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Sometimes, but not always …

This is so hard for me
To find the words to say
My thoughts are standing still

Captive inside of me
All emotions start to hide
And nothing’s getting through

Watch me
Fading
I’m losing
All my instincts
Falling into darkness

Tear down these walls for me
Stop me from going under
You are the only one who knows
I’m holding back

It’s not too late for me
To keep from sinking further
I’m trying to find my way out
Tear down these walls for me now

So much uncertainty
I don’t like this feeling
I’m sinking like a stone

Each time I try to speak
There’s a voice I’m hearing
And it changes everything

Watch me
Crawl from
The wreckage
Of my silence
Conversation
Failing

Tear down these walls for me
Stop me from going under
You are the only one who knows
I’m holding back

It’s not too late for me
To keep from sinking further
I’m trying to find my way out
Tear down these walls

Every time you choose to turn away
Is it worth the price you pay
Is there someone who will wait for you
One more time
One more time

Watch me
Fading
I’m losing
All my instincts
Falling into darkness

Tear down these walls for me
Stop me from going under
You are the only one who knows
I’m holding back

It’s not too late for me
To keep from sinking further
I’m trying to find my way out
Tear down these walls for me now

Tear down these walls for me
It’s not too late for me
Tear down these walls for me

– “These Walls,” Dream Theater

Basis.

“[…] How I would like to take command of my situation, to entertain myself with enlightened thought, to heroically forget pain and fear, to keep control.  Perhaps that kind of heroism exists only in novels.  If there is any enlightenment that I have been awakened to, it is that men’s minds are dominated by their little aches and pains.  We want to think that we are more than that, that we control our lives with our intellect.  But now, without civilization clouding the issue, I wonder to what extent intellect is controlled by instinct and culture is the result of raw gut reactions to life.  I was brought up with the idea that I could do anything, be anything, survive anything.  I want to believe it, try to believe it.”

Steven Callahan, Adrift

Generation Four.

Additional Thoughts.

Waiting (for what?): A friend of mine passed away about a month ago.  Her passing gave further support to beliefs and opinions planted months, and perhaps years prior.

In short: you don’t want to leave this earth without doing things that you have always wanted to do.  For my friend, the desire to leave an unfulfilling job and to retire were goals that were never realized.

Having attempted to put myself in her place, I don’t think there is anything worse than to lose the option to make your life better and more fulfilling.

Giving and receiving advice: For many years I gave considerable weighting to others’ opinions and suggestions, only to find myself disappointed when things did not work out.  Now, I solicit feedback and advice from a select few and even then I use that information in the context of a greater whole.

On a similar note, I’ll always have my opinions but I am considerably more reluctant to share any advice unless explicitly asked; in fact, many times I don’t give my opinion at all because ultimately everyone knows inherently what they need to be doing in any given situation.  I believe my opinions or suggestions are supporting an existing path that has already been decided by that individual.

Dealing with undercurrents: I’ve placed less emphasis on the desire to become a “leader” and instead placed greater emphasis on core creativity, research, development and innovation.  I don’t know if my goal has ever been to climb the corporate ladder, but amazingly I found myself attempting to do just that.  It’s like an undercurrent that you aren’t aware of until you realize you are far from shore.

I think where this goal started to fragment (for me) was the fact that increased “responsibility” was moving me farther away from what I was interested in doing.  The sheer nature of forward movement was masking who I was and what I ultimately wanted to be doing.  While I am not 100% on where I’m headed (I may never know), I do know that I was headed in the wrong direction.

Dealing with oneself: I’ve learned to be comfortable and content alone.  Frankfurt and Paris reinforced this through complete isolation from family, friends and even technology.  The freedom and flexibility I had during that period was something that allowed me to think and “experience” without any constraints.  Now I’m living my life assuming this situation has permanence.

