Monday, November 30, 2009

Stuck In Decision

All is not right in my world, yet there is nothing wrong. While I have everything I could possibly need, something is missing. My motivation is waning, the pressure is building and though there is no real danger looming, there is trepidation… over nothing and everything. Time is short, but enough remains. It is not a matter of whether or when or even if, the responsibilities will be met, but it is a question of what, and often, why. What is it I seek? Where can it be found? How will I know?

No matter how much knowledge I acquire or how much experience I log or how much life I live those questions still remain, more or less prominently. Obviously, now they are more prominent and the timing is at least a little bit curious. Currently I am at the end of another semester replete with all it entails; I am less than one week away from yet another birthday; each of my distinct and largely separated worlds are undergoing profound, though certainly not “bad” changes; and I am inexplicably drained.

But the needed impetus is with me; I will succeed in the tasks assigned. Time is short, but it is a familiar working place for me - uncomfortable, sometimes painful, but familiar. Even that looming, gnawing feeling that something is missing is one I have grown accustomed to. It can (and probably will) be a motivating force, but at the moment it is keeping me in a holding pattern. Soon enough the fear of missing something because I moved ahead will be replaced by the fear of missing something because I didn’t. And it very well could be that all this profound questioning of the unanswerable is representative of the transition.

Or not. Regardless, it has been quite a little while since I have felt like I was walking this path alone – but it is a fact. Again, not a bad or good thing, it takes a firm assessment of all other circumstances to make that kind of value judgment. But it does feel more than appropriate – it feels necessary. The near and intermediate future is promising but in many respects, solitary. In many other respects, however, I am decidedly not alone. It’s that duality, again, that has me spinning my wheels - not wanting to move, but anxious to get going. One thing is absolutely sure – stagnation is not part of the story.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


It’s that time of year again. But before the commercial spectacle that has come to define the coming weeks begins in earnest, tomorrow we are given a brief opportunity to reflect on what there is to be grateful for. And there is always something to be grateful for. Instead of thinking about what I think my life needs, Thanksgiving gives me a societal mandate to enumerate that which it does not. When framed in such a manner, it is very difficult to feel like I have somehow been shortchanged, as far as material items are concerned anyway. The non-material, however, is a much more complicated picture.

It is all too easy to confuse desire with need. It could come from a primal, perhaps instinctual impulse, but often feeling good, or fulfilled, or complete in oneself requires the participation of others. In other words, we are social beings, we need one another to validate who we are… and that can be a very tricky thing if we are not sure who that is. And it could be even more difficult when we do have a good idea of just what it is we are made of. Inconsistencies are more apparent. Compatibilities are more closely scrutinized. Balancing rational decision and instinctive desire becomes much more precarious. Perfection is forever elusive.

Yet my life is still full; it might even be complete. I might even be complete. That I am still around to think about these and other phenomena is a place I can find a certain degree of gratitude in. I know only too well that nothing is constant, nothing is guaranteed and when nothing is ventured – nothing is gained. I can sit safe and secure in my little comfort zone or push the boundaries of what I believe to be possible, and maybe, just maybe I’ll find that what I want is also what I need. If I don't walk out to the edge, I'll never see the other side.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


This blog, on rare occasion, receives spam comments. When I receive an email alert to such a comment, I delete it immediately. I do not write and post this stuff for profit - especially someone else's profit. These comments are generated by "bots" and usually appear on a post that is deep within my archives. It is not an issue that has become so much a problem that I feel the need to install measures to block them. Those precautions always inconvenience that vast majority of my visitors who are actually people.

Less frequently, I'll receive an inquiry from a business - one with some sort of web presence - that wishes to advertise by placing a banner or some other kind of link on my blog. The vast majority of these are generated by real people, although their requests were likely written by someone else. Regardless, these are not malicious attempts to hijack my readers, they are going through the proper channel - me. Although I am not philosophically apposed to advertising on my blog, I am resistant. I don't want to endorse anything that I do not believe in and the few inquiries I have received so far have not satisfied that standard.

How do I know? The following is the most recent example. The name of the firm and the contact information is left unidentified as it is not my purpose to harm their business, but rather to identify what I look for when selecting a firm in which to do business with.


I am working for a marketing firm and so I spend my day reading and looking at blogs-- I know your site is valuable to you; and I am sure you are suspicious as I would be if I opened this email. But please let me tell you what I am looking for blogs and other websites that may be will to host a text link. In this economy I know that everyone needs some extra money. So I am emailing you to see if you would be interested in hosting a link on 25 year plan.

