Monday, June 27, 2011

Variations on the "Alpha Centauri Effect"

The “star” known most commonly as “Alpha Centauri” is the third brightest star in the night sky. Only it isn’t a star. It’s actually two stars in close proximity to one another. It is their distance from the earth, and their level of brightness that makes them appear to be one star when observed with the naked eye from this planet.

In more recent decades it was also revealed that a much smaller star, dubbed “Proxima Centauri” is also nearby. Proxima is not part of the unified illusion we see from earth, however. It is, in fact, rendered invisible to the naked eye because of its lower brightness and its vicinity to the far brighter Alpha Centauri stars. It is drowned out, so to speak.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star(s) to earth, except for the sun of course. The term “close” is relative in space, however, as the distance from here to there is about 4.7 light years. Meaning of course that it would take light itself, (which travels at 180,000 miles per second) 4.7 years to get there. Most of what lies between here and there is quite literally nothing at all, as we understand it. Cold, black, interstellar space, where even atoms themselves, the building blocks of matter, become more scarce. 

Giving whole new life to the old cliché’ “so close, and yet, so far.

Then there is the “Alpha Centauri Effect.” This is not the product of modern science, or anything famous. It has in fact been noticed and named by yours truly.

What is the Alpha Centauri Effect? Much like its name sake, it is actually not just one concept, but several concepts that are close enough in nature to fall under one term. Variations on it exist, which I will attempt to describe to you.

Variation One

Groups of people who choose to be together physically, (or sometimes just emotionally), have their own character. A specific blend of personalities, strengths and beauty. When individuals that are particularly beautiful to us in their own right are convene together, all the greater is the impression of the collective. Furthermore, while within the framework of that group each individual is, in some way, enhanced; their own personal contributions to the group are strengthened. Their personal beauty more apparent.

To a casual outside observer the beauty of the whole group may be attributed to any one given member, or series of members. And while each person of course possesses their own unique luminescence, it is not the same, or as powerful, as that of the entire group. It is only once outsiders get close enough sometimes that they realize the beauty they were assigning to one individual is in fact that of the collective.

Variation Two

Again, when we first meet someone we like, we tend to see the fairest, brightest qualities within them, when most of what surrounds them is less appealing. (Light and dark.) We overlook the fact that most people are at best a duality of some sort, and are probably multi-faceted, with some facets good, many facets bad. But so shines the brightness of that quality which endears us to them, we see that facet, that presentation, that persona, as the entire picture. We think that what we see is one, complete, convenient package of a “star”, when in fact any given person is many different concepts in very close proximity to each other. Only when we are allowed to get closer do we realize this. If it is not too late, and we do not crash and burn right into the star(s) in question.

Variation Three

This is when people who posses their own brightness, personal beauty, and individual contributions are unnoticed from a distance by others, because of their proximity to other, bigger and brighter stars. In other words, perfectly valid people who find themselves filling the role of the Proximo Centauri, that get lost in the hype, charisma, and popularity of those that others find more “interesting”. They cannot seem to break away from the other group, for various reasons, and form their own system. If they did, they too would be seen and admired for what they were, all by themselves. But as it stands, they remain enslaved by the personal gravity of others, either by association, or by similarity of mission or occupation or environment. A pull from which they cannot escape; an escape they cannot even ask for help in obtaining, because as mentioned, most people do not know they are there, unless closer examination is taken of the situation.

Variation Four

Wherein we perceive that which is bright and beautiful to be closer than it really is. We see people shine somehow, and we think we start to know someone, but we do not. We become convinced that we are loved, but, in fact, we are not. So deep seated is our fear to admit that really most of anything between us and another person is nothing but cold dark empty space, that we use terms like “close”, “bright”, “beautiful” or even “love”. But like Alpha Centauri, close is a relative term, and in fact means that we are not that close to them as a person, (or a group of people) at all.

These are the four known Variations on the Alpha Centauri Effect. You may have noticed that a few things pull all of the variations together.