Belongings & Money: After spending years eliminating belongings that I no longer use, and experienced the joy that “Escape 2011” brought me, the vast majority of my purchases from here on will be experiential-based (Tokyo continues to be on the immediate radar).

Physical & Mental Challenges: Successes (full or partial) in past physical challenges (flight training, triathlons, mountaineering, and foreign travel) help set the stage for future challenges of increasing size.  What could this look like?

What Next?

Now three weeks into this new journey, I’m starting to reclaim a sense of self on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and intellectual – and I am enjoying learning to be myself once again.

True to form, I’ve gone through and purged belongings that I no longer need and increased “security” around those that I still need / want.  My primary objective at this point is to refine the Immersion foundation defined earlier this year and use that as the basis for decision-making and activities in the months to come.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that I have been thinking about:

Portfolio Consolidation: I am considering shutting down both Pixeldust and Ink microsites and consolidating the portfolios, which could very well result in the elimination of many older pieces whose quality lags behind more recent work.  While I think the current site design is sound, I also believe there is too much redundancy.  Strategy: Keep things simple, relevant and focus all attention on my best work.

Self-Promotion: I think the efforts that have gone into my core portfolio and the various microsites have resulted in a solid foundation to build from.  I’m pleased with the results, but I’m at a point where I’m less interested in promotion for promotion’s sake (career opportunities, etc.) and more interested in further expanding the portfolio.  Strategy: Get back to basics.

Research: I am at a point now where the types of books that I am reading are leaning away from self-improvement and towards other subjects: design, technical subjects and fiction.  It’s a direction that I’m becoming more comfortable with.  Strategy: Refocus research efforts on creative and technical topics, and focus more energies on fictional works.

Bionic 2.0: As mentioned earlier, one of the plateaus I’ve reached is the physical.  Now three years into a strength-building plan, I think I can move into new territories.  Strategy: Focus greater energy on core physiology and refine exercise plan.

 

Questions.

When Incubator was in its infancy, I was hesitant to open myself to the “world” and initially restricted its access.  After a few weeks, I decided to remove this “barrier” and it, along with Territories, have remained “open” ever since.

The second tier of openness focused on the books I was reading at the time.  Many were interpersonal in nature and several were admittedly “taboo” in a professional setting, ranging in topics from marriage “counseling”  to personality disorders.  Uncertain whether to include such texts in my published reading list, I consulted two colleagues who suggested that I either remove them completely or bundle them within an “interpersonal” section.

I always found this latter recommendation intriguing; did “bundling” somehow dilute or minimize what I was learning about at the time?  It’s as if this aspect of my life could somehow be packaged neatly in a box to focus greater attention on the “important” aspects of my Internet presence.  What is, of course, ironic is that this “box” was ultimately the catalyst for my electronic presence in the first place.

The third tier of openness focused on posts (essays?) that pushed the boundaries of what an online diary could look like, but never reaching that tipping point.  Or have I?

Now half-way through the book Alone Together, I am forced to reflect on where these online posts are heading and what value they are providing me.

While the “negative” examples focus heavily on the use of Facebook, the “positive” can be perhaps summarized by the following excerpt:

“In thinking about online life, it helps to distinguish between what psychologists call acting out and working through.  In acting out, you take the conflicts you have in the physical real and express them again and again in the virtual.  There is much repetition and little growth. In working through, you use the materials of online life to confront the conflicts of the real and search for new resolutions.

As originally intended, my online experience over the past two and a half years has been about the latter.  But what else is there to work through now?

One could argue that I’ll always have something to work through, and that writing will aid in my ability to successfully navigate through these challenges.  And given my success using this approach, I completely support this claim.

Resilience V – Missing Persons

Here is another example of a situation where I was somewhat confused by my (internal) emotional reaction.  First, let’s describe the adversity in a straightforward and objective manner:

Adversity: A resource on our team has been out of the office for an extended period of time and no communication has been made stating why.

