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Category: Know Thyself

So You’re a Covidiot Now

So You’re a Covidiot Now

Early on during the pandemic I had these recurring dreams where I was out in public and then realized suddenly that neither I nor anyone around me was wearing a face mask. Shock and guilt would wash over me as I remembered that we were in a pandemic and that everyone was being irresponsible. What were we thinking?

Sometimes in these dreams I would be out walking around in a commercial district or in a city center; there would always be crowds. Frequently I would be at a gaming convention, sitting around a table with other gamers, setting up a board game. I was sure I missed the experience, and that’s where these dreams were coming from; we didn’t go to a board game convention after January 2020 for over two years. We went to one in Oaks, PA for one day this summer, and everyone (almost everyone) was wearing face masks.

And then we went to an annual con that I’ve been attending for over ten years, and spent four days in a hotel with a couple hundred people, most of whom were not wearing face masks. I mean, the pandemic is over, right? That’s what the President said.

My dreams turned out to be prophetic, as when we returned from the convention, I tested positive for COVID. I was feeling crappy on the Sunday drive back, but attributed it to burnout from all the marathon board gaming. When I still felt sick on Monday, I took the rapid antigen test and got the positive result.

I suppose it was inevitable, given how contagious the virus is, and given that we pretty much stopped the non-medical interventions. Not such a good idea, I guess. Luckily Aileen did not get sick, possibly because she had already caught COVID in May (when I was the one who dodged the bullet). This is just how it goes in Pandemic Phase II.

I’m not the only one who got sick at the con, either. Turns out it was a superspreader event! After all the tut-tutting I have done over people not following pandemic protocols, I got all casual and went and caught the bug. As the proverb says, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

So it’s not too bad. The worst symptom is tiredness and sleeping a lot. In the pre-corona era I would have just thought I had a bad cold and taken a couple of days off work and slept it off. The worst side effect of having COVID is being isolated from the family. No more dinner together or TV night.

I was able to get a prescription for PAXLOVID. I mean, quickly. I called my doctor’s office, and they set me up with a Zoom consultation that felt like a formality. “You tested positive and you have hypertension which is a risk factor – ok, I’ll send over a script…” Within a few hours I had the pills (a housemate picked them up since I am isolating).

So we’ll see how it goes; hopefully I will be back to “normal” soon. Back to normal but very conscious of what non-medical interventions can achieve. I think I will be spending a lot of time at home, nose to grindstone, for a couple of months. I’ll still be risking exposure since Aileen has to go out for her work. Time for our second boosters?

The Old Grognards Are Fading Away

The Old Grognards Are Fading Away

Grognard” is a word for an old soldier, but the term also has a special usage in gaming circles, meaning “Someone who enjoys playing older war-games or roleplaying games, or older versions of such games, when newer ones are available. [Example:] James is such a grognard, he only plays the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons.” I’m thinking about this term because I’ve been updating an old web 1.0 site that I still maintain which has some gaming content on it. As I’ve gone through the pages to clean up the content, I’ve discovered dead links which, from the structure of the URLs, clearly belong to the early days of the world wide web, and to an earlier generation of Internet users. That’s expected, since I set up the site twenty years ago. Often there are usernames embedded in the URLs of the dead links, and I have to wonder – what happened to those users? Did they move on to popular platforms, to social media? Did they just give up on updating their web sites and let them die off? Are they even alive any more?

I was updating my old site because I wanted to add some pages dedicated to a fantasy war game called Titan, which I used to play a lot back in the day. Both of the designers of this game, I have learned, are deceased. They would have been from the first generation of grognards, and they died too young. Their legacy lives on in the fan base surrounding their creation, but I have to wonder, how many of us fans are from the older generations, too? How many gamers from the younger generations are even aware of this old game’s existence, given all of the new games available today?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the board game Renaissance that we live in today, with it’s incessant stream of new titles. I love trying out new games. But each wave of new board games can seem like a tidal flood, pushing the old games away. My little web site update project, revisiting an old game with an old style, has made me acutely aware that time is passing by the old ways. It’s left me with a wistful and nostalgic feeling. Will anyone miss us old grognards when we’ve all faded away?

