Psychosomatic

I don’t know what got into me yesterday in terms of switching gears and writing about technology instead of emotionally vomiting all over the Internet. Oh, I know. I was being selfish, because I needed a place to go back and copy and paste my commands. The one thing I didn’t do was show you a picture of what Cinnamon looks like when I’m finished with it. Cinnamon is my next favorite desktop after MATE. They look a lot alike, but Cinnamon has better graphics. I also have the wallpaper set to change every five minutes, so I always have more cool quotes. I find that I take them away, think about them, and sometimes use them as writing prompts.

Workspace 1_002
“Thus, in a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.” -Katherine Paterson

This one isn’t so good, because when I write fiction, I feel like an imposter. Character studies are generally okay, but I have no knack for world-building or plot. In a very real sense, I see that as a flaw in my own character. So, I stay in my lane. For the most part. What’s interesting is that I could lay so many more cards on the table in fiction, but I don’t feel it would turn out better. Maybe someday I’ll write a novel with someone else who really knows what they’re doing and can edit/add to my complete and utter crap work.

Autobiography seems to be my jam, but I also think I would be good at non-fiction if I put some elbow grease into it. I have a ton of interests (in none of which I am truly well versed…. jack of all trades, master of none). Perhaps illiteracy, real crime, espionage, cooking…. I don’t know. They’re all things I’d have to study intensely, but it might be fun. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to study in the Library of Congress at a moment’s notice. CIA also has an advisory board for writers, film makers, etc. to help people get their facts right (and in some cases, “if this is what you’re saying, here’s how we would say it”). In DC, though, there are already more people writing those things than the market will allow. Food for thought, in any case.

I’ve always thought that I’d like to collaborate with a spy on a novel that’s a hybrid fiction and non-fiction book. It would alternate chapters. One would be the story, then the next would be the real life inspiration for what just happened. It’s a good thing that now I know one, but not well enough to get down on one knee and ask her to write a book with me. Not only that, she’s already collaborated on all the books about espionage that I really want to read. Plus, she makes me laugh. In one video, she says that when she was at CIA, she was a real hard-ass. It’s funny because I am a hundred and crazy percent sure she was being accurate. Introspection is key.

And while that is true, I would also bet dollars to donuts that her attrition rate was low, because her people would take a bullet for her. It seems to me that acid funny and inside jokes go a long way as a boss.

It’s funny how your relationship changes with espionage once you actually meet a CIA case officer, albeit one who’s retired. You begin to think a lot more about the families behind said spy, and that they are completely normal people with an extraordinary calling.

For instance, Tony Mendez was an artist. He was always, first and foremost, an artist. Being a spy was almost a side gig. He didn’t even write Argo until George Tenet asked him to do it. Tony said, “that’s classified.” “No it’s not,” Tenet replied, smile on his lips. Tenet waved his magic wand, allowing Argo to be born.

I am not immune to the reputation of The Company. What I have learned is that there are good officers and bad, good agents and bad (case officers work for the CIA, agents are informants- generally overseas. The movies always get it wrong, and for someone who has read so much non-fiction regarding the history of spycraft, it’s quite a bit irritating.). I’ve even watched interviews on YouTube where the host calls the case officer an agent, and you can see their pained expressions (actually, that’s pretty funny).

Where my emotions come in is that I feel case officers do extraordinary work, and I have always wanted to be extraordinary at something. On my best day, I am fair to middlin’ at most things. I am a good writer, not a great one. I am an above average cook. It would be a much longer list regarding things I don’t know about computers/networks/the Internet.

If there is one area I feel extraordinary, it’s love. Romantic or platonic, local or global, I love hard. I am so empathetic I can share mirror neurons with strangers. It’s the one good thing my ADHD does for me. It heightens my sensory perception and most of the time I feel like I have emotional X-ray vision. I am excellent at cutting through bullshit and seeing what’s really going on with people.

And perhaps that feeds my fascination with spies, as well, because they are the embodiment of what I feel all the time…. the way they have to cut through bullshit to see others’ weak spots, sussing out what to say in order to obtain an asset. Gathering information in conversation without letting on to what they’re doing.

People want to tell me things, whether I want to hear it or not. I am so polite that I will always listen, but when strangers go deep, I am fascinated and exhausted all at once. This is because I don’t have very good clinical separation, and I will take their scars and write them on my own skin. I am truly capable of manipulation, not for malice, but for getting people to spill things they’ve never told anyone else. And then I hold on to those secrets until they make me sick with worry… to a lesser extent with people I’ll never see again, but still.

All that pent-up emotion presents physically. Just because it’s psychosomatic doesn’t mean it’s not real. It’s hard to tell whether headaches and stomach aches will be cured by taking medication or thinking about something else.

