Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Become Programmer

Oh Holy Lord, I've gone and done it now. I went and took up yet another useless hobby. I really do wonder what I am up to at times, since I keep surprising myself.

I have continued to think and mull over both my previous entry about wanting a PhD, and also the books I have been consuming about intelligence/giftedness/genius, and I am excited about everything that I learned. Finding out about the concept of "giftedness" was helpful in better articulating the alien feeling that I have all the time when I talk to other people.

Look, I am just very intelligent. I know this. After reading about giftedness online, I even went and tried to take an online IQ test (yes, I know they aren't very accurate, but it was the only thing available.) I scored 128, which puts me in the "mildly gifted" category in terms of the Stanfod-Binet test, and with a few more points I might even touch on the "moderately gifted" category. While that may not be right, it pretty well fits in with my past history; I usually scored very well on standardized tests, but of course, always much better in language and reading comprehension than in mathematics. No surprise there, as that's where I spent most of my time and effort.

I know I am smarter than a lot of the people I spend time with, but I've never been a genius, just a little bit quicker than average. I'm not making any claims to moral superiority or trying to brag, just following this thread. This is both easy to talk about (I secretly feel pretty proud of my smart-ness and it's a relief to be able to sort of say it out loud) and difficult, because it feels like I'm bragging. But, I've already talked about how other people crave BMWs and I crave a PhD, so hopefully this makes sense in that sort of context. I'm trying to figure out what makes me different. (Crazy. When I say different, I hear "crazy" inside my brain.)

OK, so I'm smart, and that's not all that strange. There are a lot of people in this area who have to be at least as smart as me, and I know there are a lot of super-intelligent people out there who far outstrip me, as well.  For example, I work at a semiconductor company, and most of the staff have electrical engineering degrees. They're not exactly dummies. Neither are the executives who run the company, most of whom seem to be quite gifted at business. The problem there is that I have no interest in either engineering or business, other than what I need to know to do my job. I don't have anything to discuss with them most of the time, which restricts our conversation to idle chitchat of the "how was your weekend" sort.

Also, when it comes to my coworkers, I have the additional barrier of cultural differences, since many of my coworkers are from really different backgrounds. Some are immigrants, some are second generation immigrants, and some are just from different socioeconomic levels or various racial and ethnic backgrounds. (Trying to say that without being in any way offensive is no easy task!) But it means we have to do extra work to communicate, because we don't have the same cultural capital to draw from. We're also different ages; most of the company is much older than me and I don't get much change to interact with the few people in my age range.

What I find is that I absolutely do not share any personal information with coworkers except that which presents me as a quote-unquote normal person. I do allude to certain aspects of my intellectual wanderings, like mentioning that I like to read, or that I majored in English. But I certainly don't give any indication about the incredible variety of my interests, my dreams, goals, inspirations, or even my real thoughts. I have to do considerable editing, and I hate to say it, but a lot of "dumbing down," for the people I hang out with at work most of the time. I'm certainly not always comfortable explaining my ideas to people at work, especially ideas that set me apart or make me appear to be counter-culture. It's not accross the board, as sometimes I will get comfortable enough or brave enough to discuss my personal life, as when I would share with a coworker that I was still breastfeeding my toddler. I want to be authentic, but I feel very cautious and guarded, given that my livlihood is dependent on what these people think of me in general terms.

So that's work, and as far as the work itself, it can be difficult, but after a year of practice I can handle most of it without needing to activate any higher level thinking at all. I figured out how most of it worked a long time ago. There's not really any challenge, and certainly not any intellectual growth. I've thought of changing jobs or careers, and even came close a couple of times this year. But I suspect that the same thing will happen at the next place: I will learn the job, and then get bored and restless. I might have to just job hop forever.

I need to get to the point so I can go to bed, but I feel like I've wandered far away from the point and said some things that I don't really like, to boot. I'm just stuck. Let me try to focus again.

