Community

At the beginning of June Chris Guillebeau posted an article on his blog about community building.  It couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as community is one of the things that’s been on my mind with regard to how I want to keep myself busy.  As I noted in my last post, self-unemployment has not been conducive to a sense of community in my life.  As a reminder, I defined community as having other people to interact with who are on the same or a similar path, people who want what I want and who can help me when I need it and accept my help when they need it.  In his post, Chris Guillebeau defines a community as  “a group of people united through a common struggle with the same stories”.  His definition is more concise than mine, but I think we’re getting at the same idea.

Community is one of the few positive aspects of traditional employment.  A traditional workplace gathers people together and provides them with a common struggle, resulting in the same stories.  The common struggle may be against the competition, the management, or even the customer, but it is present regardless, and often results in a camaraderie in the rank and file.  That’s something I’ve taken for granted in the past, and something which is not native to self-employment.  When community is not provided, it must be sought out or built instead.

I think it’s important to have a community for any major goal you are trying to achieve.  As I noted when I began this incarnation of the blog, I think it’s true that most of the problems people have in their lives are in the areas of health, wealth, and relationships.  So it stands to reason that it would be helpful to be a member of a community in each of these three areas.  Interacting with people who have similar ideas and goals as you do in these key areas can only help you stay on track with your goals, continue learning, and provide opportunities for growth (sometimes unexpected ones!).

I am currently following several blogs connected with these topics, and while these are fascinating and help me to feel less isolated as I read about people with similar struggles and stories, I think the facility of the Internet to connect people has its limits.  Although I owe many of my in-person friends to connections made online, I think that if you don’t take these relationships into the real world, they will necessarily be stunted.  Internet communities are valuable, but cannot take the place of face-to-face interaction.  (Some of you may be surprised to hear this opinion from me of all people.  To be honest, I’m a little surprised to hear it from myself.)

With that in mind, I want to find both online and offline communities with similar outlooks on health, wealth, and relationships.

In terms of health, I want to connect with people who are interested in losing weight and building muscle without expensive gym memberships or equipment.  Cardio, weight-lifting, and calisthenics are topics of interest, as well as healthful, inexpensive food with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (i.e. fiber).

I read a bit about personal finance, and a lot of people are talking about getting out of debt, managing money, investing, and so forth.  But I am more interested in the other side of the wealth equation, and would like to interact with people who discuss income generation — entrepreneurs, freelancers, and others with alternative approaches to employment and ideas about how to succeed on these paths.

Relationships are a little different, and I’ve already identified communities relevant to my interests and learned a lot from them, though I haven’t participated as much as I would like.  I’ll go into this in a little more depth in another post, as it deserves a more in-depth treatment.

But people skills have never been my forte, and I’m not quite sure how best to go about finding groups of people who are already on these paths.  Being who I am, Internet resources are first to spring to mind:

  • Craigslist
  • Meetin.org
  • Meetup.com
  • Blog searches

These resources can help to find groups of people who are talking about these things both on the ‘net and off, but how would I go about locating such people if I didn’t have the Internet at my disposal?  What groups are you a member of and how did you find them?  Are you looking for a greater sense of community?  As always, comments are welcome.

What Keeps You Busy?

My friend Alice wrote a post some time ago about the question “what do you do?” and how it usually really means “what do you do for money?”.  But I don’t see the question in that light — really what I’m interested in is “what do you do with the bulk of your time?”.  For most people, that is full-time traditional employment, but I find it more interesting when it isn’t.  As a result, I try to avoid the question “what do you do?” these days in favor of “what keeps you busy?”.  A subtle difference, perhaps, but a meaningful one.  If something other than pursuing income keeps you busy, good for you!  I’d like to hear about it.

I have been kept busy by four different employment statuses in my adult life, and each has its pros and its cons.  Each has a different feel to it.  Sometimes the specific activities which keep me busy are different from one status to the next, and sometimes they’re the same but take on different meanings, but these statuses definitely all have distinctly different flavors.  I’ve been employed, unemployed, self-employed, and most recently, self-unemployed.

