Deep Breath

People don't think the universe be like it is. But it do.

People don’t think the universe be like it is. But it do.

When I left that job, it was just the beginning of a longer path, just the first tentative steps in upending the normalcy I’d meticulously built up over the past twenty years. It’s April now. Time flies when the emotional framework surrounding your time is no longer restricted to the artificial timelines of marketing executives, but instead exists to measure the quality, not quantity, of completed tasks. I built an enormous LEGO AT-AT, one day; I gave my kitchen a deep-cleaning; one day I read two books.

One would have imagined that during such a period of weighty thought, I surely could have said hello to the people to whom I had just announced this enormous change in my life.

Apologies. I’m fine.

When I say to people who know me from work that I’m actually a very introverted, quiet person, the shock that registers is honest each time. There are, decidedly, two outward personalities of Stephen Van Doren, and the one that is shown in public–that is, the one that is more frequently on display at work, that ever-growing eater of public time–is markedly different than the one that is more natural when I’m not earning my keep. This, by itself, is not an interesting story; most people experience some degree of the same thing. Where my story departs is that it is positively exhausting to put on that mask that so many others don so effortlessly.

If I were just a step further introverted, maybe onto that list of keenly-eyed neurological disorders, doubtless I would simply discard the mask, perhaps I wouldn’t draw those useful social connections as well, or I might not be as interested in seeing others smile as a result of my actions. Instead, I’m saddled with just enough social awareness to expend considerable energy working those side quests–Make 5 People Laugh During Morning SCRUM; Convince One Waitress to Take a Photo and then Autograph It–while simultaneously progressing the main quest of generating income for my frivolous hobbies. I’m what the gaming community calls a “completionist” in life. (Oddly, much less-so in games.)

So when I step away, I step away. I had to focus entirely on one quest for a while. My natural state is with a book in my hand, the early morning Spring sun on my face, steaming cup of coffee on the table. Probably NPR on the radio inside.

I’ve finished, though. I’ve decompressed. Time to start integrating back into society.

It’s All Just Chemistry

"It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation." Man, what a dick.

“It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation.” Man, what a dick.

As I mentioned previously, I’m not exactly a stranger to the idea of a long-term sabbatical. I find removing myself from the ceaseless rat race that capitalism foists on as as the only option available to comfortable living to be a welcomed renewal. More people ought to do it, and the over-worked American society would do well to take my example–this is an uphill battle, I realize, as we can barely rationalize even a week’s vacation as a society.

But I may have neglected to fully explain just how married I am to structure, and just how much I end up flailing about when I am outside of its firm embrace–and flailing I have been. Two nights this week I’ve woken up (earlier than even I typically like) in a cold sweat, worried that something or other needs to be done before some other whosit can whatchamacallit before the thing can happen. Gotta send an email to that guy so those other people aren’t waiting for me because everyone depends on everyone else around here, soldier! (Side note: I would’ve flourished in the military. It’s their goddamn loss that they were so fucking hostile to homosexuality up until the very, very recent past. All that structure, all those uniforms?) It’s not been easy.

Over these past few days since taking this path, I’ve had to remind myself on multiple occasions that I’m just fine, I’m not being chased by a tiger. I’ve had to consciously slow my heart-rate, slow my breathing. Let the pause wash over me, rather than knock me down and take me out to sea. Everything’s okay, Steve; just relax. Always easier said than done, but my therapist assures me that the less stress in my life, the less cortisol in my system, the easier things will become. But here I am, apparently going into withdrawal, generating stress out of thin air.

The First Day

This past weekend didn’t really work for me.

After spending many years collecting little packets of straw–a small project here, a small promise there–I finally collected enough on my back to utterly shatter me. It wasn’t that I suddenly realized I wasn’t enjoying life, I wasn’t going in a direction I was particularly fond of, and my health was deteriorating at a pace that made me fear for the inevitable point of no return. There was no eureka moment, no flood of insight. It was merely a casual recognition of just how much hate I was carrying around in my heart every single day, and how very sad that made me. It was the sadness that did the back-breaking.

