Stacking Saucers 1

It’s currently 75 degrees and raining large, heavy droplets here in Hanover. I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past few days hanging out here, doing a lot of thinking, and a fair bit of talking along with it. It may not all be coagulated enough to put down in written form, but I’m going to give it a shot, because it’s an important subject. Of course, the subject itself is somewhat amorphous, multifaceted, and subject to interpretation. You could call it living an authentic or genuine life, but I prefer calling it living a passionate life.

As some are aware, I define being a geek as being genuinely interested and engaged by a subject. Theater Geeks, Movie Geeks, Anime Geeks, Book Geeks, these are all valid descriptions, but likewise there are Sports Geeks, Fashion Geeks, Social Geeks (not an oxymoron!), and these are just as valid, though we generally give them other names, like “jock”, “fashion maven”, and “socialite”. It all comes down to the same thing, however: being passionate about a subject and having it interest you so much that you learn all you can about it. It becomes a part of your life. You grok your passion.

Everyone has something that they are passionate about. It can vary wildly, and can even be unexpected to those around you. I’ve met people who are fascinated by the process of sewage treatment and water purification in the same way that I might talk about games. You never know what people are passionate about, and that act of wondering is a way that we can connect with others. A case in point; yesterday, I got to rambling about this topic in front of Collis, and randomly asked the girls at a table nearby what they were passionate about. Once they decided I wasn’t a nut-job (or at least a harmless one), the results were quite fascinating. These were people I’d never spoken with before, and yet when asked to talk about their passions, their eyes lit up and the conversation became animated. That passion for a subject is infectious, it becomes interesting to those around you whether they themselves share that passion or not. This is the power of passion.

That’s all pretty straightforward. Where I get all ranty and foaming at the mouth is the question of what we do with those passions. How many people are we surrounded by who are enthralled by a subject or topic or medium, but is never willing to take the step outside the safety net to actually pursue that as a profession? We go to college because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We get jobs that we hate because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Our passions are naysayed as too difficult, unattainable, unlivable, not just by those around us, but by ourselves, because we’re so afraid of stretching ourselves outside of complacency. For the most of us, the annoyance of living in the box is outweighed by the pain and fear of breaking out, and being who we want to be. If you have a passion for writing, be a writer. Write every damn day. Read other writing, read about writing, write stories, your thoughts, how your day went, that dream you had, a story, a poem, write about writing, write about reading. Live it, breathe it, embrace your passion, and it will embrace you. If you’re worried about it not being good enough or that it’s hard, or that there isn’t enough time in the day or that you want to watch your favorite television show or you want to go to that party, then ask yourself why you’re worried, and DO something about it. Afraid of the quality? WRITE MORE. Want to watch that show? Write about it, make it a project. It’s not just writing, either, it’s ANY passion. If you want to make art, bleed ink and paint. Don’t relegate it to a wistful sigh and a hobby, MAKE ART. If you aren’t pursuing your passions, then you deserve any unhappiness you receive.

If you think that’s unfair, then I have to ask what you’re so afraid of that you would deny your passion, your potential for the delusion of safety. That’s not contentment, and it’s certainly not happiness; it’s complacency. It is one thing to let that which does not matter slide. This is not such a case, however. It matters. It’s your passion, it’s your interest, it’s a part of your LIFE, and to deny it, to relegate it to the sidelines is denying a part of yourself. I do not see how that could be driven by anything but fear, or some form of self-destruction. Complacency is the antithesis of passion. Care to see what complacency and fear do? Here’s a social experiment for you to do: sit on a bench on a street and look at people. Look them in the eye, and see the reactions. It doesn’t matter if you’re well dressed or in rags, angry looking or with a smile on your face, nine times out of ten, the other individual will look away. Some can be explained away by conversations or other distractions, but that sort of ratio is simply too large to argue away. (For the record, out of roughly 100 people I tried this with last night, only 3 actually acknowledged the eye contact, all others looked away. Your mileage may vary.)

What drives that sort of behavior, that shrinking away from the possibility of contact or acknowledgment? My belief is that we shrink away from contact because we are afraid of having our world view shaken, of being stretched beyond the bounds of whatever box we’ve chosen for ourselves. To communicate with others inherently holds the potential of being challenged, and that scares people. We mitigate this as much as we can by surrounding ourselves with the like-minded, in classes, conferences, workplaces, social gatherings. How often do we just stop and ask someone on the street how they’re doing, what they’re interested in? Why not? Are we afraid that we might be judged? Why does it matter if we are? It’s just someone on the street, there is no illusory status lost from a conversation not panning out. It is, at worst, a missed chance at enrichment and engagement. You have not LOST anything. Those who talk to strangers live the fullest lives.