One of the common threads between all four variations is the distance. The “illusions” we see, about people or about stars, are due in large part to the distance we stand from them. From a safe distance things are easier. They require less energy to take in. We don’t get close enough to see the individual, or the facets of an individual because that is work. We enjoy the brightness they give off to us, and absorb whatever energy they may be giving off, until such time as we move on from them, either out of boredom, laziness or fear.

Yet another more positive common thread may be present amongst the Four Variations. The idea that we all look to the night sky, with naked eyes, to see what is there. To capture beauty “naturally”. The things telescopes and satellites can show us are amazing to the intellect, but lack the poignant beauty of looking straight up into a starry night, unencumbered by technology.

Floating around in our blackness, we long for beauty, and brightness. And the same is true with people. We want to be around that which is beautiful among people. We are so starved for it that we will eventually accept what our eyes see amongst the night time of our lives, even once our mind knows otherwise. We look to the sky, and accept that two stars are in fact one big star, the third brightest in the sky. We do so because a single bright star is a thing of beauty to us, even though our mind remembers it is really two stars. Our eyes and our heart see but one thing…Alpha Centauri…and that is the truth we accept.

Is doing so a folly? In human affairs does a desire to love and be enraptured by the beauty we perceive trump the knowledge that says it is more than we see? Are we wrong to seek the beauty of the stars or of people? Are people wrong to not look closer at what a star really is? Is it a sin to want to lie to ourselves sometimes, if only to escape the fact that 4.5 light years of nothing lies between us and the next closest being? 

And is what we see really an illusion, just because it is not scientifically true??

I don’t know. Do you?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Because it's there?" Not for Introverts.

Contrary to popular belief, most introverts can in fact do things like engage in small talk, introduce themselves to a stranger, or meander about within a crowd. (Though we do prefer when it is a controlled, purposeful crowd as opposed to a mob, that is certain.) We are just not as comfortable or in the very least, not as inclined to do such things. They are outside of our status quo. Yet if we find that by doing so a greater good is achieved, we will undertake such actions. But the stakes have to be much higher for an introvert than they have to be for an extrovert.

For example one would hope that even the most reclusive introvert would save a stranger from drowning if they came across such a scene and could help. Yes they have to touch and communicate with someone they don't know, and in normal circumstances they are not thrilled about that. But saving a life makes it the highest of stakes. This is of course an extreme example, but the point is that an introvert is far less likely than an extrovert to take an action or to make a comment simply because they can. It's rare that I quote Star Trek movies, but in this case think of Mr. Spock after saving Kirk who has just fallen off a mountain:

"Perhaps 'because it is there' is not sufficient reason for climbing a mountain."

The "sufficient reason" will of course vary from introvert to introvert, but you can bet in 90% of cases there is one. That is why we don't speak much at meetings; we are weighing if there is sufficient reason to bring up the point we are formulating. That is why we don't usually seek to be the center of attention; we have determined there is not sufficient reason to halt to proceedings in order to be observed. Introverts need a sufficient reason before they go out on the town or attend a party with mostly strangers.

And yes sufficient reasons for all of these things can be found for the introvert. We may attend a party for the sake of one person we care about. Perhaps we have determined we need a break from our own thoughts, and go out on the town. We may even attend a networking event, if the event is designed specifically with writer's or other creatives in mind. So long as the stakes weigh more than the uncomfortable action, introverts will do it in most cases. But you can bet a week's pay that they have made that determination before they have taken the action.

And the stakes must be higher than "getting out there". Often, even appealing to an introvert's self interest is not raising the stakes high enough, because an introvert tends to be more motivated by ideas and creativity, and less by personal gain.

Extroverts on the other hand tend to drive meetings, offer all their half-formed ideas, enjoy having everyone look at them and listen to them, and can't wait to get away from themselves and get out on the town, or to the next party. At which they will thrive on talking to strangers. And even if they don't make a single friend or establish one single toe-hold somewhere, (though they usually do), the extrovert is ready to go out the very next day and do it all again, because the stakes of not doing so are too high for them.

