for the six hours or so that she is stuck in the chair doing the breastfeeding. That’s a lot easier and more fun than the previous job, so it’s getting better.

Outside of breastfeeding, there’s the ever-popular game of “Why the Hell is the baby crying this time?” Initially, there was just one setting to the crying: “END OF THE WORLD”. Now, she’s just now starting to have distinct cries for “END OF THE WORLD”, “pain”, and “anything else”, which at least offers a clue. But since “pain” could be anything from being scratched to an arm being stuck in an awkward position to gas, it’s hard to debug. And “anything else” requires running through the whole list, which is roughly this (in order): diaper, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, tired, WTF?

Meanwhile, people keep encouraging me to spend time with the baby, but I don’t know what to do. She screams at me most of the time when I tried to do babywearing: the one notable exception was when I wore her to Durham Friends Meeting (the Quaker Meeting that I attend). I consider her staying quiet for forty-five minutes while being worn to be a miracle on par with Hanukkah. Outside of that, she mostly just sits there, which doesn’t give me a whole lot to work with. I was going to read to her every night, but she doesn’t tolerate that well with me. (Other people seem to have better luck for some reason, which is disheartening to say the least.) Occasionally, I’ve got enough energy and excitement to be able to entertain myself with her, but that’s just for extremely limited windows.

I tried to have some things that were my schtick: some ways that I was going to be special for her. At first, it was the fact that I could quiet her down better than anyone else. I thought that I had some special knack, but it turned out that I was simply less stressed than Mom and more familiar than everyone else. So that didn’t last long, and pride went before the fall. I was the diaper guy and handled all of them (my wife literally did not a change a single diaper for the first six days), but other people were simply going to have to change her diapers sooner or later. Baths were just her screaming at me in a room with reverb, which is hardly the special experience people sold me. So I’ve mostly just given up and I’m biding my time until she’s more engaging.

While all this struggling is going in within the context of the nuclear family, I’ve found the treatment outside the nuclear family is largely continued dismissal. Dads are very much second-class citizens when it comes to childrearing and any kind of parenting consideration, which basically disengages me right away. The stuff that is dad-centric seems poseur-ish and hyper-macho. I don’t want something for dads or moms: I want something for parents. All of this has at least given me appreciation form the Women’s Liberation movement: if I was treated like this in all aspects of my life, I’d be rebelling, too.

The one thing that has changed since the birth of the child is that I am getting a lot more positive feedback from my wife, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I’m not sure if this is something a guy can just expect from his wife, or if it’s a consequence of her reading the previous post. Just to be sure, if you’re a guy, I’d happen to leave the previous post up on your laptop and sitting out for your wife to find. Having your wife be supportive is huge, because you’re not going to get much support from anywhere else.

Being who I am, I tried for book reading. Every book I’ve read on being a father has made me feel worse, so I’ve just stopped doing that. First of all, all the books contradict each other, which is worse than useless. Second, the books make a big deal about how meaningful fatherhood is and how warm and fuzzy you feel and how that can be spiritual, and I’m feeling little of that, which is leaving me feeling like a broken sociopath again. One of the books said, “Lay with your daughter on your chest. This is when the world begins to make sense.” I did that, and didn’t feel anything more than a weight on my chest and anxiety about whether she was about to burst out crying. Another book I read spent the first half the book talking about “Mindful Parenting” and how great it was and how it would transform everything without actually ever defining what it was or talking about how to accomplish it. So, yeah, forget books.

When I reached out to others, I quickly also discovered that “Mommy Wars” (because it’s not Parent Wars, right?) are vicious. I will take blogging flamewars any day over these kinds if issues. Anyone who thinks that women are somehow innately more cooperative or friendly or whatever haven’t had a conversation with new moms about vaccines or breastfeeding. And everyone is freaking offended by everything, and it’s all hugely important OR YOU WILL SCREW UP YOUR CHILD FOREVER YOU BASTARD. I have literally been told that I am abusing my child (their terminology) by having her get vaccines and using formula to supplement breastfeeding. In return for putting up with this kind of vitriol, I still get conflicting and largely unhelpful advice. This has put me off soliciting advice from anyone beyond my family and some very select friends. This has mostly worked, although I do feel pretty isolated.

