On “One Piece”

Sorry for a short, kinda fluff-y ramble this week. I’m working on a longer and more interesting post, partnered with a partner, but it’s not going to be done in time to post, so I’m writing this up instead.

“Anime was a mistake.”

It’s a troll, fictional quote, but a lot of people agree with it, and you can fairly easily get even more people to agree if you bring up One Piece. With an incredibly long backlog and lack of certain kinds of depth, one can be forgiven for thinking that One Piece was a mistake, one that’s acquired far more money and fandom than it deserves. I won’t try to argue that it’s deep and thought provoking, or that it doesn’t require an inordinate amount of time to be an active fan of.

What I will argue, and this hill I will die on, is that One Piece is great. Not everything has to be the Rifters trilogy, or Madoka Magica, or Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s okay for something to just be fun, to be about enjoying yourself and having a good time and setting down your cares for a while without worrying that a character will be [REDACTED] and then killed.

Really, it is.

I think there’s a certain tendency to dismiss things that don’t confront serious themes like this constantly as, “kid stuff”, and you can take it that way, but what’s wrong with kid stuff? When did we decide that to be an adult meant having to give up simple pleasures? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Madoka Magica, but it’s okay to not always be thinking about self-annihilating sacrifice in your entertainment time. It’s even good for you, in ways that I’ll tie back here in upcoming pieces.

Aside from that, One Piece does have valuable lessons. Important ones, that it’s easy to lose sight of, being an adult, especially a grim and serious one.

Quick diversion – /r/egg_irl. It’s a subreddit of memes involving people denying being trans, trying to shove it off and be something else or claim they can just bury it and they’ll be fine or whatever. I was browsing it the other day and thinking about some people I know who think that it’s a negative influence, spreading the trans viral meme to people who wouldn’t have had it otherwise.

I don’t know enough about the etiology of being trans to say they’re wrong in all cases, although I didn’t catch it from anything like this. I realized my gender was broken, and then I went researching and found out about transness. I think for at least some people /r/egg_irl and other ways people become aware of being trans and what it’s like are great!

Why?

Because it’s helpful to get it rammed into your skull from several angles that, “HEY STUPID THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF YOU REALLY NEED TO LOOK AT”. I spent a few hours one evening talking to a close friend, about her feelings about things, and encouraging her to really look instead of pushing her desires aside, at the end of which she acknowledged that she was in fact trans, and started acting on it. She’s much happier now, to the best of my knowledge.

Why am I talking about a trans meme subreddit in a post on One Piece?

I watched ~ 600 episodes of One Piece during the Lost Decade and it kept ramming into my thick skull that, “HEY STUPID THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF YOU REALLY NEED TO LOOK AT” and eventually I did.

The thing that really got through to me was Nico Robin’s pre-timeskip arc. There’s a scene that I find really powerful, with the Straw Hats on one side of a gorge talking to Robin on the other. Luffy demands that if Robin is going to choose to die, that she *tell him so*, in a way he’ll believe. Confronted with evidence that there are people in the world who care about her, enough to go to war with the world, people who want her to exist, she cries out words the World Government has declared taboo for her – “I WANT TO LIVE!

I fell to thinking about how I’d love a place on the Going Merry / Thousand Sunny, to have friends like that, to have a dream to be pursuing. To have comrades and a quest. When I looked, really looked, in the way I later urged my friend to, there was a well of pain and void deep enough that it hurts now to reflect on.

I wanted to have people that I would lay down my life for, without a regret.

I wanted to have something that I wanted so badly that it wouldn’t matter if I died pursuing it, because it was what I wanted.

I wanted these things so badly that running that memory brought me to the edge of tears again now.

So dismiss One Piece because the characters aren’t rent with agony one way and another over every decision they make.

Deride it because it’s happy and colorful and silly, if you must.

But don’t you dare say it has no redeeming value. It taught me that I did want a community, that I did want a dream. This realization pushed me into joining Wildstar again and eventually saved my life. It led me to be standing where I am now, in Berkeley, with comrades brave and true, and it led me to hold the dream that I can matter, that I can help save the world. Value, and to spare.

