Archive for the 'Family' Category

MSgt Dremel: Thank you for saving a life.

Dear Master Sergeant Dremel,

Honestly, I just did a little stalking and found out that you retired from the military some time ago, but I will always remember you as Master Sergeant Dremel (“like the tool” you would always say, yet I had never heard of Dremel tools). And, in fact, I will always remember you.

I was literally raking sand while waiting for a new job.

I was literally raking sand waiting for a new job.

I won’t blame you if you don’t remember me. I was one of a few young airmen that passed through your office at the advanced Russian school at DLI. Sometime in 2008 I failed the Arabic DLPT and began the long process of reclassifying to another job. My friend (who had failed out of Arabic with me but also spoke Russian) had been sent to work in your office as an aide. He put in a good word for me (because I was tired of sweeping sidewalks and raking sand, literally) and you requested a second aide to help clean up and organize a few things around your office.

I was feeling pretty down at the time, but this isn’t a story about how I was thinking of suicide and you talked me out of it (as the title might suggest). I had signed up with the Air Force to get the $12,000 signing bonus and I felt that the new Arabic test was broken and I had been cheated out of my bonus. I knew that I had the option of getting out of the Air Force at that point, and I was seriously considering pursuing that option.

I will always remember how kind and sincerely caring a person you are. I still remember the story you told about how, at another location, you and a few other guys were concerned about a dangerous section of road that the administration was not taking proper care of–the road required some safety markings (a crosswalk, if I recall correctly) and after months of fighting for the markings to be painted no action had been taken. You and your cohorts obtained the necessary supplies and painted the markings yourselves to prevent further injury at that location.

Similarly, you saw that I was in need of a mentor and you stepped up. I will always remember the day you asked me about my plans for the future and I told you I was planning on getting out. You listened and then, in a few more words, asked me to reconsider and give the Air Force another shot. You talked about the many benefits, to include education and health care, that I would be throwing away, and you appealed expertly to my logic and sense of responsibility.

In my mind, the military represented something I didn’t want to do. I felt wronged by the system, had a deep disdain for all of the running and physical exercise required, and didn’t feel comfortable with the military culture. However, your words convinced me to give it another chance.

Within a year your actions brought me tears of gratitude, and I am sorry that it took me this long to reach out to you and let you know what kind of impact you had in my life. Let me tell you the full story.

I had been doing very well in the Arabic program. I was, in fact, near the top of my class. I was selected to study for a month in Egypt. While I was away at Egypt, on 7 February 2008, my wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl we called Sophie.

The light of my life.

The light of my life.

Sophie was the light in my life. We had another son, but he was my step-son and as much as I treated him like my own, this was my own spawn. She was beautiful. She was happy. She made everyone around her happy.

By the time I wound up in your office she was barely half a year hold. Late December of that year, less than two months after you convinced me not to pursue an early exit from my contract, I got a call from my unit superintendent who informed me that a slot had opened up for “some computer job” and, if I wanted it, I would need to report to the new training by the first week of January.

Bundle of Joy

Bundle of Joy

I took the job and after the training, in May of 2009, we trekked across the country from Monterey, CA to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington DC.

Everything was going pretty well. I still didn’t enjoy most aspects of military life, but it was nice having everything taken care of. In addition to your encouragement to give the Air Force another chance, I had the attitude that a job is a job and having a good one was better than not having one.

Happy

She made me happy.

By October that year the first signs that something was wrong began showing. We didn’t notice at the time, but in hind sight it’s pretty clear.

Notice the head tilt.

Notice the head tilt.

She had started walking, running a little, and growing more and more confident in her movements. Then, out of nowhere, she reversed progress. She wanted to hold hands more. She used furniture and walls to steady herself. Her head was almost always cocked to one side.

It took us another month and a half before we were concerned enough to get an appointment with her pediatrician. The appointment was set for Wednesday, 16 December 2009.

Her doctor, Dr. Barnes, wasn’t too concerned on the surface. She thought it could be a nutrient deficiency or something else that could be resolved with medicine or therapy, but just to rule out anything serious, she got us an appointment to get a CAT scan the next day at Walter Reed, the larger Army Medical Center for the National Capitol Region.

So, on Thursday, 17 December, we took Sophie to the hospital to get a scan. After the scan, instead of being sent home and told that they’d get the results to us in the next couple weeks (as is usually the procedure), we waited and waited for what seemed like hours (but may have only been a half hour or so, I don’t know). Eventually we were pulled into a closet of a room with a computer and two doctors. They pulled up her scan and showed us a big black area about the width of a baseball and told us that they weren’t sure what it was, but they were sure she would need an MRI and they were not equipped to do it there. They were referring us to the Children’s National Medical Center down the road. Sitting in that room I looked at my wife and knew that everything had changed and could never go back to being the way it was before. They sent us to the ER where an ambulance would pick us up and take us in for the MRI.

The ambulance took forever to arrive. We were scared and confused. It got late. Sophie had been fasting for the scan, and since she would be going in for another she had to continue her fast. She was hungry, tired, and righteously upset. She was the only one that cried though.

This is the first MRI result.

This was the first MRI result.

They couldn’t get her in for the MRI until the next morning. Immediately afterward they urgently recommended surgery. It all happened so fast. Wednesday: ordinary pediatrician’s visit. Thursday: precautionary CAT scan. Friday morning: brain surgery?!? There wasn’t time to think about it then though.

While in the waiting room we were sitting stoically by a nervous mother. “What is your child in for?” she asked. We instead asked what her child was there for. “He’s getting his tonsils removed,” she replied. We never told her what we were there for.