To discuss the pros and cons of the these statuses, first I need to explore what I want out of the activities that keep me busy.

What I Want From What Keeps Me Busy

  • Self-Determination. I want to be the master of my time, choosing what I do, when I do it, and how long I do it for.
  • Activities I Care About. I want my activities to make a difference in a way that has significance for me.
  • Project Ownership. I want to have a significant stake in and responsibility for the outcome of what I do.
  • Community. I want to have other people to interact with who are on the same or a similar path, people who want what I want and who can help me when I need it and accept my help when they need it.
  • Adequate Compensation. I want to be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle indefinitely.

Now that I have some criteria to work with, I can start evaluating the employment statuses.  This is all highly subjective, of course, based on my own life experiences — I’m sure others have different opinions stemming from different experiences.

Employment

Employment has been a mixed bag for me.

Self-Determination: Very little.  Projects and schedules are determined by the employer, often without regard for your skills, interests, wishes, or well-being.  Rigid 5×8 workweeks with more than 40 hours’ worth of work to be done per week.  No telecommuting, despite working almost exclusively in the software industry.  -1

Activities I Care About: Not yet.  Business change management software, real estate database software, adult internet dating and porn sites — unfulfilling, all.  Perhaps I just haven’t worked for the right company yet.  +0

Project Ownership: Varies from company to company.  I’ve found that it’s easier to come by in a small company than in a large, which contributes to my preference for working for small companies.  +0

Community: This is where traditional employment shines.  Everyone who’s hired is brought on to be part of the team, and everywhere I’ve worked, there have been good people, even in amongst the bad.  There are always people to talk to, work with, and learn from, and that has been a significant factor in employee retention at more than one place I’ve worked.  +1

Adequate Compensation: Although I have been underpaid for my skills for most of my career, I have almost always made enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, and usually enough to squirrel away a significant percentage as savings as well.  +1

How I Kept Myself Busy: Doing what I was told, when I was told, for as long as I was told.  Trying to make positive change in an organization which was invariably too rigid and inflexible to accept it.  Waiting out the clock because I was obligated to be there for a fixed amount of time every day no matter what.

Total Score: 1

Unemployment

Unemployment was an unmitigated disaster for me.  I think I was already beginning to suffer from depression before I became unemployed in 2001, and being unemployed contributed tremendously.

Self-determination: Up the wazoo.  TOO MUCH self-determination, in fact.  Able to do anything I wanted any time I wanted, I did nothing all the time.  Directionlessness.  -1

Activities I Care About: I wasn’t doing things I cared about so much as doing things to try to fill the time.  -1

Project Ownership: I didn’t recognize that I had a project, so although I certainly had a stake in and responsibility for the outcome, that outcome was inactivity and depression.  Directionlessness meant that there wasn’t anything for me to feel like I had a stake in or responsibility for.  -1

Community: I was pretty isolated during this time, too.  -1

Adequate Compensation: Take it from me, the pay SUCKS.  -1

How I Kept Myself Busy: Staring at a flashing light box (either computer or TV) all day long as an escape.  Sleeping a lot.  Being miserable.

Total score: -5

Self-Employment

Self-employment felt little better than unemployment when I experienced it before, but I do believe that I was doing it wrong.  The directionlessness of unemployment and depression carried over into my freelance web design days, and I found myself unhappily doing the least I could to get by — or not even that.

Self-determination: Moderate.  You can pick and choose your clients, right?  Well, I had only one client, and worked for them doing whatever they wanted.  I was freer than at any regular job, but still bound by the client’s wishes (and hadn’t found any other clients to provide me with choices), so this worked out kind of neutral.  +0

Activities I Care About: I was building things on the web, and that was good.  I was able to expand my mind and improve my skills, which is important to me.  But ultimately the business of selling shoes on the web is not one that I am passionate about, so the projects themselves weren’t inspiring.  Another neutral, I think.  +0

