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.

Okay, So Why Doesn’t He Go Home?

Okay, Why Doesn't He Go Home?

“Okay, so why doesn’t he go home? Either he lives in the village with her, or he takes her back home with him!” —Medusa of the Cinema

Last night, Claire and I watched Princess Mononoke at BYU’s International Cinema. I first saw that movie close to ten years ago, and enjoyed it then for different reasons than I do now. In the film, our male protagonist finds himself in a war and decides to make neither party his antagonist (despite each side’s best attempts to make him choose between them). Also, there’s a girl (duh). By the end, peace abides and because he took no loyalties the protagonist is left completely exposed to his future. To the medusa sitting behind us in the theater, our protagonist’s future was quite obvious: he gets the girl (duh) and returns home.

Much to her chagrin, he decided to help the local village rebuild, and the girl decided to go back to her old lifestyle. The poor medusa was having a fit and her question was ringing in my ears. Okay, so why doesn’t he go home? Clearly, the protagonist didn’t have a life goal to rebuild a village that was destroyed during a war that he wasn’t a part of. So what is he doing there?

What Do I Do Now?

Much like our protagonist, I’ve found myself exposed to the future this last week. Let me give you a little background on why. I make a little document, at the beginning of each year, that shows my daily, weekly, and yearly goals. Regularly, I check it, feel remorse, and celebrate my incapabilities by adding another goal to this list. For quite some time, making goals was just about the only goal I was keeping. That is, up until last week when I met all of my yearly goals—and more.

I sunk into the feeling of accomplishment, and started to look around me at everything that I am and that I own.

  1. I’m married
  2. I’ve served a two year mission for my church
  3. I have the liberty of doing what I love for work
  4. the trailer we live in (our home) is fully functional
  5. We just paid off both cars
  6. We each have a bicycle, laptops, and other tools for work and school
  7. Got Phones
  8. Got a dog

…and the rest of our lives ahead of us. Crap. Not only had I accomplished my goals for the year, but my goals for my entire life. I never could have dreamed I would plateau so early.

Quality

Let us presume, that from here I just want to stay alive. In order to stay alive, I’ll need a job; that job should fill a good chunk of the rest of my life, right? Living has its costs. Food, shelter, education: sure. I understand that good health, too, has its cost. And, that’s not to say that my vices aren’t doing their part in draining my bank account. The soda must be bought and, subsequently the fillings have their price tag.

But that’s not it for most people, and (the way I see it) we can go only one of two ways in life: improve the quality of what we have or own or improve the quality of who we are. Quality, in both cases, is not such a bad thing to yearn for. It’s when perfection becomes synonymous with the highest level of quality that we find ourselves in trouble.

“When a man is warmed […], what does he want next? […] more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing […] and the like.” -Thoreau

Where does your mind go during those moments (at the end of the day) after you’ve exercised, you’ve worked your socially approved eight hours, and you’ve eaten your three meals? Does it look to the left and see the looming pile of possible possession upgrades? You could get a newer car, or a newer pair of shoes, or a phone with a better camera, or even a newer plate of food. Does that quality improvement excite you? Do you dream of going home one night, sitting down, and realizing that everything around you is the level of quality you’ve always longed for? Finally you have that armchair, that TV, and that fresh coat of paint on the walls. Right? Something like that, anyway.

If that’s the case, it’s perfection that you’re really gazing (googly-eyed) at with complete disregard for self-esteem. The cost of quality has always held its premium. If you want to foot the bill for the quality of perfection, it will cost your healthy mind.

No Place

“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” —Matthew 8:20

I’d like to point out the obvious: Matthew is not referring to living spaces. He’s referring to the circumstances surrounding a lifestyle choice. Circumstantially, a bus driver, too, has no place to lay his head. Not because a space isn’t available to him but because his decision to drive the bus (safely) interferes with his ability to lay his head. The driver could pull over, certainly, and lay down in the aisle, but not while keeping his responsibilities.

“You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…and is the key to being regarded honorably.” —Jiro Ono

Our protagonist, I’m convinced, had long ago broken his gaze with the tower of potential improvements and instead began to look within. Settling down, returning home, (or whatever it was that medusa wanted for him) was an occupational hazard (to put it gruffly).

Okay, So Why Doesn’t He Go Home?

At some point in life, we have each decided to drive our life bus toward some remarkable destination. Hopefully, when we die, the weight of that responsibility transformed us into honorable, or particularly capable, and self aware human beings. Hopefully, we can own up to ourselves come that day. Should we walk (or rather, sit on) a different path and obtain those perfect possessions, will it not be them that own us? For they have decided the worth of our hours for work, and they have decided what occupies our thoughts.

It’s not that our protagonist can’t go home, or sleep. I hope those analogies aren’t too strong to overcome. Instead, I hope you see that the inclination you have to purchase and own as an attempt to stabilize your emotional mind is wrong. For security is lost as the substance of your life (time) becomes converted into cash, and distributed into the items you define yourself by and surround yourself with. For those items will always be imperfect, and will always need replacing.

“Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting?” ― Keith Haring

Keith Haring is an artist who created world renowned graffiti in a short thirty-two years. His art is iconic, imperfect, and has lasted long past his death. He took a risk by choosing an art form that was then considered worthless, and those risks transformed him. His, now publicly available, journals speak of the unique learning experiences graffiti afforded him. His art transformed him, and his transformations went into his art.

Do you think Keith Haring, really, would have been happier with a thinner LED LCD screen TV? Like our protagonist, he spent much of his short life fixing a village that was destroyed by a war he didn’t want to be a part of. Be the name of the war: aids, crime, corrupt government, or drugs.

But the medusa sitting behind me in the movie theatre insists that he’d be better off going back the way he came. For the sake of this world’s future, may we all be a little less like medusa and a little more inclined to look inside.

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