Colorado Dreamin’ (wait…)

When I left off last week, I had just quit the only job I’ve held longer than a year at a time, broken a decade long silence with my mother, and given my cat and Martina’s to someone who could take them in. I packed what I owned and UPSed it, and got on a plane.

This was all pretty scary, and going to Colorado was as well; with the noted bug with long-term employment, and my stellar educational history (for those of you who haven’t been keeping score at home, I have neither a high school nor college diploma) I was pretty worried about picking up work, but while I wasn’t sure of my future, I knew my past couldn’t continue, and one of my valuable qualities, I think, is being able to recognize that, and then to start walking.

So I walked onto a plane, and went further from “home” (The Pioneer Valley) than I’ve ever been, into the home shared by, as I mentioned, my guild leader: Dread Mistress Verana Bloodrose, Our Lady of Fluids and Flowers, Savior of Patio Furniture, First of Her Name, and Gray (no titles) who kindly offered me space without immediately demanding rent – I paid rent while I had money left, and when I ran out, they went so far as to buy me food and other desirables.

At the time I was an officer of The Final Frontier, and the main tank in our raiding. I spent ~ ten hours a week being out in front and getting pounded on for the common good, and a lot of the remaining hours ingame either talking, giving advice, or doing stuff to advance the guild.

So I spent the rest of October and November recovering from sleep deprivation and the stress I’d been under, and starting to apply to jobs. In December Blood got a job offer from a company known then as Vantiv, later to be bought out by WorldPay, and I think they just go bought out again by some other player in the space. I applied to them using her as a reference / referral, and was hired myself to a training started in February.

Aside from the commute it was in many ways the best job I’d held. I was making more hourly than I ever had, and I had paid leave. PCAs can’t even get paid for all of the hours we were actually doing things, so you can imagine how novel being paid not to be there was.

As to the commute, I rode with Blood while we were both in training, and after that I biked – 8 miles each way, and while Colorado is gorgeous, it is not flat. But I had the Animas River trail to follow most of the way – I often saw deer, and once I had the experience of being scared silly by seeing a bear cub (Where’s the mother where’s the mother where’s the mother PEDAL HARDER). I saw meteors in the predawn starscape, and I saw a mountain burning at one point. There was even a certain amount of pride to take in being able to ride 16 miles a day – I’ve now biked a distance equivalent of coast to coast in less than a year.

For six weeks, I trained in how to handle incoming calls – where to send the ones that weren’t for me in technical support, and the many ways credit card readers and reporting can go awry and what do to about it. I remained gung-ho about my employment through this time.

in the following months, there was a slow decline in my work satisfaction. People I enjoyed working with departed, and I found as the novelty wore off , it honestly wasn’t a very good job. with the local cost of living, the pay was actually fairly poor, and when confronted on this, management took the stance that to live in Durango was a privilege and it was unreasonable to expect to be well-paid, too. I learned that having a business, even a reasonably successful one, was no guarantee of intelligence or civility, and that I, as technical support, would often bear the brunt of people’s frustration at being confronted with technology they didn’t understand, and distrusted.

What I didn’t realize until later is that another factor, one that I think was the heaviest, is that the work I was doing didn’t really improve anything. It mattered little in any real sense if I were there or not – the wheels of commerce would grind on regardless; I wasn’t actually improving the world.

Around midsummer, I started looking for other outlets. Gaming wasn’t satisfying, and neither was my work, any longer. I had been lightly following the rationality community for some time – I often had some bit of the Sequences as the comment seen by hovering over my name on the instant messenger at work, when I wasn’t quoting CGP Grey. I’ve read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality more times than I’ve read Worm, and I think that says a lot – I really love Worm. I decided to get actually connected, and I joined the discord linked to from Slate Star Codex, which I think is a source of some truly excellent posts.

From there, I made friends, which led, in a fairly reasonable series of steps, to joining (a synthetic syncretic religion|a cult) – Origin. With the aim of destroying all evil in the universe, we were not thinking small, at least. Origin was an attempt to build a self-reinforcing, self-extending memeplex that would grow to be embraced by the world at large.

While it failed in that goal, it did evoke some changes in me. I started reducing my meat consumption, and I started to think I had a place in the efforts to save the world – not a leading role, but for quite some time I had considered myself a sergeant or lieutenant in the the world – someone whose role was to assist, to help another or others to achieve the goals they set.