On New England

Because life is currently rather circular, I’m currently sitting in the Hopkins Center on Dartmouth campus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat here, or near here, but suffice it to say that it was a mainstay of my high school and early college years. I’ve blogged probably 70 entries (out of 240ish) sitting on the wireless connection of this campus, and spent countless hours talking to my friends over a cup of coffee or tea, in particular chai.

Something is marginally different now, however. This is no longer where I live. I live three thousand miles away, and only come here once every six months. Time is relative, however, so the amount of time away is largely irrelevant. The difference is far more subtle: walking through town here, people generally don’t smile. If people know each other, they might smile briefly, they’ll say hello, and on some occasions stop to talk further. But by and large, everyone is solemn faced, if not grim. Now, Seattle has its fair share of depressed and grim people, but there is a generally acceptable mood in the population. We are not the most free-speaking area of the country, but even with that in mind, we’re lightyears ahead of New England Stoicism. It’s not that New England is dead, and in fact there is quite a bit of activity and growth occuring. But the general atmosphere is simply grim. I can’t think of any other word that would better describe it. It’s like they are industrious and unhappy about it, but don’t realize that they are unhappy about it.

There is the beginnings of an economic boom occuring the area, with several major stores moving into the area, and apparently there is even talk of a mall going in. Additionally and simultaneously, the counter-culture (people living alternative lifestyles, often artists or musicians) is also beginning to explode in the area, complete with a non-profit low-power radio station (WXND), and even a soon-to-open comic book institute. If after October I didn’t come back for several years, I honestly don’t think I would recognize much of anything but the basic layout of the roads (and maybe not even that, purportedly, they’re finally going to make modifications to Route 12A, to help clean up the traffic problem with the plazas).

Every time I come back to the Upper Valley, I realize more and more how done I am with the area. I enjoy seeing my friends and family, but as I become more acquainted with good coffee shops and places to hang out and good restaurants, I find myself less and less missing the area. That’s not to say I don’t miss Vermont, or Squam, or my friends, or my family. Far from it. It’s more that I’m trying to explain that the allure of the UV is really fading. Of course, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d probably buy some land up in the Northeast Kingdom and build a house up there. Not as a primary residence, but as a place to hole up and enjoy the world a bit more than cities really afford. I think it would make living in a city the rest of the time a lot more palatable to me, which I think Mickey would definitely appreciate.

I will give New England credit for one thing: history. In most other parts of the country, entire regions have been overtaken with housing developments and suburbs, cul de sacs, and factory fresh houses. New England has some of that, but you also get to see older architecture, and older town layouts where roads went somewhere and the housing was designed for a non-car centric style of life. It engendered a sense of community that has largely been killed through suburban planning in the rest of the country. It’s affected this area as well, but not as much, or at least more slowly. That is absolutely a good thing, and hopefully with the beginning realization of the need for communal interaction, it won’t lose any more (and maybe even improve).

Avast Ye Bastards!

Sitting around in Hanover, freezing my ass off in front of Collis (we could go in, but we’re waiting til we’re actually “cold” to do so, since it’s otherwise quite lovely out). They’re building the bonfire for homecoming right now, which will be this weekend at some point (I have no idea actually when, nor do I especially care). I’m drinking my second copy of chai (out of a paper cup, plastic lid, and a corrugated cardboard “sleeve” so I don’t burn my hands), and hanging out with Eli. I have The Pixies “Where is my Mind” stuck in my head, and am in a cheerful, almost manic mood (finally getting to do some blogging, WOO!).

The past week has been busy yet largely fun, involving meals with friends and family, and lots of good conversation. I’ve got my Online Communities thesis up on Critical Games now, so if you wanted an alternative to downloading a 51 page PDF, you can read it that way instead. I do realize that I SHOULD be posting some more (there and here), especially some newer material that I’ve been talking about but not actually writing for the past several weeks. This should happen soon (heh, honest).
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70th Posting

According to the blogging software, this is my 70th entry in the main blog. It won’t be a large posting, but still some things to note:

First off, Happy Birthday Sabrina! Enjoy the very first anniversary of your birth. I know you’re too young to read (we’ll have you blogging in no time!), but I hope you have a great day anyway.

In other news, the movers arrive in two days. I’m nervous, uneasy, and not very productive at the moment. That said, I really am hard at work on this essay, and will hopefully have more to post by the end of tonight. (FYI: these are draft copies… I haven’t checked them for grammar yet. I know there are a few mix ups.)

I’m sitting in Hanover, sipping iced chai, trying to relax and write, and finally it seems to be working. The past few days have been kind of stressing instead of relaxing… it was Parent’s Weekend, and Hanover was SWARMING with loud, obnoxious yuppies, making it very hard to concentrate on much of anything. One day later, and the place is quiet and back to normal, not TOO much worse for wear. (“But ‘Bil, why not write at home, in the comfort of the giant purple chair or something?” Because my apartment is full of boxes right now, and I can’t seem to concentrate there.)