People who know me know that I’m only a programmer because that’s the easiest way I’ve found to generate the currency required to live a simple life without worrying about bills. The money has been so typically and continually reliable that I’ve been able to take long sabbaticals from work entirely, for months and months at a time, to pursue my own personal enlightenment. I live simply enough that though I don’t have many hundreds of thousands of socked-away dollars, I do have enough that even during those breaks, I don’t worry about bills.

It’s been a good arrangement for me, and one that helps me to balance my feelings of “my worth as a human is directly related to my worth as an employee” with “corporate America remains the number one murderer of Ameircans.” I spend a couple years generating profit for companies, getting angrier and angrier, then I schedule my next sabbatical, give my notice, and spend a year writing a book (but not finishing–no, no, not finishing) or something.

This time the build-up only took 10 months. To be fair, I hadn’t done a very good job of maintaining my last break, which was interrupted by the flames of personal tragedy and self-employment over-promising, and some kindling in the guise of a convenient job offer at the precise moment I needed distraction from ashes of my life. But the embers were fed by that job, and the tiniest lick of flame was fanned by my martyrdom complex into all-consuming flame.

I’m such a drama queen.

I quit my job yesterday. I had a long conversation with my boss, who is a friend, who supports me because he is my friend (for we all want our friends to do well), and because he is my boss (for what kind of a manager values an employee sipping daily from poison and invective?), and we parted from the office on the best of terms.

And when I stepped out of that building? A hundred pounds lighter, all of it from my shoulders. My jaw unclenched without me having to think about it for the first time in months. A deep breath. When I got home, I slept without remorse, without stress, without manufactured issues floating through my mind.

So today is the first day. I don’t know if this is the first of seven or seven hundred, but when your goal is the removal of clutter your mind, counting the days until returning to chaos shouldn’t be your goal.


Simply Irrational

Tomorrow is the 14th day of March, 2015. In American notation, we’d call this 3-14-15. Twice, at 9:26 AM and PM (3.1415926), I will go out of my way to be irrational. You should, too.

I’m giving serious thought to inviting some folks over to discuss mathematics, chaos, irrationality, magic, and science. Ponder that pi need only be expressed to 39 digits past the decimal in order to accurately calculate aspects of the size of the universe, yet the digits go on and on and on. Eat circular food. Apply circular logic to complex problems. Perhaps we’ll even discuss tau (τ, or 2π) and hope that one of us is passionate enough about irrational numbers to spark an irrational debate.


Promotional picture from Neil Blomkamp's film, Chappie

Promotional picture from Neil Blomkamp’s film, Chappie

I don’t see a whole lot of movies in the theater. For the most part, I find the seats to be uncomfortable, the room to be unpleasant, and the other people to be distracting. I dislike that I cannot pause the show to go have a smoke or get a refill, that the theater is kept at a temperature I find difficult to endure, that the other patrons are allowed to wear perfume–and all this after I’ve been charged a $10 entrance fee and another $10 over-packaged concessions.

Theaters aren’t really my thing. I’m more of a Netflix guy than a United Artists guy. So it’s unusual that I actually take time off to do that.

It’s much easier to work myself into that when the entrance fee isn’t mine to provide, and I’m being brought to the event by my boss, who demands I charge the hours I’m missing from work to the corporate account. And also he bought V.I.P. tickets (those exist?), which offered much better seats than the common peasant enjoys.

So, I met Chappie.

Neill Blomkamp is, without a doubt, a talented storyteller. This is the second film of his I’ve seen (this and “District 9”), and he clearly has a particular method to his madness. For the most part, his main goal of looking at childhood through the lens of science fiction is met. The genre is at its best when examining the topics we take for granted today through the eyes of a non-human. Steven Spielberg tried to have this same conversation with the audience in “A.I”., but did not succeed in nearly the same capacity as Blomkamp has with “Chappie.”

Where Blomkamp tends to stumble is when he decides to tell more than one story. He very artfully creates this wonderful character in Chappie (voiced & motion-captured by Sharlto Copley), explores how the very first artificial intelligence might explore sentience, then asks the audience to care about the two murderous thugs (played by the two member South African band Die Antwoord) who become his surrogate parents when his creator has to go back to work. And also there’s an ex-soldier engineer (Hugh Jackman) who has to act villainous without justification or escalation. And Sigourney Weaver is there, too, in the most wooden performance I’ve ever seen from her. And there are other villains, but they’re opposed to the murderous good guys–other gang members, one of whom is owed twenty million dollars (for reasons) by our Mommy and Daddy Die Antwoord.