Tonight I took up computer programming. Here's my reasoning. One, I'm bored and looking for a challenge. Two, I am curious about the information in the books about genius I have been reading: could I possibly change my life story of "I'm not fluent in math"? Three, my dad and brother are computer programmers, so I can draw on their knowledge. Four, I want to prove to myself that I am as smart as my Dad, my brother, and my programmer friends. Five, if the experiment worked, I might be able to change careers and make more money. Six, I can learn to do it on my own.

The question in my mind is, will I LIKE programming as I get better at it? Can you take something you don't like and practice it and get good at it? How?

Finally, tonight I was over at my brother's house and we started discussing his going back to school to finish his degree. He's already a programmer, and is doing self-study in his own time. I started thinking, "Hey, maybe I could go to night school and get a second bachelor's degree in computer science along with my brother!" For some reason this slightly delusional idea seemed like it might work and be fun. Then I came home and looked up the requirements for UC Berkeley (where my brother would like to go), and it just seemed impossible. I've never made it past Algebra 2 (and I think I got a "C" in that class) and I can't even do simple arithmatic in my head; a CS degree from Berkeley requires Calculus as a PREREQUISITE.

So what- I'm delusional. Last year at this time I was convinced I would go to law school, and I lost interest in that idea when the going got hard. One further question is what on earth is all of this searching all about? After all, I already have two degrees (as I keep having to remind myself) and I have a job, and a family, for heaven's sake. Why can't I just relax and be average? I keep wanting to push my intelligence to the next level. I'm just not content sitting here in my life. I really want a challenge. I want to get good at something. The problem is, no sooner do I reach a base level of competency in something (painting, piano, singing, etc) than I get restless and move on to the next big new thing.

I just know if one theme keeps emerging in my therapy sessions, it's that I long for the company of really smart people, i'm talking about people who are smarter, or maybe the right terms are "better educated," than I am. I want to be learning something. I want to be pushed to the next level, and to be having fun.

I just refuse to sit back and be a passive consumer. I don't want to just read and play games in my spare time and never get good at anything. Watching TV is dangerously fun; it wastes my time (which is why I got rid of our cable connection!) Reading is deceptive because it's how I learn, but it's not getting me what I want. I love to read. It's just that reading is a one-way deal, and I want interactive. I want to give as well as get. It sounds sappy and idealistic. I mean, I sometimes just want to open a bakery... seriously. (This is why I feel delusional!) But what's more elemental than feeding people? So I keep having that idea but like the law school thing, I abandon it because it's incredibly impractical. So it becoming a programmer. It's really silly.

I feel like I'm saying "I want to throw all this over and start from scratch and become a hairdresser." Something equally ludicrous.

As for the programming thing, for the moment it is going to compete with my time for writing in this blog, which is another of my projects. I don't know exactly what's happening. I would call it a midlife crisis, but if so, I've been having my midlife crisis for about ten years now!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Longer, and Probably Still Incorrect

Several of the books I have read recently discuss findings of neuroscience and the plasticity of our brains. From what I have read, the assumption thus far is that genius is some kind of innate quality. Either you have it or you don't. Only, from what I understand now, the innateness of genius is false. Maybe. Related to my last post, I am struggling with skepticism in trying to understand all of these ideas. They feel slippery to me, and as soon as I try to hold on to one it flits away again.

Regardless, according to Malcolm Gladwell's recent book, Outliers, which I taught in my English 1B class at San Jose State University last year, it takes approximately 10,000 hours to excel at something, anything. I never was sure how to react to this information. The whole premise feels wrong on a gut level. But if there is one thing I have learned in the course of my college education, it's to be suspicious of my gut. Sometimes these gut level messages turn out to be cultural undercurrents that I would rather not be swimming in.

