What's My Story?
Whether you believe in an infinite God (or gods), or an infinite universe, or any of the above, my story is that we are finite beings living in an infinite reality unable to actually conceive of the infinite. Our main tool for existing in such a state is to construct a story in which we can try to model that reality. The story may, but does not have to, include "infinite" as an abstract concept, but the concept itself, if it exists, shields us from the reality of it.
This is nothing new. Douglas Adams used it as the basis of his gag “The Total Perspective Vortex”, allegedly the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected:
When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it there's a tiny little speck, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here." -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (1981)
Our stories of reality are a tool to help keep us sane. They are the conceptual structure within which we boil reality down to a form in which we can act and make decisions. There are many factors that go into how that story is constructed, fear being a fairly large one: fear of “The Other”; fear of being controlled by outside forces; fear that we will not be perceived as useful, etc. Strategies that we use to protect ourselves from perceived threats, or real trauma, shape our story. We construct our story to make sense of a world/universe that ultimately is beyond our ability to make sense of. And, of course, we have both an internal story and an external story that we are willing to share.
So, part of my story is that each story is uniquely that of each individual (sharing many similarities with others) and no single person has a story that fully models the totality of reality. This likely explains why I rarely follow thought leaders or others who act as if they have it all figured out. But it also tells me that it is not possible that I have figured it out either.
One impetus for leaving our comfortable home in a comfortable neighborhood to live in a truck and trailer traveling around the western United States was that I found that where we lived reinforced my internal story too much and that I could see how it was too easy to take a side in the current political climate that did not fully grasp what was going on. In order to broaden myself, I was going to have to expose myself to other people’s stories that may be antithetical to my own without resorting to the common strategies of “those people are just stupid” or “those people are selfish and worthless”. I would need to reject the current trend being utilized by our current “leaders” and look for a new perspective that tries to include the fact that all sides have some aspect of the totality of reality.
So, over the past two and half years, I have listened to numerous accounts of “here’s what's REALLY going on" and "how STUPID those other people are" and “I don’t understand how THEY can think that way.” I hear these same stories from all sides. What I have come away with is that we, including myself, are way too married to our stories. Even the most open and “worldly” of those I have had the honor to know are still very married to their story. This should not be a surprise, since it really is how we survive.
Over the years, I have slowly read through a number of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I find them generally light and entertaining and a good break from more serious fare. I initially started out reading the short story compilations, but recently I have started reading the novels in chronological order. Sherlock Holmes tales generally present the surface story along with the initial conclusions by those investigating some crime and slowly peel off the layers of the initial story to uncover what really happened, ultimately ending with a detailed back story that attempts to give context to it all. All of this revelation tends to come from being very observant, but most importantly, from being exposed to many different cultures and being open to what might be out there; letting go of preconceived notions and trying to deduce the full context of a situation.
Doyle's novels try to demonstrate that putting aside preconceived notions and being knowledgeable enough to truly grasp the context of a situation, or someone else's story, is extremely difficult. Holmes is presented as a unique individual in being able to accomplish these feats, and is sought after by local authorities because of his skills. Holmes doesn’t ridicule others and he doesn’t seek fame for what he does, he simply does what he does because he would go mad if he didn’t. He recognizes that others tend to have a need or agenda that causes them to jump to conclusions that are more convenient than accurate, and is unwilling to accept those conclusions.
I feel that Doyle is still speaking to us. He is encouraging us to open our minds to a reality that isn’t always convenient. To not make up motives that merely reinforce our own story of the world. Interestingly, even with the author's obsession with objectivity, one can find preconceived notions coloring the final backstories of these novels, further demonstrating how hard it is to achieve.
So, what is my story?
Writing these quarterly posts has been a method of revealing my story to myself. Each observation or experience I write about reveals some portion of that story. Having to then edit the writing and have it proofread helps me pull back some of the layers and try to see what the crux really is.
My story is a project I have spent the better part of fifty years on. A lot of effort has gone into crafting it, so I have a lot invested in it. I am not very fond of having others attack it or dismiss it and so I don’t put it out there very often.