Now, to be fair, we’ve had an incredible amount of support. My parents, my cousin, and a friend of mine all came and spent the night, which was huge for allowing my wife and I to catch up on sleep (and each other). People have regularly come and spent a lot of time just holding the baby and being all excited about her, which takes a lot of pressure off my wife and me. So that sense of isolation isn’t from a lack of attention from family and friends: it’s more from a fact that I feel like my wife and I are having to figure this all out (mostly) on our own, and I’ve still got a kind of distance from the baby that she doesn’t.

Between that sense of isolation, the day-to-day demands, and the way it has wrecked my mind, body, and soul, I just wouldn’t do this again. Doing it once has been really good for me, but I don’t have any interest in repeating the experience. From where I’m sitting at this moment, I just can’t understand people who are onto babies three, four, or five. Having a second kid in order to give your child a sibling makes some sense to me, but doing it over and over again seems bizarre. That makes as much sense to me as running your car into a streetlight three, four, or five times. But ask me again in a year or two.

Back Again to There: A Nontheistic Statement of Faithiness January 20, 2012 | 10:47 am

[Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to There and Back Again. If you haven’t read that post, start there (including the comments) and then come back.]

I finally figured out what was bothering me. While driving to the Science Online 2012 open mic night and listening to Jon Watts’ Lifted Up, I suddenly had an epiphany. Suddenly, things made sense. And it all came back to a mathematical formalism.

The formalism is the disproof by contradiction. That formalism can be colloquially expressed this way: if assuming X leads to a conclusion of not-X, then not-X is true. In this case, the specific expression is as follows: assuming rationality forms the foundation of lifestyle and morality, I have found rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality. Therefore, rationality cannot form the foundation of lifestyle and morality.

This is a radical transformation. It is much more radical than anything else I have encountered, because it dislodges and renders impotent any question about why an action should take. This is fundamentally different than the ethical/lifestyle systems proposed to me, and it is easy to see why once you spell them out.

  • Enlightened hedonism, for instance, might claim that they are acting on this philosophy, because they are optimizing the phenomenologically self-justifying good of pleasure. Humanism or utilitarianism, insofar as they might justify themselves through enlightened hedonism, are also founded on this argument. Yet the self-justifying good of pleasure is a course that has to be maximized, and therefore there are better and worse ways of being in the world, and rationality is presumed to be critical in determining which ways are better and which ways are worse.
  • My position is actually more skeptical than the skeptics. The skeptics presume that one should live based on rational claims and oppose non-rational claims. Yet rationality itself is self-defeating, and so does not stand up to the skeptic’s own standards. (Skeptics refusing to apply their own standards to themselves is a recurring problem I have with skepticism as a community, BTW: a case in point.)
  • I don’t know much about Buddhism, but my understanding is that its core teaching is that attachment is the source of suffering, and so the goal is to not be attached to outcomes. If that’s true, than in a way, I’m more Buddhist than the Buddhists, because I’m also not attached to not being attached. (And I must admit, I do feel like I have reached a sense of Enlightenment.)

My new standpoint is the ultimate “Fuck it, let’s go bowling.” philosophy, and so I have adopted the Dude’s answer as a hyper-absurdist effort to counteract the rationalist trap. As soon as you engage a rational argument, you’re playing that ultimately self-defeating game again. Yet what is true or not true does not matter, not because of any statement about the value of truth or nihilism, but because fuck it, let’s go bowling. Why I believe something or act a certain way is not a question I have to answer, because fuck it, let’s go bowling. I’m not optimizing my happiness. I’m not striving towards an ethical life. I’m not playing into a grand narrative. I’m fuck it, let’s go bowling.

When I realized this — when I realized that my nagging issue with rationality leading to irrationality was that it proved rationality was false, and when I really realized how deep the denial of rationality went, then suddenly I was free. I saw the world differently in a moment. It was astounding.

Now, some of you may be saying, “Took you long enough.” There are a lot of people out there who have criticized me for thinking too much. I couldn’t just let stuff go, however, as long as there seemed to be compelling ethical mandates—or even the promise of compelling ethical mandates just under the next book cover. But that effort has not only yielded nothing, but actually outright self-destructed. Now I’m free of the mandate; that’s what it would take, and it finally go there: rationality is self-defeating.