So in the end, you just root for Chappie and his creator (Dev Patel), who are absolutely the only innocent people in the film, and who are treated to the absolute worst in humanity without any reason.

I sound more critical than I feel. I enjoyed the film, overall, and I’m glad I didn’t really have any expectations–and if you plan to see it in the theater, I’d recommend you do the same.

Daniel Norris, Van Man

Daniel Norris, future of the Toronto Blue Jays

Daniel Norris, pitcher, future of the Toronto Blue Jays

Daniel Norris is a pitcher. For the sake of my sanity, let’s assume I made the expected catcher comment. I know I made it in my own head. People could drown in the pond forming in my panties.

That said, this guy is fascinating.Looking at a future absolutely soaked to the nines with money, and he keeps himself in a $10,000 van in the parking lot of a local Wal-Mart. He’s dedicated to living a life he considers worthy, something hard enough to find in the modern world. He’s clearly not spending his life chasing the almighty dollar, not content seeking admiration and idol-worship. He’s just a man who throws a ball exceedingly well.

“Research the things you love,” he wrote one night. “Gain knowledge. It’s valuable.”

“Be kind. Be courteous. Love others and be happy. It’s that simple.”

Seems he lives life exceedingly well, too.



Dr. Kila Marr, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4, "Silicon Avatar"

Dr. Kila Marr, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4, “Silicon Avatar”

I’ve watched Star Trek my whole life, and The Next Generation series almost non-stop since it first went on the air. Every week a new episode came out, we’d have the TV on during dinner to make sure we didn’t miss anything. It was a thing I remember fondly from my time living at home.

Probably wasn’t until a couple years ago that I noticed this “veteran” (Geordie LaForge makes this analysis of her abilities just a few minutes after this scene) of 24th Century Federation technology, Dr. Kila Marr, spent a good deal of time analyzing a cave by pointing her tricorder at herself.

I was really, honestly hoping that the new enhanced version (formatted to HD, remixed sound, etc) would’ve corrected this error.


Bibi Blunder(?)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address a joint meeting of Congress at 11 a.m. ET.

The Netanyahu speech has the Obama White House on edge because Israeli officials have said the prime minister planned to disclose sensitive details of a nuclear agreement taking shape in talks between six world powers and Iran.

Netanyahu is expected to use the details to bolster his argument that the deal under discussion will not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and threatening the Jewish state’s existence.

There’s been so much nonsense about this upcoming meeting that I have found myself completely incapable of forming a solid opinion. Just as I approach condemnation of the speech, I’m reminded of the history of strife for the Jews, from Ancient Rome to Auschwitz. Just as I’m about to accept this as a natural outcome of hundreds of years of antisemitism-fueled butchery, I’m reminded of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been heartlessly moved or killed by the overcompensation of the Western World in keeping Israel safe–and I remember that this whole thing could very well be another thinly-veiled attempt by John Boehner to appeal to his ridiculous conservative base.

Wasn’t there a time when politics ended at the border?

For now, I’m waiting to hear what he has to say. But if I were a member of Congress, I’d not be attending the speech, either. He’s picked a big rock to push up that hill.

The Decriminalization of Sexuality

I’ve been with my partner, Danny, for almost 7 years now. That’s a long time in the world of gay relationships. It’s even a fairly long time for a straight relationship–it’s by far the longest I’ve been involved with. We have dealt with or acknowledged a whole host of standard relationship problems (household chores, evening plans, family and social obligations, etc), but one that we struggled with mightily at the start of our time was the decriminalization of outside sexuality, and I am pleased to say that we more or less conquered that one.

Dan Savage (et al) calls it “monogamish.”

The most important thing in any relationship is open and honest communication. Without that, the rest of the relationship doesn’t really exist, so far as I can tell. We’re social animals, we humans, and we depend on social cues to understand the world and our place in it. These cues can be as obvious as a wife saying to her husband, “clean the dishes, please,” or as subtle as that same wife turning around and rolling her eyes a moment after the husband trundles off to play Call of Duty on the Xbox after getting home five minutes ago and dropping his work stuff on the floor in front of the door.