I started spending less time gaming – clearing a night to make Origin meetings, and thinking about the state of the world more when previously I had chatted in guild and public channels. I started thinking of the world as something I had to do something about, and not just something that happened to me.

My lack of focus on the game had costs – anothe player, who did nothing but tank, was better than me and wanted my role, and I didn’t have enough focus to fight her, but I also didn’t want to be supplanted. Painfully, though, I had to admit that I couldn’t outtank her, if she chose to, and I stepped down.

Other changes – Gray decided he wanted to move on from Durango, and Blood wanted to move on from Vantiv. He went across the state, and she went across the country to be with her partner in California. I found a place with some other co-workers, smaller but closer to work and cheaper. I started looking at ways to advance inside the company, but it felt hollow to pursue more money, and I did little about it.

One morning in October I woke up in agony. My right piriformis muscle had cramped, and my right leg was a construct of broken glass and molten lead connected to nerves. This was not a condition I could ride into work in, and I ended up spending more than a week out, spent mostly lying on the floor in agony and waiting for the muscle relaxants to work. To this day part of my right leg is numb from the damage done.

This almost seemed to be an inflection point. All of the joy had gone out of working, and it was just a pure drag. I was grinding for money that was barely paying the bills and that I’ve never really had the same kind of draw to that most people seem to, and it just wasn’t enough. I wanted Out.

I had a conversation with Mark (previously mentioned in The Hell Year) about this, and he told me that he could give me a live-in position with him. At the time, it seemed like PCA was the only job I was going to be able to hold in any lasting way, so I jumped for it. I put in my two weeks notice, I informed my landlord that I’d be going, and then I started trying to plan the trip. I asked Mark for dates to plan around, and got back empty assurances – things world work out, he was just a little busy.

Finally, while I was visiting my parents, I gave him an ultimatum – that if I didn’t hear back in the next two days, I’d need to figure something else out.

Ne never responded, and I was left with no job, a very temporary living space, and no plan. However, it might have occurred to you, reading this narrative, that I am lucky. I had not long before started a new relationship with my current primary, and he had an answer for me:

Go to California.

Go to Berkeley, find the community there, and get connected up.

He would pay my way, and I would do worthwhile things.

This was the start of the most recent, most interesting, and all around best segment of my life thus far, and I’ll start detailing the first subsection next week.

Book Review – The Age of Overwhelm

The Age of Overwhelm was not the book I was anticipating. I have a folder into which I put books I place a high value on having read, which I sometimes read books from – setting myself up to regularly review a new book has helped with this somewhat, but there is some backlog, at this point.

I pulled Age of Overwhelm up expecting a book on how our modern age has us constantly (checks her email to see what the new message light is for) breaking our attention to focus on something else demanding we pay our attention to it – facebook messages, discord pings, email. Instead, the book is largely about emotional overwhelm – that state when everything is just too damn much, and you either find some escape, or melt down.

Certainly Age of Overwhelm does an excellent job characterizing the issue – we are provided with example after example of people in overwhelming situations, from the increasing hospitalization of suicidal teenagers, to activists who watch their causes become ever worse as they try to make them better, or even hold steady. One particularly striking example is given from the life of someone dedicated to preventing gun violence. Her son observed a Breaking News feed about a mass shooting, and reported to her, “Mommy, you failed at your job.”

Far less space seems to be given to how to meliorate these issues. We are again shown ways to become overwhelmed, and there are moments where solutions are discussed – taking space, getting exposure to nature, being less attached – but the book focuses so much more heavily on overwhelm and being overwhelmed, that these seem like more of an afterthought than the primary subject matter.

It’s rare to find a self-help book that spends more page space on why you need the help, than on the help. For the first third of the book, I didn’t recall seeing any help – so much so that I decided to actively look for it. While there are sentences and paragraphs describing ways to be less whelmed, on the whole it seems more like a study of the state of affairs, than a text aimed at improving things.

Perhaps the author found the subject matter a bit overwhelming herself – certainly there is a great deal of pain in the world that Laura van Dernoot Lipsky brings us to look at. Having read it, I find myself questioning if it is necessary for us to live in this way.

