Thursday, January 31, 2013

The hope of P90X

Nobody has ever completed P90X. I know this to be true. I know this because I have tried a few times. I started the program strong and motivated but a couple of weeks in I lose interest. Because I have failed to complete P90X I know for a fact that nobody else has either. I know this to be true. I know this because I can’t imagine a world where people make different decisions than me; I can’t imagine a world where people have different motivations from me. I realize people are different, but I attribute that to their failures. People with lower status failed to live up to their goals; I haven’t got higher status because I have failed to live up to my goals. Those who have great success have failed too, though they have failed less often or have tried so many times their failures haven’t cost them as much.

Nobody has ever completed P90X because we all fail. We don’t wake up early enough to complete the daily exercise and the following day skip the exercise out of personal shame at our previous failure. After a few days of failure we all just give up.

Nobody chooses to be poor. I know this to be true. I know this because I was poor. I knew that if I worked hard enough I could improve my situation. Because I have succeeded I know for a fact that anybody else can succeed. Nobody chooses to be poor. If they remain poor it is because of their failures. They have failed to work hard enough, or failed to work long enough. They don’t choose to be poor but they've remain there because of their failures.

Nobody chooses to be poor because they want to succeed. They work hard enough, they work long enough, to succeed. Through hard work we all overcome failure.


I met a couple on a recent flight across the Atlantic Ocean. United Airlines flight 3482. Man and wife in their mid-70s, they told me this was the first time they had ever left the country. They were heading to Paris. France. Land of romance. It was a lifelong dream of theirs; and a lifetime of savings. A few false starts in savings. A few do-overs. But now they would make it, for their 50th wedding anniversary, to the City of Light.

It was a long flight. We sat together, the three of us, in Row F. I occupied the window seat because I enjoyed watching the clouds roll by beneath the wings. The man - his name was Dick, his personality was bashful - sat beside me. We shared an armrest; the unwritten rules of shared use applied. His wife, Eunice, occupied the aisle seat, muttering something to Dick about having to get up and down so much as they arrived at Row F.

Eunice introduced the couple to me shortly before takeoff, extending her meek hand across the body of her travel-weary husband. “He’s a man of few words,” she said, sharing a knowing look at her betrothed. She told me they were from Arlington, Tennessee, “Just outside of Memphis,” where Dick worked renting temporary fences and she worked part-time for their church. They have three grown children scattered across the country, “Anywhere but Memphis” - one in California, another in Florida and the youngest in Missouri.

Our conversation covered the topics people usually talk about as strangers with several breaks where I stared out the window to spend some time with myself. Dick only offered a few words, filling in details he felt Eunice left out. Where I grew up. How they met. Our plans for Paris. Why Paris.

“We were hoping to spend our honeymoon in Paris,” Eunice said, “but the battery in our car died so we had to put our plans on hold.”

Batteries aren't that expensive, I wondered, how could that derail their big plans?

“We were pretty poor back then,” she answered. “When you’re that poor, a car battery is a big setback.”

And this is when my worldview foundations took a major impact. Not that some people have meager means, but that it took 50 years to come back from something as trivial as a car’s battery. But it was not just that: the somnolent Dick was quickened at this point, as if a slow burning fire in his soul just couldn't be contained anymore. I’m working from memory, so I can only hope I do him justice.

“Listen son,” he started, still looking forward in his tiny airline chair, “many people think they’re poor when they’re not. They’re not poor, they’re young. Young people think the world owes them. They deserve more for their efforts. They can do their boss’s job better than he can. They think they’re poor when they’re really just young.” He turned his head toward me, with bashful eyes straining to catch my own, “You don’t know what poor really is. Poor isn't a temporary situation you find yourself in when you’re trying to work yourself up the ladder. Poor isn't what you are at the beginning of your career. Poor is knowing no matter how hard you work you’re only going to end up poor. Poor is where you were and to whom you were born. Poor is saving every penny you earn only to end up in debt when something happens to you or your family - like a broken leg, or a run down car. Poor is not having the resources to even take advantage of the G.I. Bill. Poor is making decisions between buying food and buying medicine. Poor is living on hope! Hope alone!”

Hope. I used to scoff at the term. Overused. Abused. Hope was a slogan, not the foundations of family life. I think a smirk may have appeared on my face at that word: hope. Dick wasn’t so amused. Dick rubbed his hand back across his bald head as the passion within him increased. His voice rose half an octave.

“I’m sorry if that offends you,” he began, “but it’s the God’s honest truth. Hope is not what gets us through the day; hope is wringing our hands as we check the mail each day waiting for a check to arrive while the funds in the account creep closer and closer to zero. Hope is the agony of your young child home sick from school for three days while you don’t have any way to make up those three days removed from your paycheck at the end of the week. Hope is preparing your résumé while another round of layoffs approach!” Dick’s intensity continues to rise, and it’s me now seeking to avoid eye contact. “Hope is waiting for the test results from the specialist! We’re not hoping for something better, we’re hoping to hold onto what we have! Hope is everything!”

Dick shuffled in his chair a bit, collecting his thoughts. I was prepared for another onslaught. It never came. He settled back down into his chair. Eunice took hold of his arm like a princess at a ball.


In Paris I would run into Dick and Eunice occasionally as they took in the sights. They seemed to genuinely be in love still, after all these years. I couldn't help but think of this trip of theirs as a break from their reality into a dream world. Even at Bastille where so many angry men died in a struggle for for their nation’s hope, this was not only a vacation from their jobs but a realization of their own hope.

I can admit, timidly, that this encounter hasn’t changed the way I live my life, nor how I treat other people on a day-to-day basis, but this flash of lifelong passion from such a humble man does come to my mind time-to-time. When I’m up late at night watching the latest episode of Louis, or in the morning shower where internal conflict is dealt with daily. I may not have the same struggles that Dick or Eunice faced, but if I could live with as much conviction maybe I could one day truly hope.

