Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing with Two Hands Simultaneously

I mentioned in a previous post that I taught myself to be ambidextrous. Occasionally I'll take notes in class with my left hand, partly to avoid the binding of my spiral bound notebook and make the most effective use of the space on the page, and partly just to get practice writing left-handed. However, this is still a lot slower, so most the time I wind up switching back to my right hand to catch up.

One day last week, I became curious as to just how much slower I am with my left hand now. I wrote out “The Sound of Silence” Simon and Garfunkel lyrics (since that's one of the few songs I have completely memorized) with each hand, timing how long it took to write each verse. Then, I calculated how many times slower I was with the left hand for each verse and the average came out to 2.5 times slower than the right hand. Better than it used to be, certainly.

But then there was the old problem of the left hand smearing what's already been written. What if I wrote from right to left? Of course, to make practical use of this I'd have to get really good at judging how many words I could fit on a line, but the idea intrigued me nevertheless. So I tried picking off each letter from the end, one by one, essentially writing each line of the verse backwards. But the spacing was off, both between letters and between words, since each letter started from left to right.

To truly write backwards I realized I would have to reverse the strokes I used to write each letter (for example, a “t” would be written by doing the cross at top first, then coming up through it). This would also take care of the spacing problem, since the letters would be written mostly from the right to left.

I wrote another verse “exactly” backwards with each hand, then thought of yet another fun experiment; writing a mirror image. This wasn't nearly as challenging as I thought it would be (in fact, it was simpler than writing backwards) since after a very short period of time my mind seemed to reverse the letters automatically. Strangely, when I tried to think about the letters I was writing, I had trouble remembering which way they went, such as a “b”. I think I got just a bit of an idea of what dyslexic people might feel like. In any case, it was fun seeing how normal my writing looked when I held it  up to a mirror.

Finally, I picked up a pen in each hand, divided the page in half, and wrote the same verse with each hand simultaneously. It took a bit of getting used to, and I had to make sure I was doing exactly the same thing with each hand down to crossing my t's in the same direction, but I found I only had to look at one hand and the other side would turn out just fine. It was like all the spacing and proportions of the letters translated from one hand to the other such that I would write better with the hand I wasn't looking at than I would if I had simply closed my eyes the whole time. I'm about three times slower writing with both hands simultaneously than with just my right hand.

A sample of the writing (more Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, this verse is from "Flowers Never Bend"):

Earlier today, I continued the experiment by writing backwards with my left hand and a mirror image with the right hand simultaneously. Sample below.

Finally, I tried writing upside down. Here's a nice trick to that; if you get confused as to which way a letter goes, think about which is normally closer to the last thing you just wrote, the line or the curve of the letter. For example: for "p" the line is closer, so you'd draw the line first then the curve (only now it's upside down). With an "e", you start close to what you just wrote and go away from it.

No doubt I'll come up with more strange brain twisters for writing (upside down/backwards/mirror image with both feet simultaneously, perhaps :P ) but so far I've been keeping myself entertained.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rubik's Cube

This weekend I came closer than ever before to solving a Rubik's cube. That's not saying a whole lot, considering all I was able to do previously was get a single side/row. But I figured out how to get two of the three rows. Now, I'm not sure that getting the first two rows first is the way to go about solving the whole thing, but each time that I get a little further, I understand more about how the Rubik's cube works and how various moves will affect the placement of certain squares.

After the first time I got two rows, I spent a good chunk of the weekend learning to do it consistently, until the moves became second nature the same way getting one row used to be. It requires thinking ahead one or two moves further than before, so it was an interesting challenge to wrap my head around it (figuratively speaking). I know there are tips to solving a Rubik's cube online, but I've decided to be my stubborn self and figure it out on my own. It's more fun that way. Plus, I feel like I get a more concrete feel for how the Rubik's cube works.

I suspect it will be quite a while before I solve that last row. I generally get within 4, 5, or 6 squares of solving it completely, but any squares I get in the bottom row are, so far, purely by chance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Giving and Receiving

There seems to be some confusion about giving and it's moral value. It is no secret that giving something to another person, be it a gift, a compliment, or help, can be extremely rewarding. I'm sure most people have some personal experience that confirms this. The confusion comes in when one is offered these same things by others. For those who have become convinced that giving is the way to go, they may become reluctant, even afraid, to take very much from those around them. I know I was.

Really, it wasn't until I wanted to give more than I had in the past, until I started encountering people that weren't willing to accept what I was trying to give them, that I realized where the error in my logic was. If everyone is trying to give, but unwilling to receive, then no one will get anywhere. A gift is not complete until it's been accepted by the other person. What I realized then was that I was actually doing other people a disservice by shying away from compliments or feeling guilty about taking "too much" help.

