So Much This

On the death bed — Katsu!

On not getting the job

I tried to positive thinking the shit out of this thing. That’s not normally my style – I’m East Coast pessimism (realism) and cynicism to the bone, but just once, because this was straight up my dream job, and potential salvation from my current vocational doldrums, I figured I’d give The Secret a shot. Every day, for months (months!!) I refined answers to difficult interview questions, envisioned myself doing the job–including but not limited to meetings, phone calls, and filling out time sheets, and repeated mantras affirming that I already had the job–the time-space continuum just needed to catch up. I was committed, and I worked hard, and in the end…fuck all. Didn’t get the gig. Not sure who I lost to, but down to the final five contestants, after waiting and waiting, I finally got the dreaded too-short email, and that was all she wrote. What did I learn from this?

1) Positive thinking is garbage. Maybe not garbage in that it’s worse than telling yourself crap messages about how you’re a failure and have no chance of succeeding (it’s not), but garbage in that thinking positively does not bend the universe to suit your desires. For six months, I mixed Stuart Smalley-style self-affirmation, intense visualization, and legitimate boots on the ground job hunt hustle as hard as I could, but I didn’t get the outcome I wanted.

2) That’s it, really. I can’t think of anything else I learned. After that email, I went for a run, cranked off a bunch of angry push ups, and moped for a couple weeks. Then I got back to the grind, hunting down job openings, writing cover letters, and trying to find a good-enough-thing on the way to the perfect thing. I’m refocused on my writing, because ultimately, writing itself is the goal. Sure, I’m trying to find someone to pay me to do it, and it could be a major improvement in my life once that happens, but until then, I just need to make work steadily. So here this is, and here I am.

The Story of Mu

Once upon a time there was a town called Thisorthat. In this town, everyone understood that everything was always either this or that. Dinners had peas or carrots, but not peas and carrots. People owned dogs or cats, but not a dog and a cat. For as long as anyone could remember this or that had been the custom in Thisorthat and this simplicity agreed with everybody. Everybody, that is, except Mu.

The little girl Mu was an anomaly in Thisorthat and a source of not insignificant confusion and consternation. Where she had come from, nobody knew, appearing one morning asleep in a bassinet on the doorstep of the town judge. Upon discovering her, the judge believed he’d found a boy, because Mu was wrapped in a blue blanket and in Thisorthat all little boys wore blue and all girls wore pink. He kept her and raised her, despite the initial shock he received upon changing her diaper the first time and having his assumption upended. The judge loved Mu very much, but she created no shortage of trouble because unlike everyone else in the town, Mu had no interest in or, but instead loved and.

Every girl in the town learned to sew and every boy learned to fish, except Mu who sewed herself a lovely pink sunhat and blue dress to wear while she sat on the docks and reeled in trout and salmon so big they made all the boys wonder if her unique outfit had some mysterious power over the fish. In school, it was expected that the boys would study math and the girls would write poetry. Mu wrote poems about arithmetic and devised algorithms to explain the meter of popular sonnets. And on and on she went being very polite and exceptionally courteous while refusing to ever limit herself to one choice or obey dichotomies in any situation.
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Motivational Poster

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Inspired by Brendan Leonard’s brilliant post “Motivational Posters for Mountain Climbers.

Pain Management

Climbing, like life in general, is largely an exercise in pain management. Little kids can naturally clamber around on boulders, and no one needs practice to enjoy birthday cake and head scratches. To ascend the beautiful lines, though, we must accept the sharp bite of tiny crimps and the stress of climbing into unknown ground above sketchy gear, just as to live life a full life we must make peace with the inevitable hard times.

Our fundamental task, then, is to change internal associations so that certain kinds of pain in certain kinds of contexts becomes acceptable, or even desirable. The sensation doesn’t change (pain hurts, period), but its meaning can. Through repeated exposure, we inure ourselves to discomfort. At our best, we take this ability, hard-won on the rocks, and apply it to the more ambiguous and important challenges of our larger lives. At our worst, we hide amidst the concrete problems and tangible pain of climbing to avoid the messy, unpredictable troubles life presents.
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The Suck

I hate everything. Fuck these skis. Fuck this trail. Fuck me for thinking that this was a good idea. Why. The fuck. Do I keep putting myself in these situations?

It’s 3pm on a January Saturday, and I’m disaster skiing out of Rocky Mountain National Park. After ice climbing in the high country all day, struggling to follow Mike’s leads and moving inefficiently, I’m wrecked. The terrain is neither terribly steep, nor very technical, but it’s above my pay grade, and I’m getting pummeled. Every thirty feet or so I face plant into the snow, or skid to a stop below a short rise, then awkwardly sidestep up, sucking wind the whole way. Far ahead, my partner–a better climber, skier, and generally more functional human, it seems–is casually swooshing down the gently undulating trail. I kind of hate him right now.