It was about that time that we got up and decided to walk the hallways for a bit. That was the first time we cried. Still though, our thoughts were focused on our family and our daughter. In that moment I was enjoying a gift you had given me–a gift that I became poignantly aware of less than a week later (we’ll get to that in a minute).

After the six hour surgery, I stayed the night in the hospital with Sophie that night and my wife drove home as it began to snow. The next morning we found that we were snowed in. You may have heard of that snow storm in the news as it was the beginning of the terrible 2009/2010 snow storm that hit the East coast.

The snow gave me a chance to finally update my family on what had happened.

She recovered quickly, and by Monday there was a break in the snow, a few roads had opened, and the doctor told us that we were free to go. Less than a week later, the day before Christmas, we got a letter in the mail from TriCare informing us that all of the bills for the hospital had been paid.

A wave of relief rushed over me. It wasn’t until that point that I remembered that in the civilian world people pay a lot of money for things like brain surgery. I wish I had kept that letter with its 6-digit total. That was the gift you gave me. Four years and almost a dozen expensive MRIs later, she is in perfect health, and we don’t owe a dime for any of it. We received some of the top care in the world, from one of the most qualified and expert pediatric neurosurgeons in the nation, under the guidance of one of the most respected and loved pediatric neuro-oncologists in the world, and it was all for the cost of one decision that you ultimately helped me make.

So, Master Sergeant Dremel, how did you save a life? Surely, even if I had left the military, Sophie would have received the care she needed. We would certainly not have been living near the Children’s National Medical Center in DC, so she wouldn’t have seen the same experts she saw. But, you know what? This isn’t about her life. She might have had a worse time with another hospital, or even had a very similar experience. But it would have cost me a fortune under any medical plan I would have been able to afford (remember, this was less than a year after we parted ways).

There are things worse than death. Not being able to support my family and provide for their needs is one of those things for me. That is my life. And you saved it for me.

Thank you.

Healthy, Happy, & Smart

Healthy, Happy, & Smart (with her Teacher)

For some photos and information about Sophie’s adventure, see:

Father’s Day Story: Borrowing the Jack

My memory has never been my strongest asset, but I distinctly recall having a moment very similar to what I am about to describe. The following is in honor of Father’s Day. It took place many years ago, and thus includes quite a bit of speculation and embellishment, though the basic spirit of the lesson and event remain in tact.

“You’re borrowing the jack,” my father said.

I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly, but I feel like we were sitting on the floor. “What are you talking about?” I asked. Whatever he was talking about, I would receive it with contempt because my father often used stories, parables, and analogies that I thought were stupid, cheesy, or irrelevant.

“You’ve decided that you know how it’s going to turn out without even trying. You’re borrowing the jack. Don’t do that.”

I knew he was going to tell me a story to explain his phrase “borrowing the jack,” but I didn’t want to ask for the story. Not that this was a common standoff between us, but the way I remember it, this particular instance involved me not wanting to ask for the story that I knew was coming. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be one of the best teaching moments I would remember with my father for the rest of my life. It certainly wasn’t the most important lesson he taught me, or even the most powerful, but the story and the moment in which he taught it to me will be with me forever.

Although he told me the story one way, I remember it as I envisioned it in my head as he spoke. Now, with a little detail added in, I will tell you what I saw in my mind.

There was a man, Phil, and his wife, Susan. Phil was an unemployed auto mechanic who was having a very bad day. While out looking for work the day before, he had picked up a nail in his tire, and he discovered the flat tire on the way to do more job hunting in the morning. Angry and frustrated he went back inside, threw his jacket down on the couch, and collapsed in a huff.

“What’s the matter, hon?” his wife asked.

“Oh Susan, it’s the car. We’ve got a flat. I need to change the tire, but we sold our only jack to buy groceries just last week.”

“Well,” offered Susan, “I was out walking yesterday while you were looking for a job, and I saw one of our neighbors at the top of the hill changing his oil. His car was definitely jacked up. I’ll bet you could borrow his jack.”

Phil thought for a moment. “I don’t know him. I don’t think he’d loan his jack to just any stranger.”

“You won’t know until you ask,” his wife reminded him. And with a smile she handed him his jacket and hurried him out the door. “We need you to go find a job. No time to waste. I love you.”

Phil stood outside his house looking up the hill at his neighbor’s house. The house sat at the end of a long driveway that climbed several hundred feet up. He thought about going back inside, but when he imagined his wife’s disappointment he forced himself to begin the climb to his neighbor’s front door.

As he went he thought about how it would go when he knocked on the door. “What if I had a jack still, and a stranger knocked on my door asking to borrow it?” he asked himself. Being that he needed nothing more than he needed that jack right now, except, perhaps, a job, he couldn’t see himself being very willing to part with it. What if the stranger damaged or lost the jack? Some jacks are very expensive, and if the neighbor were as poor as he was he surely wouldn’t want to worry about trying to replace something as essential as a jack.

He was about a quarter of the way up the hill now, and he stopped. “I should just go back home. If he’s as poor as I am he won’t want to worry about replacing the jack. I shouldn’t bother.” But again he was reminded of his wife’s encouragement and decided to keep going.

A minute later he was thinking again about how it might go when he asked. “Perhaps he will see me as some kind of freeloader. I didn’t even bring anything to offer him in return for such a favor.” He imagined his neighbor forever avoiding him and thinking less of him for being so straightforward as to borrow a jack without offering anything in return. “Of course, I have nothing to offer him. There is no use in asking for a favor without having anything to offer in return.” And so he stopped and turned around. But before taking a step toward his house he imagined his wife’s righteous anger at him for failing to even ask. So, he turned back to face up the hill and took another step toward his neighbor’s home.