So if you want to motivate an introvert to say something or to do something, don't just encourage them to "come out of their shell" or to "join the party". That doesn't tend to move us. But if you can take a few extra moments to determine what the stakes are, and have the patience and willingness to present them to an introvert in a respectful way, you may find them more willing to partake. Especially if you present to them a problem that you feel can be solved with their participation.

If you are an introvert, how high do the stakes have to be for you to do the "extroverted" stuff? Can they ever be high enough?

Monday, June 20, 2011

From a Distance

I am sitting alone in my younger sisters house. Well, not alone. Her two cats and dog are with me somewhere. I am allergic too all three, so let's go Claritin.

She is off having her first born about 15 minutes from here. I got a call at about 8 this morning from mom saying that she wanted me to accompany her to the hospital, 90 minutes from where I live. She just liked having that extra support. I agreed. But I wasn't at the hosptial long before I felt uneasy.

I amnot fan of the places. Even the maternity wing. Snooty nurses who tell me I am not allowed to sit here. (It was a couch ibn a hallway...) Badges. Waiting rooms. My sister laying in a hospital bed, and me knowing there were dozens of women within yards from me in various stages of childbirth. Not a process, location, or situation I was enjoying in anyway.

The decision was made to send me here, instead. I could have warmed to the Anne Arundel Medical Center eventually, but being here is probably for the best. Histamines notwithstanding.

Because that whole "miracle of life" thing? It wasn't doing anything for me while I was there. More open minded people could walk down the hallways and know that in each room the process of bringing forth an new human being was taking place. That knowledge would be mystical to many people in my position. I on the other hand was just hoping I wouldn't hear anybody scream.

Life is a miracle in many ways. I believe that. However today  has made me consider the fact that just because something is a miracle, that doesn't mean you don't require some distance from it in order for your mind a heart to process it.

I think it is true in other aspects of life as well. Like child birth there is the joyous and miraculous, and then there is the "eww." And that's okay. Sometimes we are too close to something to see all of its positive characteristics. Sometimes even something amazing can turn us off if we become too immersed in its every minute detail. Your favorite song will  shatter your eardrum of played too loudly in your ears...

We won't always have a choice in the matter. I will have to be much closer to the action when my own first born comes into the world, I am sure. But some people are made to enjoy every inner detail of what is great, (how to make the sausage) and other people would rather not know, and just prefer to have breakfast. For me, for now, I am in the latter camp when it comes to childbirth. But then again the context of my own kid being born may make the entire thing more "miracle" and less "eewww" once I get there.

Either way, remember both the distance and context of wonderful things. View them in any way that you can to make them more wondrous. Which now that I am 15 minutes away and free to surf the net, watch television and eat something without being yelled at, I can now do in regards to my kid sister's firsth child birth.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Earth Angel Moments

Remember that part in Back to the Future when that goofy looking bastard with the huge mouth cuts in on George and Lorraine at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance? George begins to walk off, dejected, and Marty begins to fade from existence because this would seem to indicate that his parents will never get together and conceive him. Yet at the last minute George returns, shoves big-mouth to the floor, and kisses Lorraine like the stud he has become. The two fall in love and  Marty, along with his future, exist again. Yay!

I call that the "Earth Angel" moment, because if you will recall, that is the song the band was singing at the time, and they hit on the chorus just as Marty leaps totally back into the space-time continuum. A moment where the one very important first domino is knocked over, thus causing the proper chain reaction that leads to the rest of everything.

We all have them, and I often wonder about my own Earth Angel Moments.

What makes such a moment? First and foremost, it is in fact a moment. For example, you cannot say, getting a PhD was an Earth Angel Moment because it wasn't a moment. It was a long, drawn out process. It may have begun with a moment, but the actual attainment is not a moment. Unless something very significant happened at the actual physical moment the degree was placed in your hand.