(BTW, I should note that “Fuck it, let’s go bowling” is actually Walter’s line, not the Dude’s, but it so perfectly sums up the philosophy that I’m sticking to it. And besides, fuck it, let’s go bowling.)

(Also BTW, if you’d like to prove to me that rationality can form the foundation of lifestyle and morality, you’re welcome to try in the comments. Start by listing off all your presumptions. I’ll even give you Cogito, ergo sum for free, although you have to presume or argue any nouns you’d like to drive from those verbs. Also, please keep in mind that Hume pretty well destroyed inductive reasoning, so arguments from science are first going to have to undo Hume.)

Applied Epistemology, or, What Does “Real” Mean Anyway? August 9, 2008 | 05:11 pm

Anyone who has seen “The Matrix” knows that determining what is “real” is a lot trickier than it seems at first:

“The Matrix” demonstrates that our intuitive identification of “real” is easily fooled. Even that conception of “real” where you get people together and see what you can all agree on — called “intersubjective varifiability” — is a faulty and limited definition of “real”. So what out there is “real”, and how do we know? Phrased differently: how do we know what we know? That question is the driving query behind the vast philosophical field of “epistemology”, but that question has some interesting, approachable, and practical insights.
Read the rest of this entry

A Note on Religious Terminology August 27, 2007 | 10:55 am

Editor’s Note: The best part of this post is the comments that follow it. Be sure to read them: lots of cool conversation and some juicy links down there.

Started listening to The Infidel Guy Show, which was referred to me as a good “secular humanist” podcast. It really is good, and there was a time in my faith journey when I would have loved it. As is, I’ll continue to listen to it, because it is interesting, even if it is anti-religious.

A few words on the way the conversation is phrased over there:

  • Free Inquiry does not mean atheistic attacks on religion. The impliciation that somehow religious inquiry isn’t “free” is nonsense, as demonstrated by the long and lively theological debate.
  • Biblical morality is not limited to literal interpretations of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jesus worked on the Sabbath, despite scriptural rules against it, so non-literalism is built ito the very source and fabric of Christianity. I know Jews have long ago moved away from that literalism. I can’t speak to Islam, because I just don’t know.
  • Intellectual honesty is not limited to those who espouse empiricism. There are intellectually honest and rigorous epistemologies which aren’t based on empiricism.

If the show were to take those suggestions, it would greatly widen the audience of the show, and be much more constructive a conversation.

Non-Relativistic Religious Tolerance August 20, 2007 | 07:56 am

Because you believe in the Christian tradition, which affirms the creation of the human race in the image of God…because of that, because, therefore, religious faith is so important, rather than because it is so trivial, therefore you must not constrain others, because faith can only be given freely.

– Jaroslav Pelikan, “Speaking of Faith: The Need for Creeds

I highly suggest people take a listen to that story. In fact, do all of “Speaking of Faith”. It’s not a Christian program — it’s from Minnesota Public Radio (a.k.a. American Public Media), and carries with it much of that secular flavor — but it is an astoundingly insightful program on how religion impacts people personally.

“Speaking of Faith” on L’Arche August 6, 2007 | 06:51 am

This is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. Given my post-modern and intellectual approach to religion, it is easy for me to see God in academic terms: as though knowing God is dependent upon intellectual analysis, like He is one of the realities revealed within a mathematical proof. It’s an easy trap, which I’m consciously aware of yet subconsciously fall into time and time again.

I have just encountered a story which made me realize just how judgmental I was. While I am thankful for the experience, it is a shame that I was so struck by the beauty and spiritual sincerity of the people in Krista Tippet’s “Speaking of Faith” program on the L’Arche community. There is a beautiful faith and a wonderful face of God revealed there.

A question I shouldn’t HAVE to ask July 18, 2007 | 04:44 pm

The Nazis were bad, right?

I mean Adolph Hitler, the Swastika, the Final Solution, the whole nine yards. They’re still considered evil, right?

Because now I’m not so sure.
Read the rest of this entry

Thoughts September 26, 2005 | 07:49 pm

I don’t usually do this — those of you who followed me from LiveJournal can attest — but I’m going to spend some time thinking. I’m exhausted, stressed, pressed, anxious, proud, and excited…it’s really draining to be such a mix of emotions.

