Goodbye aughts

I will spend the majority of the next ten years in my 50s. My kids will grown – our youngest will stop being a teenager, while the oldest two will (hopefully) be out on their own. There will likely be 5-7 Spider-Man reboots. And Paul Rudd will look exactly the same age.

Goodbye 2019. So long Aughts. I value your lessons, but you are the past. It’s time to savor the present and embrace the future. I joyfully have no clue what might happen, but I’m excited for the jaunt.

I hope not

Hope is not a destination. It’s not a settlement. It’s not a place to live or dwell or wander forever. Hope should be a temporary state because it cannot be sustained. Hope is a bridge, a gateway toward something tangible and productive.

Hope is essential to living, but it’s power is limited.

Hope is unrealized potential, the thought before an action, a dream before a painting. It is not reality and not something to live for, but something to live beyond.

Ache For Home

I can’t stop thinking about England. I was fortunate enough to travel to Reading for business in October.

Despite being there for such a very short period of time, being inside in an office building for 8 hours, and seeing so very little of the country. The shift in culture was so freshening and invigorating and soothing that I can’t stop yearning to be back, to again be immersed. The way everything seemed operated; the way people were mannered and reserved, the voice announcement on elevators, the simple efficiency of the cabs, how most all cars and even a most lorries were small and reasonable, the weather was tepid and underwhelming, the roads, the variance of signs and new ways of presenting information to the mass public, hearing small children with such lovely accents, even the fixtures the bathrooms were naturally better thought and executed.

It all felt so right, so much better suited to my mind, my senses, my reactions and needs, that I now I feel homesick for place I’ve never lived. Maybe there’s something deeply written in my bones from my ancestors that vibrates in the marrow of my essence. Or maybe it’s just the indulgence of new experiences.

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

—Maya Angelou

A certain time ago, in a headspace far far away…

Life never seems as consequential as when elucidating on milestones that significantly changed you – graduation, marriage, first home, birth, job loss, death. Over the last five or so years I’ve experienced each of those, a few several times over.

In the years surrounding these many milestones of my life, my mental wellness was being punctured. My self-esteem and self-worth were bullied, beaten, berated, and buried. I became empty, and over time started to put all of who I was on vacation. The me that was left was just a veneer of a human with my name, designing things, writing words, saying stuff, minimally existing to avoid fully dissolving.

I didn’t feel like a person, at least not the person who I thought I was or wanted to be. I was more like a yes machine. A production pawn. A startup shill. Compromised and ridiculed and bedraggled.

So in what might have seemed insignificant or ordinary, I turned myself into an avatar. I drew a flat, expressionless illustration of myself (with the proper amount of gray hair and facial stubble) and replaced any photo of my actual face with it. On every digital platform. In every virtual exchange. The real me was gone, and I welcomed a vapid, agreeable, inoffensive, polished product of my desolation.

Over the last five years I’ve been forced out of a company I helped create (there’s a large and complicated story there that I’m still not fully comfortable talking about), had a child threaten suicide, lost two dogs and a cat while also gaining four dogs and three cats (this is why we have called ourselves the Armstrong circus), dealt with family wide anxiety and depression and medications and doctors and therapists, witnessed teenage breakups and graduations, watched my mother whither away in dementia and die, was laid-off from a job in a company-wide downsize, got personally diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, diagnosed our oldest with EDS, and many more mundane and routine and random and tragic and beautiful life milestones.

And for more than four years this avatar has protected me. This stupid and meaningless symbol teeming with burdens. All the while I’ve been digging out and digging in. Searching for healthier dialogs to my inner tormentors. Moving up and moving on. Covering over and covering under. Ceaselessly crawling forward toward wholeness. But never resting. And I’m exhausted.

I need a rest. I need to recuperate so I can be full and connected and whole.

I’m ready to be real again.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how we as humans make every choice, every act, every trait, every thought, every decision we encounter or experience as a binary unit. This or that. Here or there. Wrong or right. Love or hate. Success or failure.

It’s very simple to approach things in such a limited way. It reduces our cognitive load. The brain loves patterns and simplifying choices, and therefore it creates binary outcomes. Direct opposites. Contrary poles. Except nothing in our modern life is as simple as what our brains want to achieve. While they might be factual, they are not truthful.

We often feel like failures in our lives. If we haven’t achieved all the things we set out to accomplish, that we are deficient and disintegrating into futility. We’re often told to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Positives and negatives. Except that hardly contains the full picture. What constitutes our reasoning behind these comparisons? What is a positive? What is a weakness? What is a failure? What is a good decision? How much time is needed or number of people involved or branching and layered outcomes examined to determine our binaries?

Our weaknesses are opportunities for strength and our strengths are just a step away from being a weakness. Failures are wisdom and learning. Choices are steps in a direction. Normalcy is an illusory perspective. Our binary guardrails shortcut communication, eliminate empathy, hobble logic, obscure understanding, and diminishes collaboration with all other humans who we feel are “opposite”.

You are contradictory set of double negatives and illogical thoughts and complicated threads. You are an array. You are a spectrum. You are a rainbow. You are wonderful chaos. It’s time to stop being so 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001.

Is It Honest? Is It Wise? Is It Helpful?

The longer I do this “adult” thing, the more I realize how meaningful and affecting words are to others. I’m still quite far from being the type of friend, spouse, father, or leader I’d like to be or hope to become, but there are a few things I have learned over my years of surviving this life.

It’s really hard, if not impossible, to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. I mean, you might have plans to say something, but far too often the dialog in your head doesn’t match reality. But with enough practice and repetition you can build the habit of giving yourself the time to think and give an appropriate response.