Today I read another book called The Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk. It shared similar information to that found in the Gladwell book, only I think it complemented the Gladwell in a nice way by filling in some of the detail and giving me a broader picture of how the 10,000 hours of practice works. I have to admit that this blog is directly or indirectly inspired by Gladwell's book. There is something very hopeful about the idea that hard work, not essential aptitude, might be the key to excellence. I understand that I am oversimplifying the premise of both books, but it's not my intention. Unfortunately the more nuanced understanding that I have of the ideas in these books and others is currently inaccessible to me when writing, which is why I am working on my ability to communicate this understanding through language.

I hardly know where to begin. Let me start with my love obsession affair with reading. I'm 31 years old and have been reading since about the age of four, but for the sake of simplifying the numbers, I will pretend that I was about ten when I started reading in earnest. That would give me about twenty years worth of reading practice. During that twenty years I have read continuously in my spare time, certainly at least an hour per day, and sometimes many more hours per day, so I would have to estimate that by now I have far surpassed the ten thousand hour mark for reading books. However, Shenk's book clarified that the kind of practice required to create what I would refer to as "genius" is a bit more complicated and nuanced than that. It requires, among other things, intrinsic motivation, external encouragement and a supportive environment, and a certain intensity of practice. It would mean constantly pushing the limits of ability, trying to do things that are outside the comfort zone, and shoring up weaknesses.

I think Gladwell touched on this in his book as well, but I'm not sure Shenk did in his book: the more I excelled at reading, improving in speed and comprehension and ability, the more I have grown to love reading, and now crave it and desire it strongly. I read constantly and mostly effortlessly, devouring almost everything I come across, from the trivial to the impossibly difficult. I can hardly get enough. There are not enough hours in my day and my access to books is increasingly limited, dependent on money and time and transportation.

I also find that I am growing increasingly and uncomfortably selective in my reading, as reading things that are poorly written or that express certain ideas that I disagree with can be incredibly transgressive, if that's the right word for it, and feel acutely painful. I struggled with this when I was teaching writing and had to read large volumes of nearly incoherent prose.

I'm bordering on elitism to even talk about this stuff, and it makes me uncomfortable to write: there's the shame thread again, that I keep promising to pick up on. I can't pin it down yet, as maybe I'm not ready to go there.

So lately I find that I have kind of reached many of the goals and milestones that I wanted when I was in my twenties. I am happily married, have two great kids, recently purchased a home, and finished my BA degree, followed by my MA degree, both in comparative literature. I tried teaching and for a variety of reasons that I may go into in another writing (the elusive one on shame) I have abandoned that career path, but I at least have a stable job that currently pays well and allows me to both support my family and with good management, to hopefully get my financial affairs in good order at long last. Here I am.

My job is not providing a lot of satisfaction. I'm looking around me, trying to figure out where on earth to go next. (Thus, the previous post about wishing for a PhD). I continue to crave knowledge and to read voraciously. I long for the company of smart people. I'm bored, basically. Bored silly. So I thought and thought about this, and I came to the conclusion that I should probably give this writing thing another go.

Despite my heavy reading, I have not put a lot of effort into improving my writing. In school I always did well on written assignments. I'm sure that I received plenty of feedback from good teachers over the years, and I wrote enough essays for school to keep in practice. I had a brief stint with my high school newspaper, which scared me off of pursuing journalism at all seriously.  In early high school I had a brief fertile period of writing poetry and fiction but never finished anything; in early college I played at creative writing in a couple of excellent classes, and enjoyed the freedom to experiment. In college I wrote my full share of papers.

I first started to hit the limits of my writing ability at UC Santa Cruz, where I did my upper division college work. I consistently found that my ability to put complex ideas into essay form was not keeping pace with my ability to read and understand complex ideas; it's like being able to see beautiful landscapes in my head but only having the skill to draw in crayons. Although I struggled, I still had the basic confidence that my writing was probably at least as good as the other students in my classes, and at least the professors and TAs were able to provide the right kind of supportive feedback to help me feel like I was not a lost cause. However, as the level of brilliant writing I was exposed to grew, I think it increased my anxiety about writing, to the point where I began having pretty serious writer's block by my last year. It's hard to read fantastic stuff and then to struggle with ideas and compare, and since I had never before in my life had to really struggle to write, I don't think I understood the block or how to get past it. I might have seen it as a sign that I just wasn't good at writing.