He managed to make it all the way to the doorstep. He raised his hand to the door, and just before knocking he asked himself, “What if I’m rudely interrupting him?” The neighbor might be very intolerant of interruptions. It is never a good idea to ask someone for something when you’ve angered them. “I haven’t got anything to offer him in return, he probably values his jack as much as I would and would never lend it to a total stranger, and he’s probably busy anyway.” He pulled his hand back and looked over at his shoulder at his own home. Sure, his wife might be disappointed, but she’d be disappointed anyway if the neighbor refused to loan him the jack. And so, without knocking he turned and went back home.

“Not only did the man make several potentially false assumptions about his neighbor, he never even gave the neighbor the chance to say yes or no. This man’s way of borrowing the jack was such that he could never succeed since he didn’t even try,” concluded my father. And the lesson, though lost on me at the time, stuck forever.

In preparation for writing this I did a little poking around and found two other similar stories. Apparently this is either the basis for a joke, or based on a joke that can be read here. Additionally, it also appears as a similar yet distinct lesson here.

I owe my father a lifetime worth of thanks for all that he has taught me. Though I cannot promise that I haven’t borrowed the jack once or twice, I have made a habit of reminding myself as often as possible that you can never succeed if you don’t try. I love you, Dad, and all the wisdom you shared and continue to share with me.

Simplicity, Productivity Boosting, and My Kindle

I'll be covering this topic.

I’m challenging myself to cover three huge topics and do it in as short a post as possible because I want you to actually read the whole thing.

Ready?

Go.

Simplicity has always been a thing for me. I have an entire site set up dedicated to seeking elegant simplicity in the things I own (though it’s been neglected for a while). Then, I read a book by Joshua Becker called Simplify. After reading it, I knew what I had to do. I had a vision of what I wanted my home to look like.

It was clean. It was orderly. We only had the things we absolutely needed or really, really wanted. No junk. No perpetual messes. No clutter.

But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. So I had my wife read the book on my Kindle. She agreed that it would be good for us to change the way we view our stuff, and we began.

That was back in January. So far we’ve de-cluttered over a third of the rooms and spaces in our home, and the areas we have cleared out are still immaculate. It feels great. I am a little less stressed even. I can’t wait to be done, but I suspect it will be less of a destination and more of a mentality, a lesson for our children, and a process. We will forever be questioning what we own, what we need, and what we use. It is a beautiful thing.

Along those lines, and before I move on to the second topic, I have to mention the simplification of my digital life (which began before even reading Simplify).

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know that I have gone back and forth with Facebook for a long time. My last post on the subject mentioned that I had divided my Facebook existence into two accounts as an experiment to see if I really needed or wanted it.

Well, the experiment ended about four months ago. I realized that I just didn’t really need or want Facebook, so I shut down my accounts entirely.

Hurray for scientific experimentation.

On to topic number two: Productivity Boosting.

So last week I stumbled upon this article about fixing procrastination. Being the procrastinator that I am, I bookmarked the article and decided to read it later.

Then, the next day, I realized the irony of that approach with that sort of an article, and I printed the article, thinking that if I carried it around long enough I’d feel more pressure to read it than if it sat in my inhumanely long list of bookmarks in the To Do folder.

An iron, because I said irony.

So I carried it around in my book bag and even kept it on my nightstand for another couple of days, hoping I would read it.

Eventually, when I was about to condemn myself to a life of expert-level procrastination, I read the article.

I liked it. It was simple. I like simple. I could start immediately. Well, sort of… OK. I started the next day.

I highly recommend you read the article, but here’s what you need to know in order to follow along: The idea is that you pick three or four broad-ish goals to accomplish every single day, and if you meet your goals you put a big, fat, gratuitously gratifying “X” for the day on a special calendar reserved for this process. If you miss a day, you break the chain of X’s, which is bad, and you… um, you… well, you just allow yourself to feel horrible about breaking your chain, then you renew your resolve and go at it again the next day, or something like that.

In the end I wound up having to adapt the idea a little, since some of the specifics wouldn’t work for me and I kind of got lost on a couple of the ideas since my printer had an issue with figuring how images and text interact.

So I drafted up my Productivity Plan (the four goals), and decided that I would only hold myself to completing three of the four goals each day.

My goals are to exercise, simplify, write, and relax. I don’t want to expect myself to do all four every day because I don’t believe in exercising every single day (I have to have at least Sunday off, RIGHT?), and some days I just don’t have time to simplify something, or maybe I just can’t work up the energy required to do any writing because my soul has been drained by my sadistic government employer… I wanted some leeway to account for non-perfect days.

Vacation time, sick time, and other extraneous circumstances can be explained in the calendar by, instead of marking an “X,” marking an “S” for “sick,” a “V” for “super rad vacation that was totally too awesome to afford me any time to be productive,” or an “E” for “END OF THE WORLD, FORGET MY GOALS.”

Mostly, I anticipate a string of X’s.

So I printed off some pages of calendars. I wanted all of the days in the year to be on one sheet of paper, so I went with this calendar. I printed three years’ worth to keep me busy for a while. Then I got a super cheap-o folder from Target, and picked up these fat markers for $3.50 while I was there (sometimes Amazon prices are awesome, other times they are scary dangerous – as of this writing those same markers are selling for over $8 on Amazon).

You can't tell me this isn't an awesome hat.

To help with the exercise thing, I got a nice pedometer a few weeks ago. I also got a really awesome hat, but that’s completely unrelated.

Then I stapled the current year sheet to the front of the folder, put the extra year calendars inside with the article printout and my Productivity Plan, and started marking X’s the next day. Today is the second day of working under this slave-driver. So far, I’ve been quite productive and I like it. I also really like my hat.

