An Experience in Masculine Development

I had the occasion, tonight, to see my little brother Mark become just a little more defined as a man. I’m grateful that God above let me be witness to such a sad and beautiful milestone in his young life.

While staying over the night at my parent’s house, Mark and I took the dog out to pee just before going to bed. He quickly and quietly pointed out a woodpecker, to me, perched near the door, asleep. He ran to get his bb gun while explaining that mom and dad had commissioned him to kill it, should he see it.

Sidebar: have you ever seen a woodpecker? They are extraordinarily beautiful.

As he readied the gun, I stood anxiously by the window, not knowing what to expect. Me: the boy who cried the first time he caught a fish; the boy who sobbed until he shook while gutting that fish; the man who was racked with guilt when he accidentally hit his dog in the eye with a tennis ball, last week. As an older brother, how should I represent myself? The marvel of the beautiful bird stood between my morals and my mouth. Conscious decision or not, I watched my thirteen year old brother as he shot the bird and watched it fall. I watched as he turned to me in shock, his face flush, and his eyes honest. The bird flopped and it turned, trying as well as a bird might with a piece of metal lodged somewhere in its chest.

There was sadness in his young eyes, but he had not seen it yet. He shot the bird again, for good measure, and with haste reported the news to dad. After surveying the scene, dad gave Mark a high five and asked him to clean up the mess before going to bed. I stayed inside and did my best to calm the dog after all the excitement, and Mark went back out with some newspaper.

When he came back inside his flush face was now set deep into the contrast of pale and purple tones. The bird was not dead, and he hoped to have my advice on the next step. The bird, now standing, looked just as magnificent as Mark looked afraid. Showing my inability to acknowledge emotion, once more, I advised that he let the bird find a place to die on its own. Mark, reminding me of his tender age, asked, “do you think it’s in pain?”

I saw his posture before I saw his face as he slouched back inside after shooting the bird for a third time. He shook violently as the reality of the crime sunk in.

The shame of a young boy, making masculine decisions encouraged by ridiculous culture, is heart wrenching. Those eyes, those eyes that I’ve known for as long as he has, have never looked so deep and stripped of hope. How I tried to hold him and how I tried to tell him that he was right to feel pain. But what is my voice against the many who insist contrary? What is my voice against Call of Duty, MTV mutilation culture, or the senselessly homophobic male role models that will taunt him with emotionless, passionless, and sexist living until the day he dies?

As I pulled his head against my shoulder and felt his frail figure shake, I was filled with immense appreciation for a God who gave a little boy an older brother. I can’t keep him from being manipulated by this awful masculine factory, but in this moment I can hug him; in this moment I can cry with him; in this moment I can remember that I once was him. And maybe the next time he feels like he needs to throw his voice a little lower on the phone, or say something degrading amongst his friends, he’ll have this moment to fend off that ever present masculine pressure.

But most of all, maybe we can all remember that moment when we drew a line in the sand and decided that we would not be participating in killing, or insulting, or suppressing. No, it’s not as simple as it used to be. Yet, in this moment, it all seemed within reach. And God providing, I hope I turn out to be the man that Mark became today.

Simplicity Demands Expanse

I guess it’s not a new law, but it’s a new thought to me. Last year in an intro to stats class I took, the thought was planted in my head that you needed a large sample in order to come to the most correct conclusion. So, in other words: you needed to do a lot of work to come up with a simple answer. Sometimes, even an obvious answer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sketched out a logo and thought, “bam, it’s done,” and then spent hours fine tuning the smallest details—often never getting close to the appeal of the original sketch.

I redesigned my site last week because it wasn’t simple enough. I used analytics to determine the things people weren’t looking for and then cut those things. And, I gotta say: the new site was effective. I was getting way more job contacts direct from the site than ever before.

The Redesigned Menu

The year of freelancing under the old site taught me what was necessary to simplify the site to one page. Had I not put up a complex site, I wouldn’t have known what a simple site would look like. But I had overlooked a key piece of data that the analytics couldn’t have picked up on: my rates.