Also let me say I know it may not be something that you have done or considered in that past; using your site for advertising but I think that this would benefit both my affiliate and yourself. I will be offering you monetary compensation to host a link. And I only would want you to host a VERY small link on one of the internal pages of your site. I can answer any questions you may have. I hope that we can work something out. Let me know what you think. Thanks in advance!

Cheers, M_____

I would ordinarily just hit the delete button and go about my business, but I guess I was looking for a momentary distraction. The firm has a URL that was not identified in the body of the email, but it was in the address itself.


I decided to visit just out of curiosity. You no doubt noticed that my blog contains absolutely no commercial content - that is, I do not advertise anything except my own work and that of those I feel are worthy. I do not receive any financial incentive or income from anything on my blog. This is not to say that I am forever committed to non-commercial content as I have explored the possibility with solicitors such as yourself in the past. So far, however, I have not found anyone that I wish to associate my blog with.

After visiting your site, I must inform you that, unfortunately, my stance remains unchanged. But since you made the effort to explore my humble blog, I will go one step further in your case and identify (free of charge, for these services usually come at a price) what I found on you website that dissuaded me from associating with your firm.

There are a number of spelling and grammatical errors in the text on your site. If you are to be perceived as professional, everything about you must also be professional. You might counter with something like, "We are computer experts, not English majors." Fair enough, but consider this: If your customers are also computer experts and thus feel the same way about the proper use of English, why would they need your services? They are, after all, in the same business. No, you are more likely catering to a large cross-section of the consumer and business market and thus are likely to encounter those, like myself, who judge professionalism on more than just what you say, but also on how you say it.

And speaking of the technical content of your site, I must say that for webpage, networking and computer experts, it is rather plain. And for a firm that has been in business since 2007 and expanding as your site claims, I would expect more than just what appears to be a standard template that anyone could assemble out of a box. Indeed, even my blog, which is nothing fancy, is far more appealing - and it is nothing more than a standard Blogger template with a custom header.

I extend this information to you in the spirit of sincerity. I am not one who is accustomed to wasting my time for no other reason than to tear down the work of an entrepreneur who is just trying to make a buck. I attack when provoked - your's was not a provocation, but an opportunity to educate (which is my profession).

Best regards,

Michael Althouse

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Tricks

In about two hours, my youngest son will be leaving the safety of a U.S. Army base in Germany and deploying to Afghanistan. He will be serving there for the next year, defending U.S. interests by (hopefully) playing a role in bringing stability to that region of the world. Although I have a far different position regarding our presence in Afghanistan than I do about the war we waged on Iraq, that doesn’t reduce my anxiety about my son being placed in harm’s way. The world, it seems, has turned to the U.S. to deal with this mess, but it is far more complicated than just finding and killing bin Laden. However, hunting bin Laden like an animal is at least a mission that has solid justification. That’s all I want to say about this at the moment – I have purposefully avoided thinking about it, but the time is soon to come…

The things that have pressed themselves upon mind recently are still not much more than barely defined abstractions. They are feelings, or thoughts, or perhaps just the bio-electro-chemical firing of synapses… it is either human sentience based on the purely scientific or something more that creates our self-awareness. The coding of thoughts and feelings into words is a process not unlike a picture slowing coming to view while developing; the image is there, but it is not yet fully visible. That image is slowly beginning to reveal itself…

In less than three weeks I will celebrate the 47th anniversary of my birth. About two weeks later, this blog will celebrate its 4th anniversary. Although I am a far less prolific blogger this year than in years past, that does not mean the world has lost its wonder – it does mean I am getting more used to it. This is not necessarily good or bad; in this case, it just is. This "new" life I have stumbled into is not so new anymore, but it is still every bit as profound. I write here about many different and loosely joined topics, but in reality much of this is about discoveries I probably should have made years ago. But I didn’t and if the feedback I get is any indication, I am not alone.

The world is in a rapid state of change – one that will not fully be appreciated until generations have passed – when our culture is under their microscope. We are living through a major paradigm shift such that we are still grappling with huge questions about what it all means and how it affects us. Not unexpectedly, there are good and long overdue changes in attitude, but there are also some decidedly “bad” things that come along with all this “progress.” And it has been like that for at least the last 2,500 years; our time is not the first to experience a period of accelerated change like the one we are in the midst of. Our great grandchildren, their children and their grandchildren will understand it better than we possibly can.