Because one of my goals (the relax goal) deals with reading, it’s now time to mention my Kindle.

I decided to get a Kindle a while ago, and I did. And I’m very glad I did.

I didn’t promise a review, but here it is: I really love my Kindle and if you are on the fence between nook and Kindle, do your stinking homework. Don’t just ask me what to get. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision is yours because we live in a free country where choices are awesome. Embrace the choice.

The only “problem” is that now I have way too many books to read. I already had a pile a mile high (closer to three feet wide, in the bookshelf) of physical books to read (though those are very lazy-making since I think I have a paper allergy or something). Now I have over a hundred books on my Kindle that are waiting to be read.

It’s just too easy to add books to your Kindle library. They have this Kindle Daily Deal thing where books are put on super-sale. I know I picked up at least one $14 e-book for just $1.99 (a great book that I wanted to read – don’t judge me; I know you’re thinking back to my spat about simplification). I also picked up one of my favorite titles, which normally lists for $11.95 (but currently sells for &7.81), for just ninety nine cents! You can see how books can start to pile up. Some of the daily deals are free books, and I regularly catch wind of book promotions through Google+ where authors are giving their books away for free.

So I’m in the middle of reading the Hunger Games trilogy (almost done with book 2), but when I finish I’m going to have a reading list that puts all of my other “to do” lists to shame.

Oh, and they have this Kindle Owner’s Lending Library where many of the best-sellers can be borrowed for free. Indefinitely. You can only have one borrowed at a time, and you can’t borrow more than one per month, but that gives me easy, free access to so many good books it makes my head spin. That’s how I’m currently reading the Hunger Games. All of the books in that trilogy are free for me to borrow, for as long as it takes me to read them.

Crazy.

Alright. That’s enough for this post. I sure would like some comments from you brave, intrepid souls who made it to the end of my post. What are you currently reading? Do you use an e-reader? Do you have any productivity tricks? Do you like hats?

Five Lessons

English: Illustration from Lessons in Geography.

Image via Wikipedia

There are five lessons that I must pass on to my family. Primarily, it is my hope to mold my life until I can be a good example of these five principles for my wife and children. As I approach a personal mastery of each lesson I will be better equipped to help those who look up to me in their efforts.

Each lesson contains specific benefits to our spiritual, mental and physical health.

The Power of Words

Words have a powerful impact in every part of our personal lives and the lives of those around us. They can change attitudes, control actions and influence others. The benefits of verbal self-mastery are unquestionable.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak only the truth. Ask the questions you want the answers to. Choose your words carefully before you open your mouth. Do not blurt things out. Negative speech of all kinds should be avoided. An entire lesson can be taught with a simple, well-planned and well-placed question.

By controlling our tongues we become masters of our minds, bodies and spirits. We can be a great support for those around us and we can be powerful teachers. Our speech should be uplifting, enlightening and wise.

The Importance of Honest, Hard Work

Working hard, doing work the right way and learning to do it with a good attitude are essential in life. Work is an eternal principle.

It has been shown that doing work the hard way is excellent exercise for our brains. Learning to be efficient is different from taking shortcuts. You should work as hard as required. Be honest about your work. Proper planning and care can ensure success with any task, regardless of how hard or big it may seem at first.

If you do not understand the goal your work could be in vain. Ensure that you communicate clearly and ask questions until you fully understand your task before you begin working.

Any change, large or small, that you make around you should make the world a better place. If it does not make the world a better place, fix your change so it never happened. If you can’t fix it, try to make it better and get help if you need it.

Putting Away Childish Things

It is important to enjoy each stage of life to the best of your ability. Childhood is a great time to have fun and focus on the few responsibilities you may have.

Maturity doesn’t happen by accident. As we pass from one stage of life into another we must seek out ways that we can grow. By reviewing past stages of life and identifying behaviors and possessions that are childish we can work to put those things behind us.

True friendships mature with us and get better with age. Other relationships can stunt our growth and work against our efforts to become more mature. Do not work to prolong a relationship with someone who is a hazard to your physical, spiritual or mental health.

The Benefits of Simplicity

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

We must learn to distinguish between needs and wants, and we must balance our lives. It is necessary to have some entertainment and comfort in life, but these things must be enjoyed in moderation. Too many physical belongings, regardless of their purpose, can distract from what is truly important.

Get your priorities straight and shed any physical possessions you may have that do not truly enhance your life. My father taught me to ask three questions before buying anything: “Do I need it? Do I need it now? Can I live without it?” Asking these questions prior to acquiring anything can help us avoid amassing clutter in our lives.

Cleanliness, order and simplicity give clarity, peace and focus that cannot be experienced amidst clutter and chaos. Our brains cannot generate order in a messy environment and the spirit of God cannot abide a disregard for cleanliness.

The Blessings of the Gospel

Never cease seeking out truth. Many differing ideas exist surrounding our existence and our brains are hardwired to seek meaning behind life.

It could all be for nothing in the end, but when the end of our life does come, which would be worse? Living trying to obey God only to die and cease to exist, or living as though there is no God only to die and come face to face with Him?

If for this reason alone, never stop trying to live the Gospel and seeking spiritual health. You will find that there are numerous benefits to living a life centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Should you one day choose to follow another faith, I will still love you. However, I encourage you to trust in my faith for a while and see if you can gain a personal conviction of its truth as I have. My personal testimony of my spiritual beliefs is something I treasure above all else in life.

 

Edited on January 16th, 2012 to include a line about changes we make in the world. Also included some minor paragraph edits.

Marriage, Arguments, and Reality

Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu (1385-1468)

I have no idea how this image is relevant.