The writer's block became particularly intense and painful during graduate school at San Jose State University, where 20 page research papers were standard fare for most of the graduate level classes I attended. Each semester my anxiety increased and my block got worse, but I always managed to get out enough language to meet the bare minimum requirement. There was one semester where I had three papers due at once and had a near disaster with one paper, (I rewrote the entire paper from scratch the day before it was due, and was unable to meet the minimum length) resulting in the only B- grade that I received in graduate school.

After graduate school I believed that I hated writing and that I never, ever wanted to do it again. Isn't it ironic, then, that I ended up teaching writing classes for three years to undergraduate students? As painful as the experience was for me (hopefully not as bad for them!~) it was really good for me in certain ways. One, I had to read a lot of books on the pedagogy of writing and both to understand and teach the steps of the writing process. Two, I learned all about writer's block and learned many strategies for breaking through it. Three, I discovered that however poorly my writing compares with the thoughts in my head, it is nowhere near as bad as the average undergraduate student. Small consolation :)

The other thing it did for me was it kept me in touch with college level reading and writing; in order to teach nonfiction pieces to my students, I had to read and select them each semester and also to spend a great deal of time discussing and analyzing them in class. This was also useful in keeping my intellectual life going.

Put all of this reminicing together with the books I have been reading, and I decided that starting a blog was the best way to practice in order to hopefully, over time, bring my writing skills up to par with my ability to read. My goal is to write pieces on topics of interest to me and to start the long journey toward 10,000 hours of writing. I realize that most of it will be unprofessional or boring, etc. But the first step for me in breaking permanently my old, problematic case of writer's block, is to lower the judgement bar on the quality.

However, if David Shenk's book is right, it won't be enough to just write a lot. I will have to try new things, and push the boundaries of my abilities. I will have to stay obsessed, and not lose interest and float off to other things. I will have to gradually improve over time.

I am hoping that I will fall in love with writing the way I once did with reading. As I wrote in the PhD post, previously, I don't have the life situation to throw caution to the winds and enroll in yet another expensive graduate program. If I maintain this blog and branch out into more challenging and academic material, maybe I can eventually work on writing something worthy of publication, or the equivalent of a research paper, master's thesis, or dissertation. I can do this for free, without the emotional and material commitment of money getting involved.

Shenk's book jarred some memories and opened a few doors. I remember a pivotal moment in my childhood. I don't know how old I was exactly, but I had already found that I could read picture books to myself. Something in me prompted me to select a non picture-book one day and challenge myself to read it. I still have the book carefully preserved in a special box of keepsakes: it was Paddington Bear. I remember that it was a read challenge; that I had to read slowly; that it took me several days. I was proud when I had finished, and I enjoyed the experience. I have vague memories of reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys serials from my school library. I know that by fourth grade I had read Lloyd Alexander and by the end of Fifth grade, finished J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series. At some point in elementary school I was head of the class in speed reading, which was a proud memory.

I like being good at things. I really want to excel at something; I am a great reader, but don't know how to put that to use in and of itself, in isolation. I will set out to excel at writing, too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Brief, and Probably Incorrect

I have been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and also classic novels that I have been getting for free for my eReader. It is odd to read ultra-modern popular nonfiction alongside old novels. I read a lot and the more I am reading together at any given time, the more cross-fertilization there is of the ideas, and they get connected and mixed up in my brain in all sorts of weird ways. I don't usually have an outlet for that sort of thinking.

It did get me thinking about how a lot of what the smartest people of any generation think and take for granted will turn out to be really wrong, especially beliefs about medicine or about social matters. I had to wonder what parts of the things we believe today will turn out to be wrong a hundred years from now. I don't know what information to trust anymore, because so much of what people say to each other is based on assumptions.