Here are three things I always ask myself before I speak:

  1. Is it honest?
  2. Is it wise?
  3. Is it helpful?

Honest: Because if you’re answering from a place of hurt, or anger, or frustration, or fatigue, your words will not be honest. They won’t be founded on the purpose of a having a conversation, they’ll be skewed by our intent to vent, or unload, or win, or inflict pain; and there is no good outcome when your words aren’t honest.

Wise: Because measured, informed, and knowledgable words understand the impact and effect of their utterance. How might what you say be received and perceived? How could change or shape the conversation toward positive outcomes? Flippant words can create more confusion and resolution.

Helpful: Because a conversation isn’t about waiting for your turn to talk. It’s about listening, reacting, and responding — but you knew that. Not having an answer is just as helpful as providing advice or insight. What’s most helpful is dependent what is needed and wanted.

When you take into account all three of these questions before speaking or writing, you might see your conversations completely change. 

A telephone

We recently bought a phone for our home – so that in the case of an emergency our youngest could call us or 911. And by phone I mean an old school, coil corded, landline dependent dinosaur of communication past. We wanted something very simple. We didn’t need it to be cordless. We didn’t want a charging base or wireless handset or anything remotely digital. Just a cradle, a receiver and handset, and some buttons. Simple. Well, it wasn’t so simple.

We scoured Target and Lowe’s and Amazon looking for what we imagined would be both easy to find and inexpensive. Neither was true. Like records players today, the once voluminous and affordable has now become rare and costly. The more simple and sturdy the phone, the larger the price tag. 

Eventually settled on a black, wall-mounted, push button. One that reminded us of our childhoods. Yet it’s absent the heft and rigidity that I remember – the kind of quality that allowed an angry 13 year old to slam down on the receiver or pull on the cradle or swing the cord without the entire package disintegrating. 

I suppose we’re officially in the “they don’t make it like they used” phase of our aging. I don’t like it.

Those aren’t my memories

I find it interesting that Facebook says that I “have memories” to look back on. It would be more accurate to say that Facebook has a memory of me. More often than not what they show isn’t something I remember, whether it’s a photograph or a post or a link, it’s something I posted and forgot about. No longer my memory.

The things I remember, like the way my newborn son smelled immediately after I held him in my arms after being brought into the world, the way he little cries sounded both powerful and delicate; or how cold I was and how I kept telling myself to remember every moment when I stood under a tent in a suburb of Philadelphia watching my mother’s casket lower into the ground. These are my memories. These are things that Facebook can never recall in the same way my mind can because they are me.

Everything Is Not Lost

A friend and I have been talking about our journey through belief (and disbelief) and what it means to be within or without an old community. What it means to be lost.

When a child is lost from their parent it’s not as if they no longer belong to a family. Being lost is temporarily being unseen. And when that child is reunited with their family, it’s not as if they have limitations and expectations and interrogations into how or if they’ll be allowed back. They’re warmly received because they’re reunited. They’re home again.

For those who do (or did) follow Jesus, I feel many consider those who are “lost” as strangers, outsiders, refugees; not one who already belongs, not a child of their own family.

Jesus talked about people being lost, like a sheep lost from it’s herd. But today most of us have no context for what it means to tend to sheep, or what a does, or even the basics but of farming, especially what it means thousands of years ago compared to today. I think the metaphor is easily ignored and misunderstood. 

I don’t think Jesus is saying that being found is dependent upon the use or merit or worth of the sheep to the shepherd. Or that our worth is only measured by our beliefs or gender or race or origin. I believe Jesus intended the herd to represent all of creation, all of humanity. Everyone is already a member. There are no requirements for their acceptance into the herd. In fact, there acceptance has nothing to do with you at all, because your aren’t the shepherd. 

We are all — every human — at times divided and rejected and invisible, and at times united and accepted and known. We are children of a place and of a home.

Dear Humans Of The Future

I don’t know how much information you may have on our civilization from the period in which I live. Most of what we write, say, and do are stored as 1s and 0s on millions of computers. I’m assuming most of the data is lost, perhaps even this; but for the sake of optimism let’s assume you have discovered these words. There is something I feel I need to clarify for you, because I’m guessing it’s very confusing.

You may rightly assume we had a international holiday called “Amazon Prime Day”. While it would seem reasonable to believe that “Amazon” refers to the mighty river that flows through what was or is South America (perhaps by now you have eliminated the need for borders and countries), but alas it does not. 

Nor does “prime” refer to a mathematical formula (I’m not skilled enough at math to properly describe it fully, other than to say it’s a number that cannot be made by multiplying two other numbers greater than 1, like 11 for example). No, Amazon Prime is not a sacred celebration of nature and science. It’s a day in which people looked for discounts on items and objects they want to out into their dwellings and stare at, talk to, walk on, or out inside of them.

I don’t know if Amazon exists anymore. At one point is was one of the largest companies in the world. Or at the very least, the most influential. They didn’t see it that way, but a large portion of society bought their goods “online” (please don’t make me explain that — if all you know is that it was a series a tubes, that’s fine by me) from Amazon. They could find nearly anything they wanted and get it within a day, as long as you were an exclusive member. This was referred to as “Prime”. They then decided to have one day a year July 15th (when I write this to you future beings), to discount some things and get people to buy stuff they didn’t need (that pretty much sums up 85% of all things we did).

This might better explain why our planet is nearly uninhabitable. It was very hard to convince people that escalating temperatures, melting ice, and rising oceans was more important than saving money. It’s hard to pass up a deal on a huge device that can make potatoes crispy without all that cooking oil. Sorry about that.

Paul Armstrong