Near my computer is my lambskin apron, and on my hand is the Ring of the Lodge of Perfection. It’s amazing how deeply and quickly Freemasonry has touched me. I wanted to feel this way about ΘΧ, but I never really did: I admired the ideals of the Helping Hand, and I still appreciate the sentiment and feel close to many of my Brothers from there, but there was something missing from it, and I don’t know what. I’m sure everyone who knew me then could tell me what they thought was missing — I could tell you some possibilities, too — but Freemasonry has gotten to me in ways that ΘΧ never did. Freemasonry seems to be an excellent match for me, though: it’s an omnipresent organization dedicated to philanthropy, with high ideals and impressive rituals, based in a belief in God and a constitutional government but not particularly worrying about the details of those beliefs. It’s exactly the kind of thing I had been looking for, and I’m glad I discovered it while I was so young.

This weekend I’m going to Princeton to check it out. I’m still trying to decide between Columbia and Princeton — Princeton is really the foremost Presbyterian seminary, but Columbia has an exceedingly strong Old Testament history and (as far as I can tell) a lot of forward momentum. I’ve gotten onto the Presbytery Committe for Preparation for Ministry, and I’m going to talk to some of the seminarians about their experiences. I don’t know where the current candidates are from, but I’m looking forward to talking with them about their experiences. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what the process is and what the thoughts are for potential ministers — it’s such a unique life calling that it’s interesting to talk about people who want to do it.

In any case, I’m heading out to Princeton. I’m looking forward to it: I’ve not been on an Ivy League campus before. I went to Vanderbilt for a ΘΧ conference, which was as close as I’ve ever gotten. Vanderbilt was great — it’s a beautiful campus, and I liked Nashville quite a bit. I’m considering doing Vanderbilt for my Ph.D.: it’s got a lot of diversity of thought, and while Princeton is well known for its scholars, it is not well known for its diversity. That’s a decision that is a long, long time in the future.

There are lots of things going on right now — this year has had some astounding transitions. I’ve recently gotten in touch with my favorite high school teacher, and things have really been changing with him, too: it was weird getting coffee with him and being on a first name basis after walking that weird line between teacher/student and friend. I have also been trying to get in touch with a lot of the other people who helped shape me into who I am: I’ve got this sense that I’ve gotten a bit lost, so I want to back up and take another start at this.

I also want to get a Diplomacy game going soon. :D

Once More Into the Breach August 11, 2005 | 04:47 pm

(For those of you on LJ, please click the link, register, and leave comments there — I’m not likely to see them if you leave them on LJ. Thanks!)

I am now employed — starting Monday, I will be working at a major Minnesota insurance company. The gig is at a good pay rate, reinforces my health care background, and is going to be the first step in establishing financial independence as I move forward. Hunting for a job was very scary, and it reminded me of just how screwed up it is to work for someone else, where one always relies on someone else’s action for their employment. That experience was harrowing and degrading, and I didn’t take well to it: it’s really fostered and bolstered my entrepreneurial spirit, and sincerely driven me to break out of the corporate world as soon as possible. As always, I have a couple of ideas as to how I might do this, but we’ll start with working for my own corporation that works for other people — at least there I get to decide my own benefits and get out from underneath taxes. We’ll see what else I do later on.

In other beginnings, I am going to be joining the Scottish Rite the week after next. The Freemasons, in general, are a pretty accepting and open-minded group — what would you expect from the organization whose principles spawned the acceptance principles of the United States? But, as much as the Freemasons may be accepting, the the Scottish Rite (an appendent body to Freemasonry) really takes the cake. This is the mission of the organization:

To seek that which is of most worth in the world;
To exalt the dignity of every person;
To maximize our service to humanity;
To aid the individual’s search in God’s universe
for identity, for development, and for destiny.
Thereby, to achieve better men in a better world,
happier men in a happier world,
and wiser men in a wiser world.

And this is the creed:

The cause of human progress is our cause,
the enfranchisement of human thought our supreme wish,
the freedom of human conscience our mission,
and the guarantee of equal rights to all peoples everywhere,
the end of our contention.


