Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When Enough is Enough

In her latest blog entry, Jenny Ryan describes how she finally came to accept that she has Enough.

Not that she reached a breaking point, like, "I've had enough poopy humor for today!" Rather, Enough, as in "I'm happy with what I've achieved, and I no longer need to strive for more money or power, or storage space to be fulfilled."

Yes, the major religions generally say we should rid ourselves of worldly desires. But they don't tell you what to do after that, do they? It's easy for them to pontificate, from within their temples / monasteries, about being satisfied with Nothing. No one expects much from them, do they?

For example, they don't have spouses whose favorite past-time is spending 10% more of your income. Nor do they have a robustly entrepreneurial uncle who keeps insisting that you start a real estate business on the side. Or colleagues whose monthly publications sport such titles as "Efficiency Improvements in Planetary Synthesis," "Differential Humanoid Outcomes From Dust, Silica, and Humus," and "Novel Techniques in the Enticement of Forbidden Fruit."

I guess our religion founders have figured that no one's ever gonna get to the point of having Enough.

I've not achieved what Ms. Ryan has achieved. I've gone beyond it. I've got Too Much. I hope I don't have to go out and buy a high definition TV at the end of the year just so that my wife can sit in front of it and complain about the news. I'm already dreading the next computer upgrade and wonder if there's a way I can post to my blog by sending the entry in a hand-written letter to Blogspot.

What should I do? Maybe I should start watching commercial television again. I bet that will ignite the fires of consumerism in me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mathematical Proof That Round Pegs are Better

Another website I found while ego surfing provided a mathematical proof that Round Pegs in Square Holes are better than Square Pegs in Round Holes.
Hence the circle covers more of the square than the square does the circle. It’s therefore better to be a round peg in a square hole than a square peg in a round hole.

- New Zealand Maths, Square Pegs in Round Holes

Square Pegs on the Web

I'm not the only Square Peg on this Round World.

A brief ego surfing stint turned up Karen Caterson's wonderful site: Square-Peg-People.

I've looked at it only briefly so far, but I feel as if I should just put a link to it in place of this blog. Almost. I'll put up the link, but the blog stays. I need an outlet for self-expression!

I also came across the The Square Peg Alliance, which features some of the music of thirteen musical artists. I was really into music in high school. Maybe if I didn't become an engineer, the alliance would have fourteen members?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Online Support Groups -- Hoarding

There are great self-help resources on the Internet. The online Hoarding support group I belong to is a great example.

When I heard about this support group, I was intrigued.

I took the Rating Scale that I found on the Compulsive Hoarding Website. I scored high enough to meet the criteria, and that's considering how my wife tends to throw out lots of stuff fairly regularly.

So I sent an e-mail request for more information in August of 2006. I got an invitation to apply to the OC Foundation's flagship online self-help group, Hoarding-Cluttering at the end of February. (There is a limit of 103 active members, so I had to wait for a spot to open.) My application was accepted and approved on March 2, 2007, nearly one year ago.

Some of the items I was hoarding at the time included:
  • Broken or unneeded appliances, as well as their manuals and the boxes they came in.
  • Paper documents, particularly anything with financial or personal information.
  • My daughter's writings and drawings. The clothes, toys & books that she's out-grown.
  • Magazines.
  • Outdated books that I have no use for.
  • E-mail.
  • AOL CDs, even though I've no intention of joining.
  • Plastic bottles, such as 1 gallon jugs for water and cat litter.
  • Hazardous waste, such as motor oil, paint thinner, fluorescent bulbs, non-alkaline batteries. (I do bring them to the annual collection if they start to accumulate too much.)
What kind of progress have I made in a year? Well,
  • I still don't like to throw out broken appliances. But if my wife does, I no longer pull them out of the trash. I do get rid of the boxes, now.
  • I've decided to discard paid invoices that are more than a year old. Due to privacy concerns, I burn these along with the junk mail offers for credit and mortgage refinancing.
  • I now scan or take pictures of our daughter's artwork, and even some of her toys. I can then let go of the actual items a lot more easily. Still, my wife is the one that has to discard or donate the items. But I'm eager to get rid of certain old clothes -- the closets are full of the stuff!
  • I canceled most magazine subscriptions. I bring to work or recycle the ones I still get, even if I don't think I've read them fully.
  • I donated a few books and CDs to the library. I had more CDs slated to go, but my wife exhibited a rare bout of role reversal and removed them from the discard pile. She claimed that our daughter would use the CDs for dancing.
  • As for e-mail, I decided it wasn't worth wasting time over. Disk capacity is cheap and plentiful. It's not a problem for me if I have 831 unread messages (957 total) in my Inbox. I do have auto-archiving set.
  • I haven't been getting AOL CDs lately. I've used them all for coasters, except two that I hung next to the house to deter a woodpecker from knocking holes in our home's siding.
  • I gave many plastic bottles to someone who was designing and making his own robot costume.
  • I collect a lot less hazardous waste. I now use all water-based paint, even primer, so I don't need paint thinner. I no longer change my cars' oil by myself. So the occasional watch battery and flourescent light don't take up much room.
So I feel good about the progress I made. But I do have major challenges ahead in the basement, the garage, and both the home office and work office.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

I was looking for something to read. My wife suggested a book that she just finished reading. She left it on the book case downstairs.