How Board Games Saved My Life

How Board Games Saved My Life

In my last post I presented my “Board Game Biography” – a summary of my life of playing board games. There was one paragraph in there where I mentioned a period in my life when I was in a deep depression. A “dark night of the soul,” so to speak. I think many of us have been there. In my case, board games played a role in pulling me out of that darkness. In this post I will tell that story.

How exactly I got into this dark state isn’t important at this juncture. Let’s just say I had been going through some tough times, and had recently lost my job. I was living alone, in a big house which I was house-sitting for some friends who were living abroad. This was when I lived in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. I had all my possessions Tetris’d into a Fonzi-space; ie. a finished room over a garage. Some of my stuff was still in boxes in the garage itself.

I was seeing a psychiatrist, and was taking medication. Prozac, to be exact. I was in my early 40s, and I suppose I was having a severe midlife crisis. There’s something almost cliché about the whole affair. But I shouldn’t downplay it: I was very deeply depressed.

I would sleep until noon or later. When I awoke, it felt like a huge, oppressive weight held me down. Like the whole firmament was pressing down on me. I didn’t want to be awake, but inevitably I would be forced out of bed by the pestering cats. In addition to house-sitting, I was cat-sitting, and the creatures needed to be fed. Despite existing in a dark fog, I was able to muster the energy to briefly emerge from the darkness to take care of necessary tasks, such as feeding the cats, or feeding myself.

I suppose you could say that the cats saved my life, with their incessant daily pestering – with their very existence, which created an obligation on my part. They kept me on life support while I robotically went through my meager routine. After feeding them, I would go and lie down on the couch in the living room, and I would sleep the day away.

If you’ve never experienced a feeling of having no interest in life or any desire to do anything, I’m not sure that I can explain it to you. It’s just where I was in that time. All that I cared to do was the barest necessities to keep myself alive, and then I just wanted to shut down. Like I was a robot with no function to perform, in a state of suspension.

In the evening I would stir, and feed myself. Then would come my busy hours – I would watch the late night news on TV, and then the late late night talk shows, until the wee hours. And then I would go to bed. Rinse and repeat. I would do nothing but sleep and watch TV, day after day.

I should have been looking for work, and I suppose I must have had some savings to burn through, because I didn’t bother. I must have gone out for groceries from time to time, or I would have starved. And I know I was going to my appointments with my psychiatrist, because he eventually gave me the advice which was to be the springboard out of my deep, dark place.

I was neglecting other responsibilities. One day I noticed a flyer taped to the front door. I’m not sure why I opened the door at all, or if I saw the flyer from outside. It was a citation from the town, warning me that the grass in the lawn was too high, and that I would be fined if it was not cut down by some date in the near future. I had not been mowing the lawn, as I was supposed to do in my role as house-sitter. It looked like a wheat field. I took care of it, and learned how hard grass is to mow when it gets that high.

Another thing I learned was a bit about how the post office works. I would usually only check the mail once in a blue moon. I didn’t leave the house for days at a time. When I checked the mail, the mailbox would be stuffed. It would be a struggle to extract the contents. One time, surprisingly, the mailbox was empty when I checked it. It should have had some mail, considering how long the intervals were between the times when I looked inside it. But no mail came any more, not even days later. I called the post office to find out what was going on, and they told me that they had stopped delivery because it looked like no one was picking up the mail. Apparently that was their protocol. I assured them that I lived at the address, and they confirmed that they would resume delivery.

As you can tell, I had some inkling of an ability to function when needed, though for the most part I was wasting my days away doing absolutely nothing. I was constantly in a very depressed mood. I was talking things through with my psychiatrist, and he suggested that what I needed was a social life. I really wasn’t seeing anyone at all, since I lived alone and was unemployed. He thought that the best thing was to use a hobby or interest as a way to meet people.

A logical choice for me was board gaming, which I had done a lot of in my life before, just not recently at this time. There was a game store I knew about not too far from the house where I lived, and I figured they must have some kind of regular open gaming, which is normal for board game stores. The hard part was going to be getting me to change my habits and actually go there, given my state of mind.

