Posts Tagged ‘stuff’

Counting Lives

16 April 2011

Dear J-

It’s been a hot day but we seem to be able to beat the crowds if only just barely. We went to ice cream this afternoon after not being able to figure out what else to do (not hungry enough for dinner, not satisfied with just staying home — we screened How to Train Your Dragon, which was a bit disappointing*) with our time. The activity of the day was a healthy kid event (let’s focus on the important stuff: face painting and balloons) that I’m surprised they didn’t sniff us out immediately and put us out on our bacon-and-ice-cream-loving (not typicaly at the same time, mind you) ears. Like the ice cream parlor, we got to the event just before the big rushes.

We would sit down and suddenly the line at the counter would be almost out the door. Either we’re getting slightly psychic or everyone else has the exact same idea, only a few moments later, and we’re that lucky. And either way we have had a pretty good time all around today despite the short tempers and hysterics (my shrieks are pretty effective but my begging needs more work to be more effective). The longer I go around this earth the more I want but I need to remember — remind myself, if you will — just how lucky we’ve been. It’s too easy to slip into the woe-is-me mode and focus on the minuses in my life when I don’t realize the millions of things that have gone right.

Could my life be better? Undoubtedly yes; there’s a ton of things I could fix around the house or a more complete photographic kit. I wouldn’t mind fewer years on the cars in the driveway, or a faster computer, or a bigger TV, or you know and what not. These things are just icing on the cake and to complain about that is like saying the buttercream looks messy or the rolled fondant is a bit plasticky when you’ve got this beautiful cake that tastes amazing. Life isn’t about the junk you accumulate; there is no one keeping score. And if I’m ever going to grow up I need to start learning that pushing people out of the way for things doesn’t count.


* Why is it okay to kill the big dragon but not the little ones? The only answer I could come up with is that the big one had enslaved all the other ones, not the queen-drone-worker relationship explicitly stated. I suppose we need to read the source book by Cressida Cowell to have it make sense.


Envy’s Edge

1 April 2011


Dear J-

Do you ever envy with a touch of malice thrown in? By which I mean the difference between boy isn’t he lucky and I want some of that. I think it’s only natural to some extent despite what most major religions ask of us. The natural instinct left over from our early days is to think that if they’ve got it then that’s one less for the rest of us, so I’d better hurry up anf get me some of that before it’s all gone. This is the kind of thought encouraged at Christmas shopping season (that must-have toy we’re all conditioned like sheep to want, whether Cabbage Patch doll or Tickle Me Elmo) and the launch of new video game consoles and Apple products. Great for retailers but deleterious for consumer mental health.

I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than once, and photography definitely doesn’t help with limited quantities of gear and one-of-a-kind deals on used gear, whether on eBay, retail, or private sale. It all seems ultimately fruitless when you consider it from a long perspective; these things are never so unique, nor are you ever so crippled without (you’ve already lived this long and never needed it yet) that you can’t wait but that lizard part of your brain that says someone else will get it is hard to ignore sometimes. It’s when you cross the line into sour grapes or if-I-can’t-no-one-else-can that you start down the spiral.

There are a lot of things that I mean to learn from people I admire. Chief amongst them is the ability to be happy for someone and congratulate them without a hint of envy. It is tremendously liberating to let go of that little burning flame but it means you start being happy with what you have, you count the things that have gone right and not all the things you wish you’d done, the regrets that keep your eyes firmly affixed to the rear view pining for the bright lights that twinkle best in retrospect. Grass is greener on the other side, son. Buddhism teaches that our attachment to material things is one of the roots of misery; we are too wrapped up in what we could have without thinking of all we already have. Renumerate your blessings and start small, you’ll run out of hours before positives.


Bag of Holding

28 February 2011

Dear J-

Maybe it’s the tyranny of familiar things — there’s really nothing that I can do with the Palm Pre I’ve been carrying around enabled wi-fi only that I couldn’t do with an iPod Touch, say, but it’s new to me and therefore lives in my shirt pocket whereas other devices live in the bag. I’m sure it would be the same if I succumbed to temptation and got a smartphone to replace the one that’s soldiered along for years upon years now. The narrower the scope of the item the less useful it becomes, and right now I’m using the Pre as a portable camera-equipped Facebook computer, which is roughly as narrow as it gets.

For someone who commutes partially by bike you’d think I’d have narrowed down my load to stuff that’s specifically useful and utilitarian by now. Nope. Somewhere in the big black bag is a second calculator (the one I passed the EIT with) and up until a few weeks ago, two extra iPods, a monocular, a GPS unit that gets turned on occasionally, a bag of tea, a reference manual for a test I took four years ago, and extra plastic bags just in case. It’s too tempting to carry things along with the just in case mentality, no matter how little room they take up — this is what, as a kid, drove me to stock the survival kits I’d make out of bandage tins with candy and blank paper.