Project Ownership: I had a LOT of latitude in what I could do, subject to approval by the business owner and his management staff.  I had a great deal of influence over their web site and their internet marketing activities, and took the web site from doing $500/month in business to about six figures a month in my time there.  It’s just a pity that the increasing business had no effect on my bottom line.  Still, I’ll call this a positive.  +1

Community: Very small, since it was a small business I was working for, and none of them were particularly high tech.  I was mostly on my own as the internet guy.  Again, though, I think I was doing it wrong.  More clients, more networking, etc., could have helped with this.  Another neutral.  +0

Adequate Compensation: It would have been, had I worked the hours I’d planned to, or negotiated better.  Yet another neutral.  +0

How I Kept Myself Busy: Mostly the same as during unemployment, but with an additional 5-20 hours a week of web design.

Total score: +1

Self-Unemployment

Self-unemployment has been FANTASTIC for my mental health and my mood.  I’m so glad I quit my job in January.  It’s been like a mini-retirement (allusion to The 4-Hour Workweek intended).

Self-determination: Extreme.  I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and I am usually taking full advantage of that to work on my projects.  +1

Activities I Care About: Speaking of my projects, I have time to read, write, code, do web design, blog, study game design, play video games for fun and research (instead of escape), etc.  Things I haven’t had time and/or energy for in year.  +1

Project Ownership: Yes.  No one else is working on my projects, so the stake and responsibility are all mine.  +1

Community: This has come to my attention as something that is currently lacking in my life.  I don’t have enough community, and need to reach out and make some connections with people and groups whose goals and interests are in line with mine.  0 for now, but I believe I can improve this to +1 soon.

Adequate Compensation: This is the one true drawback to self-unemployment.  I’m burning through my savings — and really, if I were receiving adequate compensation, it would be self-employment (doing it right), not self-unemployment.  -1

How I Kept Myself Busy: Like I said in the Activities I Care About section, reading, writing, coding,  web designing, blogging, studying game design, and playing video games.  I’m very happy with how I am keeping myself busy lately, though it defies labeling.

Total score: +2

Conclusion

Self-unemployment is the most fulfilling lifestyle I’ve experienced so far, and I am loathe to leave it behind, but my dwindling savings tell me I must start thinking about it.  I would like to transition into self-employment in a manner that results in a score of +5.  Pretty much doing what I’m doing now but with more project-related social interaction and selling it to people (or otherwise being compensated, e.g. through advertising).  Failing that, I think a job at a small company (perhaps an independent game company, blog network, or web design firm) would be a good fit.  Part-time or temporary work would be good if the money was good enough to keep me in food and clothing.  But really, I’d just like to keep on doing what I’m doing.

What about you?  What keeps you busy?  And what do you want from the activities that keep you busy?

Weblog 8/17/02

I’ve now been up 27.5 hours and counting. I had a 20 minute nap 12 hours ago. *sigh* Oh well. I’ll live. D&D tomorrow, I’m unprepared (as usual) and uncertain as to whether I’ll be conscious for it.

I’m 22.5 today. Hurm. Looks like my accomplishments for biological year 2002 (as opposed to fiscal year, y’know, I set my one-year time frame… yeah.) will be a slight shift in direction, from wandering aimlessly in no particular direction, to wandering aimlessly in the general direction of goals. (Like that? Wandering aimlessly in a chosen direction?) *shrug* I dunno, maybe I can find some direction in the utterly TWISTED idea I co-created tonight at game. Doubt it.

Decided to alter this site’s focus a little bit (just a little bit). I think I’m gonna use it more as a blog (gawd I hate that word. Dunno why. Just hate it. Kinda like that little shit who whispered “I see dead people” in The Sixth Sense, which I refuse to see ’cause every time I saw the commercials for it I wanted to reach into the screen and throttle the living daylights outta the little shit. Yeah. That. This parenthetical is hereby terminated on the grounds of being entirely too bloody long.) or a LiveJournal, which means more frequent and (frequently) less philosophical content. Dunno if that’s good or bad or neutral, but ‘tever.