The first thing I did was drive to the store and just check it out from the outside. I figured out that they had board games nights weekly on Wednesdays (I think this was posted on the outside window). I resolved that I would attend. On a following Wednesday I drove to the store, but I couldn’t bring myself to go in. Or even get out of the car. I turned around and drove back home.

Every Wednesday thereafter I got a little closer to participating in the social event of board game night at this store. The next Wednesday I actually got out of the car and walked up to the store before I turned around to go back home. The Wednesday after that I went into the store, walked through it to the back, then turned around and left. The store was full of people sitting at tables, playing board games (maybe about half a dozen tables with a few people at each one).

Why was this so hard for me? If you’ve never experienced agoraphobia, let me tell you it is no fun. For me, it was this intense anxiety and self-consciousness when approaching or potentially mingling with a crowd of people. I just wanted to run and hide, which is exactly what I had been doing for months now, living in my shell of despair, alone in someone else’s house, with no company except cats. But that little inkling of a voice inside me was telling me that I had to overcome this fear, or I would be trapped in my shell forever.

On my next visit I entered the store, and this time I walked more slowly through it. I found a table where a guy was sitting alone, setting up a game. I asked him about the game. I must have said something like “that looks cool.” It was a wargame called “Commands and Colors: Ancients,” and he was supposed to play with someone who hadn’t shown up yet.

This is the game that began my journey of recovery.

And then he invited me to play. He said his friend wouldn’t mind if I took his place, that his friend would understand since he was running late. So I sat across the table from this guy and he taught me how to play. His name was Henry, and I am eternally grateful to him for inviting me to be his opponent in Commands and Colors, and thus to begin my journey of recovery from depression and isolation.

His friend did show up, and just as predicted was cool with sitting with us and watching as we played. I don’t remember who won the game; it was probably Henry, since this was my first time playing. But I had plenty of opportunity to play more games with him in the future, and even joined his role playing group.

Eventually, I started going to a different game store, and met even more gamers. From there I got hooked up with other fun game nights at people’s houses, and a really cool board game convention in the area. There is no doubt that this increased socialization did wonders for my mental health. My psychiatrist had the right idea, and I thanked him in the best way I could – by stopping my medication and never seeing him again.

I got a new job in 2007, and when my friends for whom I was house-sitting returned stateside, I started looking for a house of my own. In the summer of 2009 I bought one and moved out of my friends’ house. I said good-bye to them and their cats. All the stuff I had crammed into the space above their garage exploded into a three bedroom townhome. Suddenly I had lots of space to work with.

I had moved on to a new and better phase of my life. In some ways, my dark time was a bit of an aberration. I usually have been a socially active, fun loving person. But I also have had bouts of depression going way back into my past. I hope that this story might help anyone reading it who has experienced or is experiencing mental health problems. Know that there is a way out, that the dark night won’t last forever.

I believe that at the root of mental health is having meaning in life, that it is better to address the need for meaning and purpose than to rely on medication, which is at best a stopgap measure. For me, board gaming as a hobby and being part of the very large community of friendly gamers has been an important source of meaning. For you, it might be something different.

In this one case I describe in this story, the kind invitation of a friendly board gamer willing to play with a total stranger helped to pull me out of a very dark place. And that is how board games saved my life.

My Board Game Biography

My Board Game Biography

Considering how much I love to play tabletop board games, it’s a little odd that I haven’t posted about the subject so much on this blog. That’s partly because I started In the Zeitgeist amidst the political turmoil of 2016-17, and stayed focused on generations-based political and social analysis. There was a lot going on in my personal life to post about as well. This blog was meant to be part commentary, part diary, and I had a lot to say about what was happening around me, just not about what board games I was playing.

But believe me, throughout all of the troubles and changes of these times, I have been playing lots of board games. It is one of my favorite hobbies, one that I’m passionate about, and it’s a wonderful form of escapism and distraction from the real world. I am a very imaginative person, and love to immerse myself in a game setting and just imagine that I’m off in another realm, playing some other role. And I really enjoy strategy games that make you think, and solve problems.

In this post I’ll relate my gamer biography.