It also has to be the seed of something good. True, something that starts out good can either turn bad, or have bad branch off consequences. And we can learn and be shaped by pain, I realize that. Yet to qualify in my mind as an Earth Angel Moment, that which radiates from the moment must be, when taken as a whole, an important, positive quantity. (In Marty's case, his existence.) A moment that if it did not happen, you wouldn't be as well off as you are now in some way. Think of the movie: what sort of moment in your life, if it were a movie, would cue the band to play the swelling part of the score as it happened on screen?

Of course the very nature of the Earth Angel Moment is one that usually precludes you from being aware of it as it happens. Without the benefit of a time traveling DeLorean I cannot be certain at the time when I am experiencing something that will change everything eventually. So I rely on retrospect.

Some I can be certain of. The moment I opted to take Acting 101 in college instead of Pottery 101. Going to my first party in college. (It didn't even require puking or anything!) Making a phone call to a specific director of a community show some years after college whom I had been referred to. No doubt things would have been drastically different if any of those things had not occurred.

Then there are those moments that feel as though they are the start of something important, but only time can tell. Starting this blog. Finding a homemade floral headband in a park two summers ago. Deciding to try freelancing. And so on. They have the potential to be Earth Angel Moments when I look back on them later.

In either case I find thinking about Earth Angel Moments to be a healthy and fun exercise. Not only does it remind me of how things sometimes go right even for me, it also reminds me that any given moment could unlock a sequence of events that leads to something major. A career. A spouse. Or something I can't even think of yet.

What were some of your Earth Angel Moments?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fighting for Joy

The opposite of joy would seem to be depression. And in certain metrics it would be so. But I have come to believe that just as often, the opposite of joy is cynicism. 

I have a healthy cynicism in regards to many things: People who are always happy. Love at first sight. Many social media gurus. Sometimes social media itself. A large percentage of organized religion. Certain things will always bring out the cynic in me, and I am glad of that. But like many things, it can be overdone. Sometimes I think I am a cynic for too long in regards to too many things.

To be frank, I am that way with reason. I've not had the best of luck when it comes to friendships, romance, business, or employment. I've had no mentors, and virtually no help of any kind throughout my life to get anything important off the ground. Read back over this blog to learn more about that sort of thing. Yet I think that my justified cynicism has sometimes leaked into other areas of my daily life and affected same in ways that are not always healthy.

Allergy sufferers know what histamines are. They are natural and vital compounds in the body which fight off what the body believes are harmful invaders. In the case of an allergy though, histamines go apeshit and  overcompensate; they flood the system in defense against something that otherwise would pose little threat. Our own bodies' medicine then becomes our enemy. The result? Swollen, watery eyes. Runny nose. Cough. Rash, etc. To feel better, we take anti-histamines. Drugs designed to actually fight our own bodies fighters. Part of our own defenses end up working against us and have to be tamed. My cynicism sometimes acts like an overzealous histamine. It seeks to defend the joyous but ends up overrunning it.

By joy I do not mean the breath taking, life changing peak experiences of which we all have maybe a half-dozen in life. Nor do I mean that joy has to be skipping about through the meadows. I refer to the best parts of any given week in the life. Or those few elevated moments each day where the fact that you have the day outweighs everything you have to deal with on said day.

Please don't misunderstand. I do feel that kind of joy. Certain activities bring it. The company of certain individuals do so as well. Sometimes even reading an article or listening to music can bring me the simple joy to which I am referring. So I am not a stranger to the idea. Yet I have determined it is time for it to be a more frequent part of my life. But how?

I have talked to "joyful" people as well as read their writings. I ask them what it is that allows them to experience joy as often as they do. Many answer "I just choose to. I can decide to be unhappy, or decide to be happy. I choose happy."

In most cases, I believe people when they say that. (Though my cynicism is standing in the doorway peering in whenever I hear that advice.) It is not for me, however. As much as I, and anyone would like to believe that joy is a simple matter of deciding, the reality is that for many people who are Too XYZ like myself, it will always be more than a simple choice.