Now let’s describe what I was really feeling at the time:

Belief: “Where is s/he?  I have a project schedule that has many overdue tasks and it’s frustrating there hasn’t been any real communication regarding her/his absence.  If communication is a highly valued competency, why isn’t anyone communicating?!”

Consequence: Some anger / frustration and sadness

This is interesting; frustration makes sense, but anger & sadness do not.  Because of this, let’s go through the Q&A format that I shared in an earlier example:

Question: Why does your colleague’s absence frustrate you?

Answer: I have some work that needs to be done and I don’t have the information I need.  While I was able to pull up with another resource, it would be helpful to know when s/he is returning to the office.

Question: What is the worst that can happen if you aren’t kept informed?

Answer: Ultimately, the project schedule won’t be updated and people will look to me for the answers.

Question: Let’s assume that people come to you looking for answers, why does that bother you?

Answer: At a basic level, it bothers me because I won’t be able to respond appropriately to their inquiries.  At a deeper level this bothers me because I could be adding greater value if I was serving in a different capacity, and thus I would not have to rely upon others to provide these updates to me.

As you can see here, while it initially appears that I am frustrated because I don’t know what is going on, what is really at play is my lack of control regarding the underlying effort.  My feelings of sadness (albeit minor) stem from being in a role that is separate and distinct from my true strengths and background.  In some respects, my colleague’s absence triggers feelings of inadequacy and loss.

The End of Incubator.

After considerable thought I’ve decided to mark a completion to Incubator and embark on the next chapter in my journey – one that I call Territories:

It’s very clear now that what I have been going through can be best described as a “valley”, although the period (2007-2010) can be described in both the positive and negative:

The Bad relationship failure . shattered dreams . borderline personality disorder . abandonment . loss . depression . post-traumatic stress disorder . downsizing . monetary loss . depression . therapy . loneliness . isolation . breakup . negative feedback . extreme stress . panic attacks . internal conflict . analysis paralysis . miscommunication . poor decision-making skills . poor sense of self . lack of direction . life crisis . past self-realization

The Good design . values . industrial design school . sense of direction . renewed sense of self . peaks and valleys realization . education . graphic design . portfolio creation . advanced creative thinking . writing . photography . illustration . exercise . talent . strengths

As it relates to “peaks” and “valleys”, the following key points have been added to my personal “rulebook” (from the book with the same name):

  • The errors you make in today’s good times create tomorrow’s bad times.
  • The wise things you do in today’s bad times create tomorrow’s good times.

I may never forgive but I am ready to forget.

Out of Body Experience.

Earlier this month I was involved in a fairly serious accident while playing basketball at my local gym.  The player, who I actually do not know, went up for a shot and I was unfortunately too close – expecting a rebound opportunity.  Three days ago I had surgery to repair the two facial fractures that had resulted in that unfortunate collision.

In some strange way, time seemed to slow down just milliseconds before the impact occurred.  My mind told me that I was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The resulting impact was perhaps the most pain I’ve experienced to date – and it’s one limit that I would rather not exceed anytime soon.  Immediately following the collision I knew something was truly wrong.  My jaw – actually my entire face – felt like it had shifted.  Something inside my face had moved out of place.

Once I was able to walk off the court, my fears slowly creeped in and by the time I had left the gym I was in tears – not because I was in pain (amazingly), but because I was afraid and very much alone.  Those feelings quickly escalated once I made it to a local medical center to have my injuries looked after.  I was unable to speak to the receptionist and tried desperately to get my feelings stabilized.  Feelings of strength and confidence can be quickly erased when trauma occurs, and this was proof positive of that.

Soon after being looked after and an X-ray taken, I went to the emergency room for a CT scan (computed tomography).  It was here where my mind transitioned into another place – a place where my situation became less about my fears and more about the technologies that would help diagnose my condition.

