Misgivings and Resolution

I set out alone on the vast sea of the blogosphere in the very small boat of trytoactnormal.com because I felt I had better do it. Notwithstanding the time of year, I didn’t mean it as a New Year’s resolution, and I hardly feel resolute today. As I bob my way toward the mouth of the harbor, established blogs I read make me feel like I’m passing under the prow of great warships with names like Resolute, Indomitable, Defiant. Will my stores keep me going until I get somewhere? Will the people I meet value what I say or dismiss my trade goods as the cheap and obvious beads I worry they may be?

Small boat on large seaThis project is so large! I want to learn, go places, follow links, dig into the technical aspects of WordPress, amuse, intrigue, educate. Look what I found! I want to say.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because of my sense that to do so uses up some of the energy the resolver may need to accomplish the goal. I agree completely with Lori Deschene that the time of year is arbitrary. The resolution you made remains in the past, which is gone. The score sheet of how well you have done so far and how it may go in the future is a rainbow out of reach over the horizon.   What’s real is right now.

Alan Lakein expressed this idea in Lakein’s question: What is the best use of my time right now?

For the moment, I think the best use of my time is to keep doing this. But should I get help? Brendan took companions with him, but I admired Jessica Watson’s courage and accomplishment as she sailed around the world alone, and over the years I have gravitated toward solitary pursuits (writing, running, cycling).

Whatever. Rather than debate with myself staffing, or whether the point of what I am doing is to discover a new world, or to proclaim a message to someone, or just to sail all the way around and get back to where I started from, I shall keep going, and see what comes up.

Image courtesy of Juliancolton2 via Flickr.

That Syncing Feeling

When you’re in love, you’re overwhelmed, which is the best part of it—until the moment you see that your new lover or new electronic device isn’t perfect. Features are missing or don’t work. Newer models promise more. Has the object of your passion changed, or did you perceive her wrong in the first place? No matter, you’ve made a decision, a commitment, so you play it out.

Let me tell you about my relationship. I ran out the two-year clock on my Palm Treo 755p last spring, as brother-in-law counseled iPhone (and waiting for Verizon like Madame Butterfly), but Android had my attention. I could handle a little chaos: I had dual-booted my PCs with Ubuntu before I moved much of my work to a Mac. People liked their Droids. I leaped in April, and I was in love. My new Droid X made and received telephone calls. I had mail, messaging, a camera, all those apps, and once I got my stuff into Google Contacts and Calendar, it synced both ways without my lifting a finger. Or I thought it did. I got Tasker and tried a bunch of launchers and stretched my wings and reached for the stars, lost in a forest of unused widgets and crapware possibilities. I staggered from widget to shortcut to Tasker project to app to wallpaper, everything. You know. I was addicted and out of my depth.

Simplify, has been my maxim. I made a *blush* pencil and paper list of what I actually used, uncapped the Trash, and home screen by home screen, deleted everything else. All seemed well. I used my Droid because it was useful. But one day I missed a meeting because the time I changed on my Mac hadn’t synced to my Droid. Had the object of my passion changed, or had I perceived her wrong in the first place?

RTFM! cries Tech Support with some asperity. Most of my problems come from human error (mine); one works it out and life goes on. Assuming that I had changed some setting by mistake, I explored every menu on my phone. I found the place in Accounts where you could tell the phone to sync everything with one click, but it wasn’t automatic. Over dozens of web hours at Google, Motorola sites, and techie forums I found answers: copy all your data to your SD card and back; purge the data in the applications that aren’t syncing and let the phone start from scratch; restart the phone; restore the phone to factory settings. But no answer worked for everyone, and even restoring factory settings didn’t always stick. Grumbling was widespread. Was it a bug in Froyo?

I fretted: had I been snookered? Time for real help. I stood in Verizon store queues in two major cities to speak with resident wizards, each of whom fussed over my phone for more than twenty minutes, and each of whom pronounced the problem solved. It wasn’t. I phoned Verizon tech support, who eventually acknowledged their incapacity and connected me with Google tech support, which (Verizon should have known) doesn’t talk to consumers. All seemed lost…

…until I got this message from a Google Mobile Help Forum page, which I quote here in its entirety because I am so appreciative.

“OMG I found the problem.  Sync was apparently turned off via the Power Control widget!  This is a really obtuse and unacceptable situation.  The only way to turn this back on is to add the widget back to a screen and click on the round double arrow button so that its enabled.  This is not at all obvious and I accidentally turned sync off and then removed the widget because I didn’t know what the different buttons did (they aren’t labeled).  That is a bad widget design (obscure) and the fact that sync can not be re-enabled (or even detected that its been disabled) from the system configuration menus is not reasonable.  If sync can be turned on & off it should show up under say the Data Manager as a check mark option, it should most definately not only show up as an unlabeled button on an optional widget.

This problem has frustrated the hell out of me for at least two weeks and I’m sure there are plenty of other people who have had this same problem.  Please make changes to this is more obvious to detect and fix via the system configuration menus.”

If you go to your home screen, hold down, and select “add android widget”, and select “Power Control”, then hit the icon second from the right with the arrows in a circle, sync will turn back on.”

Pretty toggles and the Power Widget
The Sync button is second to the right on the Power Widget.