I had an argument with my wife this morning. Arguments don’t happen very often any more, but if we didn’t have them I would worry that one of us had been replaced by an android.
To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but the facts are these: I approached a problem based on an incorrect assumption on my part, and she responded based on an incorrect assumption on her part. It culminated in poor decisions on both sides, and adjourned when I turned on the shower water to wash my morning workout away.
You know what that means, right? Shower philosophy time. I love thinking in the shower, and there are ample scientifically proven reasons why the shower is one of the best places to think. Regardless, I began reviewing the facts and analyzing the events.
What exactly had gone wrong? Of course I could see most of her faults and mistakes as clear as day. Seeing the error in others requires no talent, no intelligence. Figuring out what I could have done differently, now that takes skill.
After what seemed like a few seconds but may have actually been closer to a few minutes, I spotted the fundamental issue. I didn’t spot all of the issues, I’ve never been good at that, but I spotted the fundamental, baseline issue from which all others had sprung: I had assumed that she and I shared the same basic viewpoint on the situation.
The idea that people see the world completely differently isn’t radical, new or even a little surprising. This is a principle that we all live with and deal with on a regular basis. And yet somehow we still manage to forget that others don’t always see things exactly the same way we do. A situation may be laid out so obviously and plainly for us that we take it for granted that others will see it that way too.
Of course, it goes a lot deeper than that. Scientists, philosophers and psychologists have all postulated in one way or another that reality itself only exists because we exist, and that each person’s brain essentially assembles reality from its inputs. Under this extreme view of the world, each person lives in a completely separate reality from the next, and nothing exists at all unless it is being experienced by us.
I think that’s what the whole “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it does it make a sound” idea is referring to. Of course the movement and energy released cause shockwaves to carry through the air regardless, but is it really a sound if there is no human there to interpret it as such?
Clearly I’m beginning to digress. Regardless of whether the fallen tree made a sound, the truth is that we all have a certain reality that we live in that is different from the reality of those around us.
Have you ever struggled with something in your life that you saw was not a problem for others, and you felt like they were all in on a big secret that, if you knew it, would enable you to overcome the problem with ease? I know I have felt that way, and I’d like to think that everyone experiences that feeling from time to time.
Never was this feeling more poignant to me than during my mission in Mexico. That was two years with little more to do than sincere, intense personal reflection and improvement. I constantly worked to improve my life in as many areas as I could. And yet, I always felt like I was a few steps behind where I should – or, rather, where I could be. Others around me seemed unconcerned with many of the things I was struggling with.  Much of the world seemed to be in on a secret that was just beyond my grasp. If I could just figure out what it was that they knew, I would be free from my struggles.
Much of that feeling later revealed itself to be unrelated to any secrets. People were unconcerned with what I was struggling with simply because they were unconcerned. They weren’t struggling with it because it wasn’t important to them. However, those who I truly admired for their mastery of the things I was struggling with; they did seem to know something I didn’t. I asked questions, I attempted to learn the secret, but I couldn’t get it out of them. Either they didn’t know they were in possession of this secret, or they weren’t spilling the beans for some reason.
Later, the idea of some universally known secret surfaced again when I was talking to a psychologist for help dealing with an irrational fear of needles. Simple things like blood work and seasonal flu shots were making my blood pressure spike in a way that was deemed unhealthy, so I got to sit down with a trained psychologist.
I rather enjoyed talking with the psychologist. I think I learned more from him than he did about me. However, when we veered away from the needle issue and discussed other problems in my life, I realized that he could see the solutions to my problems but he wasn’t going to tell me what they were. I could see that he saw my life just as I see other people’s lives, just as I saw my wife’s actions after our argument this morning. All of my flaws, mistakes and misunderstandings were clear to him.
So I asked questions, tried to get in on the secret. I wasn’t direct about it, of course. I wanted to probe him a little, see what he would do to help me with my problems. What I found was that he was trained to allow me to continue living with my delusions.
Delusions: time to take a quick break and explain what I mean. A true delusion is a pathological, mental illness. Real delusions involve things like thinking someone you’ve never met on the television disapproves of you in some way, believing that you are under surveillance, or feeling like you have the power to control something outside of your true realm of control. For a delusion to be a true delusion, you must be absolutely certain of it, the presentation of hard conflicting evidence cannot sway your belief, and there has to be something expressly implausible, plainly untrue or just bizarre about it.
By its most basic definition though, a delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence. False beliefs that spring from faulty perception are not defined as delusions. However, I would like to use the word delusion here, perhaps calling them minor delusions, for two reasons.
First, we all are susceptible to developing pockets of beliefs in our version of reality that are just plain untrue, and yet when faced with contradictory evidence we are too attached to our false belief to simply accept that we are wrong. While not technically delusions, they aren’t always the result of some malfunction in our perceptive senses, and they don’t always come from missing information. They result from information being pieced together incorrectly. And sometimes it can be a rather subjective thing to say whether one version of reality is really truer than another. For those reasons, I like thinking of these as minor delusions.
Also, the word just works so well. I could call them false beliefs, but that’s two common words whereas delusion is a single, much more fun word.
Back to the story. The psychologist wasn’t making any effort to correct my delusions. It was clear to me that my version of reality conflicted with what could be considered a more universally acceptable version of reality. This is not to say a more popular version of reality, but one that holds more universal truth than my own.
Of course, I’m only talking about little pockets of my reality. I wasn’t living in a world that is any more twisted or untrue than yours or anyone else’s. But in a few little areas of my life I had incorrectly assembled my perceptions into an understanding of reality that wasn’t entirely accurate.
The fact that I was willing to question my version of reality means that I had an open enough mind to go about fixing it, and the psychologist alluded to that, but he made no move to guide my efforts or hand me the truth. I could see that he wasn’t about to let me in on the secret.
Eventually, in at least one of those pockets of delusional belief I was able to identify what I had assembled incorrectly. I did not immediately put things together the right way, but I found the error. Once I indicated that I knew how I was wrong, the psychologist was much more open about the issue. In fact, he was helpful in piecing things together in a better way. He didn’t hand it to me, but he offered a little guidance.