I remembered how frustrated I felt those times when I wasn't able to give what I wanted to, how natural it was for me to want to do something good, and how hurt I was when friends seemed to doubt the sincerity of my offer. Was I making other people feel that way by feeling too guilty to accept things from them, or being reluctant about it?

I came to the conclusion that the better thing to do would be to accept what was offered to me. If someone gives me a compliment now, I fight the initial urge to deny it or slink off and simply say "thank you". I try to say it with as much sincerity as the person who gave the compliment, because that way I might give them some small amount of happiness back. You can learn pretty quickly how to tell when someone truly wants to offer you something or is just being polite. Once you get to that point, it becomes much easier to distinguish between "taking" and "accepting".

The acceptance of another person's offer is, in itself, a gift of gratitude.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Idealism Vs. Realism

"Idealism" and "realism" are an ambiguous couple of labels, and yet many people are very passionate about being one or the other. I happen to be one of those people. I am a die-hard idealist.

Now before an epic battle breaks out between the Idealists and Realists (I entertain myself by imagining I have just enough readers to form a couple very small armies), I think I should explain the value I see in idealism. And heck, realism too, while I'm at it.

To me, idealistic thinking means seeing the potential all around. It's seeing how things could be improved. It's seeing where things are being done inefficiently, incorrectly, cruelly or immorally and saying, "Hey, we don't have to take this any more, we can change things!" And yes, sometimes it's seeing the big picture as it could be, even if that's something very different from the way it is.

My original definitions were that realism is "going with the flow" and aiming only for the things that can be accomplished in the short-term (one lifetime, at the most), whereas idealism is aiming for something that could take a lifetime or many lifetimes to accomplish or get close to. Personally, I'd rather spend my whole life trying for something important and failing, a few times, many times, maybe even go my whole life and never get there, than I would only thinking about and accomplishing things that mean little to me.

For me, I would feel empty inside if I gave up on my ideals. If I said to myself, for example, "Oh well, there will always be war. Not much I can do about that. Might as well not worry about it if it's not affecting me directly." I'd rather say, "One day there may be peace." Even if it often feels like a lost cause and like the human race seems to only want to speed the process of destroying itself. I really am prepared to dedicate my life, not to some physical task or to a predetermined set of externally measurable accomplishments, but to an idea. The idea that the world has so much potential, and that as individuals and as a whole we can reach it.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I was being a bit hard on realism. After all, it's always good to know what one can do in the here and now. With such large scale goals derived from idealism, it can be overwhelming sometimes, seeing the disconnect between the current reality and the "ideal" and trying to figure out how on Earth to go from one to the other. Seen in that light, realism means being able to tell what can be done now, and therefore can be useful in encouraging people to act rather than simply think about it. What I was wrong about was assuming that short-term actions necessarily reinforce "the way things are". In fact, if those short-term actions are in the spirit of an ideal, peace for example, then they are inherently valuable in and of themselves.

Perhaps both idealism and realism are needed in life. Too little realism, and one winds up living completely in their head, too confused to move towards their goals. Too little idealism, and one loses imagination and can only see a tiny portion of the possibilities. So, if I set my goals high as an idealist, then use a healthy dose of realism to figure out the more immediate steps to take, I guess that would make me a realistic idealist! That's something I'd like to work towards, I think.

How do other people define or think of realism and idealism? Which would you rather be, a realistic idealist, or an idealistic realist?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 3

Today I released the mouse. I figured it's wounds have probably closed up by now, and it was a lot more active, running around the cage and such, yesterday and today. So I waited until the cats were asleep (and snoring), then went into the back yard. The mouse made it very clear that it was "ready to go" as soon as I opened the lid to the cage. I had to tip the whole thing sideways and wait a couple of minutes before it finally got the idea and found the exit. I'm sorry to say mice are not as smart as rats; this one kept pooping in the water... Nevertheless, it eventually found its way out and bounded off across the leafy ground. It very quickly found cover and that was that.

Now, the mouse is out of the house and has its chance in the wild. It was with great difficulty that I kept from naming it, but every single time I've named some wild little creature I'm trying to save, it always winds up dying! I'm not superstitious, but those are some pretty bad odds. This time, though, things seem to have gone rather well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July Wanderings

Happy 4th of July, world! Well, United States, at any rate. Not sure how much the rest of the world cares... Personally I'm in it for the fireworks. Or am I?

These last few years on the 4th, the trend seems to be that I start thinking about my relationships with the people I'm close to, more than any other day of the year. It has something to do with childhood memories of sitting with my parents in a field or on a crowded parking garage roof with folding chairs and blankets. Waiting for the fireworks and seeing them set off in distant cities.

See, now days it's not the same as when I was a kid. One year I was back East with my uncle and we saw the Boston Pops, which was awesome. And a couple years ago my mom and I went to see fireworks by a lake and met a bunch of people that live on boats, and even though my dad didn't come with us that time, it came pretty close to feeling the way it used to. But there's been a few years in there where something seemed to be missing.