P.S.: It really is a shame about the kid from The Sixth Sense, because I have a great deal of respect for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan solely on the basis of Unbreakable.

Yeah, so anyway, life in general. Planning on D&D tomorrow, banking and chilling with a friend on Sunday, maybe plans for Monday, undecided beyond that. Played a Cheapass Game today (DeadWood, I think?) and discussed kew comics. No GamenStein, ’cause no Jeanne.

Maybe I’ll merge the weblog stuff with the ramblings. I dun wanna, ’cause they have a different feel (to me, anyway). Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll add a section. I anticipate that sometimes I’ll have trouble telling a weblog entry from a rambling (okay, so the feel isn’t SO different), which will suck. Like that entry from 8/16/02 could go either way. There’s enough short-term stuff for the weblog and enough long-term stuff for ramblings. Hrm.

If I keep up with the weblog, mebbe I’ll sort entries into pages by month. Maybe I’ll get a real LiveJournal. Maybe I’ll just kind of run out of steam and not update for months on end. Who knows?

Okay, enough rambling (weblogging?) for now. Time to try to nap. *sigh*

Weblog 8/16/02

Insomnia, ennui, frustration, and general dissatisfaction with the world at large and my situation in particular are the order of the day. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on:

  • Web Design – I’ve been going through a bit of a web design crisis recently, which is a BadThing[tm] given that I make a living as a web designer. I’ve recently gotten it in my head to update all my web sites to XHTML 1.0 Strict with CSS2 in order to be in line with modern standards. This has produced a great deal of frustration for me as I attempt to use CSS to do all the things I used to do with HTML, and particularly with tables. Bleah.
  • Insomnia – I got 7 hours of sleep last night. That’s the most I’ve gotten in a day in nearly a week. I’ve been terribly tired all week long, bailed on work twice, and left two hours early once. I’ve put in a grand total of 6 hours of work this week, and most of that has been unfocused because I’m just too bloody tired to concentrate, and unproductive due to my web design crisis.
  • Weather – It’s hot. It sucks. ‘Nuff said.
  • Unfinished Projects – I have quite a few of these, which I’ll explore in-depth below. They’re all vying for my attention, and I haven’t enough to spare to give them ALL a fair shot.
  • Money Concerns – I’m just scraping by right now financially. I’m not in any particular financial danger, I’m just accustomed to living more comfortably than I am right now. When I think about things that I want or need that cost more than about $10, it’s a case of long-term planning. I need a new bed or mattress, I want some books on XHTML and CSS, I want a couple of new D&D books, I want a new computer table or desk, etc.
  • Tech Industry – I miss my old job. This is partly related to the above, and partly due to my web design crisis. The tech industry is in a bad place right now, and I’m not sure if it’s a localized phenomenon. No one is hiring like they were in ’99, and I despair of ever getting back into the tech industry proper. Web design is getting me by, but it’s not my calling.
  • More…?

Okay, now for that Unfinished Projects thing.

  • Learning Latin
  • Learning CGI
  • Learning CSS2
  • Overhauling all my web sites
  • Reading Cryptonomicon
  • Tidying my room

Tetras in the Sea

George Lucas is a wise, wise man. I went to see Star Wars episode 2 on opening night, and came out with something of a revelation. Significance.

I came out of the movie ranting about how cool Yoda is, and how cool lightsabers and Jedi duels are. After a suitable period of rant time (and a few episode 3 predictions), I came to the following conclusion: “And this whole ‘not being a Jedi’ thing sucks.” My dad asked, “Who’s not a Jedi?”, and I had a one-word answer for him: “Me.”

I realized later, though, what it is about Jedi knights that’s so compelling to me. In addition to the powers and the wisdom and the lightsabers, any of which I would LOVE to have for my own, what’s really compelling about the Jedi is Significance. They have the ability to shape their world, to make a difference. And not just a minor difference; a single Jedi can set forces (no pun intended) in motion that can alter the galaxy, even the universe, forever. They are the epitome of Significance among trillions of insignificants.