The executive summary of its current form begins with an odd introvert who was not quite athlete and not quite geek. I was a sports fan like many of my friends and also enjoyed gaming at a moderate level. In high school, I used my paper route money to buy a TRS-80 computer from RadioShack because a friend had one. Mostly, it was used to play games on, some having been typed into the BASIC interpreter from magazines. If I made mistakes, I had to track down what I did wrong, a skill that I have honed and still use today.
I played baseball in grade school, but was never very good at it. Playground basketball was also part of my sports life. But soccer became my sport. Though I wasn't any good at it either, I stuck with it much longer and continued to play into my adulthood. I lost interest in most other sports as a fan, but never lost my attraction to soccer. I still have frustrating dreams of trying to control the ball and my legs not quite doing what I want them to do.
In college I further sunk into my geekiness, being one of a few with an actual computer in his dorm room. But still not an "uber geek" that was doing anything interesting. I played some soccer, and even scored a few goals on the JV squad. But school work was hard enough to keep up with, and I was glad I didn't make the varsity team in later years. The one thing I made sure of was to always take a class per term that required me to write, because I really hated writing.
I became obsessed with a blonde girl in my dorm, but convinced myself that we weren't right for each other. My obsession never abated even though I told her that it wouldn't work. For awhile, I tried to avoid her, but eventually we became close friends while I was distracted by a long-distance relationship. When that relationship failed, I decided to make my real feelings known and we've been married for over thirty years.
My moderate geekdom led me into various software development jobs that I was adequate at. In my last formal review before I left corporate America I was described as "vanilla bean". Not quite average, but not exceptional either. Many times I found myself being pushed into leadership roles that conflicted with my introvert nature. Apparently I was an odd geek, in that I could actually communicate with normal people. When I ran meetings, people felt heard and I could actually repeat back what one person was saying so that others understood. I had colleagues come up after a meeting and ask me how I knew what that other participant was even talking about. People on all sides appreciated this, but I never got over the anxiety all of the other areas of leadership caused. Even so, I can look back at the many things I worked on and be amazed at how many people's lives they touched and get some satisfaction from it.
I have taken a few breaks, "sabbaticals", from work over the years. In one I bought a telescope and tried learning how to image planets and phases of the moon. I had found that I needed to broaden my perspective, and looking up and becoming aware of what phase of the moon it was or what planets were visible at a particular time helped take me out of my small world. It is still hard to conceive that the photons hitting my eye when looking at the galaxy Andromeda through an eyepiece have been traveling 2.5 million years.
Katie introduced me to the natural world during daylight hours. We had always done some hiking, etc., but she really saw the flora and fauna, and I mostly raced to the top of the peaks. Eventually, this became a conflict and I realized I needed to change my perspective again. That is when I turned my new-found optical and imaging skills towards wildlife. Mostly birds. It slowed me down and connected us in a new way.
My second escape from work was a year off to focus on wildlife photography and embrace my inner "vanilla beanness". Ironically, Katie had gone back to grad school and was starting a new practice, so I spent a vast majority of the time traveling around on my own. At the end of it, I was asked by a former colleague to help him part-time at his newish company. It turned out to be a great opportunity for me to explore whether or not I was sick of software development, or just done with corporate America. Turns out it was the latter and I currently enjoy a good work / life balance that continues to allow me to embrace my "vanilla beanness", but with far less anxiety.
Over three years ago, we decided that it was again time for a change of perspective and hatched this crazy idea of traveling around with a trailer. We have had the opportunity to see many different locations and meet folks from many different walks of life revealing very different perspectives.
This process has led me to my current perspective that if reality is infinite, even though we live within some finite constraints, it will take all of our stories together to truly model reality. But that means that the model needs all of us because no one of us can hold it, as no individual story is wholly true. Discounting another being is a disservice to the whole. It means we are not seeing reality. Ignoring reality is what we are good at, but probably isn’t in our best interest.
Also, I’m not really that good at all of this. My Watson sure could use a Sherlock.
And that's my story...for now.