Other holidays changing doesn't seem to bother me; I don't care that I'm too old to go trick or treating anymore, if we don't put up a Christmas tree, if we don't remember to light the candles for Chanukah, if I don't get a birthday cake, or even if there there are no potato latkes for Pesach... are right, there have to be latkes, but my point is that I'm usually all right with change.

Luckily, this year, my new friend and I managed to be out and about and get a lot of wandering in. And we may not see fireworks, but I feel good about the day. I guess that for whatever reason, on 4th of July, I just have to get out of the house and not be on my own.

Does anyone else have a holiday or tradition that affects them like this?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 2

Update: I checked in on our little friend a few minutes ago, and it seems to be alive and well enough to run to the other side of the cage when I peeked in (see previous post). I replaced the cap-full of water and put a few more of its favorite seeds in. It had picked out every sunflower seed in the food bowl, which is exactly what our pet rats used to do when we raised them. I also put a small amount of fresh veggies, since the mouse ate the ones from last night. Just some carrots and celery, since I read these are good "in moderation" and that's what I had in the fridge. I know mice need a balanced diet, but this should do for a couple days until I get something better.

I'm going to be gone most the day, so maybe later today or tomorrow I can get some mouse feed, a little fruit, and a proper water bottle for rodents (the kind where they lick at it, causing the ball bearing to get pushed back long enough for some water to come out). Before I leave I'll try cleaning its wounds again, then let it be for the day and hope for the best.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 1

I'm currently house sitting and taking care of a garden and two cats. Kneeda is a mostly grey cat with splotches of orange. Oliver is an orange Manx. Apparently, a bunch of mice have decided to move in as well. The first night I realized this was when I saw one scurry across the floor and under the washing machine. I set the live trap (took me quite a while, too), but so far the cats are the only ones that have had any success catching them.

The second night after the first sighting, Oliver stood guard, trying to pounce on the little mouse tail that would, on rare occasions poke out from under the stove. Kneeda, in the mean time, had managed to catch one. She caught and released it several times, chasing it all over the house for half an hour. That must have been a funny scene; panicked mouse scrambling from hiding place to hiding place, cat stalking, chasing, and intercepting it, and then me bumbling along after the both of them, plastic bowl in hand, ready to rescue the rodent in case Kneeda succeeded in catching it. Finally, the mouse hid where neither I nor the cat could locate it.

Several days passed without a mouse sighting. However, they did steal a chocolate chip cookie. I found the third-to-last one had fallen under the grate of one of the burners on the stove and had been nibbled at all around the edges. Shortly after which it vanished entirely.

Today was more eventful on the rodent front. Around 6 pm, I was called away most insistently from my computer by Oliver, who had caught a mouse. Such an event is not uncommon for Oliver, who in two weeks time has also caught four lizards and two baby garter snakes (all of which were released unharmed back outside). I was able to pick up the mouse without much difficulty, since it was frozen to the spot in fear. I placed it in a small container with a couple socks temporarily, but when I went to take it outside again, I discovered a spot of blood on one of the socks. Luckily I remembered that there was a spare cage for rodents in the tool shed, so I placed the mouse in that while I figured out what to do about its wounds.

The internet wasn't giving me answers as quickly as I would have liked, and I was worried because I knew cats' saliva has a lot of bacteria. Plus, for all I knew, a little blood loss for a mouse could be cause for concern. So I called my mom. She told me to take some hydrogen peroxide and dilute it a lot with water, then dab it on the wounds with a Q-tip. Easier said than done. I tried taking the mouse out of the cage, but had to put it back because it almost escaped. I had a hard time even seeing where the wound was, but I did my best to clean where I thought it was. Hopefully I managed to disinfect something... The mouse promptly burrowed back into the socks.

After a little research and some scavenging around the house, I put some bird seed mix and a small amount of raw veggies in the food bowl for the mouse. The only thing I couldn't find was a water bottle for rodents. Instead I settled for a small cap of water. I made sure it was filled very shallowly, since a friend told me about how surprisingly little water it takes for mice to drown. These tasks complete, I covered the cage with my sweater to keep it dark and let the mouse rest for a few hours.

Checked in on my little ward just before midnight, and it was asleep in the seeds (good to know it found the food). Still breathing. We'll see how he/she is doing in the morning.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Touch Typing with One Hand

I am trying to figure out how to touch type with one hand. I think I'm doing pretty well, since I'm typing this very post with only my right hand. I don't know what prompted me to want to do this; perhaps it's my interest in doing things differently (such as trying to be ambidextrous), or maybe I had to try to type in a search while holding a phone one too many times. In any case, it's kinda fun.