I honestly couldn’t tell you when I started playing board games. It must have been when I was very young, in the 1970s. As a Gen X kid, I would have been exposed to the classic board games of postwar America. I mean games like Monopoly, Clue, Careers, The Game of Life. If you’re from my generation, you played them too. Then at some point I got into the more nerdy strategy board games that were available in that time period. A major company of that era was Avalon Hill, which made board games such as Titan, Diplomacy, and Civilization. I played all of those games with my nerdy high school friends.

When I started college at Virginia Tech, I joined a club called “The Wargamer’s Club.” I met a bunch more nerdy gamers there, some of whom I am still in touch with after all these years. We played games such as Illuminati, Nuclear War, and Cosmic Encounter. These are all games that could be considered “old school.” They had rules that were a bit more chaotic and luck-based than is the norm in board games today. There is actually a significant rift between the style of these older games from American companies and the modern style that began in Europe in the 1990s. More on that in a bit.

Another game that was very popular in my college and immediate post-college days was Axis & Allies, a World War II based wargame. Some friends of mine and I were so obsessed with this game that we ended up expanding it with extra rules and creating our own maps for it, so that we didn’t get bored playing the same game on the same map over and over. The game itself has a great system, and now there are a myriad of versions and variants with different maps, focusing on specific theaters or time periods of the war. But back in the late 1980s and early 1990s we didn’t have these new versions, so we had to make our own.

In the mid 1990s I was still in my college town, working at the University’s Computing Center. It was there that I was first introduced to Eurogames, by a work colleague who started a lunch game day (we played every Wednesday). He introduced some of us at work to a new wave of board games that was coming out of Germany. The first one we played was “Die Siedler von Catan,” which translates to “The Settlers of Catan.” You may know it today as simply “Catan.” It has become quite popular in the United States, and today’s young players weren’t even born when it first came out!

Me holding my 1st edition copy of Die Siedler von Catan

We played other games coming out of Germany in this time period, such as Entdecker, El Grande, and Modern Art. We ordered our copies through a web site called The Game Cabinet, downloading translations of the rules in English, since the games came from Germany and usually only had German rules in them. We all got hooked on these new titles, and would put in big combined orders to save on shipping. I still have all these old German editions of the games in my collection, too.

What was so appealing about these new board games? Well, they tended to have more carefully balanced and streamlined rules than the older ones. There was less luck involved, and more structured play that always took you to an end game in a reasonable amount of time. There was also no player elimination, so everyone got to play all the way to the end. You were trying to optimize your score versus that of the other players, not necessarily trying to tear down what they were building up in a bid to be the last one standing, as it used to be done. This was the beginning of what became known as “Eurogames,” to distinguish them from the American style of games we had been used to.

Over the years since, there has been a veritable explosion of board games in this style. The hobby has taken off worldwide to heights unimaginable back then, and there are so many thousands of titles it boggles the mind. You might call it a board game Renaissance, and even the mainstream media has caught onto it. If you know me on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen all kinds of interesting board game pictures in my posts.

But before we get to the state of board games today, more of my board gamer biography. I left Virginia in 1996, and after a bit of wandering ended up in North Carolina. I met more people there who liked tabletop gaming; I guess it’s just inevitable when you have a certain mindset that you will meet likeminded people wherever you go. One game I remember that we liked a lot back then was Twilight Imperium, which is an epic space exploration and empire game featuring massive space battles. It was really more in the older style of board game or wargame, with rigid turn orders and intense conflict, and it could also take a long time to play. I guess the old style still had its appeal.

At some point in the 2000s I stopped playing games much, and in fact entered a dark period in my life, where I fell into deep depression. I became a complete recluse, never leaving the house except for necessary errands, which included seeing a psychiatrist. My psychiatrist recommended reviving my social life, and suggested that I might have some hobby that could be a way to meet people. Board games was an obvious choice. So, with much personal effort, I got myself back out there and started going to a local game store (“FLGS” is the conventional term) and my board gaming life picked up again. This would have been around 2007.

I met new people, discovered new board games, and even started going to board game conventions in the area. These are gatherings (like any other convention) where all you do is play board games for days on end. There are even bigger game conventions (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) which include other kinds of games, panels and guests, cosplay contests and merchant dealers – they’ve got it all! I’ve been to a few of those, but honestly I prefer a smaller local convention which is mostly people who know one another, where it’s easier to find a game to play and to focus on the gaming itself.

