The Other End of Sunset

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I believe the light goes off when you close the door

The guilty get no sleep
In the last slow hours of morning
Experience is cheap
--Crowded House

Well, I'm not on a plane, although I have spent a lot of time on planes in the last few days. I'm hanging out in Singapore at the moment. Although I have been here many times, it's been a while -- but I still really like it here.

A quick shout-out. I had drinks last night with a group of young students and entrepreneurs who are thinking about the future of digital media in Singapore and other areas of Southeast Asia. It was really interesting to hear their perspectives, and was hugely enjoyable for me. Thanks, y'all.

Was it sordid?
Was it clean?
Were there a lot of shades in between?
--Chagall Guevara

HJP sent me a smack-o-gram after my last post. He asserted that I don't actually live out loud at all. Instead, says HJP, although I may want to do so, I actually live quietly. He argues that I keep my life strictly compartmentalized, only opening compartment doors when approved people are around.

His evidence for this is my responses to direct questions. He points out that asking me a question often yields evasion, whereas on the blog I appear open. That is, I'm open about stuff I've decided to share, and closed about stuff that you/he might want to hear.

That would make me some modern post-punk reconstructionist – asserting reality on my own terms, not on the terms that are … well… real.

I expect he's right. Although that's annoying. I’ve spent more than a decade arguing with him at every turn, and it’s usually annoying when he’s right.

I'm sometimes astonished by the complexity of real life. I'm a product of my generation. I'm most comfortable when there are good guys, and bad guys, and the good guys wear white hats, with the bad guys wearing black hats.

That spaghetti western world is simple, clean, and even elegant.

Not challenging.

Unfortunately, few things seem to be so simple. And the more stories I tell, and hear, the more I find complexity, and the harder it is to find good guys. Even in my own stories.

I find that the stories I'm most comfortable telling are generally pretty simple. Lately, they have all been about death, and loss, and my personal feelings of confusion about my life as a result.

Yes, every day I miss Jeanne. That's simple, it's not complex.

But the stories I don't tell are those that are harder to get right. Somehow less clean, maybe more sordid.

So, I guess I'm complicated. I'm not simple. And I'm not doing what I promised myself, and you, that I would do. So, perhaps, I need to open some more doors, and talk a bit more.

Even when it makes me uncomfortable.

HJP knows me, and is likely right in his characteristically blunt assessment.

Everything counts in large amounts
--Depeche Mode

In general, I think we find complexity in the real world when we have either solved the wrong problem or failed to understand the answer.

Such as the wireless network at the hotel where I am staying. They have one of those annoying “pay a ridiculous amount of money per day” networks. And you pay differently depending on whether you are plugged into a wall or getting your service over the air. The wired network just works. It’s expensive, but it works. The wireless network? Not so much. I was sitting in the restaurant yesterday afternoon, trying to get authenticated, when I noticed a few interesting things. First, the network let me get to some sites, but not others – and I wasn’t yet authenticated. One of the sites I couldn’t get to was the authentication site. Ahh, the irony. Also, the network was ringing – going from very strong signal to almost none, and back, in an erratic pattern. But when the signal was low, I was able to get to some stuff – when it was high, nothing worked. And, yes, it was the same network.

All this stuff serves to do is make it hard to use their network, and frustrate me into leaving the restaurant and going back to my room to use the wired network, thus costing them a fair bit of money in wine over time. I wish hotels would make it easy to use their networks. And free – really, I bet you will make it up in other services, but what do I know.

In my not-so-humble opinion, hotel networks are an example of “complex for no good reason”, but rather because of poor engineering and solving the wrong problem.

Human complexity is far more interesting than technical complexity.

// Side note: Yes, I know it’s ironic that an engineer would say such a thing. I'm not a very good engineer. It’s not clear that I'm a good human, either, now that I think about it. But I'm fairly well-dressed, so that’s a start. //

Movies often try to capture emotional complexity, and so often miss. I watched "Breach" on the flight over here. Chris Cooper was the star. One of those movie review shows described his role as "worthy of an Academy Award".

I don't agree. I thought the view of Robert Hanssen, the spy, as a rigidly religious, overbearing, hypocrite was not very well portrayed. It felt like a comic book -- over the top, predictable, and not at all enlightening.

It would have been awesome to have come away from the movie understanding what led Hanssen to commit treason. And to have some understanding of the pressure that must have driven him to go to Mass each day and traffic in secret porn.

Such a person should be, must be, interesting. The dynamics of such a person, and the terrifying high-wire act that must be his day-today existence, would have been a great movie.