As it turns out: Eunice finished P90X.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The end

This is it. This is how I’m going to die. I just … I don’t know.
I mean, “This is it? This is how I’m going to die?” I would never have expected this. Maybe if I didn’t grow old and die of a heart attack I would have expected something more dramatic. Some memorable event people would talk about for years to come. This - though - this is not what I expected.
It’s not how I expected to respond either. Am I not supposed to see my life flash before my eyes? Shouldn’t I regret all of the things I haven’t done? Why am I not thinking of the people I love? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?
Instead, I’m just disappointed.
I never thought my ego would be bruised by my death. What does this mean? It can’t just be about how I died, but about how I’ve lived. I must be disappointed with my accomplishments. I don’t even know what those accomplishments are. Have I accomplished anything?
I know I never completed college. I don’t have a career. Never had children, or created anything of lasting value.
Am I a failure, or am I just average?
Maybe the cliche death experiences are for above average people, and the mediocre experience is unspoken for its unremarkableness. There have to be millions of people with similar accomplishments - or lack thereof. Masses of unremarkable people with unremarkable lives coasting through life unaware that they are really disappointed in themselves.
But what does that say about myself, that in the midst of my own crisis I am comparing myself to others? Am I trying to say I did well enough, or am I trying to bring others down to the level of my own resentment?
I must be a terrible person to be judging other people even as I face my own death. Maybe I deserve this ordinary, boring death. I’ve looked down on others for so long I deserve to be forgotten when I pass from this life.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gloriana - Prologue

They call it Technological Symbiosis. The very nature of man has changed over time. The skills of the Ancestors have passed away, along with so many other inventions and myths. It’s been happening for thousands of years, but has greatly accelerated with invention of artificial intelligences.

When an ancestor’s feet became too cold, the sock was invented to keep them warm. Over time, soles were added and the shoe became the greatest invention of its time. Humans now had the ability to travel farther, brave climates, and expand around the world. This was one of the first times technology and biology joined together to advance the race.

In latter times electricity and automobiles changed the way humans interacted with the world. Where masses of men were required to harvest a crop, now a single man on a machine would handle the same work. With so much manual labor being handled by machines, this left a lot of men seeking a lively hood in another way. New industries were created requiring fewer practical skills and more intellectual skills. Men had to prove their worth to society in creative ways. These skills weren’t necessary except to expand the luxury of life for the already detached.

A crisis of gender came as fewer and fewer men were required, while the population grew at unprecedented rates. Disaffected youth skipped college education expecting no worthwhile employment in their future. A slacker culture metastasized around colonies of young people who ideologically throw off the demands of culture, while developing their own counter-culture which devours culture and repurposes it as a display of nihilist futility.

These colonies were dependant on the culture they presumed to hate, even while developing their own economies within the shell of the decaying world they adopted. They craved the advances of modern technology, and embraced it to pursue their own self-determination in a society that has no use for them.

But when the entire façade came crashing down, the skills of the Ancestors long forgot became the utmost necessity. The 22nd Century human became so dependent on electricity, running water, wireless communication, automobile transportation, and digital information than when it all came to an end, nobody knew how to respond.

It wasn’t like you could take your mobile computer out of your pocket and look up how to find clean water supplies, or how to hunt, kill and prepare animals. Once the battery died on the pocket library, you couldn’t determine which plants were edible without trial and error. It was tried, but at first instantly rejected as the palette had been used to commercially prepared foods. But as times became more desperate, and the last of the grocery stores were plundered, hundreds of millions of people became migrants looking for the very basics of life.

Those with the ancient knowledge had great power. With time, men had moved from working outside all day to getting physical activity in air conditioned buildings on machines that didn’t train any muscles to do anything required of those men who eschewed the modern way for the way of the Ancestors. These men may have used manual labor for profit, or as a hobby, but it gave them a great advantage over those who had not.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The last drop of oil was squeezed out of the Earth on a sweltering hot August day in 2112. The wars began years before then. At first, there was widespread debate over the fossil fuel reserves; but the politicians didn’t take it seriously. But when the reality of wells drying up came to the fore, it was unavoidable. Our society had become so dependent on petroleum that each nation was soon strategizing on how to control the remaining supply. Alliances were formed. Allies were betrayed. Before long, the world was ablaze in bloody battle.

The majority of citizens had no clue any of this was going on. They heard about the wars, but they mostly just heard about how the enemies were hell bent on defeating us, and we had to protect our way of life. Little did we know how much petroleum we used on a daily basis – everything from dish soap to the bottle it came in. The machines of industry fueled and lubricated by petrol by-products.

Some nations fared better than others in the perpetual conflicts, hoarding surpluses of oil. They were able to transition some industry to coal, ethanol, nuclear, and hydrogen, but these sources would soon run out, which was preceded by even more bloodshed.

By the time the majority of world governments collapsed, half of the world population would be wiped out. The remaining societies were those born out of necessity in alcoves away from the conflicts. But the rest of humanity was left to wander, making loose alliances to protect food and water supplies.

It would be a long time before the warfare died down enough that separate collectives, bound to the traditions of the Ancestors, would begin trade with one another.
And that’s where I come in.

The Elders of Western Gloriana were concerned about protecting the trade caravans between the colonies. Groups of roaming marauders had been attacking and confiscating goods, and something had to be done. A council was convened, and an Order of Marshalls was established. I earned my commission from Elder Hillary, and sent on my way.

My goal was to track down and capture E. Albert Hatswell, leader of the criminal organization Askatasun. And that is just what I intend to do.

To be continued.