The Re-redesigned Menu

Yes, I was getting contacts, but from clients who were being filtered by my price. Suddenly I was getting contacts about t-shirt designs and vectorizing projects. $30 jobs that I hadn’t been asked about in a long time. It wasn’t until I saw how expansive the clientverse can be that I knew what I needed to refine the content down to.

Seeing big to see small. What a strange thing it is.

Timeless Design is a Lie

Timeless design. Who started this lie? I want to find someone to blame. Timeless design is a candy bar wrapped in a banana peel: you’re going to need to examine the evidence before you give full credit to the surface and become convinced of its health. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as people (designers, mostly) have scrutinized the new American Airlines identity.

“The object of a design is to create an image that the public will remember and associate with the company or product. It should have a lifespan of fifteen to twenty years or more; it is costly to introduce a new logo.” – Doyald Young Dangerous Curves

Now that’s more like it, Doyald. Like any good piece of art, a well designed thing is composed of mostly tradition, partially trend. Trend will bring both striking beauty and mortality to any piece just like eggs will do to rice. Rice will last longer, uncooked, and on its own. But any taste test with fried rice vs. plain rice will yield a predictable winner.

It’s kind of a silly, and flimsy, lie when you think about it. What design has lasted beyond two hundred years, let alone all of time? Elements maybe, but not pieces. And I’m not going to argue against any evangelical traditions concerning a God achieving long lasting beauty through the creation of plants, animals, and the universe—because, well, it makes things too complicated. Not to mention, conceiving that a perfect God would create a timeless design is one that both seems obvious and is incomprehensible.

This is a lie that bleeds into daily living. We’re obsessed with viewing timelessness as a possibility. We want to get to the point where every interaction is a kind one, or that if we take good enough care of our vehicles they will never break down, or that if we practice enough we will make perfect. Whatever “making perfect” means.

I’m sure I’ll rant on this more, later. But for now this satisfies what irks me.

Consumers of Judgement

When I started student teaching a couple weeks ago, I noticed that memes and Pinterest are the entertainment of choice for students in my classes. I fear this kind of entertainment isn’t as much entertainment, as it is education—and the instructors for this kind of education, shouldn’t be trusted with the task of molding minds, or what-have-you.

Judge Judy, American Idol, sensationalized media, and Instagram are not all that different. They are all textbooks in a large class they’re all taking titled Judgement 101. I’m giving it a class name to suggest that it was preconceived or that it has class objectives. I’m also not suggesting that all who take this class are going to ace it and slide down the slippery path to hell. I just want to point out a few thoughts I’ve had, and hopefully suggest some ways in which we can better the situation.

Imagine that the greater than symbol stands for “requires”.

Capture

Capture can be anything. In fact, we’re so obsessed with capture, that we meticulously label everyone we know and everything we do. From tags on Twitter and Instagram, to tags on friends, family, co-workers and even strangers: we love to have an absolute definition for everything we do. Why? So that we can best decide how to judge.

  1. “Oh, your photo was #nofilter? All judgements must be strictly content based, now.”
  2. “You’re tweeting that you’re about to see the Hobbit? I’ll file you under #lotrfan.”
  3. “Own a Martin Guitar? File under guitar player, sub section singer-songwriter.”

The devil you’ve captured versus the devil you haven’t. That’s why get-to-know-you activities are so tough. We’re all so naked, unlabeled, not judge-able!

Evidence

All of the “must-have” tools in a high schooler’s tool box were recommended by the instructors of Judgement 101. The better the camera on your phone is, the higher chance people will consider your capture to be a fact and consider that fact judge-able. Sites like peopleofwalmart.com and failbook.com thrive because of well placed Judgement 101 classmates with the necessary tool for the job.

Facts

Mobile internet increases the speed at which the judgement can be made, and sites like Wikipedia are simply stepping stones toward backing up the evidence presumed by the capture.

Judgement

Some Solutions
Are you setting a good example to those who don’t know how to accurately judge for themselves? Do conversations you have with your peers eventually lead to judgements on people who deserve your affection? When you’re alone, do you compare yourself to others or do you appreciate all that you have been given?

Judgement is where we land to have a good laugh, feel the sensation of a dramatic situation, or experience the thrill of surprise. All usually at the expense of others.