The mid-2000s would have been about the time that the board game hobby was really taking off, as I already mentioned. Meanwhile, I recovered from my mental health issues, bought a house, and progressed in my career. It was like my personal life and the board gaming world were sharing a trajectory of rising growth and prosperity. There was an endlessly flowing cornucopia of new board game titles, and ample opportunity to play them with different gaming groups. My game collection grew and grew as I picked up copies of the new games that I liked the most. I was now heavily into modern style board gaming as a hobby, though I pretty much stopped playing wargames, which I do sometimes miss.

In 2013, I attended my 30th year high school reunion, where I met up with my dear old friend, Aileen. We reunited in life, and started travelling a lot together. Much to my delight, she also likes to play board games. In fact, we had played games together back when we knew each other in high school. She came to some of the gaming conventions that I was already attending, and we brought games with us when we travelled, playing in the hotel lobbies or suites where we were staying. In 2018, I sold my house in North Carolina and moved up to Pennsylvania, where she lives.

Then, in 2020 when the pandemic hit, I moved in with her. We combined our board game collections, which at this point consists of many hundreds of titles. I do my best to keep them organized, by theme and by type of game (for example, abstract or wargame), and by size of box (since they store more easily that way).

Aileen is ready for a game of Stratego

We continue to play board games when we can, though not so much at conventions or game stores since the pandemic began (but just last weekend, we did go to our first game convention in over two years). Mostly Aileen and I play two player games. We’ve even dug out some copies of games that we played back when we first met as teenagers. For example, not too long ago we played the old classic, Stratego. Yes, we have the same exact copy of the game that we played together in high school!

After careful deliberation, I make my move

I also play online sometimes with some of my North Carolina friends. A lot of board games, new and old, have digital implementations, easily accessible online. Sometimes you can play them for free, sometimes you have to buy them like any other computer program. I enjoy online play well enough, but much prefer sitting around the table, interacting in real life with people, and physically manipulating the components. There’s just something especially satisfying to me about that tactile and physical presence aspect of board gaming.

I’m very grateful to be living during this Golden Age of Board Gaming, even though I know I’ll never have the time for all the games that are out there. It’s enough to have time at all for the fleeting pleasures of life.

If you like board games, you probably should check out the web site BoardGameGeek, where you can learn about every board game ever made, and join an online community of board gamers who review, discuss, and share their experiences with board games. You can check out my user profile there to learn more about me, and even see our collection, which I maintain meticulously. I even made a GeekList (that’s a BGG thing) about that Axis & Allies variant that we played so much back in the early 90s. There’s a lot more I could write about my life of gaming, as this post hasn’t even touched on other kinds of games, such as tabletop roleplaying games or collectible card games, which I’ve also played a whole lot in my life. Who knows, they might be subjects of some future post.

A small sample of our board game collection, including some of my old German edition games

Mind Over Matter in a Game of Chance

Mind Over Matter in a Game of Chance

Last Christmas we got a cool new board game, called “The Quacks of Quedlinburg.” Its theme is brewing potions, and its primary game mechanic is drawing ingredients out of a bag, trying to draw as many as possible to score the most points. But some ingredients, if you draw too many of them, will cause your potion to explode, costing you points. You don’t want that! Tension comes from the fact that you need to keep drawing to get points, but you might go too far, and – BOOM!

Good game design requires some feature like this to generate tension, to keep the game interesting. This particular mechanic, in game design terminology, is called “push your luck,” and it is a pretty reliable way to do it. But there’s another thing about this mechanic that I wanted to bring up: apparently some people have more luck to push than others do. I say that because Aileen wins the game every time we play!

We must have played half a dozen games by now, and every time, when she is drawing her ingredients, they come out in a nice friendly order and she scores a lot of points, whereas I draw the dangerous, exploding ingredients and have to carefully consider whether to keep going (push my luck) or settle for fewer points. I end up falling behind in points, and then complain to Aileen, “this game has no catchup mechanism,” to which she usually replies, “you only say that because you always lose.”