I know I am being far too abstract tonight.The thread about shame from the last two writings will need to be picked up, because my therapuetic homework for the month is to reflect on shame.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have a deep, slow desire to go and get a PhD. This is an entirely impractical desire, given my current situation and my real day-to-day life (as opposed to the fantastically unreal imaginings of my mind). Yet every once in a while, like tonight, I do have to acknowledge that it is at least a possible thing. If I really wanted it, I could start making my plans. The idea is not so totally removed from the realm of possibility that it doesn't  haunt me in a loose sort of way. It's just that the line between my most beloved dreams and the limit of what I can physically manage in the "real world" has grown increasingly fuzzy, and I am bewildered.

I meant, as usual, to write about something entirely different, but maybe if I step backward for a moment I can get to the source of the idea. I was just re-reading my last post, and the brief aside about shame really jumped out at me. I suspect that shame is important and I was going to explore the idea of shame, where it comes from, and what it might mean that I sometimes feel ashamed about the way I choose to live. So something about the thought of feeling ashamed made me think of my dream to get a PhD, maybe as the opposite of shame. I think for me this dreamland idea of the PhD represents self respect, satisfaction, and thrilling enjoyment (as opposed to lifeless boredom). Somehow these are the antidotes to shame, to feeling out of place and unwanted. Shame has to do with rule-breaking and being different, maybe even choosing non-conformity. I think for me a PhD is kind of an accepted difference. It's a public representation of intellectual eccentricity.

It also sounds luxurious to me. It feels rich, or maybe even elitist. While other people are out doing menial work, the doctoral candidate is recklessly getting overeducated, gaining excessive, unneccessary, impractical, and esoteric knowledge. (I know this is inaccurate, but I am speaking of feelings now, which tend to exaggerate and idealize.)

All of the abstraction aside, I also am still hopelessly in love with the idea of the perfect job. It's incredibly foolish, as all my practical experience has only served thus far to show me just how useless is all the extra education I already have (and am still paying for).

As an aside, I just mentioned to my husband that I am writing a blog post about how I want a PhD, and characteristically he replied, "pay off all your debt and you can get a PhD." I think he knows that the real life practical realities are by far my weak point (why do you think I want to retreat to the safety of school, after all?) and also that if I were truly serious, that I could put all my effort into getting out of debt quickly so that I could get to my desired goal sooner. He's a smart guy. He wants out of debt probably more than I do, although to be fair, I don't see him offering to bring in any money to help.

Why do I want a PhD? Well, for one thing, my Dad always wanted one and never got to it, so I kind of want it because I know he would approve. For another, it is a status symbol of sorts. It says that you were smart enough to slog your way to it, rich enough to pay for it, and hard working enough to finish it. So it communicates a lot in a small space. But of course, there are plenty of people who would see it as a waste of time, or unfathomable, or just as showing off. To imitate the pedantic old Owl: In a word, impractical. So maybe I should add that I personally respect PhD holders of all stripes, that I personally envy those who have PhDs (in just about any subject so long as from an accredited sort, let's say, a peer-respected university). I know. It's ludicrous. Other people may envy those who can afford diamonds or Mercedes-Benz. I envy... PhDs. I am maddened by people who inherit their cash and can just go right on educating themselves past their first BA in Art History.

I want more education. I'm dying for more. It's driving me nuts. You know, though, what really scares me is that it's just more baloney. I mean, what if this strange and maddening desire to bury myself in books is just a ruse, a cover up for a deeper disturbance? It feels like I am trying to run away from something. I want to dissappear into a univeristy, where I will be safe and coddled and hidden from the adult world of responsibility and respectability and burdensome expectations. What I most want to escape is the endless boredom, the mindless repetions, the petty and mundane routines.