I realized that the secret wasn’t really a secret at all, it was just reality. The feeling that everyone else knew something I didn’t was the realization that I had a minor delusion. Only after identifying the flaw in the delusion was I able to begin reconstructing that portion of my reality into something more accurate. At the completion of that process, one could say I was finally in on the secret.
The psychologist’s behavior taught me a lot about how to handle the delusions I see other people living with. The fact is that we cannot push our reality on others. It just doesn’t work. Until the person identifies a flaw in their perception on their own, they will continue to believe that there is nothing wrong with the reality they live in. This comes down to a universal rule: First and foremost, the only reality that matters is your own.
Learn it well. The only reality that matters is your own. The same is true of the person next to you, and the person you live with. It doesn’t matter how much more right you feel that you are, if they haven’t found the flaw in their reality, then there is no flaw and no amount of pointing it out on your part will make them see it. In fact, the truth or solution that you see might be coming from a delusion on your own part. Caution must be exercised.
This idea actually isn’t new to me at all. I’ve known it since I was a child. You cannot change others. You cannot make them think like you or see things your way. I didn’t completely understand the principle that people had a reality that was different from mine, but I still knew not to attempt to counter their delusions.
A second rule to remember is that blatantly conflicting with another person’s reality is almost always a terrible idea. It is a tactic that might be effective if employed properly, knowledgably and very carefully, but even then it can rarely be executed without causing hurt feelings and pain. It’s like dropping a nuclear weapon. Not a good idea unless you’re willing to live with the consequences and you’re sure that the benefits outweigh the risks. Also, you must fully learn all of the risks, and I am not going to enumerate them here. There are more risks than you might initially realize.
There is a way to influence people without causing this conflict though. First, back to my argument this morning, I should have asked more questions to get a clear picture of how my wife saw the situation. I skipped this step. I’m normally better about it. That is a huge failure on my part.
You cannot help someone unless you know as much about their reality as possible. Find out what it’s like to live in their world. That is the first step.
While doing that step, take a hard look at your own reality. Try to figure out if you might have a little pocket of delusion there as well. Look only at the facts surrounding the situation. Objectively and with an open mind look for evidence that you might be wrong.
Once you have a clear picture of the facts, you must, with a neutral and unemotional viewpoint, reassemble them into a version of reality that you are reasonably sure of, regardless of your original view on the matter. If this process exposes a delusion of your own, accept that you were wrong. We are often emotionally attached to beliefs, especially after an argument where we have been irrational. You must shed these emotional commitments to your beliefs and be willing to believe the truth at any cost.
In your mind, or on paper if it helps, list the ways that your viewpoint was wrong and list the ways that the other person’s viewpoint was right. Both lists should always have at least a few points. If you can’t fill anything in, then admit defeat. You can never help anyone change their views if you cannot identify how they are right and how you are wrong. Even if you were 100% right about the issue, you must find a few ways that you were wrong, either in your behavior during the argument or in your approach to the situation. Most importantly, figure out how you were wrong according to the other person.
Working within the other person’s reality, and keeping in mind all of the ways they were right, you must selflessly devote yourself to figuring out how to help them figure out that they have a delusion without telling them. It has to be their idea, their discovery. This is super trick, and may take a lifetime of practice.
Once you’ve figured out how to do it, you execute your plan. Ensure that they are aware that you fully understand their point of view, and stress the ways that they are right. Do not tell them that you have the intention to change them. Do not tell them about all of the work you are doing to bring the argument to a conclusion. They should only know that you admit where you are wrong, you acknowledge where they are right, and you fully understand their point of view. Beyond that, your subtle attempt to help them find the flaw in their reality should be covert, well-meaning and it should go almost entirely unnoticed.
Some might call this manipulation. It is. If motivated by love and sincerity, and if it is done maturely and passively, without pride or feelings of superiority, then it can be a powerful tool that you can use to help your spouse.
I have not mastered this process, nor am I completely sure of its veracity or completeness. However, the fact is that no two realities are completely identical, and yet when two people marry they should become one. They should, as far as possible, attempt to share a reality. They should communicate, work together and be completely open with each other. The two do not need to share the same interests, ideals, philosophies, beliefs or toothbrush. But they do need to share a reality. Each must be open with the other in such a way as to allow their partner to see things the way they are in the other’s reality, and each must have an open enough mind to find and shed delusions when they are encountered.
Our argument adjourned when I turned on the shower water, and before I got out I decided on an apology. It is my belief that all arguments should end with both parties apologizing, regardless of who was right and who was wrong. Even if you were right, you still perpetuated the argument somehow. You made a mistake. Apologize for it.
In the shower I attempted to identify what had thrown her into an emotional warzone. I thought I had inadvertently attacked her on a homemaker level. So I apologized for making it sound like I didn’t appreciate the work that she does, and assured her that I am very grateful for what she does and it wasn’t my intention to sound critical of her work. She accepted my apology, but didn’t apologize to me. I can forgive that. No big deal.
Later she told me that it wasn’t the way I sounded unappreciative that had offended her. It was my offering of advice rather than help.
So I made another incorrect assumption. This one didn’t cause an argument. Good. However, it was now apparent that she had assumed that I was trying to force unsolicited advice on her. This gave me instant access to a large portion of mostly unexplored regions of her reality. Also good.
I will continue to form a clearer picture of her world, her reality. As I refine my picture I will be better equipped to help her. I can only hope she is doing to same for me. She learned that I wasn’t attempting to give her advice, but she hasn’t learned in what way, or what I was attempting to do. I fear that I have learned far more about her reality than she has about mine. However, we are both making progress at our own pace, and we are both improving a little each day.
And that makes me feel good. I have a great deal of respect for my wife, and I admire her strength in dealing with someone who obviously thinks far too hard and long about things. It rarely matters who is right and who is wrong when you’re married to your best friend who loves you whether your right or wrong. You can’t ask for more than that.