Significance is what I want for my own life. It is also something I respect in others: the ability to carve out a chunk of Significance for themselves in a positive way, and hold onto it for dear life.

It occurred to me to relate this idea to the old cliché about being a big fish in a little pond versus a little fish in a big pond. We have little choice in the matter; we are by default born into a colossal pond. This is a side-effect of civilization; the larger a society we live in, the bigger our pond, and the more insignificant we feel. We are born tetras in the sea. The neon tetra is a little tiny goldfish, about an inch long fully-grown.

This is where interpersonal relationships become important. Individuals and small groups give us smaller ponds. We define groups in which we can have positions of Significance. We gather in small schools of tetras, and swim within aquaria and bowls which we create within the vast ocean. The smaller the bowl, the greater our own feeling of significance, from friends, to family, to a single romantic partner, to whom our significance can be immense. A tiny little bowl just a few inches across containing but two little tetras who mean the world to each other. (Okay, that was excessively sappy, but I’m trying to make a point.)

Of course, unlike the neon tetra but like the koi, human beings have the potential to grow to a size commensurate with the pond in which they live. Some people, instead of or in addition to shrinking their pond, grow larger in an attempt to fill the space allotted to them. People take action, make a difference, educate themselves, get noticed, pursue goals, and do interesting and notable things. They act intentionally and insistently to increase their own significance in a positive way.

And that is the basis for my next rambling.

On Unfulfilled and Undirected Potential

 

I have a cellular phone. I carry it with me whenever I leave the house for more than checking the mail or running downstairs to the laundry room. The great irony is that I don’t talk to anyone. I have a communications device undreamt of a generation ago. I have the capability of being in contact with any of billions of people in just a few moments. I pay monthly for this privilege, and I barely use it at all. The technology, the capability, the potential is mind-boggling when you stop to consider it. But what good is that capability when you’ve got nothing to say, and no one to say it to?

What good is the skill of writing if you’ve got nothing to write and no one to write it for?

One of the challenges facing a man who fancies himself a writer.


“And I sing this for the captain
Whose ship has not been built
For the mother in confusion
Her cradle still unfilled 

For the heart with no companion
For the soul without a king
For the prima ballerina
Who cannot dance to anything”

 

-From “Heart With No Companion” by Leonard Cohen

On Poetry and Slavery to Rebellion

My poetry lacks, and I think I unraveled part of the riddle this afternoon. Ultimately, I am a scientist, not a poet. In English today, we discussed connotative words versus denotative words. I tend to use denotative words. I describe things in terms of form and function, I use plain descriptive language and I tend to use communication as a tool, not as a toy. My style lends itself well to prose, but leaves poetry flat and dull. I write objectively; poetry is subjective.

I wonder how much of this shaping of my personality is my own fault. I’ve spent so long working to ensure that I am not ruled by my emotions that I think they’ve all but disappeared. I’ve rebelled against them so long that my life is based more on that rebellion than anything else. Garrison Keillor wrote of a similar concept in the “95 Theses 95” footnote in his novel _Lake_Wobegone_Days_. “75. I wasted years in diametrical opposition, thinking you were completely mistaken, and wound up living a life based more on yours than if I’d stayed home.” How true, how true.

So. As I asked last week in a rambling on a similar topic, where do I go from here?

I Fancy Myself a Writer

More and more since returning to school last Monday, I fancy myself a writer.