Aileen offers an interesting explanation for the disparity in our luck. She says she does well because she doesn’t care what she draws out of her bag, whereas I am motivated by fear when I draw, and so my anxious energy is affecting my outcome. It’s poisoning the potion, so to speak.

Could this be? Could one’s attitude about a random event actually affect the random outcome? This has been studied scientifically, by the parapsychologist Helmut Schmidt. He conducted experiments on mental influence on the results of random number generators (recorded on computer disk), and found a statistically significant deviation from chance expectancy. What’s fascinating is that an effect is shown even with prerecorded events, providing no one inspects the record before the subject attempts to influence the results.

But how can this happen? An answer lies in the primacy of consciousness model of the universe. In this model, mental reality manifests in parallel with physical reality. Mental objects of experience – thoughts, intentions – are quantum objects just like the physical ones that surround us in the material world. They come into existence in the same way that the physical world does – by the collapse of the quantum wave function by unitive consciousness, which is the fundamental ground of all being.

Going back to my game of Quacks, when I draw from my bag, unitive consciousness simultaneously collapses the wave function of my mental experience (carefree or anxiety-ridden) and the wave function of my physical draw from the bag (favorable or unfavorable by the game rules). In my individual ego-consciousness, I experience either exultation at a fortuitous draw or frustration at an unfortuitous one.

But the quantum dynamics of my mental experience – the meaning ascribed by my mind to the outcome of the random draw – is tangled up with the quantum dynamics of the physical draw itself. By worrying about a bad draw, I am skewing the probability distribution of the physical event. My expectation is biasing the result! That is how this is a case of “mind over matter.” I need to learn to be chill when I’m drawing my potion ingredients, to open my mind up to more possibilities.

This model even explains Schmidt’s strange finding that mental influence can affect an already recorded (but not observed) random number generation. The collapse of the wave function (“state vector” as the experimenter puts it) occurs in the moment of conscious observation, and no sooner, as implied by the famous double slit experiment. In other words, until the record on the computer disk is observed, its state is undetermined, just like that of Schrödinger’s cat.

You might not give much credence to the work of Helmut Schmidt, since he was a “parapsychologist,” a field which is generally considered to be pseudoscience. But haven’t you ever been playing a game with dice rolling and experienced the right number (or wrong number) come up just when you needed it (or dreaded it) the most? Maybe in a table top roleplaying game, where the story meaning is particularly entwined with the dice outcomes, where the fate of a beloved character hinges on a critical hit or miss, or on making or failing a saving throw. I know I’ve experienced it.

I’m sure we’ll play Quacks again, and I will try to release my fear and let the flow of good luck come to me. But I will have to fight my own nature. My competitive edge and my ego-identification with the outcome of random draws from a bag is what tangles me up, even though there are no real stakes in the game other than whether or not we’re having fun.

Where do I get this stuff? If you’re interested in learning more about primacy of consciousness as a model of reality, a good place to start is the book “The Self-Aware Universe” by Amit Goswami.

So You’ve Got The Coronavirus

So You’ve Got The Coronavirus

Well, it was probably inevitable. Aileen has tested positive for Covid-19. She was feeling a little sick, mostly a sore throat, so we got some rapid antigen tests at the drug store across the street. We had already used up our supply of tests that we had accumulated earlier (including the government ones) because Aileen routinely gets notifications about exposure from the school where she teaches. That’s why this isn’t really a surprise, seeing as schools are incubators of disease.

We each took a test, and her result was positive. Mine was negative, but one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time for me. We’re masking around the house, keeping our distance from one another, and have sent her son and the cat to go stay with his Dad. I’ll make sure to take a test before making any decision about leaving the house.

Meanwhile, I wrote this poem for the occasion:

An American With COVID

I know someone with COVID
and I love her just the same.
She only got the COVID
’cause she had to play the game.
She got her shot and wore her mask,
it’s really quite a shame.
She had to earn a paycheck
to have money to her name.
If you know someone with COVID
there’s no reason you should blame.
They’re just another person out there
trying to win the game.