I’ve always been a strong extropian accelerationist – I think the sooner we get to fully-automated luxury gay space communism, the better. I’m not as convinced we need to be breaking ourselves along the way. Those who’ve known me through my recent personal changes may find this somewhat surprising – I often challenge myself to get more done in a day.

I also try to spend part of every day playing the violin. I game, still, somewhat irregularly – I was until recently active in a D&D campaign. I have a Fallout – A Tale of Two Wastelands save no more than weeks old. While I’ve taken the motto of Boxer to heart (“I will work harder!”) and find myself chanting along with Watsky about the moral of the story (“Work! Work! Work! Work! Work!”) I recognize, on some level, the need to play, to goof off, to relax. To get your chill on.

Age of Overwhelm makes a strong case that, as a society, we’ve lost sight of this vital human need. “We are game-playing, fun-having creatures, we are the otters of the universe.” I think we lose sight of this at our peril, and Age of Overwhelm makes an excellent case that we are imperiled indeed.

On Dreams and Dreaming

There was a time I didn’t dream.

I say “a time”, but in fact, for the majority of my life I did not dream, in either the general or metaphorical sense.

I was a heavy user of marijuana, and a heavy user of caffeine, and that certainly accounts for the poor sleep quality that led to a lack of dreams at night. Once I quit thc, caffeine, stimulants, and other psychoactives, I’ve dreamed every night since.

Dreams of the night are odd. I’ve read that they’re for memory consolidation, for working out issues that the day brings, and for improving skills. I keep dreaming about being a cape, a superpowered human. I’m not sure what to take from this. It’s certainly true that I want to save the world, but it’s not as though I can expect to fly, or fight other capes to do so. Likewise, I am unlikely to be a bender, and manifest fire or throw rocks to that end. I’m not sure what the point of any of this is except to grind ever deeper, “Be a hero. Be a hero. Be a hero.”

The dream (ambitions) sense is a bit harder to explain. Hard to explain isn’t really the correct way to say that, unless I include the sense in which it is difficult for me to type these words, in preparation to putting them out for the world to see; the explanation is quite simple: cowardice. I had no ambitions, because to have ambitions was to invite a great deal of work into my life to achieve them, and to invite the risk of failure. To allow the possibility of putting in the work, and not achieving my dreams regardless.

Certainly, any time we form an ambition, this is a possibility. Some things are limited as to how many people can do them – there can be only one first human on the moon, or Mars. There are only so many slots open on the Lakers. There’s only one President at a time.

Others are talent or other ability limited – there are few blind great painters, few (unacquired) deaf composers, almost no paralyzed jugglers. How many teenagers have acquired a guitar, dreams of being the next Hendrix in their minds, only to learn that their ambition exceeds by far their native talent.

I’ve been thinking a fair amount about this lately, and worrying that I don’t have the talent to achieve my dreams. If you don’t know, I want to do meaningful work on the alignment problem – I want to help making artificial intelligence that wants the same kind of outcomes that humans want, as opposed to filling the universe with paperclips or tiny molecular smiley-faces or orgasmium or something. It’s not easy work, and I’m coming to it at a disadvantage – it’s not like dropping out of college twice puts you in a great place for this. Staring at math books and feeling stupid, I wonder if I’m mad to have taken up this ambition.

There are times I am vexed that the world is in such a state that I feel called to save it. I derive a lot of pain from thinking about the state of things. It’s not that…

As I’ve said, I’m grateful that, if such a time is going to have happened in the universe, I’m here, to do something about it. I think were I born into the Culture I would go through life kind of dissatisfied. I want to matter, I just don’t know if I can get there.

On the whole, regardless of the pain, I’m glad I learned to dream. It hurts not to know if I can measure up, or worse, the days I think I know that I can’t, but the grey times, with no dreams by day or night, I think they were worse. Waiting for time to pass, so that something interesting happened out in the world to hear about, or a new book I could read came, those times were so much less than now, having something to work for, a dream to chase. The pain if I can’t?

Hurts.

But it’s still better than the sucking void of the grey days.

If you’re afraid to have dreams, because of the fear of missing, and plunging into that pain, my advice is to risk it. Put yourself where the pain is a possibility, because to hide from it is so much worse.