I’m deep in the Suck. Deep in that place of discomfort and frustration. It’s a place I know well. I keep moving, but the bad feelings are driving me into a rage. I’m an ulcer in snow pants. For a time, the experience spirals out of control. This little kid, a whiny brat, lives in my head, and these are the times he rules like a petulant god-king. With every fall his voice screams louder, hurling insults, specific problems interpreted as symptoms of a larger malady. I’m not just skiing poorly; I’m skiing poorly because I’m bad at life. I’m having this experience because I’m a dysfunctional person. “You’re stupid, and it was a stupid idea to come out here, and it’s some bullshit insecurity issues that drive you to throw yourself against life’s rocks again and again with the misguided faith that there’s wisdom to be found in a broken nose. Accept that you’re soft and weak and stop doing this shit.”
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Into the Black

It was almost midnight, and looking out the back of the ambulance I saw streaks of street light reflecting in the rain-soaked asphalt. Beside me lay a middle-aged man heading to a psychiatric facility. He had told his wife he didn’t want to live, and she persuaded him to go to the hospital for help. He was my patient, friendly enough, but not talkative, alternating between brief responses to my questions, quiet stretches of introspection, and Ativan-induced dozing. I watched him sleep, typed up my report, and during the long silences, contemplated the winding path that had led me there.

I’d moved to Colorado in January, quitting a well-paying but unsatisfying job to become an EMT. My plan was more back of the envelope sketch than comprehensive blueprint, but I’d imagined running exciting 911 calls three or four days a week, and then spending my long weekends breathing alpine air and climbing rock, ice and snow. Instead, I’d found myself stuck at the entry level, driving a wheelchair van with patients going to dialysis, or doctor’s appointments, and so broke I had to work overtime every week.

8 am to 8 pm, I’d sit in a beat up Ford E-350 with vinyl seats designed to push my shoulders against my ears. The van’s shocks felt as rigid as steel girders, and every bump and ripple in the road caused the whole structure to shudder violently and clatter like an empty garbage can being beaten with hammers.

My job was generally dull and frustrating, but over time I began to appreciate the patients as random flashes of brilliance, like lightening illuminating an overcast sky. I met people from all social strata, and had the privilege of spending time with a jazz singer, a race car driver, CEOs, the unemployed and unemployable, homeless, crazy, and terminally ill patients.

I drove a middle aged woman to an oncology appointment. She told me she’d had bone cancer for 15 years, and had only endured the endless rounds of debilitating chemotherapy because of her children. I dropped her off, and waited in the parking lot reading Barry Blanchard’s biography. When I returned, the woman was crying and hugging her doctor. I entered the room and she reached out to me. I stood there holding this stranger’s hand as the doctor explained I’d be taking her to hospice instead of back to the nursing home. There would be no more chemo. During the drive we discussed life and death, children, loss, and the vast, beautiful confusion that is this life. I helped her get in bed, and we hugged goodbye.

In late March, my friend Van told me he would be visiting Colorado and suggested we tackle a big wall in the Black Canyon. I needed a project, a challenge, and his suggestion was a gift. We chose the Scenic Cruise, a 13 pitch 10d with a rugged reputation. For the month of April, I did almost nothing but work and train. Channeling my inner-Mark Twight, I let myself get a little weird. On a whim, I gave myself a mohawk as a means to eschew vanity and lash myself to the mast of climbing. As I ran the buzzing razor over my scalp I heard Tyler Durden saying, “Like a monkey, ready to be shot into space. Space monkey!”
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This is brilliant.

Deus Ex Machina from Seth C Brown on Vimeo.

DIY drone surveillance for protesters

Another development in protester counter intelligence. Protesters in Warsaw recently used a small drone helicopter equipped with a camera to monitor police activity. Very cool.

The next step is using 3D printers to crank out more advanced models.

We’re still talking tactics here, not strategy, but very useful tactics.

New Civil Disobedience Class

Sat November 5
Guy Fawkes Day 2011

For this version of Civil disobedience in the 21st Century, the focus will be on addressing an actual strategic challenge facing Occupy Wall Street. While prior workshops have dealt with hypothetical campaigns in the near and long term future, with the continuing success of Occupy Wall Street, we have the opportunity to use this process for strategic planning of an real campaign. Less time will be spent on the initial lecture and more emphasis will be on working in small groups and iterating the simulation.

The workshop will consist of small and large group discussion to establish and understanding of the terrain (architectural, economic, social, etc.) within which the Occupy movement exists. After creating a common description of the terrain, we’ll discus goals, strategies, and tactics and then break into small groups again based on goals and strategic preferences. In small groups we’ll develop strategic plans and then workshop them as a whole class with one group playing the role of the State. Time permitting, we’ll then be able to discuss the strategies, iterate them, and repeat the role-playing to see how the revised strategies play out.

As with prior workshops, I am not claiming to be an expert on civil disobedience in general, nor, in this case, the specific history and tactics of Occupy Wall Street. I do, however, have experience designing and facilitating games and simulations, and given how well our past workshops have gone, I’m confident that this one could be of real value to Occupy participants considering future directions for the action. The diverse perspectives and goals within the Occupy movement will fit well with the workshop structure as we’ll be able to simulate how the State will respond to different groups using diverging strategies simultaneously.

Public School CD21 Listing and Sign Up

Thunk Tank: Corpus Absurdum

…and now for something totally different…

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