Not all Judgement is bad. Judgement is a motivator, a decision maker, and priority divider. But a hasty judgement is bad. There is a common sense correlation between fast judgements and the incorrectness of those judgements.

I fear for the future, should the great advancements in technology become the downfall of civility, kindness, and humanity. For the aforementioned popular entertainment providers, judgement consumption seems to be the overwhelming use.

Have we given too much power to judge into the hands of the naive? Is the beauty of the advancement flower lost in the stench of the indecent manure you used to fertilize it?

Put Your Life Into Money

We often sell our future as casually as we sell our past. False assumptions give us confidence in the hearty harvest of tomorrow. Inflated worth, unfortunately, follows the best of life’s gifts and the most tender of your fellow man’s charity.

Thoreau said, of a house built in debt, “I wonder that the floor does not give way under the visitor while he is admiring the gewgaws upon the mantelpiece, and let him through into the cellar, to some solid and honest though earthy foundation.” If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, we know how fragile the flooring made of future labor can be.

I try not to be fooled by the promise of comfort given by a man who sells me my own future. Nor should I be tricked by the man who buys my today with the promise of a happier tomorrow. This for that, and that for this, until: tomorrow is sold to pay for today, today is sold for a brighter tomorrow, and yesterday is long gone at the suggestion of a more perfect now. Who sold us this time machine and called it anything short of a mad house?

If it is happiness we are trying to buy, my thoughts, lately, are this: happiness is a road best sought through humanity. If it is peace we are trying to buy, my thoughts, lately, are this: peace is a gift best earned through meditated practice. If you think that money is to blame for your woes, my thoughts, lately, are this: do not put your life into money, and money will not put its life into you.

The Trouble and Delight of Omnipotence

I have long been confused by the doctrine of an omnipotent God. If God knows all, and if God, being merciful, will provide for his children, what contributions can we make? When we, in Faith, pray or wish that [insert person or problem] will be [insert blessed state or solution] are we really just hoping that our dialog aligns with God’s dialog?

“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.” 1 Ne. 9:6, The Book of Mormon

The Delight

Why is this on my mind lately? I read a brilliantly insightful novel by John Green named The Fault in Our Stars, from which I will be quoting for the remainder of this post. A very classic, satirical, piece of literature with a young adult vibe to it. It’s about, well, cancer. A friend of mine died of cancer in March of last year, and all this time I have been regularly disheartened by my conviction that he did not receive what he deserved. Simple slogans about heaven or a better life didn’t seem to provide justice for a life lost. “Easy comfort isn’t comforting”.

The pain we see in a cancer victim, and are concerned most with, is death, which is not to say that anyone is assuming the victim won’t eventually die as a consequence of life. We quantify the severity of death by measuring the amount of time between a “typical” death and a cancerous or unfortunate death. That number becomes the measure of the severity of the affliction. A six year old dying of cancer is then in a sadder situation than a fifty year old dying of that same cancer. Thinking this way suggests that God’s great calendar makes a lot of your Mondays much longer and never compensates you with additional holidays or longer weekends.

The verdict of justice is not easily found when you’re using the wrong equation to find it. The problem with the equation isn’t that we’re inaccurately quantifying the pain or loss associated with death, but that we’re quantifying the wrong side effect of death.

Assuming that God does know the end from the beginning, and measures each day with preciseness — what does it matter the way in which one dies or the time in which they die? Death is never convenient, and will by definition bring loss. Instead our concerns should be the quality in which each day is lived. For as the psalmist suggests, “this is the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24).

“She had luekemia?” I asked. He nodded. […] “…at the end, we brought her to New York, where I was living, for a series of experimental tortures that increased the misery of her days without increasing the number of them.”

Making a measure in that way, I can happily examine my friend’s life and rejoice in the happiness of each day he lived. “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” My previous views of God saw him as a taker of days, not an improver of the days given. And truly, in that regard, we can each contribute to His plan. We can each improve days and have Faith in the day that is given rather than the day that is taken. My recalculation of the fairness of life presents a much kinder God: an improver of days and a healer that I am delighted to assist.