My method and findings so far: I place my index finger on the "F" key and let my other fingers rest on the G, H, and J keys. This puts my hand right in the center of the keyboard and is convenient for finding my hand placement because of the little ridge on the F. I was somewhat surprised how little I had to think about how to get to the various keys. I have to stretch a little further, but I can find my way fairly easily. I suppose all the years I've been touch typing in general has given me a pretty solid idea of how the QWERTY keyboard is laid out.

Now, the main thing that feels really different from typing with both hands is how much more I'm using my little finger. Here's what I mean; my index finger hits 12 letters, middle finger only 3, ring finger 4, and little finger 6 letters plus the semicolon, comma, period, quotes, backspace, and enter. (I was hitting the "I" with my little finger also, but I was getting terribly confused with the I, O, and P, so I started just stretching my ring finger to get to it.)

Alright, so I wanted to see how fast I could type this way right when I was first learning. I did a control test by seeing how long it takes me to type a random page of a book normally, which came to about 70 words per minute. Then I typed that same page with just the one hand, and it came to a whopping 9 words per minute. My second try gave me 11 wpm. Yay! Never mind that it took me more than 45 minutes per try, I'm confident I can get it up to at least 50 wpm with a bit more practice.

More related thoughts: So one thing I noticed is that, unlike typing with two hands, I will occasionally vary which finger I use for certain keys. This has to do with which words I'm typing. For example, for the word "there" I will alternate between my index and middle finger for the "ere" because it's easier and more efficient than using only my index. This made me wonder how it might be possible to find the most effective typing pattern for any word? Or even better, the best keyboard layout for one hand? It would have to take into account not only the most common keys used, but the most common combinations of letters in a language and the fact that the little finger wears out faster than the others. Also, perhaps the thumb could be more useful?

Just a starting place for these thoughts, I'll probably start looking up custom keyboards now. I know a little about the DVORAK, but that's about it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dualistic Debates

So often we think of things in a very dualistic manner. Just look at politics; on almost any given hot-button issue there will be one "side" saying one thing and the other side saying another. Each side has it's set of reasons as well as it's set of arguments against the other side's reasons. Each argument seems to be set up to end in stalemate every single time. What strikes me as odd is that once you've heard the argument once, there doesn't seem to be much new added thereafter. You'd think there would at least be several different sets of reasons for each side of an issue.

I took a look at myself and what I do when I'm forming an opinion on an issue, and to my horror this is what I tend to do: choose a side and adopt its pre-formed set of arguments. And all the while I thought I was thinking for myself... What I've since realized is that if I try to see what I agree with in the opposing side of the issue, I often come up with new ways of looking at things. Sometimes it's a combination of each side's point of view that works best, sometimes a third, completely separate solution forms, and sometimes I stick with my original choice but for completely different reasons than what I started with.

It just reinforces a realization I had a few years back that much of the dichotomy between political parties is an illusion. Taking on a label can be a nice, handy way of defining a viewpoint or aspect of yourself, but you have to keep in mind that it comes with all the other possible interpretations people might come up with for that label. Be prepared for many misunderstandings before you even have a chance to explain yourself. Or realize that there is a misunderstanding.

Here's one of the best examples I can offer: I used to consider myself a Democrat. One day my dad read a selection from one of Anne Coulter's books. In it, she defined what a Democrat was with a series of descriptive adjectives. Shockingly, every single one of those adjectives were exactly what I would have used to describe a Republican! (With the exception of "terrorist sympathizer", which was really more an amusing attempt at an insult than an actual descriptive term.) If that's what Republicans think Democrats are, I reasoned, all we have to do is switch a few labels around and we'd be in almost complete agreement!

Okay, so maybe it's not that simple. But I did learn a couple things. First, that I should be very careful with assigning labels to myself. Second, that it might be useful for me to look into the underlying values Republicans have (as well as others of differing opinions), because I might surprise myself and find something there that I can relate to. Or better yet, something that I can learn to relate to.

There's one more thing I'd like to bring up; debating. Can't stand it. Don't get me wrong, it has its place. It can be very useful for showing flaws in reasoning as well as honing one's abilities for persuasion. It's just not for me. I have a hard enough time communicating an idea without someone trying to prove me wrong. See, if you're putting all your focus on showing what's wrong with the other person's words, you run the risk of completely missing their meaning.

Personally, I prefer a more "philosophical" discussion. When I'm forming a new idea, that idea is going to change a lot as I find flaws with it and think up changes and come up with new ideas that might work better. Inevitably I will hit a brick wall where there is still something I don't understand and I'm repeating the same old thoughts.