Prior to the turn of the millennium, I lived in blissful unawareness. I was content with the world as it came; I had no real desire to understand it. Or so I thought. In retrospect, much of my discomfort was spawned by confusion and misunderstanding… I didn’t get what we (humanity, life, sentience, cosmos, take you pick) were all about. There had to be a telos, a purpose… some reason other than some happy accident of chemistry. Science has given us so very much, but it could not explain, to my satisfaction, just what the point of all this is. As it turns out, the happy accident was mine, but I had to learn some new tricks.

Which brings me back in a round about way to where I started. These neuro-impulses that have now developed into words are part my telos, that is, I believe my purpose here is simply to understand. As much as I can. I am not a kid anymore – that childhood inquisitiveness has long left me, but my desire to know what we are all about has not faded. Over the years it has manifested in a number of different pursuits, interests, forms and means of education, occupations, vices… and virtues. My wanderlust now embraced, this “old dog” (actually, in dog years I’m not yet seven – middle aged even for a dog) must learn anew what I might have been better equipped to learn in my younger days. But that I did not, and by all I can conclude could not, is in part the frustration I feel expressing what I now want to say. That is, it appears to be as it should be - something else I do not understand.

Perhaps that inquisitiveness never left, it has only grown into something more defined, more disciplined, more… real. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man that if there is not something real about the abstract idea of right and wrong, about beauty, about truth and about goodness, then value is meaningless. Goodness, for instance, cannot just be a matter of opinion. If all that exists is the observable and measurable... the "proven," then how can one judge heroism? Chivalry? Kindness? Compassion? Loyalty? Patriotism? Love? It all becomes stupidity and... weak. Our sentience, our self-awareness and everything else that makes us human becomes nothing but another part of nature – and nature only does, it does not care. There has to be something else…

And there is. What that is and what it becomes is still being discovered, or perhaps as Lewis feared, created.

And what can be created can also be abolished.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Worlds

CHICAGO - I live in “the city.” To be precise, I live in the suburbs of a city. But Sacramento really doesn’t rank as far as what many would call a city… and it is most certainly not a big city. This is not meant to be in any way derogatory towards Sacramento; it’s just that after spending five days in the concrete jungle of Chicago, humble Sacramento looks like the cow town it once was. Chicago is all grown up; Sacramento is but a mere adolescent – if that. Although each is charming (for lack of a better word) in its own way, and both are world renown for different reasons, this is more than simply a matter of scale.

Or is it?

That is, do population densities and vertical versus horizontal habitudes really matter? Sure there are distinct cultural differences between living in a big city, a small city (like Sacramento), the suburbs or the country. Modes and means of transportation differ greatly as do social activities, business and education. But when comparing the elements of any two big cities, these and other differences can also be easily identified. Though it is true that we make distinctions categorically between different living environments, that the genus “city” is different from the genus “country,” the same animal inhabits both.

And people are people, everywhere.

For the past several days, Chicago was the host city for 95th annual conference of the National Communication Association. Attending were 8,000 or so communication scholars – those whose passion is the study of how we communicate. Since all human interaction is by definition communication, the study of communication captures pretty much all other human knowledge. This is not meant to open the age-old debate of what it is, exactly, that makes communication studies a distinct area of scholarship, but rather a segue into the sort of writing this blog tends to be focused on – another leg on the introspective journey of life.

People are people, everywhere.

We, as a species, share a genetic makeup that renders each one of us virtually identical. There is far less about each of us that is different compared to what is the same, exactly the same, much to the chagrin of the many and sundry ethnocentrists amongst us. As much as I would like to think I am somehow unique, the truth is a much different story. But my circumstances and history are unique, just like everyone else. Each of our journeys is entirely our own, no matter how much we share with others. But similarities among experiences can be uncanny, almost eerie. As we share our stories we come to realize that we are never really alone.

People are people, everywhere.

I lead a dual life. I have one foot in one world and the other in a decidedly different one. This is hardly unique; many if not most can recount similar experiences. Even in my own past, this dualism has been more or less apparent at different stages of my life. Currently, however, it is far more pronounced and it is causing a certain amount of discomfort. My “professional” life, which is also my academic life, and my personal life have almost no crossover. There are a couple of tenuous links between the two worlds and social elements to each, but for the most part they are separated by something more abstract than even time and space. Until recently it did not present much of a problem, but as the universe expands, so too these worlds drift farther apart.