My Future

My attempt at making an X-Wing was cut short...

I made this in High School.

NOTE: Unlike some of my other posts, I’m not linking to Wikipedia on all of these links. I highly encourage you to click on every link here – some of the pages will make you laugh, some of the videos will make you cry, and most of the photos are from my personal albums. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, so here goes.

First though, I would just like to say that prior to commencing the crafting of this post I was listening to some really excellent music by a very talented friend of mine. If you enjoy music by such awesome composers as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and more, you would do well to click here. In fact, the first track sounds like something Edward Shearmur and John Williams might have written together.

OK, so let’s get something straight here. Not to brag, but I am a smart guy. I don’t always do the smartest things, and I don’t have a whole lot of formal education, but I have an extremely capable mind and I excel at various tasks involving mental labor. I love problem solving, have always enjoyed technically creative hobbies, and have a deep obsession with aircraft and spacecraft that has followed me my entire life. Being good at practical mathematics, I decided at an early age that I would enjoy engineering.

Then I began researching what is required for an engineering degree. Nearly immediately the math scared me away.

I love practical math (geometry, trigonometry and some algebra). As I see things, practical math has some sort of immediately accessible application or I can draw a picture to further understand it. When I started learning some pre-calculus, things went south as I discovered that not all math is practical.

I clearly remember my first pre-calculus class – the teacher wrote a very large, complex equation on the board. Then she started hacking away at it, removing entire segments and portions saying they were “insignificant.” I was overwhelmed and appalled. I consider every part of an equation, formula, system or composition to be intricately and inseparably part of the whole. I quickly wrote off calculus as psychotic and moved on with my life, seeking for a future among careers with as little advanced math as possible.

Turns out that’s difficult for someone with my interests. I thought 3D animation might be good, but after attending a year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I decided that my creativity levels just aren’t on par with the animators and modelers that I admire. In fact, I am too technical to allow the imperfections of real life into my artistic endeavors.

Then I considered becoming an author, but again I feel that my writing style is better suited to technical documents than creative fiction. Sure, I can throw a little humanity in there every once in a while, but most of my writing could have been produced by software. The same went for music composition – I was too robotic about it, even when I put all of my feeling into it.

I considered jobs in robotics, software engineering, piloting, information technology, and many other fields, but alas – they all required too much math. And not just any math, scary math. Psychotic math. At one point I even considered working to pay off all of my debt before just going off the grid entirely, becoming completely self-sufficient with my family in the woods, living off the land. I don’t think my wife liked that idea very much.

Being a thinker, I briefly pondered becoming a philosopher, but that didn’t feel like a very good career for supporting a family.

Then, while reading a book on philosophy, I thought, “getting an education is going to be tough no matter what. I suppose I might just need to study some advanced math.”

For English Class

My Sophomore Year in High School

So, I pondered back along my life’s many interests and hobbies and took another look at engineering. Then my realist side kicked in. Engineering might not be all that I hope it is. It could be especially boring and overly technical (even for me).

However, from my earliest years my first love has been engineering. Whether it be designing new aircraft, making a better space-plane, creating a robot, or dreaming about what the future could be, I was always headed toward some sort of engineering.

When I was in grade school I came up with a design for an aircraft that blended the best of two wing configurations. The F-14 Tomcat already proved that swinging wings could be used to reconfigure an aircraft for multiple flight characteristics even while still in the air, but I wanted to incorporate the maneuvering benefits of forward swept wings (such as those of the X-29) and a swept back delta wing configuration for high speed. So at least a few years prior to this patent being filed, I designed a plane that looked almost exactly like the Northrop Switchblade.

Yes, I designed this one before 1999.

My Switchblade (predates 1999 patent)

Even back then I was reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Boy was I surprised one day to see my plane design in their pages when one of them published an article about the new patent for a switchblade design. I guess that’s when I knew that I needed to get into Aerospace Engineering.

However, the psychotic math and possibility of engineering being boring still kept me hesitant until recently.

I have been aware for a couple of years that the space shuttle program is coming to an end this year. But when I recently learned that the second to last shuttle flight (and final flight for Endeavour) was taking place this month, I became inexplicably depressed. I began to obsessively research everything I could about the Space Shuttle. I fantasized about attending the final shuttle launch in July when Atlantis will become the last of the Space Shuttles to launch. I started watching inhumane amounts of NASA TV, even going as far as to adjust my schedule to ensure I got to see certain events. I daydreamed about building a 1:1 replica of the exterior and interior of a shuttle in lieu of a tree-house for my children later in life. I added a bunch of shuttle paraphernalia to my wishlists on Amazon. Some of the products are too expensive.

From Family 2011

If I tell you everything about my shuttle obsession, we’ll end up with a long, sad autobiography about a guy who stalks space planes.