Some cues, however, are issued by society, and become silently loud third members of the relationship. From these cues we learn how we’re supposed to interact with our partner’s parents, and how long your eyes can linger on a particularly delicious specimen of humanity. Of all the facts this partner brings to the table, the most pressing is the need for monogamy.


All the relationships I’ve had in the past were laid in the foundation provided by monogamy, though I’ve never, ever had a conversation about it. My first instinct, when entering into a union, is to appreciate the presence of this one-to-one situation, consuming the theory that monogamy forges strong bonds and creates an environment where the relationship can flourish and lift the boats of the two people involved. It’s a convenient situation and, in many cases, is completely appropriate.

But let’s not kid ourselves with the lie that monogamy is somehow natural. It is absolutely a social cue that is delivered to us by the same monster that tells us masturbation is wrong, or alcohol is wicked, or any other historical opinion that has no right being described as a fact of nature. In the actual natural world, there are very, very few species that practice monogamy–so rare that, when they do appear to natural behavior scientists, the papers get some degree of sensationalism in the court of public opinion, as though the relationships formed by flamingos and penguins are suddenly validating the structures humans have created to formalize and normalize the lifetime partnering.

Those attempts always looked, to me, like cherry-picking facts to support an unsupportable claim. Monogamy is no more natural than polygamy, and polygamous animals far outnumber the other; there is no evidence that the core of human monogamy is anything more than man’s attempt to own women.

Heck, it’s a very recent invention in marriage that the man be monogamous at all. And scientists are still quite divided on whether or not natural human monogamy exists at all (other than the instinctual “hang around until the babies, who take for fucking EVER to mature, finish learning to hunt on their own”). Some studies claim that, even among modern human societies, only one in six enforce monogamy as a rule. At the end of the day, though, the science is mostly irrelevant to this point.

So one of the earliest, most difficult conversations Danny and I had was when we decided to do away with monogamy.

Do I spend countless hours worrying about Danny, working to make Danny’s life better, enriching my world with his presence? Absolutely. I am madly, fully, wonderfully in love with him, he’s the apple of my eye, the cream of my coffee. I absolutely adore him.

And one of the ways I show my love is by not claiming to hold ownership over him. Right now, I can type a few characters into the browser and in moments I can be face to face with a pair (or more) of people who are cheerfully fucking for my entertainment. I can read long accounts of passion in books (some of which are major motion pictures, now). I can watch politicians maneuvering to be photographed holding hands with their Stepford wives. I can listen to pastors praising a godly relationship as the closest mankind can get to the divine. Clearly, as a species, we don’t agree with each other on the definitions.

I consider myself a feminist in this regard, in that I consider the birth of modern monogamy to be steeped in the man’s desire to control the woman. I think the removal of these ridiculous restrictions on human sexuality will have a larger impact on female sexuality, but this tide lifts all boats. And if you don’t want to play in my pool, you’re welcome to your own. I don’t say that I’m in an “open” relationship (that euphemism sits in my mind like a lead ball, a lecherous demand to copulate as much as possible without ethical restriction), just that I am in a non-traditional one. Sex outside of marriage, an activity that happens across all groupings of humans, is just sex. If we were all just a bit more honest with ourselves, I think it’d do us well to admit that. Sex–like eating, sleeping, and socializing–is a human need.

Given how much pain and suffering comes from those bonds breaking under the normal strain of human interaction, I’d really appreciate getting rid of the restriction at all.


Saturday Diversions

Got a pair of cooking shows that you simply must watch. No actual cooking was harmed during the making of these videos.

These two women kept me in stitches for the entire six-episode first season, and I am dying to see what they get into next.

I have found Richard E. Grant to be highly watchable in all shows I’ve seen of his (I admit a certain guilty pleasure regarding the classic comedy Hudson Hawk with a devastatingly handsome Bruce Willis), and this show, Posh Nosh, is no exception. A clever send-up of the high-class cooking show, starting with a most pretentious fish and chips. All eight episodes (this was made in 2003) are available on YouTube.