I'm sure she told me the title, but I just didn't pay attention. I figured that if it was any good, it would reveal itself to me. And I was hoping I would find something better. Perhaps I'd find one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels that I didn't know I had. Or I might get the urge to reread Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy, again, for the fourth or fifth time.

In any event, I browsed our stacks, thinking that Updike's "Rabbit Run" might be worth reading again. Or possibly the James Herriot series "All Creatures Great and Small," for some light escapism. I also considered "A Year in the Maine Woods" -- it might make me feel as though our winter is mild and easy compared to the one Bernd Heinrich experienced.

Then I spied Dan Millman's "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" crammed horizontally way up on top of the books on the top shelf. When I pulled it down and saw the cover, I finally remembered reading it back in 1991 when I was struggling through the last two semesters of engineering school.

I'm having trouble with this material. It's difficult to understand, and I just can't focus on it. And there's so little time because the workload is heavy. Am I retarded?

But I'm having an equally bad realization. What could be as bad as thinking you're retarded? How about realizing that you have no interest in the topic you decided to major in? It's not just a lack of interest, actually. No, I'm beginning to really loathe engineering. I'm so tired of it.

And what about the future? What am I going to do if/when I'm done with school? Do I go on to graduate school? I start looking at graduate school programs, but the research they do all seems very complicated, boring and meaningless. I fill out a few applications and even a grant (more work/deadlines). I also dread having to start interviewing again. Do I really want to pretend that I've always wanted work on Doppler detectors for mine shafts, that it's something I've longed to do my whole life, and that it would take precedence over my personal life?

I've lost my appetite. I've lost my appetite because I feel like puking all the time. I'm normally a loner. But I start hanging out with my classmates. Because if I don't, I feel the panic creep over me like a cold electric fog. My classmates distract me enough so that I can eat a bit of food from the campus cafeteria.

I'm also becoming emotional. This is strange. I've always been stoic. It used to be that I could read about horrible atrocities in the newspaper or hear about them on TV and I'd feel nothing. Now I get upset.

What's wrong with me? Am I really going crazy? I see the doctor and complain about the difficulty I have eating and swallowing. He wonders if I have a Hiatal hernia. I get an upper GI series, which requires that I swallow some ghastly thick liquid. I cannot drink it all, but the technician does the scan anyway. The results are negative.

The doctor doesn't think there's anything wrong with me. I decide to visit the school's social worker. When I describe what I'm going through, she tells me that I might actually have a learning disability, but it becomes apparent only when I'm under a lot of stress. This of course only adds to the stress. But I do see a wonderful poster of a cyclist beginning an imposingly steep mountain ascent. An avid cyclist myself, I understand the analogy perfectly -- focus just on what's right before you and don't think of how far away the final goal is.

But I still need help, so I get the phone number of a local clinic for off-site counseling. My first session starts out awkwardly, but then it gets downright disappointing. She doesn't seem to have much empathy. "So what's the problem," she asks when I mention that I start crying for no reason.

But after a few sessions, I see that she's trying to help. Her aim is to get me to identify the causes of my problems, break them into smaller, more manageable problems, and solve them.

We start to build a rapport. She recommends that I read "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior," by Dan Millman.
That's the book I held -- the book I'd forgotten about completely until now. This is the book I was looking for, that I've needed for nearly seven years in fact.

I read it in two nights and felt energized and inspired. "There are no ordinary moments." "What time is it? Now. Where am I? Here." "The horse ran away. Oh no! But he came back leading two other wild horses. Yippie! But my son broke his leg trying to tame them. Oh no! But the army decided not to draft my son for the war. Yippie!" I love this stuff.

But I was also a bit troubled by it. Because in order for Dan to remake himself the first time, he cuts himself off from those around him -- his professors, his coach, his friends. And the second time he needs to remake himself, he and his wife separate and he goes off on his own.

I sometimes long to be a loner again. My wife and daughter demand more attention than I can spare. There are days I need to work at home because my wife's pain and fatigue confine her to her bed. They spend a lot more money than I would on my own. I pay bills for the newspaper and cable TV for them. They use heat and electricity during the day when I'm at work. If it weren't for them, I could leave my job and strike off in another direction and be willing to accept less pay. I wouldn't worry about moving to another part of the country, into an unknown school district, away from in-laws and friends.

But the peaceful warrior does not dwell on what might've been or long for things to be different. The warrior accepts what is and learns from it. I must do that, too.