The Other End of Sunset

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Emotions, life, and a sticker or two

I'm writing this, on a plane, on my new MacBook Pro.

New toy, eh? Want my opinion on it? Ok, it boots faster, and does a good job of running office software, even in emulation mode. But the new power supply is a real pain (I keep nudging it out with my thigh). And I can't join most wireless networks (although this is supposedly getting fixed in an OS patch), and there is no PC Card slot, so I can't use my Verizon EVDO card. Aargh.

But I put a sticker on this one, so it's mine. And so I won't be going back - much - to my PowerBook.

I never put stickers on computers. I never turn down the corners of books. I'm annoyingly protective of property, even when it's mine. I put a sticker from online clothing company ReaperWear on the top front of my MacBook Pro. I feel a little guilty about having put the sticker on my computer. I'll probably get over it. And I know which Mac is mine now in meetings.

Most importantly, I am using ReaperWear shirts in the Team JR project. So I'm glad to advertise for them.

In fact, please open a new tab in your browser (you do use FireFox, right?), and go to, and order something. Or several somethings. You can always give them to someone else, right? I mean, the stuff is pretty weird, but I think it's funny, by and large.

Trust me, there are people who could use the stuff, if you don't like it. I'd suggest any number of veteran's organizations, drug and alcohol abuse centers, or women's shelters. They aren't hard to find. Really. Sometimes, these people are even in our back yards.

I mean, worst case? Send it to Zoom! (props to those who recognize this reference.)

I spent the last couple of days in Phoenix, doing some press interviews. Saw a few reporter friends of mine, learned the source of the tie I commented on in a previous post, and managed to annoy fewer people than I usually do in a few day stretch. I mean, not so bad.

It's raining in Phoenix. It's apparently been like 140 days since the last rain, which is some record. I live in the Bay Area. It's rained in the last 140 minutes, on average. So I was not well calibrated to this ongoing news story. FYI.

Although I am chatty about my new laptop, and my current adventure, it's not actually what I want to talk about this fine day.

I want to return to a common theme in my writings, from a different angle. More specifically, I am thinking about what makes a person good.

But I won't, today, spend time bad-mouthing fired, failed, ex-executives who presided over the destruction of billions of dollars of shareholder value, and thousands of jobs lost, while pocketing multimillion dollar severance packages and heading off to open "financial consulting" businesses between bouts of desperately required back shaving. No, I won't do that.

Rather, I want to talk about a simple question: What emotion do you respect most?

My life has changed around me. No, nothing is happening to me. Nope, I'd rather it were happening to me. In fact, I'd do just about anything to have it be me who is in pain. But it's not. She's ill. I'm a spectator. And I'm not even doing that great job of being a spectator. But I'm doing my best. She's started talking about what's going on, but it's her story to tell, so I won't share it here.

So, what emotion do you respect most?

A few weeks ago, I would have answered something like "Being smart". In fact, I have a friend who quotes a quip I once made - "Being junior is not a problem. Being dumb is a problem!" Clearly, I am a card-carrying member of the intelligentsia. The academic elite. Snobs. Whatever. I'm part of the generation that has benefited from, and been terrified by, the brains of my parents' generations. The bomb, the EKG, the MRI, jet planes, the Internet. I worked at RAND. I believe in the unfettered power of people, and their creativity. I believe that our only long term hope is to get everyone - regardless of where they were born, and what color they are, or what they believe - to get engaged on making our lifestyle sustainable. Yup, I'm one of them Ivy League liberals, who believes that we can think our way out of anything.

But I'm wrong. Ask her.

What else might make a person good? Well, in my head, I would have thought - but never said - something about being rich. Because it is the game score, right? It's what we use to track our progress - I mean, really, greed is good, right? I give a fair amount of money, and time, to good causes. And I like making money. I have to think that's ok, or else, I have to face being shallow. And that's not such a great place to start.

Money won't help here. Even if I were on Fortune's recent billionaires list (apparently there about ~800 billionaires in the world. I'm not one of them.) I can't use it to fix this. And it's not really an emotion, anyway, so does this even fit? It's my blog, I can forcefit it if I want to!

Let's keep digging, shall we?

Even farther inside my head. Wandering through the memories, the fears, the scars. What will we find next? We run across a glittering fishline of a thought that is apropos here. You know what else makes a person good? Being thin, or pretty, or hot, or whatever word you like. I spend a lot of time at the gym, and get a little depressed when I can't go as often as I like. (Of course, Celiac's helps keep me thin, so I have a bit of an advantage there on other people who want to be thin...) I am a full-fledged aficionado of the human form. I think people are great to look at. Ok, especially women, but people in general.

Now that's really shallow, eh? Maybe not so different from you, though. Or maybe it is, I don't know. Regardless, it's there.

She's thin at the moment.

But, regardless, I have changed my mind. I think something else is what makes a person good.

Wait for it - it's not my usual rant about taking care of those around you. I mean, that's important, and I will never walk far from that personal meme. But it's not what I am going to talk about today.

I think there is something else even more central to our "goodness". Bravery.

What, you cry! Bravery? Such a chauvinistic emotion! The emotional crucible of Red States, of bad 80's Rambo movies, and bumper stickers. Not the core emotional state of over-educated, Type A, bright shirt guys like me! Surely, you're joking, Dr. Merrill!

But I'm not.

Suddenly everywhere I look, I see bravery. In all shapes and forms. I wonder, was it always there, or did some strange cometary effect just happen? Like Hale-Bopp, only a few years late? Dude, maybe those purple Nike folks were right.


She started treatment last week. They put a tube in her, and started poisoning her. She sat there for hours, watching a movie, laughing, and dancing to the music in the movie. While they poisoned her. Wow. I'd have been a useless, gelatinous, smelly mess. I wouldn't have been dancing. She was. On the phone the other day, she chided me for asking about her "I'm tired of talking about me! Tell me about your day!"

That's bravery.

I have a friend who has decided to start a blog. The first posting was just like my friend, same word pacing, same intonation. Same odd mixture of serious, sardonic, and biting. Yup, that's my friend. The problem? Apparently my friend has a few different visible personalities, and someone else didn't recognize THEIR friend in that post. So now the friend is torn - post more evanescent truths, and perhaps hurt someone, or write puff pieces, and waste the opportunity to speak, to live out loud. I don't have any advice. I just think my friend is brave to try, and to think, and to force closure on hard emotions. Me? I run away.

I have another friend who has wanted to live in San Francisco her entire life. Much like I always wanted to live in LA. She made it, into a cute apartment, with a crazy landlady, and a leak in the window. It's small, but cool. She painted it. She figured out local transportation, parking, furniture, and all that stuff. She just showed up, and started her life. Me? I lived in Princeton for a little over 2 years, and never went to New York because I was scared. Scared of what? Of living. I never took my wife to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I hope she went after she left me.

I could tell the story about the shopkeeper who SHOT a couple of robbers in his grocery store. That's bravery right? Well, I guess. But it doesn't compare to dancing, writing, or living.

I hope that someday I have half the bravery of my friends.

But I am starting to write. Baby steps, you know.