Why “I fancy myself a writer”? Why not simply, “I am a writer”? I chose the words I did because there’s a great deal of hubris required to call oneself a writer when one writes as little as I do. More than the average person, perhaps, but not nearly “enough” to be a writer, if indeed there is such a thing. Still, I have this idealized picture of myself in my mind, a version of me indefinably but perceptibly superior. I see Writer Dave, and he looks as I do now, but there’s a certain confidence about him that I lack, a certain wisdom, a certain peace, and a good deal more depth of thought and action. He’s less rash, and perhaps less jovial, but wittier to make up for it. He has read infinitely more than I have, and written a great deal more, as well. His insight boggles the mind, as does his empathy. He is able to read people and help them to feel more comfortable with themselves, more confident, happier… more like him. He understands them, and they trust him. He’s never out-of-place, out of his element, stuck for something (the right thing) to say. He approaches learning opportunities with a tempered enthusiasm. He talks to people just to learn about them, hear a fresh voice, a new perspective, get a window into a different life. He’s also a linguist, and a translator, and can talk to many people in their native tongues (Spanish and a couple of dialects of Chinese top his list of known languages). He observes, as I do, but his perception runs deeper. He is educated in many fields, and can converse intelligently on many topics. He’s been published. Perhaps poetry, perhaps fiction, perhaps technical writing, DEFINITELY non-technical writing. He has an aura of contentment without arrogant self-satisfacton. He knows love not as a casual acquaintance but as a life-long friend and ally. He is, ultimately, who I want to be. Who I *thought* I would be.

I fancy myself a writer.

Bits and Pieces on a Good-Mood Day

I’ve just come from my Physical Geography class. It looks to me like it’ll have a fairly strong speculative aspect to it, which is good, because that’ll help me in adapting the concepts to the world in my D&D game.

My visit to the Foothill Career Center this morning seemed productive, and I hope that the leads it generated land me a job. I got an overview of the jobseeking tools provided by the career center and contact info for a few more people, including one gentleman at De Anza who runs a “school for the laid-off” program. I might be able to get paid to go to school, an opportunity I would likely jump at.

Likewise, my visit to the health office was helpful. the cold medicine they gave me has restored my nose to working order, at least for the time being.

So I guess I’m having a good day so far.

You may have noticed that my Ramblings page has taken on a more livejournal-like quality. This is a result of my new policy of writing regardless of whether I have anything to say. Feedback is welcome, as I’m curious whether the increased frequency is worth the decreased quality. As always, suggestions will be considered, but there’s no guarantee I’ll act on them, even in the face of overwhelming public demand.

There are things I should be doing right now, but I prefer to write, so on to other topics…

Financial institutions. Am I the only one who is frustrated nearly to the point of a postal outburst by financial institutions? When are these people going to catch up with the times? If bank technologies advanced half a century overnight, they’d still find themselves firmly entrenched in the 1980’s. Everything is online now, everything is electronic, everything should be fast. Why, oh WHY does it take FOUR DAYS to do a simple funds transfer online? When you compound this with the fact that moving funds from one bank to another online requires an intermediary, and the automated computer systems apparently get the weekends off (?!), it takes TWO WEEKS to pay off my credit card bill so I can buy books for school. This is RIDICULOUS. We live in the INFORMATION AGE, people! Get it through your heads: Pony Express is DEAD! Stop using smoke signals and carrier pigeons! When I need money in one bank instead of another, I shouldn’t have to spend half a month juggling accounts in order to do it without paperwork! Jeezus!

Okay, I think that’s enough ranting on that topic for the moment. I’m a bit more annoyed about this than usual, since waiting for funds transfers is threatening to impact my grades, but this has long been a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I’m convinced I’d be better off shoving wads of cash into my mattress.

I’d like to take this moment to be grateful that my head no longer aches like it did last night. I went to bed at two and found that I couldn’t sleep because my head hurt. When I sat up, it felt better, so I moved to the living room and slept sitting up on the couch for an hour and a half. Then I woke up and moved back to my room, close enough to sleep that I was able to drop off again without giving my head time to start hurting. 🙂 Luckily, I think I’m getting over this cold, and it’ll only get better from here.

Okay, I think that’s a sufficient quantity of deranged ranting. Time to work on a different form for a bit.

On the Misnomerhood of “Total Immersion”

I’ve heard that one of the quickest ways to learn a new language is total immersion. I agree, though my definition is likely different. How many native speakers do you think exist in an environment of TOTAL IMMERSION? Not many, I’d wager. Most people don’t immerse themselves, or even think about language much at all. Most people merely learn what they need to to get by (if that) and then stop there. Tell me, how is this total immersion?