At this point I try to seek new input in order to dig deeper. This requires someone who will first try to understand the meaning behind what I'm saying. In other words, I have to bring them to the point where I encountered that metaphorical brick wall. After that, their unique perspective becomes especially helpful. Needless to say, both parties can benefit from such a discussion as ideas are exchanged and modified. Sometimes those passing "stupid" thoughts that wouldn't last a millisecond in a debate can lead the conversation into rarely explored territory that is much more interesting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Silly Writing Exercise

A friend of mine sent me this link about writing exercises. I chose the exercise where two characters have a secret which isn't revealed to the reader or to each other. I'm not sure how well portrayed the secrets, but what came out of it was a first draft of this (rather silly) little story:

The Gnome Man's Land Pub* always had some rather eccentric people mixed in with the more normal folk. For example, tonight there was some short dude in a hooded cloak sitting at the bar. At least, Eddie was pretty sure it was a dude. It was hard to tell with the cloak and the dim lighting. Normally Eddie would have just gotten a beer or four and been on his way, but now he was wondering if maybe it wasn't a dude. In fact, he got to wondering so much that he made his way over just to find out.

"Excuse me, miss." Eddie said hopefully.

The figure turned, meeting his increasingly nervous face with the shadowy depths beneath it's hood. "I am not," began a squeaky voice, "a miss!"


"No. I am male, you insufferable dolt!" The figure scrambled to stand up on the bar stool in an attempt to look more intimidating.

"I am sorry, small boy!"

"I am not...! Agh, never mind what I am or am not." The cloaked dude poked a gloved finger at Eddie's forehead. "You, foul sir, owe me a beer to make amends for the insults. This is custom, yes?"

"Uh," Eddie scratched his chin, "Yeah sure, why not."

The bartender walked by. "Ya know what's also custom is ta put yer behind insteada yer feet on da stool."

"Apologies." The cloaked dude plopped back down. "And now, beverages!"

The bartender stared a moment, then turned to Eddie, the more familiar patron. "Jus' two beers, Ralph, if ya don' mind." Eddie said. Ralph shrugged and went off to fetch the beers.

"Now," said the cloaked dude, "Your name and purpose for accosting me."

"The name's Eddie." said Eddie. "As fer me purpose, I don' reckon I have none no more seein' as how yer not a miss."

"Ah, I see. And now in turn, as is custom, I shall supply my own name and purpose. I am called Alfie, and I am in this filthy little town of yours only because I am in desperate need of a mechanic."

Eddie wondered where on Earth this crack pot came from. He said as much (in a more polite manner, of course). Alfie replied that it was none of his business 'you stupid toad'.

"And are you a mechanic?" Alfie inquired suddenly.

Eddie was so surprised by the change of subject that he forgot to be offended by Alfie's latest insult. "No, I'm a lumberjack." Eddie said.

"Oh. Explains the axe. Perhaps some companionable chat-chit to pass the time? I take it females are in short supply this season?"

"Actually, come to think of it, there are less women 'round town than there used to be. Smaller population in gen'ral, really. But I don't think that's what my problem is..."

"Perhaps they simply consider you too ugly."

Eddie felt a sudden urge to knock the little pipsqueak off his stool, but he remembered how his mother used to tell him to never get caught fighting. And he never did get caught at it, no ma'am. He downed his drink in one go as soon as Ralph came by with the beers. He signaled for a second beer and downed that as well.

Alfie took Eddie's silence as a reason to continue. "You don't look much like a jack lumberer. Aren't you supposed to have a beard?"

"I use ta have a beard, but I had ta start shavin', 'cause I kept gettin' lice an such."

"What is lice? Can you eat that?"

"I reckon ya could," Eddie said thoughtfully, "If'n youse was real hungry-like."

"Is it just my imagination, or is your grammar getting even more atrocious by the second?"

"Don' know whacha mean by 'ateriosus', but me mum always said I star' talkin' worsin' wi da alchi-hal. Whate'er dat is."

"My, I am finding this quite amusing. Waiter! Another beer! Oh waiter!" Alfie snapped his fingers; quite a feat with gloves on. Ralph gave Alfie a dirty look, but brought forth another beer nevertheless before stalking off.

"Aren't you supposed to wear plaid, too?" Alfie asked Eddie, as Eddie began guzzling the most recent mug of beer.

"Whachyer, yer, yer idear of a lumberjack, 'nyways?" Eddie asked between swigs.

Alfie pointed to the picture of a lumberjack, printed on a package of paper towels.

"I's got tha' same axe, I 'as."

"Ha. Well, maybe that dull axe would be enough to make you into the next jack lumbering star, if only you weren't so downright ugly. Which parent did you get your unfortunate genetics from? I'm only curious. You see, I'm studying the biology of unfortunate mutations. Was it your mother? Father? Perhaps some kind of recessive gene?"

Ralph came by again to start wiping down the bar, hoping Eddie and Alfie would get the message and go home like everyone else already had.

"Ralph, ano'er beer hic, den I'ma gonna slug this 'ere sucker!" Eddie said.