How do you simultaneously keep those ideas in your head? Opus Dei and Open-Wide-Porn? Patriot and Traitor? My officemate likes to say that a measure of brilliance is the ability to maintain two mutually exclusive ideas in tension at one time; I agree, generically, but don't know how Hanssen did.

That's the movie I wanted to see. Tell me that. Show me how he kept the lies in order, and the lives together. Tell me the color of the cover of the book that binds his essence together. Tell me the stories he's ashamed of, or afraid of.

Let me understand that he isn't an archetype, but a human. Not a cutout, not a cartoon. Did he love his wife more than the porn? Or less? Or because of the porn? Did he love his country more, or less, after the first time he gave classified information away. Was it easier the second time? The third? Was he secretly proud, as he sat there in counterintelligence meetings, knowing he was smarter than the ones who were hunting... him? Or did the fear eat his stomach like an ulcer.

The primary effect of aging is not wrinkles, it is additional fears.

The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
--Counting Crows

What are you afraid of? Me? I'm afraid of lots of things. For example, I'm terrified of mice.

Jeanne and I had a mouse in the house once. We were in the kitchen one night, and it skittered out of the pantry, across the floor, and vanished somewhere near the sink. I don’t know which happened first – my near scream (and half-hearted jump onto some piece of furniture), or my Dalmatian lurching for rodent McNuggets. I didn’t land on the counter, and my Dal didn’t get her snack, although she does love to chase small animals, and was very determined to get that mouse.

But I was freaked. Like, didn’t want to walk barefoot around the house freaked. Seriously, what do shoes have to do with mice? I'm weird. Anyway, Jeanne put some trap like things around, and ultimately collected the modest mouse and disposed of it.

So, among other things, I'm afraid of mice.

// Side note – I once had a predilection for making fairly inappropriate livestock jokes. Two of my work friends – including the one now immortalized as CarPool Pal – got me a book called “Sheep” and put it on my office bookshelf. I was looking for some cryptography reference on the shelf at some point later, saw the book, and collapsed into hysterics.

I'm reasonably worried that CPP, or his heir, will get me a stuffed mouse now. I'll keep you updated. //

Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I'm sure your mind is roamin'.
I'm sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you're goin'.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there's something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.
--Bob Dylan

Compartmentalization is a funny concept. HJP used the term based on work I once did for a government agency. But in the current context, he meant something else. I think there are two different ways to think about compartmentalization.

One is messaging – “I will tell you this part of my story, and hide that part.” Basically, this is lying. This is the province of the adulterer, the thief, the spy. This kind of compartmentalization addresses fears that others won’t accept you for who you are, or what you have done.

The second kind of compartmentalization is a coping strategy. In this form, you don’t think about the other part of your life when you are doing this part. In the good form, this might just be focus. In the bad form, this is how abused children deal.

In each case, I think it’s pretty hard to keep the compartments going. If you are lying, you have to ensure you get all the lies straight, and you need to tell enough lies, but not too many, etc. I think many people find it hard to rehearse and maintain the lies.

If you have a set of different compartments to cope, then you have to make sure that nothing connects the compartments; note that young drug addicts rarely have a primary supplier in their own neighborhood, so that family and recreation compartments don’t mix.

I'm not sure which case HJP thinks I do. I think I do both. I certainly message – professionally, it’s a key skill, and I generally like to please in my personal life. Whenever someone says “they like to please,” it’s probably code for “I won’t tell you the truth, I'll just tell you what I think you want to hear”.

And compartmentalization is a useful coping strategy for me. When I was at school, I didn’t think about what happened at home.

Why were you so surprised
That you never saw the stranger
Did you ever let your lover see
The stranger in yourself?
--Billy Joel

When the compartment walls break down, it’s like when the internal bulkheads give way on a submarine – the entire ship collapses, and you get the Atari death sound. I have, in my life, imploded because I couldn’t keep the lies straight, and at other times because the different areas of my life have touched. Remember, don’t cross the streams.

Hasn’t everyone imploded at one time or another? Is it in the nature of the human condition to overcomplicate, and generate the lies, the need to cope, that inevitably lead to combustion? It certainly seems so.

But, dear readers, what is that HJP wants me to say that I'm not saying? Does he want stories of broken glass and cigarettes? Or lies told on the way to great relationships?

And here we have, the end of another post, with no such stories. Once again, I’ve danced and swayed and distracted you from the other hand, which is busy sliding the card under the bottom of the stack, only to produce it for your amazement.

Remember, the hand is faster than the eye, especially if you are looking away. And the writing hand writes, and having written moves on…