I had deleted my Power Widget because I had nicer widgets to toggle Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and Airplane Mode. And because I had no idea what that yin-yang item did, I assumed (silly me!) that I didn’t need it. Sync must have been off when I deleted the Power Widget, whose name I didn’t know when I deleted it, but even now, knowing, I can’t find documentation about how that sync setting works.

Trust and love restored, my Droid X and I are happy again. Yes, the failure was human, but for once the moral is not RTFM, but WTFM.

Writing is important.

Image courtesy of Gabby Canales via Flickr.

The Last of the ‘Just’

My dentist approached the chair to crown one of my favorite teeth. I am a retired orthopaedic surgeon—and a fearful dental patient. I smiled sadly, and opened.

My dentist approached the chair...

This is just some anesthetic gel, she said, and tucked a swab up where she was going to work. I nodded my understanding. She has good hands; over the years she has done what I have needed done without hurting me much. But I don’t like that ‘just.’

When she removed the swab, I proposed a challenge. Could you get through a day of patients without saying ‘just?’ She grinned. I can get through one patient, she said—but moments later, syringe in hand, she said, This is just the Novocain…

I, too, learned to say ‘just’ to my patients before I did things to them, especially when they were frightened or I thought I might hurt them. My teachers—IV techs, nurses, interns, residents, attending surgeons—set that example, both when we worked on the wards together and when they worked on me. Under the guise of informing the patient of what was coming, they assuaged their own discomfort with causing pain. But saying ‘just’ felt wrong to me, and when I was the patient I experienced such utterances from caregivers as phony, self-serving rather than helpful.

Good old Dr. Anderson, my childhood pediatrician, had white hair, pink cheeks, and rimless glasses. When I needed an inoculation, he absented himself from the room before his nurse wielded the needle. My parents praised that practice to their friends in my presence. The doctor doesn’t want the children to be afraid of him, they explained.

How dumb did they think I was? I knew who had given the order to hurt me, and contemned the adult who presumed not only to cause me pain, but also to deceive me about its author. His employment of another to stick me was the same kind of lie as my dentist’s needle-stick-minimizing ‘just.’

We doctors who do hateful things to patients hold postgraduate degrees in deferral of gratifications, so we believe that the patient’s long-term best interest justifies the pain or humiliation or expense we inflict. Or we mostly believe it. The part of us that fears pain ourselves or shrinks from inflicting it, the part of us our own aggression scares, wants to get past that as quickly as possible and return to being the kind healer everyone loves.

I find that ‘just’ counterproductive because even a child knows better. Unspun information builds better confidence: ‘This is an anesthetic gel to make the needle-stick for the Novocaine hurt less.’ To offer that truth shows the patient respect as it spares him the fear of the bigger, sharper, unqualified whatever-it-is we have up our sleeve—if we can just do it.

Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker.


Try to act normal, my parents said. They meant, behave in a way that will reflect credit on us, and on yourself; try to be better than your instincts; choose the right friends, go to the right schools, raise yourself up in the world. Like others of the time, they said more about how to dress and how to shake hands than they did about instincts or adventure.

Had they offered those sound ideas as hacks and hints, prudent and practical life tactics, my response might have been different, but I heard pronouncements from on high I might not question. I complied, but with resentment, and made poor use of my college education. Yes, it got me into a medical school from where I went on to a surgical career, but I squandered my access to the best thought about big questions like how to live and interesting ones about how things work. Had I only had the courage to take hard courses, to risk learning! But I was afraid to write papers, and I could no more have revealed the truth about what I felt and thought than I could have danced naked on top of a van.

On that safe path of least resistance I acted as normal as I could, until many years later I discovered that I like to write. At first I produced words as copiously as dandruff, and as I did so, I found that clear and concise writing either exposed itself as the nonsense it was, or made the ideas hold still long enough for me to peek underneath them. I wrote fiction because I could hide behind it, and because nothing delighted me more than reading stories. I wanted to seize readers’ emotions the way great writers did mine and pique their curiosity about what strange thing would happen next. I thought that if I wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it, in time someone would publish it.

Mostly, they didn’t. Maybe my mountain of short stories and five finished novels weren’t good enough. I gave up. Whether I had succeeded or failed–and, indeed, how hard I had tried—remain open questions in my mind. Today I find myself less interested in fiction, but I do want to replace the education I slighted by writing about what delights me in the world and what I deplore, what I have found out and what I want to learn, about good ideas even if they’re small, clarity, civility, simplicity, thrift, baking good bread, roasting good coffee, and making friends with technology.

As I slip toward The sunset that awaits us allthe sunset that awaits us all, it’s time. But to step into the blogosphere disquiets me even now. Why not warehouse my words in a corner of my hard disk? Because writing for myself, without readers or response, doesn’t please me anymore. Because I do better with structure, obligation, and the sense that someone may be watching. (My literary dry spell persisted even after I taught myself to touch-type last year, until a friend lured me into NaNoWriMo. Marvelous to relate, I stacked up fifty thousand words of lumber for eventual use before Thanksgiving. Yes, it was typing rather than rewriting, but I ought to be able to post something here once a week.)

If I don’t try, I leave myself open to regret. Should I stumble, I’ll look to your comments. The how-to-blog pages encourage the blogger to rule the comments with a firm hand: I shall.

What delights me, what I deplore, how things work, how to do stuff, how to live. Stories. The truth. If you enjoy it, good; if you learn something helpful, better. On this shortest day of the year, look away as I drop the fig leaf of fiction to slip into the cloak of anonymity.

Hello, World!