As I was rolled into the CT unit I focused my attention at the multitude of red lights that scanned over my face and the mechanisms that resided within the clear circular frame.  I listened to the whirring of mechanical servos as the scan progressed and smelled the “magnetic” air that was a surprising byproduct of the procedure.  While others can feel claustrophobic in such a machine, I felt strangely at peace.  I was able to focus my attention outside of myself and into the overall experience.

When the day of surgery arrived, my anxiety was minimal to none.  While I had my family’s support available to me, my mind was again placed outside of myself.  My mind focused on the logistics of the pre-op room, the personalities of the nurses who interacted with me, the IV inserted into my arm, the layering of wavelengths that displayed on the screen above me, and the intermittent alarm when my respiration levels dropped below “normal.”

For some reason, I wanted (needed?) this medical team to remember me as someone who was thankful, cool under pressure and empathetic – qualities that I strive to possess but do not always achieve.  I wanted to build perhaps the most important self-fulfilling prophecy of them all – a prophecy where feelings of positivity and confidence allow for a speedy recovery.

By its very nature, trauma forces the inflicted to slow down and process thoughts with greater intensity and focus.  Slowing down allowed me to step outside of my current reality and find ways to stabilize my emotions in a way that was natural for me.  Being able to find and fabricate a temporal world where I was able to gain some emotional and physiological stability allowed me to gain the strength I needed to move beyond this accident and procedure in a positive and constructive way.

Plus ca change Plus c’est la meme chose

My mom recently shared a few documents from when I was in nursery school and kindergarten many years ago.  These documents essentially provide a glimpse of my behavior and personality at that time.

As I was reading through the narratives, I was intrigued (actually – amazed) on the behavioral similarities between then and now.  In some strange way, these narratives confirm what this multi-year journey has shown me:

Who I believed I was is indeed who I really am.

Nursery School

  • Even tempered, tolerant and friendly, Adrian is well accepted by the group and usually involved with social play most of the morning.  He is willing to try everything and especially enjoys blocks, dramatic play, books and woodworking activities.[2011 Commentary: My professional career and personal interests have spanned numerous and diverse areas, and will likely continue to do so for the remainder of my life.]
  • He has marvelous ideas, but is easily distracted and remains only semi-involved much of the time. [2011 Commentary: Exclusive focus in one particular area is still, and will always be, a challenge.]
  • When approached by adults, Adrian is friendly, spontaneous; responds well to suggestions and directions.  On the whole, he appears to be independent and self-reliant. [2011 Commentary: Perhaps too much so.]
  • Adrian takes pride in whatever he makes in school, e.g. when he does a painting or art activity, he often informs us he is finished and proudly shows us his finished product.  He likes to make constructive things out of the materials e.g. airplanes (out of the nuts and bolts; odd pieces of wood), buildings or boats out of hollow blocks.  He likes to work in a group, rather than on an individual basis.[2011 Commentary: The showcasing of work will always expand, although I do most of my best work when working independently.]
  • Adrian has most of contact with Benjamin and Billy because they also spend a great deal of time in the hollow block corner. [2011 Commentary: Exclusivity in friendship and relationships is still the norm.]
  • If he feels uncomfortable after a disagreement, he usually moves onto a different activity. [2011 Commentary: I don’t like conflict and I tend to focus my energies on something creative or positive when I am able to.  Incubator started with this core personality trait.]
  • He is very capable of expressing his thoughts and feelings through language. He enjoys talking to others about experiences he has or something he has just made. [2011 Commentary: My written ability to share these thoughts is perhaps stronger than my verbal ability although I hope one day this will change.]
  • New situations don’t upset Adrian.  He is flexible and adapts to whatever is taking place in the room.

Kindergarten

  • He is particularly fond of block building and art.  Adrian is also quite creative with materials. [2011 Commentary: Scary! :-)]

If you have similar materials from your childhood, perhaps one day you will go back and take a closer look.  The expression “the more things change, the more they stay the same” may hold true for you as well as it has for me.