When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

18 May 2007

TAP: A meme for me

Phil at The Archer Pelican is interviewing bloggers and commenters at his blog. (Here's his interview with Lisa of the blog A Clear View to A New Life.)

And now, Phil interviews me, on the topic of personal evolution. (I wonder if I should call him Dr. Phil? And it's a good thing for Phil that I am not an intelligent design supporter.)

Question 1.
Think back to 1983, when we were still in high school (where you introduced me to the word “disseminate” through your role as editor of one of our school journals). What parts of your personality or wisdom were newly emerging and/or solidifying back then – things that you consider to be important parts of your nature today, 24 years later?

I think I was figuring out, at about that time, how much I loved working with words: writing, and--funny that you mention it--especially editing. At its best, editing is a process by which you help others express themselves more clearly by asking a lot of questions and helping them shape their language a little differently.

Especially as a teenager, I was often at a loss for the right thing to say when speaking, but given time to write and revise I could usually get across the point I wanted to make.

As a kid I think I acted like an arrogant prick (my wife and friends, reading this today, are no doubt saying, "so what's any different now?") Well, what's hopefully different now is that then I was awkwardly overcompensating for deep feelings of insecurity, and now I believe I have learned to compensate for my deep feelings of insecurity more gracefully. :-)

The nugget of wisdom that I mined from all of this is how powerful--and even potentially healing--good communication is, and I resolved to try to get better at it.

I went through the writing program at Carolina, got a gig as a technical writer at IBM while still in school, and have supported myself as a professional communicator in the IT industry for over twenty years now--first a technical writer, then a training developer, now a proposal manager and process consultant.

I learn something new damn nearly every day. I hope that doesn't stop.

Question 2.
In two elegant entries, you’ve written about your dad, his life, and his passing:


Are there any big decisions you’ve made in this life that you think were particularly influenced by something your dad had taught you through word or example? When you made the decision(s), were you aware at the time of how your father was influencing you? How did the decision(s) turn out?

Bob wasn't big on lectures or life lessons, but he taught me a couple of hugely important things by example:

(1) Persistence and focus will beat the living shit out of undisciplined genius 99 times out of 100 (not that Bob wasn't plenty smart, understand, but he was one of the most determined people I ever met.) Even after a grievous injury, he bounced back and went about all the things that were important to him, hammer and tongs, like some kind of demented blacksmith - and God help you if you got between him and his anvil.

(2) A sense of humor, especially about yourself, is one of the most important survival skills in life. Humor will get you through bad times when nothing else will.

Not only does Bob still influence me on a regular basis (a minor matter like death doesn't stop that sort of thing happening) but when I hear some of the things that I say come out of my mouth, I am not altogether sure that I'm not channeling him.

Ironically, twenty years into my career, I am doing the job (proposal management) that my old man did at the end of his career with IBM... something that *seemed* to be a complete accident at the time I started doing it, but now I'm not so sure.

Question 3.

How do you think your mother and father influenced each other through the years? Do you reckon their influence over each other was more via the way each of them was an example to the other, or via the way they treated each other? And – inasmuch as you’d like to answer – how did their ways inform your own in your first marriage, and now in this marriage with Carrie?

Mom and Dad came from two very different kinds of families, but they both grew up poor in Western North Carolina, and both worked very hard to escape the poverty they were raised in and the small communities they grew up in. In addition to just falling in love and so forth, I think they realized about each other, pretty early on, that they were of a similar mind about improving themselves, and they supported each other in that endeavor.

After my Dad's injury, my Mom became his primary caregiver. Dad became a paraplegic after I was born but a few days before my first birthday, so the model of marriage that I grew up with was very interestingly skewed; it was absolutely a marriage of equals, but there was also a caretaker/patient dimension to it.

They, being very realistic people, were comfortable with this, though it was not always easy.

I think that the model of their relationship has affected me primarily in that the way I best know how to show love for someone is by 'taking care of them' - not playing nursemaid, but doing nurturing things like cooking, things like that. This is usually accepted graciously by my loved ones but must also be occasionally smothering and overwhelming; I try to be conscious of that.