A New Life, A Nutopia August 2, 2005 | 08:02 pm

My generation

I saw the best minds of my generation
Running on empty
Superglued to the TV
Dreaming of prosperity talking incessently
Saying nothing

Sleeping on platforms in train stations
Sipping chemical cocktails
Alive to the universe
Dead to the world

Hallucinating delusions of media reality
And counting time desperate in the pursuit of cool
He’s in a suit
She’s in a straightjacket
7-11 nightmares at 3 AM

I saw the best minds of my generation caught up in the virtual reality of living
Memorizing pin numbers and secret codes
Swaying robotically to nonexistant rhythms
Flashing membership to clubs so exculsive nobody belongs

Scared shitless, Witless, Clueless, Useless
Tight-lipped, Tight-fisted, Tight-assed, Half-assed
Ass-licking, coke sniffing, money grubbing, ego jabbin’

Sniffling and goveling
Moaning and groaning

The city is all wrapped up in plastic like an electronic cocoon
If you lay in the street you can hear it humming
Building up slowly from underground
If you close your eyes you can observe the blue prints
The man-made DNA that spirals breathlessly out of control
As synapse collapse
Bridges snap
To a restless utopia

Jesus said
Lay down your arms
Jesus said
Children come home

My generation

– Pigface, Nutopia (MP3)

I haven’t posted here in quite a while, and there’s a number of reasons for that. Historically, it was because I had been blogging from work for lack of anything better to do there — but work is gone (more on that later), so I’ve actually been busy. Very recently, it was because I was drawn into discussing Freemasonry and some of its less liberal aspects (cite) — that’s another post, though, and one I’d love to hear from other people about.

In any case, please forgive me for my truancy, but I’m back and going to be posting consistantly.

There has been a major change in my whole life situation, and to understand it, we need a running start. This time last year, when I was formally graduating from college, I was intending to take a year or two off, go to Germany, and pursue an advanced degree in Mathematics. In the course of taking that year or two off, though, I’ve realized that my future as a mathematician isn’t really what I want it to be. Ultimately, getting a Ph.D. in mathematics sends you to a very limited selection of places, and I don’t want to go to any of them. Undergraduate instruction in mathematics is rough, because it’s teaching the same courses over and over again — further, a seemingly honest reflection shook my faith in my ability to be outstanding in mathematics, and I’m not going to be happy doing anything unless I am outstanding there.

Because of that, I have decided that I am going to continue into academics, but teaching Christianity. The first step in doing this is to go get an Master of Divinity. The Master of Divinity, aside from being the coolest sounding academic degree by far, is basically the degree given to ministers, and it involves a lot of deep training in the theology and practice of a denomination. Since I am a Presbyterian through and through, this means that I am looking at Presbyterian seminaries, and the two that top my list are Princeton in NJ and Columbia in Atlanta — if anyone has commentary on either of those, I’d love to hear it. Once I’ve got the Master of Divinity, I’m going to spend some time as a minister and then go get my Ph.D., most likely in Biblical Studies (the Old Testament, in particular). I feel like I can really be successful as a Biblical scholar and theologian, and I feel like I have a lot to offer Christian thought. So that’s one major phase shift in my future goals.

Given the short lifespan of my IT career and tax benefits with that and other investments, I’ve decided to move off and become an independent consultant, which is what lead to my lack of a job. I left my job in order to get started in consulting: it was really hard to do the work I needed to do while I was sitting behind a desk. I intended on giving my employer three weeks notice, and have August 12th as the last date, but as soon as I told them this, they told me that I was out the door at close of business that day. They are paying me for two more weeks, but I am no longer gainfully employed, and somewhat earlier than expected. This has put a lot of stress onto me, and is motivating me to move hard on finding an independent consulting gig.

The goal in all of this pressure, and in all of this frustration, and in this midst of trailing mess, is to escape the corporate machine. I want to live a life of deep meaning and lasting success — I want do do things that will matter long past myself, and I want to improve the world that I live in. Sitting in a desk porting SQL from DB/2 to Oracle really did not feel like it had deep meaning. For once I am listening to my dad’s advice: I am going to work to live, not live to work. What I’ve discovered, though, is that the corporate world doesn’t allow that: my last job was actively eating away at the free time I had, and even though the job paid substantially better than the job before it, the money still wasn’t enough. It is time to get out of that mess and start making a life for myself — all I have to do is build up enough courage and enough forward momentum to break the pull of the corporate world. That’s today’s goal: break free.