"Now Eddie, ya know three's yer limit." Ralph said.

"I don' care! hic I don' care! I'll, I'll, hic, where's me axe?"

"Ah yes, I took the liberty of storing that behind the bar, here, 'till ya clear yer head."

"Well now," Alfie cut in calmly, "For the payment." There was the sound of metal jingling as Alfie fished through a small bag. He brought out a handful of what looked to be bits and pieces of some rusty old machine.

Ralph groaned, "How many times do I have ta tell you people! Coins only!"

"Oh. Well, no matter. My misbegotten buddy, Eddie here, shall pay. He owes me for the insults anyway."

"Me!? hic I'm da won hic tha's insultin'?!"

"Yes. Obviously your mother never even taught you proper manners."

"You little...!" Eddie rushed at Alphie, or tried to. He wound up on the floor, sobbing. "hic Me poor mum, me poor ole hic mum..."

Alfie stood up (or hopped down, more accurately), stepped over Eddie, then made to leave.

"Ya didn't even try da beer!" Ralph said, offended.

Alfie tentatively took a sip of his untouched beer, then promptly spit it back into the mug. "A nasty substance! Here, you sniveling mass of snot, you take it." Alfie poured the beer over the sobbing and hiccuping Eddie and walked out into the night, the sounds of shattering glass and loud admonishments from Ralph behind him.

To be continued...

*After I finished the story, I typed in "Gnome Man's Land" into Google, and was dismayed to find thousands of results for the exact phrase. Guess it's hard to come up with something truly original with over 6 billion people in the world plus history, eh?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Myers-Briggs Test Results

I took the Myers-Briggs test today. I was a solid INTP for many years, then in the past few years my results have been fluctuating quite a lot. This doesn't really surprise me. Right now I came out as an INFP, but last year I was an INFJ (still fairly close to the middle on the J).

Apart from the test results, however, I noticed something quite interesting when taking the test; for the questions on socializing, a lot of my preferences are shifting towards wanting to be around people, but my actions are that of keeping to myself. For the questions on thinking/feeling, I have a much higher value on feeling than I used to (that was the shift from T to F), but my actions are based on logical reasoning. I dislike too much order (it's starting to make me feel more trapped than supported), but I tend to plan everything out before acting.

Seeing a pattern here? My inner motivations are changing long before my actions can. After a life spent keeping to myself, it's hard learning how to interact with people more, even if I have had a major shift in value towards wanting to. That's something I knew already, but it just made it even more clear to me that I'm changing in a lot of different areas internally.

On the one hand, I'm going through a rather confusing and challenging time, since my internal values are not matching up with my ability to express them or my actions. On the other hand, my shift in values is growing stronger, not weaker, meaning I'm not going to give up until they start to show through.

One last thing I'd like to talk about is my belief about change: I don't think one personality type is better than another. In fact, I was very happy, even proud, of being an INTP. But I've been getting this strong urge to explore... everything. Thoughts, feelings, ideas, the world around me, the world within me, and all the ways they can come together.

One of my current goals may be to become more social, but that doesn't mean I want to replace my old personality; rather, I'd like to have the ability to be both. I'd like to be able to change labels whenever I feel like it, to be unafraid of new things, to understand different ways of thinking and perceiving, and to continue to change even after achieving whatever the most recent goal may have been.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lucid Dreaming

I've decided to seriously get back into lucid dreaming. I was really into it for about a year when I first found out about it, then my waking life became really busy and it seemed like my dreams dwindled down to almost nothing for quite a while.

Lately I've been thinking about dreams more, and that alone seems to make them clearer and more interesting... I've even had a few (very brief) lucids where something in my environment would be a little off and I'd announce, "Hey, I'm dreaming!" I didn't do a whole lot with these dreams except trying to change simple things (make boxes disappear, fix a warped door that wouldn't latch, lol).

So my new goal for lucid dreaming: create a dream scene in as much detail as possible, then keep trying to come back to it and/or recreate it. It'll be interesting to see if I have to do less work to maintain the scene over time. My first project is to create a lighthouse. I already wrote out a detailed description of how I want it to look, and I'll be using that to help me visualize it.

I was inspired to do this after realizing that there are certain "locations" that are common between several of my dreams, often with a certain feeling, directional orientation, and characters associated with it. Sometimes these locations resemble a place I've visited often in my waking life, but other times they're completely imaginary.

This made me think that when conscious (or unconscious) thought is given to such a location, it imprints it on the subconscious mind, making it more "stable" (less vague and changeable). So in theory, if I created something in a dream and kept thinking about it and visualizing it, eventually it should be there without hardly any mental effort.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"I Am a Rock"

A couple months ago I rediscovered the Simon and Garfunkel song, "I Am a Rock", and it led me to a new realization. See, there are some very interesting lyrics to this song. They aren't what one would expect. For example, "I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island."