My first marriage was a trainwreck and probably doomed from the jump; I was too young to know who I was or what I wanted. (I do have some good memories.)

Being married to Carrie for the last eight years has been the best thing that ever happened to me. The organizing principle of my life right now is to try to become the husband and partner who is someone she deserves, instead of the schlub she actually married.

Question 4.

In the previous questions, I realize that there’s a common theme of “how and where do we form our outlook?” and “how does our outlook influence how we act?”

Your Blogspot profile speaks a little to this: “I'm not one to look behind, I know that times must change / But over there in Barrytown they do things very strange...”

That said, do you have a method to how you learn and how you act? As a strong thinker, I know that it’s within your means to have developed a personal philosophy that you might use as daily guidance. At the same time, I don’t mean to presume that you don’t also draw from intuition, or that you don’t live like many of us do – playing from what seems to feel right at the time, based on a combination of rational thought, emotion, impulse, and the path of least resistance.

I couldn't draw you a flowchart of the process or method that I use to govern my actions. I try to be ethical and rational to the extent possible, but emotion and especially vanity govern how the world works, very much including myself in that.

Sometimes you've got a plan, sometimes you've just gotta wing it.

I can tell you how I learn something new: first I immerse myself in it, soaking up every detail no matter how seemingly trivial or tangential, and depend almost completely on flashes of insight to glimpse the overarching structure that I'm going to use to understand it.

Once the intellectual scaffolding is in place, I can become much more systematic about my approach to assimilation (and of course the structure is often subject to extensive revision along the way.)

Question 5.
Lastly, do you think you’ll ever get to a place where your combination of conservative, libertarian, and other ideals coalesce into something you’d consider a uniform and consistent philosophy? And would it be a philosophy that’s actually livable in this human world populated by ourselves, some decent people, and a whole lot of idiots?

Well, shit, Phil... I think it's a uniform and consistent philosophy now.

And it goes a little something like this:

Insofar as you aren't hurting me, I don't have a right to tell you how to live. I expect the same respect in return.

I am a conservative (or, for European readers, "classical liberal") on economic issues and in my philosophical approach to governance because I think, to slightly paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, that giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

I am a liberal on social issues because as long as it isn't hurting anyone and consenting adults are involved, I not only don't care what you do behind closed doors, I mostly don't care what you do out in the street. (Just don't frighten the horses.)

I am a hawk on defense because it's a very dangerous world and if history teaches us anything, there are terrible consequences to be paid for being unable to kill the people who need killing at crucial times, up to and including the extinction of your own society. (I am not a supporter of the way we're currently prosecuting our foreign policy via our military ventures, as I don't think it's likely to achieve our objectives, to put it mildly.)

If I tried to reduce all of this to a bumper sticker, it would read something like this:

"Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Also, expect me to hit back. Really hard."

Of course it's a livable philosophy. I live it. :-)

Extra credit: how does wearing a necktie fit into all of this?

It's just an element of a costume, part of a uniform... in the working role that I have, and the city that I work in, it's expected.

I don't wear a tie to walk the dogs, cook dinner, hang out with friends, or do almost anything other than go to work and attend weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. :-) I put the tie on after I arrive at the office every morning and usually take it off before I head home. It is not without its ritualistic significance in this way.

The blog picture shows me in a tie because, although the blog is where I do my fun, informal writing, I'd like people to know that I'm taking it seriously. If, on my best day, I manage to swing like a m*****f***** and pull off wild bebop jazz improvisations in my blog writing - well, Bud Powell always wore a suit and tie when he sat at the piano.

Part of the deal with this interview meme:
So if you want to play along and now be interviewed by me, please leave me a comment or send an email saying: "Interview me."

* I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
* You will update your weblog with the answers to the questions.
* You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
* Then others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions and so on.

So. If you're feeling masochistic, and would like to be interviewed by me, let me know in the comments. :-)

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