With one foot in each, balance is difficult to maintain. Each world has a claim on me... and my time; to each I give willingly and as completely as is humanly possible. It is not as though I feel there is not enough time (usually) or that I somehow have to choose one or the other, it is more of an identity crisis. And the culprit is academia. She is the newcomer, the upstart… she has drawn me into a new and exciting direction. It has been a struggle to assimilate, to find my place in what is, in all seriousness, a new world.

But people are people everywhere.

In Chicago, the best and the brightest from my field converged to share what they have discovered. I felt very small. What do I know? What do I have to contribute? Am I just along for the ride? Not much; not much – yet; and ultimately, no. But there is a long road ahead and I am still scrambling to catch up. Chicago has shown me it is not just around the corner or over the next hill – it is a lifetime journey and a lifetime away. The moral? This time, I’m afraid there isn’t one. I live in two worlds that might never get any closer than they are right now. But both are inhabited with the same animal that inhabits Sacramento and Chicago and everywhere in between.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Not That Important

I am not, nor have I ever been a conspiracy theorist. When I put two and two together I always get four, never more, never less. I make observations and ask, “Does that make any sense?” or wonder, “What could possibly be the purpose for that?” The answers to those questions and similar ones will keep me in reality when observations filtered by emotion tell a different story. And I am a believer in the genuine kindness of people; that most people do not purposefully set out to hurt others. I know, the headlines tell us a far different story, but how often does the headline say, “Somebody didn't do anything to anyone today.” The reality is simply that when I feel slighted, it is almost always unintentional, an oversight, a coincidence of unrelated circumstances – nothing more.

That is not to say that I have never been excluded and it is not to say that everybody likes me. I know better and for the most part, today, I really don’t care. I have a large circle of friends that I know like me for who I am and that is enough. I know this. I also know that within intersecting sub-groups of friends, there are some who would rather I was not there. It’s okay, although I tolerate everyone, there are some I’d prefer not be subjected to either. But in the world of mutual friends, there are bound to be uncomfortable intersections where the fondness amongst friends in a given cross-section is not shared by all included in a given slice. This is hardly news; not everybody likes everybody. And not everybody likes me - fact and circumstance number one.

Over my nearly 47 years, I have cycled through a number of “friends.” Most were not anything of the sort; they were associates who cared more about what I had than who I was. To be perfectly fair, that’s what I cared about most as well – what I had, I had no idea who I was. It should come as no surprise that if I define my essence in such superficial terms, I would attract superficial friends. I was lucky enough that a few of those friends saw through the fa├žade and are still my friends today. Most, however, moved on when the party was over and the well had run dry. It was not uncommon to be the “odd man out” for any number of reasons ranging from economic (not enough money) to social (too much drama) to logistical (too much trouble) or simply because no one thought of me. I am not referring to just myself, it was a cycle in which virtually everyone had a turn in the barrel. Sometimes, for reasons either malicious or unintentional, we are left out – fact and circumstance number two.

Two facts. Two circumstances. What conclusions can be drawn? What if I throw a party at my house and in my considerably large group of friends, somehow someone doesn’t get the word? It has happened and my response has always been a profuse apology with a reassurance that it was nothing intentional. What else can one say? It has to be enough and in fact it is. There is no conspiracy. Two plus two equals four. What about when the same thing happens to me, when I incidentally discover that I am the only one who doesn’t know about something I should have been in the loop on. What then?

Then two plus two starts to look a lot like five and it takes everything I can muster to stay logically centered. The perceived slight (for, these are the worst) casts a different light on what was, until moments before, the normal intercourse among a close-knit group of friends. Words begin to take on new meanings and that little glance? Nothing innocent about it now, right? But I cannot act on what my emotions and my senses are telling me – it is a lie. What is going on is a simple, albeit unhappy, coincidence and nothing more. To act on these perceptions based purely on what a temporarily wounded ego dictates would sooner or later create the very reality that my imagination, fueled by incomplete information, has figured out - all by itself.

Finally, now that the smoke has cleared, two plus two is once again firmly rooted in four. The lesson? Even for one who has conquered those demons that kept me away from myself for so long, the demons will not die. They will seize upon every opportunity to weaken my perception and step back into the insanity that they love so much. The truth is far less diabolical, less exciting and brings with it certain humility – I am just not that important to go through any exclusionary effort. Really.