It’s Not About Winning

Somehow, no matter how well intended the start was, social media always turns into competitive media. Myspace long placed a strain on your relationships with its Top 8; Facebook counts everything and even lets you know what your most liked things are at the end of the year. Follower totals, retweets, favorites, and reblogs all play on our selfish desires to be loved and, essentially, to win. For some, the desire to win is so great that they simply leave the game to prevent the risk of losing.

I don’t mind. I enjoy the game. I enjoy the game so much, that I’m trying to make money at it. But I’m pretty young to the game. I only just joined twitter (the end all and be all of social games) a couple years ago, and have only been active on it for about a year. I wonder what kind of person I’d be if I had this winning pressure all of my life.

There is no winner in friendships, in marriage, or in service. If the next generation is raised drinking this morally murky water, will kindness be lost in the wake of competition? Will social media pressure be the only means of getting good things accomplished?

It’s About the Game

This morning I was playing tug-of-war with my dog, Joshua. Tug-of-war is the most primitive form of competition. It has little to do with strategy, and instantly rewards the player who has the most muscle and the tightest grip. But, for Joshua, it isn’t about pulling the rope out of my hands. Every time he wins he comes close to me, tail wagging, and gruffly tries to shove the rope back into my open hand. For him, pulling the rope from my hand is actually a loss because play time has stopped.

Joshua has taught me a new mantra for living in this social world: it’s not about winning, it’s about the game.

A Study in Social Politics

Here are two of my most liked status updates, next to my most important status update. You should all be entertained with yourselves. Grandma Noogie always wins.

My Wedding: 10 Likes

Grandma Noogie: 23 Likes

Presidential LOL: 21 Likes

A Tale of Technology, Tools, and Creators

I contend that bigger is not always better. My position is that better is always better. Somehow this will all relate to my recent experience in using an Android.

Back in 2006, Apple released its largest monitor to date. And with that release came the bold claim that larger monitors increase productivity. The commotion that followed the claim lead to further research that, almost exclusively, backed up the claim. Search around, and you shouldn’t have a hard time being convinced that a bigger monitor is a better monitor.

Though, I can’t help but wonder if these claims and studies come with a bias. For instance, look at why exactly those who are touting it say bigger is better. Apple says “better” is higher productivity, while others say focus or insight into data is, but nothing is to be said of the emotional or psychological benefits. Because there aren’t any.

Now, productivity is great. I don’t want to downplay the significance of memorizing every keyboard shortcut, having the latest and greatest program for that thang you do, and loading up on caffeine to stay focused. But, lets remember: it’s not robots we’re talking about here. If it was really a productive worker that these tech companies wanted, they’d stop advertising for jobs with titles like “Ruby Ninja” or “HTML5 Wizard” and instead simply buy Java Robots.

I hope I didn’t mislead you into thinking I have evidence of the psychological or emotional benefits of using a small monitor. I definitely don’t, and can’t seem to find any after entire minutes of googling. I guess that’s kind of the thing about emotions: they’re hard to prove.

That being said, from personal experience I would much rather work on my 13″ MacBook Air than my 24″ iMac. It’s so difficult for me to put into words, that I tried to get Frank Chimero to do it for me. No luck. I guess you don’t get 31,313 twitter followers by writing blog posts for Kyle Wayne Benson.

Frank Chimero hates writing blog posts for me.

“I’m the kind of guy who needs a clear focal point, so the vast expanse of 27” made me feel like I didn’t have full mastery over my tool.” – Frank Chimero

Ignoring his effortless ability to make me feel like a fool and still convince me to buy his book, I will try to summarize my thoughts whilst compressing and interjecting my opinion on the Android vs. iPhone debate.

The web is not built for reading at large widths. As a web designer, the widest I will (maybe ever) take a webpage is 1140px. Why? Because designing beyond that size gets a little ridiculous. I tried to read a book, once, that had a landscape orientation and no columns. It was, quite nearly, impossible. I could not focus, nor absorb content. This left me feeling incapable and insignificant. This is what the web turns you into beyond a certain point. Sure, more information is on the screen at once, but isn’t that what ⌘+F is for?

So, until that glorious day when CSS3 Columns are cross browser supported, my websites will not have media break points for anything bigger.

IE, you done a bad thing.