Slaying the dragon of emotional abuse freed up my mind, but since I hadn’t lived my life since I was 12 without the constant puzzle of other people’s emotions, it left a big hole to take on everyone else’s…. from people I’d known for years to strangers on a train. I live for black comedy because for people that have experienced much, it takes a lot to reach them with laughter.

That was what drew me to Argo in the first place. I saw the movie before I read the book (very shortly before), and it spoke to me on a spiritual level… mostly because every note of humor was my kind of humor. I quote it incessantly, especially when I’m in the kitchen and my eyebrows are about to go over my forehead (“There are suicide missions with better odds than this.”). There’s basically an Argo quote for every occasion. Meeting with the boss? “Brace yourself, it’s like talking to those two old fucks from The Muppets.” On the daily? “This is the best bad idea we have, sir.”

I also named my friend Argo because just like the movie, she was named after the Greek myth. At that time in my life, I was trying to tie myself to the mast to avoid disaster, breaking my life apart at my own hand. It did not work. Though thankfully, those days are long past, they are not forgotten. It has engineered the way to move forward (“I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place. Spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically.”). Past missteps have truly made their imprint upon me, a reminder to keep reaching upward. Self care is the most important thing in my life, because if I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anyone else. Eventually, I’d like a girlfriend. Eventually, I’d like my life to be bigger than it is. Eventually, I’d like to be a person of interest in the very best sense of the phrase. Alas, baby steps (pregnant sigh).

Having a girlfriend isn’t completely up to me, but what is my doing is making room for her. I haven’t made room for even the idea in my mind, heart, or house. I suppose it’s a self defense mechanism. Once you’ve been hurt badly, you’re caught between the ideas of loving like you’ve never been hurt and taking time to lick your wounds, especially owning the ones for which you feel responsible. By now, everything I’ve wanted to accomplish in that arena is done. All that is left is reticence…. the fear is real and it’s deep.

The first step was realizing I was capable of disaster and fixing it to the best of my ability. The second step is not constantly beating myself up, because when I am really paying attention, I realize that I am not the only one. Not realizing this has led me to be incredibly hard on myself.

I get headaches and stomach aches. Just because it’s psychosomatic doesn’t mean it’s not real.

 

My Favorite Finnish Export

If you have ever mentioned to me that you have any interest in technology, you probably know that I am a Linux nerd. My Finnish fever started in 1997, when my friends Luke and Joe asked if I wanted them to host my web site on a Linux server they’d set up (somewhat sneakily, I might add) where Joe worked. I was given shell access, and it was love… mostly because I found that typing at the command line was so much quicker than using a mouse.

When I first started using computers, I was a fan of IRC (Internet Relay Chat), but I couldn’t type very well. By the time I finished responding to someone, other people had added over a page of dialogue. I made it my mission in life to learn to type as fast as I speak. Now, I can type as fast as I think. Therefore, using a mouse to scroll through menus instead of just typing one word into the terminal seems terribly inefficient.

Depending on my mood, sometimes I’ll dual boot my computer, sometimes I won’t. It depends on two things. The first is whether I want to play Fallout 3 on my desktop. The second is whether I feel like rebooting a lot. Having a dual boot computer is like having a two story house. Everything you need, you left on the other floor.

Because Windows and OS X are so prevalent, and because I change my mind all the time about how I want to set up my computer, I thought I’d write a blog entry on the tools I use. I will include terminal commands in case you want to install them as well. Otherwise, I look forward to your comments on how what you use is better.

When I first set up my Linux box, I make the desktop pretty and useful. No matter what Linux distribution I’m using, I install MATE as my desktop (pronounced Mah-tay, like the green tea). It is the least graphics-intensive and therefore all of my processing power can go to things that matter. It’s kind of retro, actually. It will remind you of Windows 95, uncluttered and easy to navigate.

My favorite theme and icon set is Numix. I particularly like the Numix Square icons.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:numix/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install numix-gtk-theme numix-icon-theme numix-icon-theme-square

For desktop wallpaper, I use a program called Variety. The images are top notch, grabbed from all over the interwebs, and there is an option to add random quotes as well. The other extremely useful feature is that you can tell it whether you prefer dark or light images. I much prefer a dark background so that my icons show up more clearly.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:peterlevi/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install variety

Because I use my computer so much, I am fanatical about fonts. It’s amazing how choosing the right family can reduce eye strain. My favorite is Droid, which for some ungodly reason has been taken out of Ubuntu’s main software repositories. I just download it and install it myself. Since I’m the only user on my computer, I find the easiest way to do this is creating a folder called .fonts in my user directory and copying them over. My entire desktop is Droid Sans, except for the font on the quotes in Variety, which is Droid Serif. In the terminal and in coding HTML, I use Droid Mono.