Something about this song resonates with me. I can understand it, I've felt this way. It's those times when you're left forgotten by those around you. When you realize that others don't care about their connection with you the way you thought they did, the way you care about them. Those times when you feel alone in a crowd, surrounded by people laughing and loving each other.

Yes, I've felt this way. And it's so hard not to, at times. And so often I would just blame myself for feeling so bitter. At the same time a part of me would want to mindlessly embrace the words of the song, to find relief from the pain of lack of connection by not needing it in the first place.

And yet, I've never been dedicated enough to this view to actually believe it fully. After all, friendship doesn't always cause pain. It's only when you lose it that it hurts. And then I think, if I only knew how to keep such connections, it wouldn't be so bad, would it?

"I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." That's the goal of a person with this view, isn't it? Those last words? But at the same time, it's those last words that show so clearly where error is: isolating yourself doesn't protect you from pain, it just protects you from pain caused by other people.

One day I was feeling the bitter loneliness, listening to that song and trying to decipher my confused emotions. I'd been doing so well socially, at the time, but I still wound up with one of those days when my connections felt... devalued.

Then the realization hit me: what if others were feeling just as lonely as I was and I didn't know it? What if it wasn't even the type of thing that could be seen just by looking at someone? They could seem fine, happy even, have people they talk to, and yet they could still be feeling like others don't value a true connection with them.

In fact, I reasoned, with over six billion people in the world, there absolutely has to be people who feel the same. Duh. How could I have been so willfully blind? Here I was feeling alone and there are all these other people feeling just the same.

I began to wonder how many people there are like this, separated only by their own protective walls. I began to wonder if I knew any, if it is even possible to tell who they are without really, truly getting to know them. I even began to wonder how many people are silently in love with each other, seeing each other every day but never daring to say a word about the way they feel, convinced the other couldn't possibly feel the same.

Does it sound depressing? I don't think so. It made me realize I have to keep trying to connect with people. Because sooner or later I'll find people who need me as much as I need them. If I haven't found them already. Whenever I find myself beginning to pull away because it seems the less painful route, I remember that I have to keep trying, for there are others who need the love just as badly.

Thank you Simon and Garfunkel! You've led me to a discovery.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Poem: Communication

A poem of sorts that came to me, on the topic of communication:

Slow down,
There is always more to be said,
There is always more to be understood.

If I try to speak, will you listen?
If I listen, will you tell me?
Will you wait for the meaning to form,
And the words to shape around them?
Because they will change their shape,
And color and tone,
And they will always change,
And wherever there are no words,
The meaning will still remain,
So can you accept what I cannot explain?
Can you believe what I want so badly to show?

For each of us has something more important than can be ever explained to share.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inclusive Body Language

Have you ever been in a conversation with more than one person, and suddenly discovered yourself forgotten? Maybe it was because you were talking to your friend when an acquaintance of theirs showed up who you didn't know, or maybe you were silent in the conversation for a while because you didn't know much about the current topic. In any case, feeling excluded from a group isn't fun. Sometimes it seems like you're even being physically blocked out, where the other people will turn their bodies just enough to leave you standing separate.

I used to encounter these situations a lot due to my tendency to be a "listener". I might be quite interested in what was being said by others, but I didn't always have something of value to add right then. Unfortunately, people that didn't know me often assumed that since I wasn't saying anything, I wasn't part of the conversation. Even good conversationalists would forget me, so I assume most people don't even realize they're doing this.

Now to look at this from the other side. When I started working on my conversational skills, it became apparent that talking to more than one person at a time threw me off. I had a tendency to give my full attention to one person, and usually that was whoever I knew better or was more comfortable around. I tried dividing my attention between the two people (which I could do with minimal success if they both happened to be my friends), but add another person or two and someone was bound to be left out.

I discovered the solution when hanging out with a couple friends of mine. One of my friends was an introvert, but also a skilled conversationalist. The other friend was even more of a listener than I was, and often didn't talk much at once. I noticed that my conversationalist friend would address both of us even when she and I were the ones doing most of the talking. This simple act meant that when our "quiet" friend did have something to say, she already had our attention. It seemed as natural for her to speak in that situation as it was for her to listen to others speak.

With some practice, I learned how to apply this technique. First, you have to identify which people are interested in any given conversation. You'd be surprised how many people are giving off subtle body language that they want to be involved, but who may have been overlooked because they weren't saying anything right then. Next, adjust your body language to include as many of these as possible. For example, some of your "group members" might be unintentionally blocking someone, even to the extent of having their backs turned. In this case, you may need to step to the side or change which direction you're facing to give them space.

Finally, when you have something to add to the conversation, either address the group as a whole, or alternate between different people. If you're words are directed at one person in particular, you might speak mostly to them but occasionally turn to others.