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson (b. 1966)

My last post, about the confirmation of KBJ to the Supreme Court, brought to my mind another African-American woman of my generation: NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson. I hope this doesn’t seem too weird, but I feel a connection to her, even though I don’t know her at all IRL. It’s because her birthday is very close to mine – both the year and the day. We are generational peers.

The fact that a black woman born at the same time as I was could have a successful career as an astronaut is a testament to how far our country has come toward the goals of racial and gender equality. It might not be perfect equality, but at least, for my generation, the opportunities have been there for achievement in any field, for anyone willing to put in the hard work. Seizing opportunity and excelling as an individual is quintessentially Gen X.

It’s also amusing to me to consider that as a boy, I likely dreamed of being an astronaut (and a firefighter, too, if I recall correctly). Clearly I made different life choices than Stephanie Wilson did, and ended up on a different path. Not to have any kind of Frank Grimes resentment energy about it, but most Gen Xers will not visit outer space in the lifetime of Generation X. But it’s inspiring to know that anyone born when I was born clearly could have, as one of my peers has proven. And that some Gen Xers have gone to space gives me a heartwarming feeling, a sense of pride, and a vicarious delight in the historical location and experience of my generation.

You’re Never Lost when You’re with Your Best Friend

You’re Never Lost when You’re with Your Best Friend

This is one of my favorite pictures of Aileen (one of many favorite pictures of her), taken in a kind of makeshift maze at a Renaissance Faire in Pennsylvania some years ago. She’s peeking playfully at me from behind a maze wall. We’re having fun, even though a maze has danger associated with it. It’s a place where you might get lost. But what does that matter if you are with your best friend? When you’re with the one you are meant to be with, you can’t get lost. You don’t even have anywhere to go.

Aileen and I have been more or less constant companions for years now. It started when we reunited at our 30th year high school reunion. We saw more and more of each other after that, and I relocated to be nearer to her. Then the pandemic came and the circumstances put us even closer together as I moved into her house. It was a test of our relationship – could we stand each other day in and day out for years? Could I fit in with the rest of her family? Turned out we all could. The pandemic was easy on us.

The only thing is, Aileen doesn’t handle sitting around at home all the time quite as well as I do. She needs to have work to do, some project to be doing, or she goes crazy (she’ll tell you she was already crazy). The lockdowns really hurt her industry, which is theatre, and she had to find other work when she could get it. But now that we’re coming out on the other side of the pandemic (maybe) she is deluged with work again. She might be going a little crazy with too much to do! But I know she’s happy for it, and I’m always amazed by her commitment and by how much she can get done. We both keep as busy as we can with multiple projects, like we’re running out of time.

Today is Aileen’s birthday, and I wrote this post to share how much I appreciate her in my life. We’re a couple of old fools getting older together. Ten years ago I never would have thought this is where I’d be in life. But now it only seems natural. We’ve known one another and loved one another since we were crazy kids in high school. We don’t even remember meeting; one of our inside jokes is that we must have known each other forever. Depending on your spiritual perspective, this may well be true.

Happy Birthday to you, Aileen, my dearest friend and my partner in life. Here’s to many, many more years together forever.

5 Years On

5 Years On

I’m happy to announce that today is the 5th year anniversary of this blog. My, my, my, how time flies.

I started this blog just after the events of 2016, a month after we’d gone to D.C. for the Women’s March. I remember that I had already been mulling the idea of blogging again. I think the intensity of national events in that time period really had my thoughts churning. I wanted to start sharing them again, on more than just social media.

On social media and other online forums you don’t have as much control over your content. Technically, what you post belongs to someone else. That’s a reason why I wanted to start up a blog. With a blog, you own the content, assuming you host your own site instead of using something like Tumblr which is just another social media platform. I had maintained a blog called “Generation Watch” in the 2000s, which I painstakingly crafted with direct HTML in a text editor, so I had some experience already.

This time, I researched blogging software, and decided on WordPress. I already had the “stevebarrera dot com” domain name from way back, which at that point just redirected to a simple web site. With WordPress, it was pretty straightforward to set it up on a hosted platform, and I shifted the domain name to that.