I suppose that part of it must be programmed into me by now, then; each bag I bring is a reminder of where I’ve been and experience informs each item (next I think I’ll try to dig up a suitable flashlight to pack in — one that’s small but rechargable with an even number of common batteries — part of the challenge is coming up with unusual requirements and then trying to fulfill them). There’s a lot of stuff out there and sometimes I feel like Mary Poppins, pulling surprising amounts out of the bag and finding a use for each one. Of course if I was really competent I’d have found a use the stuff that falls out of the bag instead of stuffing it all into a junk drawer.


Junk Strapped

19 July 2010

Dear J-

Every so often (usually while heaving my bag onto the bike, in ther words) I pause and wonder if all the stuff I’m bringing along is really necessary — that bike map of San Diego isn’t getting a ton of use, for instance, but there was the one time those two bicyclists from Riverside and I figured out how to get downtown from my usual route. And there’s a GPS receiver in there too, Bluetooth-linked to this gadget so that I can see where I’m’ going, if I so choose. But two calculators? A raft full of chargers? It started out as a more convenient place to stash my wallet, but it’s become a millstone, this bag.

I’m also bringing along the dictionary-sized Mechanical Engineering Reference Manual that I’m bringing to the PE exam in October; this in an effort to become familiar with it so that I have a chance to look things up. But I’m only really using it for the hour or so that I have in the afternoons, as mornings are too dark, and even then, I find myself five pages in and asleep on the way back on the van. The bag is a tool to squeeze every opportunity out of my day, but it doesn’t have to cover every contingency, does it?

The psychologists would, I’m sure, have a field day reading meaning into the metaphor of the overstuffed bag into my life; we are busy people, after all, and as any recent parent will tell you, we accessorize accordingly (which came first, the minivan or the junk that goes along with a baby?). I’m not as thoroughly ruthless at rooting out the unnecessary stuff as I should be, perhaps (that’s really no excuse for what I have been doing: trying to find an excuse for yet another camera in my life, this after I swore I’d quit cold turkey last week … and the month before that … and &tc.), but I can point to places where I’ve used each item recently; does that count?


Missing Pieces

8 April 2009

Dear J-

I keep thinking that there’s some missing ingredient — usually something expensive, by the way — that would solve various problems.  Photographic inspiraton?  Use a different lens — this actually works for a while, but I always seem to end up back with the 11~22mm back on the camera, despite having a surfeit of lenses to choose from.  There, it boils down somewhat to convenience (auto-diaphragm is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m finding that auto-focus is a lot more positive than I am), but also perspective; again it feels most natural with the sixty-odd-degree angle of view at f=18mm on the four-thirds system.

Similarly, I keep thinking that the next greatest thing for mobile blogging would be something with a useful keyboard (this means something that will talk to a Bluetooth keyboard) and some sort of Internet access, whether it be through Wi-Fi or some cellular plan (even via tethered phone).  Thus far I’ve been unsatisfied with the solutions that have cropped up — the Treo doesn’t work as a phone (here, it’s my laziness and cheapness that keeps me away from that option) and the various Wi-Fi Nokias I’ve tried have all been incredibly unresponsive (or web-browser crippled).  Here I’m hoping that the forthcoming iPhone OS 3 means that Bluetooth keyboards are no longer verboten.

It’s the way it is with things, I suppose:  the if-only-just excuse.  The one missing feature is either something you live without or something that keeps you away, and it seems like it would be a simple feature to add, but I wonder how realistic that assertion really is.  My problem is that I confuse things with life some times:  it’s not a question of things making my life easier — in fact, it’s often the opposite — but rather pinning so many hopes on things I don’t need to make myself happy — thus when those particular wishes are fulfilled, there’s nothing particularly satisfying from receiving them.  The difference we make is in our human relationships, not the toys we acquire on the way.


Interruption Station

29 October 2008

Dear J-

Spend enough time with us and you’ll see just how little I seem to live at home; up at four and out the door — the main thrills seem to come when the routine is disrupted for some new place, something new.  It may explain the inveterate poking about for new things (junk) to bring into the house, the bookshelves groaning under the weight of thrift store bargains, and the multiple drawers of Atari cartridges sitting somewhere in the shed (not too worried — those things are indestructible, after all).

Problem is that we’ve got too much stuff — make that I’VE got too much stuff — more than I’m ever going to have time to play with successfully.  Half-finished projects litter the spare bedroom (it looks like a stereo repair shop), just as half-completed work is piled all over my desk.  I dunno.  Eventually.  Someday.

It’s not necessarily procrastination; I have no problem starting something.  It’s in the follow-through — I still have yet to put together that movie from figgy’s first birthday, despite having captured more footage since then.  I fear my attention span has been shortened by lack of diligence, to the point where I can’t even accomplish tasks requiring more than a half hour of concentration at work (to be fair, it’s hard to get an uninterrupted half hour at work, though).