What I recently realized was that I desperately want to be involved with the future of Aerospace technologies. I want to inspire, design, and launch systems for human transportation both inside and outside of Earth’s gravitational pull. I want the vehicles I design to inspire the world and make space exciting again. I want to inspire people the way many of my favorite planes have inspired me. Planes such as the X-29, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-14 Tomcat, the P-61 Black Widdow, the F-4 Phantom, or the OV-101 Enterprise.

For underwater exploration.

An underwater exploration vehicle.

When I was a kid I designed various types of craft. From watercraft to spacecraft I had ideas for anything that moves people fast. When I started experimenting with 3D design I tried recreating some of my designs, but ultimately failed. If I had put a little more effort in I may have succeeded, but all of my best 3D work has been the result of just messing around in the programs. Clearly there is a disconnect (have I ever told you how much I hate using that word as anything but a verb?).

This was my favorite sub design.

Submarines are similar to spacecraft, no?

I will close out this post with a few more of my designs. I had to dig them out of a box. I’m glad I kept them, as I find them inspiring at this time. I am about to begin the rest of my life. I am sitting on the edge of a past that offers little in the way of a future for my family. Before me are endless possibilities, and proceeding without direction is terrifying. These seeds from my childhood are offering and awesome insight into my inner dreams and desires.

Clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty. Even Aerospace Engineering isn’t quite specific enough. There are many fields of specialization within aerospace engineering. Of course, it is nice to know that I am still young and I still have time to deal with this uncertainty.

Wow... I drew this?

An underwater scene from WWIII.

For now I will continue with my current job and take advantage of any education benefits I can to work toward my degree.

Oh, and rather than babble on about nothing while sharing these images, I will tell you about a recent experience that helped me make the decision to get into engineering.

We know a family in the area in which the husband and wife are both engineers. When they saw our bumper sticker, and after getting to know me a little, they both decided that I needed to be an engineer. Or, at least that I would make a good engineer.

Based on something I read about.

I envisioned going to school on this.

So we finally got around to visiting them in their home recently and I grilled them for information about their education, their job, and other nerdy things.

I had a good time getting to know more about the work they do. The wife is currently a stay-at-home mother, but her husband is working as a materials engineer. I think he was surprised to learn that I am familiar with many of the concepts he researches at work. My desire to be on the forefront of technological advances and new ideas takes me all over the Internet in search of the new and magical things people are doing in labs.

So while that wasn’t the deciding factor, it was nice to have a talk with an engineer and learn more about real engineering. Plus he was completely dorky and proud of it. I like that quality.

Alright. Time to stop the blabber. Enjoy the last few photos here. Thank you for reading. This is a big deal for me because I have wondered what I would do with my life for the last twenty years or more. To finally have a solid plan in place (again) feels good.

The End.

Let’s Try Something New

Blue Nintendo 3DS on display in Nintendo booth...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve got an idea. I’ll try something new today. Blogging.

Yes, it’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything on here (and my family blog is feeling equally abandoned lately).

There are a few things I wanted to share (briefly) today before I get to work. I’ve lots to do and little time to do it in.

First, I had a lot of nightmares last night. At least a few of them were due to some knowledge that I happened across recently. Read about it at your own risk. You will quickly realize that many people incorrectly use the phrase “well hung” when referring to a gentleman’s manhood. Also, I never want to think about that phrase ever again.

In other quick news, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my new Nintendo 3DS. On Friday my wife and I had ours in StreetPass mode while we rode the Metro to the Eastern Market area of DC. I got one StreetPass tag and my wife somehow managed to get two. I’m still puzzled about that since we were side-by-side nearly the entire time. Yesterday we rode the Metro to Crystal City (which wasn’t nearly as cool as it sounded from the Wikipedia article) and we didn’t get any StreetPass hits at all, despite being out there nearly all day.

At least next weekend we know we’ll get quite a few StreetPass tags when we attend the StreetPass DC meetup. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m trying to find all the 3DS owners in the DC area to encourage them to come.

OK, now for the work. I’ll be reposting this on Facebook since it primarily concerns my Facebook friends.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve decided to split my Facebook presence into two accounts. One account will be a sort of exclusive club. Only my favorite family members and my closest friends will remain my friend there. This account will be the one I currently have. It will likely become unlisted (so as to prevent future friend requests).

I will then be opening a new account (possibly under the name “Brain Haddad” – which corresponds to a Gmail address I’ve owned for quite some time to catch emails mistakenly sent to the typo version of myself). Anyone who I remove from the “exclusive club” account will receive a friend request from this new account. These people will largely consist of family members I don’t keep up with very often (or I don’t know them very well, even through Facebook) and coworkers who I like but haven’t developed a genuine, deep and meaningful friendship with. If I feel that I am developing a deep, meaningful friendship with any of these people in the secondary account, I will “graduate” them to the elite account with a friend request.

I do not mean for this secondary account to be an insult to those who find themselves missing the original “Brian Haddad” account from their friends list. It will essentially be my primary Facebook account, but I will not be checking it every day. I will likely check it every other day or even once a week sometimes. I intend for this account to occupy much less of my time than the current one does. Also, I will allow more people to befriend me using this account since it won’t matter if I have more than 100 friends there.

Eventually I will likely either delete one of the two accounts or convert one into a Fan Page (depending on which one is of more value to me at the end of the trial period – which could last anywhere from a few months to more than a year). Thanks to Jasper for pointing out that possibility.

If anyone has any questions or concerns about this process, please leave a comment and I will respond immediately. You can watch this post at WordPress and I may add a FAQ if enough people are asking the same questions over and over.

Remember, I love all of my friends and associates, but I struggle with keeping my social awkwardnesses from getting in the way of living a normal-ish life. These strange things that I do are my way of dealing with a strange, chaotic world that makes absolutely no sense to me most of the time.


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