On February 25, 2017, I launched In The Zeitgeist. My first blog had been focused on “news and views of the generations” – it was all connected to my study of generations theory. This new one has a lot of generational analysis posts, but also more personal stuff. It’s part commentary, part personal diary. As the tag line in the header image indicates, it chronicles my experience in this era. And what an eventful era it has been.

When I started this blog I lived alone, in a house I owned in North Carolina. Since then, much has changed in my life. I switched jobs, sold my house and moved to Pennsylvania. Then I switched jobs again. Then a pandemic happened. I moved into my BFF’s house and started working from home. I’m still here, still staying home most of the time, keeping very busy with work and multiple other projects, and watching world events unfold.

It’s been an amazing 5 years, and I’ve enjoyed blogging throughout it all. This is the 216th post on this blog, which means I’ve averaged 3.6 posts a month during this time. I hope to keep up the pace in the years to come.

Thank you to all who have read and commented on my posts, and liked and shared them on social media. It means a lot to me to know that people are reading what I write. I’ll keep chronicling these times, and I wish us all the best of luck navigating the changes.

Mr. Pope, Meet Our Cat

Mr. Pope, Meet Our Cat

Here she is – the most precious creature on Earth. She is Princess Sashimi, the ruler of our house. The whole reason we exist is to support her needs and give her the highest possible quality of life.

It’s not too hard to do, because she spends most of her time sleeping. How can a creature sleep for so many hours in the day? It boggles my mind. But it’s her prerogative. She can sleep all day if she wants. It’s not my place to say otherwise.

The important thing for us humans is to be attentive, and notice if there is any problem that requires an adjustment to her routine. Once, when she was having trouble pooping, it completely discombobulated the household dynamic. There was no tranquility here while we dealt with the changes in her behavior and her obvious discomfort. We changed her litter and we changed her food, and only when she returned to her normal pooping habits was peace restored. Her wellbeing is central to the normal functioning of the household.

Is it so strange that humans, supposedly the most evolutionarily advanced beings on Earth, should devote themselves to pampering a creature from another species? I think it’s only proper. We humans have achieved unprecedented levels of comfort and security in our easy First World lives, and we should extend the possibility of that mode of existence to other beings.

Of course there is the question of the morality of pampering a cat when there are humans on Earth who don’t experience the same degree of affluence as our family. Not that we’re particularly affluent, just that there are masses of humans in poverty and precarity, even here in our own First World country. But of course, as an ordinary middle class American family, we don’t command the resources to uplift the teeming masses of the underprivileged, so what could be expected of us?

We do have the resources to take good care of a cat, which is what we do. And as we’ve approached the empty nest phase of life, with one son out of the house already and the other one growing up too fast, I’ve noticed that Sashimi the cat is getting more attention lately. It’s like we’re transferring our nurturing urges to her, the one creature who won’t grow up any more or ever leave us.

Now I heard that the Pope was chiding people for putting pets ahead of children. I can’t believe he would really begrudge us the joy we take in loving and caring for our precious cat. Just look at how adorable she is!

I think the Pope is naturally concerning himself with his spiritual duties, in the light of his traditional religion. Possibly he has in mind the first commandment in the Bible, Genesis 1:28. But what does that command us to do? To be fruitful and multiply, but also to have dominion over every living thing – which I take to mean to care for them lovingly, even if they are just a cat.

It’s a well known fact that as income increases in a country, fertility declines. Perhaps this reflects different reproductive strategies for the wealthy versus the poor. Perhaps when a certain level of affluence is reached, life can be about more than reproduction, despite what the Pope says. What it means to be human can take on more possibilities that what tradition has dictated in the past. Naturally, some people who are childless are going to want companionship, and domesticated pets are there to fulfill that need.

These days I spend most of my time at home, and as I go through my rarely changing routine I am grateful for the opportunity to serve sweet Princess Sashimi. What does it matter in the long run what I am doing with my time? All human effort is in vain. All my aspirations and accomplishments will amount to nothing in the end, but if in the meantime I have the energy to make a cat’s life perfect, then I should. What matters in life is the joy and love in immediate existence, and to embrace the nonhuman creatures of the world with that love is only righteous. Surely the Pope can understand that.