No, I need that spiritual anti-histamine. Something(s) that will counteract the excess cynicism, but leave the useful, healthy, and appropriate cynicism intact. It sounds like an irony, but I may have to fight for more joy. Yet the fact that it may require more effort and time doesn't make joy any less important, does it?

Staying away from people who piss me off. Refusing to find ways to tolerate people that have been intolerable for years. Striving to make new joyful friends. Thinning out my Facebook friends list. Reading success stories of people outside of my own field. Having an element of inspiration show up in some of my fiction. Even the simple act of responding to something with silence. All of these things, and more, are weapons in the fight for joy that I have been collecting. More needs to be done, and given who I am I may never reach the levels of joy some of you posses. (I know some incredibly happy people...) But the effort is worth it. Perhaps the effort itself will bring more joy?

How do you bring joy into your life? Any suggestions?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Speak Up or Shut Up? How Do We Appreciate People?

There is such a fine line when it comes to people you value. You don't want to gush about them very often, if at all, because that freaks people out. Yet at the same time if you come to value someone and keep it to yourself all of the time, they may never know, and may find it easier to waltz right out of your life.

As a writer, I am a man of words in many ways.  And I have suffered the consequences both of saying how much I appreciate someone, and of not saying so. If you are curious, the argument that saying something, even if it doesn't work, is better than never saying anything just doesn't hold water. Not with me. Whether it be an unfortunate silence on my part, or and frank expression of appreciation that is not well received, the resultant distance between me and the valued person feels just as shitty.

Nor have I ever been able to swallow the bitter medicine of, "people come into and out of your life at random, and there is no sense getting tore up about it when someone leaves." That advice to me amounts to "love nobody and nothing, and be ready to die alone."

So what is the answer when we value someone? I suppose the question is poorly phrased, because the answer for each person is in all likelihood different. I know I haven't figured out my own answer to the question of safe expressions of appreciation, love, respect, or admiration for others as they come into my life. I usually seem to get it wrong.

I think perhaps we have as a people grown too cynical, too defensive, or too afraid of intimacy for which we are not prepared to accept praise of our personhood. Of our work, sometimes, yes, that we can handle. But when we read an email from someone, and look at them across the dinner table and hear them say things like, "You have a terrific sense of humor, and I don't laugh enough in life. Thank you for making it easier," the first thing many of us start to think is, "What do they want," or "I haven't known him long enough for that to be appropriate," or, one of my favorites, "I'm really don't feel attracted to you in the same way." As though each time we express the value we have in someone, there is a motive outside of it.

Maybe actions speak louder than words? Maybe by doing a good turn for someone, we can reassure them of their value in our eyes, without them tweaking over it. That might be one answer. Yet I think even then the doubts an cynicism would remain.

It's not a science, I realize that. But there has to be at least some pattern I would think. Maybe I have just been in the presence of really uptight people my whole life. I don't know. I only know that the result of my expressing how I feel about people has eight times out of ten wounded me in such a way that with every passing year I feel less willing to do so. And that can't lead to anything good, can it?

How do you do it?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Introverts Hate Small Talk

I don't like small talk. No. I hate it. The surprise factor of this statement should hover somewhere near zero for anyone who has read this blog, or who knows me personally. I am an introvert, and in general, we don't do the small talk thing.

But why? Even extroverts who have read about introverts know that we don't do small talk, but can't see what the big deal is. Small talk is such a part of our society, yet half of that very society cannot stand it. I cannot speak for 100% of Introvertkind, but I will lay out some of the reasons I hate it which I think are common to many introverts.

-To begin with, it is exactly the same every time. Anywhere. If you are engaging me in small talk, it means you are treating me in the precise same manner when you approach me as you did the last stranger you approached. And depending on the venue, I may have just seen you approach the person right before me and heard you ask the same asinine questions of them. Just as I will hear you ask them to the person by the punch bowl once you have decided our conversation is over. 

-It's not a conversation. It's a metric. You are using it to determine the nature of a new person. How they react, how they speak, what they feel like when engaged. It is a horrible way of getting to know me because I hate being tested, and I will usually act accordingly. I don't have to be rude, but the cues will be there that the nature of the conversation makes me uncomfortable because I know I will be judged by how well I perform at the task. 