So the reality: I have a family to support. I have a husband who, for whatever reason, is currently not bringing in any income. Although he plans to bring in money in the future when the kids get bigger, neither of us knows for sure what he will do or how he will do it. I don't count on it. Also, I have two children. I need to take care of them and support them. They take up a huge amount of my time and energy, and I am responsible to them for that time and love and attention. I have extended family and friends, a social life, a church. These things also take time and energy and fill up space in my life. I have a job, and need to not only do my work while on the job, but must manage my home life and my health so that I can keep working, and keep my social network at work active in case something happens to my job or my company. I have a home to pay for, bills to pay, and need to pay for things to keep me alive and well and comfortable. I also have past debts to pay, as my husband pointed out.

So all of this to me adds up to my needing to fulfill these responsibilities first and foremost. In essence, I am already committed to an undertaking far more important to me than my flimsy dream of a symbolic degree.

Nevertheless, it lurks in the back of my mind and I can't shake it. I've had other dreams like this before of course, and just as impractical. For a while I wanted to own my own business. Later, I wanted to be a librarian. Last year around this same time, I obsessively planned to go to law school and become a lawyer. When I was younger, I once dreamed of becoming president. I've had all kinds of daydreams and nightdreams and doodledreams.

I guess the PhD thing bothers me more because it's closer to who I already am. Let's acknowledge now that I am a voracious reader, a loquacious talker, a lover of language and story, a seeker of truth, (but unfortunately also a liar!) an idealist, and unconquerably interested in relationships, people, society. Literature, Literary Theory, Philosophy (especially Practical Ethics,) Sociology, and Anthropology are my keenest interests, along with (popular) Neuroscience, Darwinian Evolution (the more user-freiendly bits) Skepticism (Study of Religion & Myth but from an unbelieving standpoint) faint interest in History and Mythology (but eclectic, not mainstream) dabbles in Music and Art (again, generally not the usual interests, however) and also Meditation (Bounce back to Neuroscience), Marriage and Family, and a vague topic I would call Personal Growth (maybe Self-Help?), but mostly, I guess to be honest the subject that interests me most is myself. How pathetic to admit!

How's that for a list. I'm also a biracial hispanic and white, thirty year old woman from a middle class household with family roots in the conservative working-class. I'm an ex-Catholic. I'm a college graduate and a commuter and an urban professional. I'm a working mom and somewhat liberal politically.

So put all that together and somehow I'm talking about identity here. Who do I want to be, to identify with, and what do I want to do, and do I really have the freedom to make the choice? Given the circumstances, and the timing, and supposing I even can do what I would have to do do get the PhD that I want (which I haven't discussed, yet), would it even get me what I am looking for in the end? Or is there maybe another, simpler, more direct route to what I want that doesn't go anywhere near a PhD?

Wouldn't it be funny if I could get self-respect and happiness BEFORE I ever get a PhD? I am assuming I will get one someday if I continue to want one, because at some point the practical realities will change (I will have more money and more time and less debt) and at that point, my strong desire will come to the forefront.

I'm not really much closer to an answer, but at least I wrote another long blog post!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Small House

I recently saw a news story on the Yahoo! main page, mentioning the "tiny house" movement. Apparently these people are radically downsizing by building very very small houses; the pictures accompanying the article show small, custom built cottages usually off by themselves in beautiful, natural settings. The article I glanced at was mentioning the peace of mind that the occupant of a tiny home had come to find.

Since my friend's search for her condo touched the same sort of chord in my own thinking, I thought it would be a good topic for me to struggle with next. I never knew this writing could be so difficult; no sooner do I pick a topic than I end up entirely muddled in my thinking. I intend to slog on and hope it gets better as I keep practicing.

I wrote here recently about the fact that I and my family live in a one bedroom condo, six hundred seventy some-odd square feet. (I'm not so good with exact numbers). As I said before, it's really from economic necessity and not from choice. I have no doubt that if my husband were working and making a salary at all like mine, that we would upgrade by at least a full bedroom. And my life plan currently still has as a goal "3 bedroom house by 2014," and at least on paper, I still endeavor to make it happen.