Second of all, the tools I use are built to manage large amounts of content, not to display it. Sublime Text 2’s (my coding tool of choice) best features allow you to access portions of code at quicker speeds than my dumb wizard (see above) eyes could find them on a gargantuan monitor.

Last, but most important, my desire (and longing) is to be more capable than my tools. This is a tribute to the kid who was pinned down beneath the burden of something heavy (with capability) beyond his strength (capabilities). The kid who was not more capable than his tools, who’s parents bought him that beautiful, expensive, DW drum kit after his first day in Jr. High Percussion. He never did learn how to play those drums because the pressure of expensive tools was unsurmountable. His parents put a mountain of expense on top of the mountain of talent he was just beginning to climb.

I wished I could be him for many years as I went from one poor quality keyboard to another subpar guitar, just scraping together enough cash from my paper route for the cheapest bargain on the market. It wasn’t until I was twenty two that I finally bought a guitar worth keeping. Boy was it worth the wait. All those years of playing a guitar whose high action forced me to sweat each time I played a bar cord, now allowed me to place my fingers into chord position with ease. I was capable and deserving of a well crafted tool. And this feeling of tool mastery (or a feeling quite similar to it) is what has driven me to further my career, work longer hours, and strive to excel above who I was the day before.

Unfortunately, this analogy doesn’t translate as well when we begin talking about computers. So, I’ll have to spell out the important part.

Amount of information available on the screen: quality of the tool

It is absolutely essential to my emotional wellbeing that, when I walk away from work each day, I feel like a creator and a master of my tools. Was I really the master behind that piece of art, or was it some plug-in or filter that I used? Do I decide where I set up my work environment, or does my computer? For that same reason, I don’t even like to store many files locally. I keep a few hard drives locked up with the majority of my digital life on them. Who is the creator, and who is the tool, if my own local directory is too large for me to remember what’s in it?

Point again, if my eyes can’t keep focus on more than a two by two inch portion of the screen, what’s the point in having the rest of it there to distract me? That kid pinned down beneath his DW drum kit had too many tom and cymbol options to know what to choose from. All he really needed was a simple kit—and after a few years, who knows? Maybe that simple kit will still be all that he needs.

All you Java Robots out there with eyes that can view a thirty inch monitor all at once, and can master the dynamics of a 30 piece drum set can stop reading now.

Finally

About a month ago (after dumping my iPhone 4 in the ocean) I decided to give Androids a try again. I knew, when I was getting into it, that I would have two complaints: bad camera, short battery life. But, I can deal with that, right? And, at first, I could.

Having poor battery life turned me into a tool of my tool. My Android trained me on how
to sustain it. It taught me to buy more cables, to plant charging stations in both my cars, and to never go overnight somewhere without a totally full battery. I had to babysit that thing. Now, not all Androids are alike, but I feel comfortable saying that this complaint applies to the majority of Androids on the market.

The camera in itself taught me a thing or two. Its limits, essentially, told me when I could take pictures, what the person in the picture could be doing, and how quickly we could all be doing it. There wasn’t a single quality picture taken with that phone. Whereas, my iPhone camera did its job and let me be the master of the photography.

But that’s not all. Let me tell you one of my primary complaints? The screen was too big. The screen, was too big! All the time (not even half the time), that big screen was giving me too much access to information at once. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t reach the power button or the volume buttons without using two hands. It wasn’t convenient to take running, and (of all the funny things) it didn’t fit in my pocket very well. Bigger screens, also, require more battery life—which takes us back to complaint number one.

Anyway

Androids are great, I guess. I’m not going to tell anyone what’s best for their emotional health. But I feel more capable, and more in charge having my iPhone back. But, not all iPhones are included in the halo I’ve placed upon them. I don’t think bigger is better, so I don’t subscribe to the benefits of a taller (iPhone 5) screen. Again, maybe your brain really needs those extra pixels, but mine is seeing right through their marketing strategies. We had the technology to make iPhone screens that size the day the very first iPhone came out. So why didn’t we make them that big in the first place?

All I’m saying is, sitting ten feet in front of a movie screen does not making the viewing experience better. It never has. So how did they fool us into thinking that rule doesn’t apply to phones and monitors? At the end of the day I’ll sacrifice those 10 minutes I wasted for a feeling of competence and capability, no question.

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