For the more advanced conversationalist: if you notice someone in particular that's being overlooked, you could try bringing them into the conversation by directing a question at them or saying something specifically meant for them. Often, the other people present will give more attention to them after that, and maybe even look momentarily sheepish for not noticing them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Courage and Social Interactions

Courage does not mean being fearless, but being able to face your fears. This may sound familiar to you, but for me it didn't mean much until I began to have experiences that backed the idea up.

There are a few mild examples from when I was younger, such as overcoming arachnophobia. First, I stopped being mindlessly afraid and tried to analyse why. I convinced myself that I wasn't really afraid of spiders, I just didn't want to hurt them. Whether this was the real reason or not, the change in my thought pattern did wonders.

Now I'm intrigued by spiders and the information I read about them. When I find one inside, I'll usually try to capture it. I'm still nervous doing this and don't want them to get too close, so I only have about a 70% success rate. But hey, better than calling for my dad to deal it. For the most part, however, growing up I was...well...a wimp. Whenever I was afraid of something, I would figure out every possible way of avoiding the situation.

Again, I want to talk about social situations with strangers, one of my biggest fears. Growing up, if I started talking to someone and I said something really stupid or careless, I would do the only thing I could think of to avoid ever being that embarrassed again; talk as little as possible. As a result, I rarely saw others as sources of light hearted conversation, but instead as potential witnesses to my own idiocy if I didn't carefully construct every statement.

I wasn't aware of my own tactics at the time because I didn't realize the full extent of my fear. After all, I had effectively avoided the situations that caused the fear. My new fear is of not being able to say anything at all when I'm trying to talk with someone. So why didn't I have that second fear before, the one about not being able to communicate? Because social situations with strangers were rare for me. I had managed to avoid most of those to begin with by not having any real interest in initiating contact with new people (unless they made me feel completely safe first).

A few years ago, when I began consciously seeking out new acquaintances, I was at a loss as to why I was still having trouble with conversations. It's because I have to go a level deeper; I stopped avoiding social situations (somewhat), but I haven't stopped censoring myself. It's a very ingrained habit that will take time to change. But I know my next step will be to face my fear of saying something idiotic.

Perhaps the way to do this would be to go ahead and let stupid things slip out every once in a while, and learn not to care so much. I doubt I'll turn into someone who has no filter between my brain and my mouth, but I think it's high time I changed the type of filter.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Social Fears

Sometimes I wonder why I find it so hard to connect with people. Well, that's not completely true. I always have a small circle of friends that I'm very close to. But up until about three years ago, I was never even aware of just how much I depended upon other people being the ones to initiate things. Everything from eye contact, to conversations, to friendships.

I'd say I make a decent friend, but I sure didn't used to make it easy for people to get there :P Maybe that's why my small selection of friends have always been such loyal, amazing people; they were those rare few who were willing to put in the effort of getting to know me, someone who didn't give the usual outward signs of a person seeking out company. No doubt, the occasional bit of luck helped too.

Well, these past few years I've been changing, slowly but surely. I've made a conscious decision to face my social fears and take risks, at least every once in a while. I've gone through phases where I'm making lots of progress, and other phases where I retreat back into the safety of my shell.

At my best, I start conversations with the people sitting next to me in class, go up to the people sitting by themselves at parties, talk to the bus drivers, and even smile at passerby. At other times, I'm perfectly content to ignore the outside world, save for my support system of friends and family who I wouldn't trade for the world. Really, even when I'm at my most extroverted, I never forget that those are the people that truly matter to me.

So what makes me so determined to be more social? Well, one reason is that there are some people who I simply would never meet if I didn't open up first. People with insight and many interesting qualities. Potential friends. In short, people that are just the way I used to be; waiting for someone else to start the conversation. But of course I realize that it's the rare conversation that will turn into a friendship spanning several decades.

I think I'm at the point where I can appreciate a conversation for the sake of a conversation. I used to scoff at small talk, but I can see now that even small talk has it's place. It's a way of connecting with people. Never mind that it's not necessarily a deep, lasting connection, it's a start. It's a way of putting things into perspective. I think if you have that consistent interaction with acquaintances, you can understand humanity better. At least in a basic, rather simple way.

And then there's always the confidence issue. I simply don't want to have a fear of social situations. And I'm becoming a strong believer in facing fears being the best way to resolve them. I'm only beginning to realize just how strong my social fears are. It usually takes a burst of confidence and/or some mental tricks in order for me to start up conversations with people I don't know, and often even people I sort of know already. Sometimes I feel absolutely incapable of it.

It's actually rather hard for me to conceive that this type of thing comes naturally to some people. But I know that it will get easier with practice, and I think it's a worthwhile, long-term endeavour. Well, more details on this topic later. I hope my observations will eventually be of use to others on similar paths.