But I do have to ask myself if it's worth my while. Because I am beginning to believe on a gut level what I have always heard and read, the physical equivalent of the cliched saying, "Money won't buy you happiness." I believe it but simultaneously act in contradiction; it's as if a devil and angel from the old cartoons are sitting on each shoulder. I'm troubled with conflicting desires, and nothing wins out except maybe cognitive dissonance and self deception. Maybe it's just attachment to my first home, but there's only one good reason I can think of for moving into a bigger home than this one: so I can fit more people into it!

My husband wouldn't be thrilled about an idea like that one, and I admit that I wan't thinking too much in that direction. But it's been an odd sort of day and I'm tired, and my brain is off into uncharted territory, so I'll drop a little bit of  the intended formality of these pieces and chase this doggy down.

What makes me think of fitting more people, to begin with, is a notice I saw in my local Starbucks this evening asking for foster parent volunteers. My thought was that even if we wanted to be foster parents (and I am 100% sure that my husband does NOT want to be a foster parent, especially not at this present moment) we would no doubt be disqualified by the simple fact that we don't have enough space. The social workers who would check us out might question our judgement at having the two kids we already have crammed into one bedroom with the both of us, much less our judgement in believing we could fit anyone else.

I am constantly perplexed by a feeling of shame at this, but perhaps that's a different kettle of fish entirely; this isn't about that particular shame.

So let me take this in a different direction for a moment. My parents have a three bedroom, two bathroom house, and they share a single bedroom, leaving them with an office and a guest room. My in-laws have a three bedroom house that they share with my brother-in law, and their spare room is also an office. I suspect that many of the very nice houses in this neighborhood are similar, with many people that I know having several extra bedrooms devoted to various uses. The people I know all feel fully entitled to their houses and their "extra" rooms. No one I know finds this the least bit odd, and I have a hard time being critical of their attitude. This is complicated.

 I'm not trying to imply that the people I know and love are wrong or that they choose wrongly, so writing about them in this way is hard to do gently, gingerly.

It's that the area I live in is undoubtedly affluent; the people I know have space, in their homes, yards, gardens, property, backyard pools. They buy things they don't need; no criticism exactly, because I do it, too. I am not as well off as many of my friends and family members, but I have the potential to be. It could be partly envy speaking, a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. I have to admit that that layer is there. It's more a values question, for me. So I'm not as affluent as some of the people I know; yet clearly I'm better off than a lot of the people I meet and interact with every day, and I am indisputably wealthy compared to a subsistence farmer in Haiti, a beggar in India, or a drug addict on the streets of San Francisco.

Put that way, I have more than I need. I therefore question my own train of thought. Because what am I choosing to do with MY affluence NOW?

That said, I still can't help but slip back into old habits and the previous train of thought. If I am wealthy, how much wealthier are the people who surround me? And what should they be doing?

But that's too abstract. I started with the tiny house movement, so let me reanchor there. I already have a "tiny house" by my standards (which I realize are distorted by the values around me).

Another thought occurs in that the wealth is not wrong or bad in and of itself. I live in a prosperous and above all, peaceful world. It's quite beautiful, in some ways. I just can't shake the feeling that beneath the surface of this are some darker truths. If I am to commit myself to truth-seeking, then I have to look underneath, no matter the consequence.

Back to my condo. I said it was small by my standards. I believe this is a good thing, a healthy thing. My neighbors will not envy me, for example. I am not causing them to need to keep up with me. It falls into the delightful category "live by example." My family does fit. We adapt. This week I have been reading a book called Throw out Fifty things; I, in my tiny house, am struggling to pare down even more. I wasn't successfull today, even after reading and thinking and keeping it all the back of my mind all day. Our attachment to stuff is mighty powerful. Even telling myself "you can buy it again if you need it," doesn't make it any easier.

If I HAD the extra room, would I really use it for another child? It's one of those hypotheticals that can only lead me to shake my head and say, "it depends."

I don't have a satisfactory conclusion to this one. I guess I feel that the tiny house movement is misguided; I have to wonder if these people shouldn't just get themselves an apartment or a condo like mine?