Ah well, the weather is nice. Feels more like a late August day than a late July day, but whatever. That’s FINE by me.

Bento Box

First, an expansion of my response to Eli on his blog: my trips to Hanover most evenings really IS an institution to me. I’ve been doing it since the fall of my Junior year in High School, with brief interludes of not cropping up as I travelled or moved. Even when I was living in Burlington, I would come down relatively often to hang out. There is something I crave that is (at least somewhat) satisfied by the experience, and I’m not sure what it is. I could say social interaction, but I do enjoy myself even when alone (though not as much). I think it might be better defined by the term “social experience”. Social interaction absorbed through osmosis by merely being out in the middle of things.

Why social experience, instead of social observation? Social observation is too abstracted a term, too much like removing yourself from the environment and viewing from the outside, which is not the case. You DO have an effect on the environment, on who sits where, who talks to whom, the mood and types of interaction occuring. Passive participation, which is different than observation. Whether you like it or not, no man is an island, and pretending you are is foolish.

I’m just rambling, though. Ultimately, I enjoy hanging out in Hanover, I enjoy hanging out with my friends in Hanover, I find that it is important to me. Thinking about all this has left me with a realization: Seattle feels like one long Hanover hangout session. We’ve wandered all over the region (more on that below), and the feeling remains the same: the same feeling I gain from hanging out in Hanover.
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Sitting in Hanover again, on the veranda of Collis Center. Four columns form a semicircular support for the roof above, a roof that is not necessary today… there is, in fact, not a single cloud in the sky. The air is still and warm, and there are conversations on either side of us (Mickey, Eli, and myself have just finished dinner).

To my right, two female college students are talking about their boyfriends, and fears about them. I am largely uninterested, but it bears note nonetheless.

To my left is a conversation among four students (three guys and a girl clutching a computer keyboard set up for Korean), talking about computers, their woes on the devaluation of their previous machines, the failures and tribulations of what they have now… and how they plan to upgrade soon.

I can’t blame them, I’m much the same way. I love my computers, don’t get me wrong. That said, I do very much want to get the new machine, and often go through the same justifications I’m hearing now. One of them is apparently going into the Air Force next year, and there I lose interest in the conversation.

I am thoroughly stuffed, burping gently, after eating an entire order of chicken lo mein and a kappa maki (cucumber roll). I still haven’t finished my drink from coffee, but that’s fine… it is a sipping drink if there ever was one. It’s super-caffinated, so much so that you can taste the caffeine in every sip. Take a large chai and add a shot of espresso and you have this drink. An interesting blend, but I don’t think I’ll get it again.

I’m getting dehydrated again, I can feel the early warnings in my chest and my mouth, feel the warmth at the back of my tongue. I guess I need to start carrying a water bottle again. Moving on.

As I walked out of Dirt and sat down on the bench outside, I noticed a book on the bookstand belonging to Left Bank Books out on the sidewalk. I immediately looked at Mickey, eyes pleading for the okay, and thankfully received the go-ahead: the National Gallery of Art’s collection of Alfred Stieglitz photographs, published in collaboration with Bulfinch Press. High quality reproductions, nice large book… lists at $75, picked it up for $40. Awww yeah….

Of course, what’s even cooler is that I actually SAW that exhibit down in Washington DC this past fall.

New Graphics Card!

I installed my new graphics card into my desktop today. Installed Warcraft III, and the Jedi Knight II demo, both of which play superbly. In another few moments, I’ll have a conference call concerning UberCon, so I’m really just killing time until then. (YES, I am sitting in Dirt looking like a dork with a headset, but c’est la vie: there is reasonable reception here, and I haven’t had a chance to turn my long distance back on.)
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Thought Buffet

I just spent a week in DC, with Mickey, which was a great deal of fun, even if I did get into a funk towards the end. I don’t like it when I get that way, especially when it causes people who care about me to become concerned (like Mickey). But that is over and done now: I’m back up in Vermont (well, Dirt Cowboy at the moment), and she’s down in DC, working. I’ll be heading back down there in November, though exactly when is yet to be determined.

When last I wrote (on the 15th), I ended because my friend Richard suddenly showed up after not seeing him for a year and a half. Or at least I thought it was him. (I was right). Hopefully, he’ll be around more now that he knows the Dirt is open in the evenings.
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We are all prisoners here. You can’t put a finger on why, you can’t define the cage, but regardless, we are confined, restricted by rules of society, rules of physics. We cannot fly, we cannot run naked among the throngs of a crowded street. We restrict ourselves.

Past times I’ve done a freewrite, a ramble, or really anything like this, I end up talking about Truth, in one fashion or another. Beyond this brief mention here, I’m going to try and not this time. There are other things to talk about. Other things indeed.
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