-Small talk is expected. Want to make sure I, and many other introverts don't do something? Insist that it is what we are expected to do by everyone else.

-It is irrelevant. If an introvert has decided to leave home and bring himself to a place full of people he doesn't know, chances are there was a very good reason for it. The reason for the gathering or the meeting. It probably was not easy for him to come, and isn't a walk in the park to stay. He'd like to get on with the specific reason he attended this function. (Or worse, the reason he was summoned, if you have some kind of authority over him.) Unless the meeting was called to discuss the crab dip and the heat wave, I am not going to be  receptive to such talk, despite outward attempts to be polite.

-Small talk is inauthentic. Look, I sympathize with those who use small talk to a degree. I really do. For an extrovert it is a valuable tool to ease into a conversation, and possibly a friendship with a new person. But if they are honest even extroverts will admit that it is just a tool. That even they are not the least bit interested in how difficult it was for me to drive to this building, or if I ran into any traffic on the way. They know that they don't really care, and I certainly know they don't care. It is a rouse to start talking to someone new. But I would rather be approached cold with an authentic question, then be warmed up by the small talk.

-It's a waste of resources. Mindless small talk requires little brain power. Introverts spend most of their time thinking. Processing ideas. Finding themselves engaged in small talk slams on the brakes of their active brain. The subjects are so empty, there is no need to form an opinion and/or argument that they can then share with those around them.  Like renting the biggest self-storage unit in the city and storing nothing in it but a roll of paper towels. It is space and money wasted. Small talk is like that roll sitting in the vast expanse of the mind to an introvert. It's a waste of resources.

-It lacks creativity. Many introverts are creative types, and few things are as bereft of creativity as small talk.

All of this may sound like I am denigrating those who are both good at and enjoy small talk. That is not my intention. My main purpose today is to shine more light on why I and other introverts like myself despise small talk. Because the more I am honest about the reasons, instead of just repeating how much I hate it, the more likely it is someone out there will take an extra moment and consider a new way to approach known introverts. And if that happens, more people win.

Do you do small talk?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Think "Best" Not "Impress"

It's human nature to want to impress people sometimes. I find it hard to believe that there is anybody anywhere who has never at some point tried to impress someone for any number of reasons. And some of those reasons seem legitimate. Yet we tend to conflate doing our best work for someone with impressing them. Yet these are two very different goals.

A goal is something which defines the way we think, act, and react in any given situation. It determines how we move forward. If our goals are misguided, all actions that spring from it will also be so. Setting a goal to impress somebody will in most cases lead to failure because everything becomes about them. Our energies are  focused upon making our selves look good to only one individual. (Sometimes a group.) Which means we will try to alter our approach every few moments to match what we perceive they want. Our desire to be held in personal esteem by the other person dictates our choices. When that happens, we open ourselves up to feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and diminished confidence.

Instead of impressing people, our goal should be to offer our best at any given time. We need to present our best selves via behavior, ideas, attitudes, etc. We need to give our best audition to a director, present ourselves in the most effective manner at a job interview, put our best products on display when we meet potential clients. It only makes sense to do so.

When our goal is to produce our best work, (within  whatever guidelines apply to the situation), we make it about us. Our mental energies are directed toward engaging our talents, and tapping our passion. Improving who and what we are. We become confident in our ability to bring something forth that deserves to have our names attached to it. Such creations have the best chance of attracting the right attention. And though we may be disappointed if we don't get the part or the job, we come away from the attempt knowing that in the very least we produced something worthy of our own admiration. We don't come away with even that much when we bend over backwards merely to impress.

Take pride in your work. Your observations. Your being. Let what someone else thinks of  it take care of itself. You'll have nothing that either you, or other people can take pride in if your entire purpose is to impress, impress, impress.

When have you been tempted to impress someone, as opposed to just living your best, and allowing the consequences of same?