In terms of making my desktop useful, I watch my system resources in real time with a program called “conky.” However, it is not particularly user-friendly, so I also install Conky Manager to configure it. While Conky Manager has been taken out of the Ubuntu repositories, it’s still available. There’s all sorts of cool stuff you can do with it, but I use it to watch how much CPU and memory my top processes are using and my upload/download speed.

wget --no-check-certificate https://github.com/teejee2008/conky-manager/releases/download/v2.4/conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run
chmod +x conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run
sudo ./conky-manager-v2.4-amd64.run

I like using Facebook Messenger without having to stay logged into Facebook. I have an application that sits in my system tray that is only for messaging, and doesn’t do desktop notifications unless someone is writing specifically to me. It’s handy that my desktop isn’t blowing up all day (like my phone) and I don’t have to type on a touch screen or open a browser to respond. It’s called Caprine, and it has basically replaced text messaging for me because unlike SMS, I can use Facebook Messenger on any of my devices (I use encrypted e-mail for anything that should stay private). For instance, I don’t like it when people use SMS to send me web links, because then I have to retype the URL in my browser if I want to look at it on anything bigger than my phone’s screen.

For screenshots, there’s an amazing tool called Shutter. It will take a picture of anything, from an area you select to the entire desktop. It also has a built-in editor for quick jobs like cropping when you don’t get the aspect ratio right.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:linuxuprising/shutter
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install shutter

For big photo editing jobs, I use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, known by its unfortunate acronym. It can do everything that Adobe PhotoShop can and it’s free. For things like logos, I also install all the fonts in the Ubuntu software repository by Ray Larabie of Typodermic Fonts. Note that if you are using Linux Mint, GIMP comes standard, but not the latest version. The last version is also available in the Ubuntu repository, but I prefer the next iteration.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:otto-kesselgulasch/gimp
sudo apt update
sudo apt install gimp larabie*

Because most of my work is on the web, I generally don’t need word processors, spreadsheets, etc…. and I am not sure I’ve ever made a presentation. People do send me documents and such, though, so I enjoy LibreOffice. Again, it comes standard on most Ubuntu versions and derivatives, but you’ll need the Launchpad repository to get the most up-to-date version.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:libreoffice/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install libreoffice

Occasionally, people will send me complicated Microsoft Word documents in terms of formatting, and for that, I use Wine to be able to install Windows applications. Wine doesn’t work with every Windows program available, but it does work very well for the three I use the most, which are Office 2010, Picasa, and Notepad++. If you’re not sure whether an application you need will run in Wine, check the Application Compatibility Database.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/winehq.key
sudo apt-key add winehq.key
sudo apt-add-repository 'deb https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/ bionic main'
sudo apt update
sudo apt install --install-recommends winehq-stable

If you’re not using Bionic, you can change out the name in the above command. All releases are supported.

I am incredibly ADHD, and I find that it helps me work to block out all outside noises. Though I could use a browser plugin, I prefer a native application called ANoise. With community extensions installed, there are TONS of choices, from ponds to a raging fire to a dump truck idle to an oscillating fan. Right now I’m listening to what sounds like TV snow, but in the application is called “Pink.” Only one piece of advice from me to you…. if you have to pee at all, don’t listen to the thunderstorms or rivers. Kidding aside, this thing boosts my productivity to an insane degree.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:costales/anoise
sudo apt update
sudo apt install anoise

Lastly, I am a rabid Kodi fan. It’s a media center (originally an XBOX hack) and has plugins for DVD cover art, surfing YouTube, recording live television, organizing and playing your music library, telling you the weather, etc. It’s just incredible. It’s available for all devices except iPhone and iPad (well, you can install it with Tweakbox, but I don’t recommend it– TB is basically a soft jailbreak), including Raspberry Pi. This is useful information if you’re looking for a cheap computer that stays attached to your TV at all times. If you want to use it to record TV shows/movies, you’ll have to buy the TV card to do it, but those are relatively cheap at places like Amazon, Best Buy, Fry’s, etc.

sudo apt install software-properties-common
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc/ppa
sudo apt update
sudo apt install kodi

Keep in mind that these are the tools I use in Linux that aren’t standard knowledge (with the possible exception of Kodi). Most things are operating system agnostic, like Google Chrome, Firefox, etc. I’m pretty sure I could find a way to do everything between those two browsers, but like all geeks, I have my creature comforts. Let me know in the comments if you need help because a command doesn’t work or you’re stuck. I mean, I can’t help you, but I still want to know (kidding).

If you’ve never worked with Linux before, all it takes is some sisu- the Finnish idea of grit and perseverance while climbing a mountain or talking to a stranger. The hardest part is taking the first plunge, because it seems intimidating right up until you use it. Then you’ll see what all desktop support people see…. every OS sucks.

The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces