Leapdragon 2014 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Phase one is done. Let the hijinks begin.  §

1) Two thousand seven hundred and forty-six.
2) Seventeen.
3) Sixteen hundred.

#1 = The number of posts now online on this blog.
#2 = The number of years represented.
#3 = Approximate number of printed pages represented.

— § —

That’s right, a full seventeen years of my personal blog, now for the first time all wrapped into one single WordPress database dating back to 1999.


– All previous Leapdragon entries.
– All Leapdragon § Academe entries.
– All entries from side project Defarge/Knit! from 2004 that were written by me.

Three raw HTML entries from the 694 of that period (1999-2004) were lost. I’m not sure which ones, but the parser I hacked up tonight to comb through them and toss the results into a CSV that I could import choked on three. I didn’t bother to find out which ones. That’s a 0.04% loss rate, which is acceptable to me on a project of this size that I want done now.

Also, about 3-4 of the Defarge/Knit! posts got truncated in mid post. That’s okay. They’re interspersed throughout the first half of 2004. Most of the Defarge/Knit! posts were about anger and drugs and life in the University of Chicago pressure cooker and so they’re incoherent and borderline insane. Which is fine, because that’s what Defarge/Knit! was about. So it’s not like you can tell anyway.

And of course, the farther back you go, the looser consistency and style get. I’m integrating platforms that had no graphics styling with some that did, at various image sizes. Some with titles, some without. Some with timestamps, some without.

— § —

In fact, there is a certain amount of risk to all of this. Over seventeen years, particularly at the beginning, there is much here that is:

– Naive
– Embarrassing
– Vile
– Profane
– etc.

But it is all me and who I have been. And it is time to own it and put my name on it because without realizing it, this is one of the four biggest things I’ve ever done, the other three being:

– Marriage and kids
– Ph.D.
– My oeuvre of books

So to deny it would be tremendously uneconomical. Plus, I’m tired of hiding from myself and who I was last year with each new year that appears.

— § —

Next step: Slide this all back over to Leapdragon.net where it belongs, and redirect from aa-hsiao.net/leapdragon-2014, after some updates to the theme.

Also, one bug: Some of the merged data was created without timestamps because my code (in the pre-CMS days) didn’t bother to ask for timestamps, only datestamps. Those currently show as midnight posts. I need to write some code that looks for the precise 00:00:00 timestamp and, if present, instead shows “unknown time” or something similar for the timestamp.

But that can be done later. I just need to remember. Which is why I’m mentioning it here.

— § —

Yes, I am aware that it is well after 3:00 in the morning.

That’s okay when you have wild piles of blog stuff to do.

I feel good.

And now—now I can go to bed.

Thoughts and feelings threatening.  §

I am in dangerous waters today. I don’t want to be, but I am.

The one thing that therapy can’t address is the most fundamental: what you want.

We are both attending together, but we are not necessarily together in the fundamentals.

Sometimes, it worries me.

Sometimes, it makes me feel strong.

When it makes me feel strong, I worry even more.

— § —

Or, as I find out as I’m writing this post, perhaps we are.

What is wrong with me?

Now we’re getting somewhere.  §

What’s cooler than cool?

The fact that all public posts from December 2004 through present are now online in this incarnation of the blog. In one database. In one place.

That’s about 1,948 posts right now.

Chalk one up for data longevity.

— § —

The posts from 1999-2004 are in raw HTML files. They will be harder to migrate, but that’s next. There will be a lot of parsing, fidgeting, and cleaning ahead.

But we’ll get ‘er done.

— § —

There has been a certain amount of data manipulation done already to get posts from multiple blogs, with multiple stylings, and multiple CMS systems (Graymatter, Drupal, then WordPress) all together into one WordPress database. There has also been a certain amount of by-hand TLC.

But we should be in pretty good shape.

— § —

Once I get the archives back to 1999 online as posts in this database, I’ll begin working on some other stuff that needs to be done:

– Either AJAX scrolling for monthly archives or just showing each month at once when selected
– While still limiting the number of posts on the landing page
– Actually building a landing page
– One that looks the same but that gives me some spaces to build out persona stuff
– Shifting the whole mess back over to the leapdragon.net domain where it f**king belongs
– and so on.

But, as I said, we’ll get ‘er done.

Documentary evidence.  §

PBS Frontline is the best show on television, and has been for decades now, bar none. It is a program that can truly be said to be remarkable in every way.

The world would be a better place if more people watched it, or even were simply aware of it.

— § —

It may be that a few people are strong enough to use Facebook as themselves, with honesty and integrity, but I am not one of them.

For most, myself included, it is impossible to post on Facebook without an awareness of audience, without letting “what other people will think” affect what is said and shared.

And at that point, you are not an individual actor expressing yourself in the world; you are a puppet being made to dance for and by the crowd.

— § —

I envy the people that “make history.” I don’t mean the Important Men of history necessarily. Just those that have managed to master or to discover their own agency to the effect that they are unbound by the chains of process, convention, and rote production, and that instead move about in space and do things, even if those things are little things.

Someday I would love to be one of those people, though I doubt whether I ever will be.

Asking for what you want, rather than for what is “right.”  §

Finished reading The Lost Art of Listening last night. One paragraph that jumps out at me right now:

“One reason others argue with us in a way that seems to negate our feelings is that we blur the distinction between our feelings and the facts. [We] try to cloud motives and bolster argument by appealing to shoulds. when argue with what [we] say instead of what [we] mean, [we] feel rejected.”

I do this. My wife does this. And I can totally see it. Which is tremendously ironic, because I used to tell her all the time:

“If you really want something or want me to do something, please just tell me that you want it. Because if I know that you want it, I’ll do it!”

But of course then I would continue to do the appeal to authority thing anyway, and so would she:

“I think we ought to X because of research says Y and Z and also because of cost factor A.”
“Everybody knows that when you do Q, it’s embarrassing and juvenile.”

And the obvious responses?

“Sources Y and Z are faulty, and cost factor A is irrelevant.”
“Everybody? Here are ten exceptions from my own circle of friends who disagree with that position.”

It’s like devaluing yourself, begging someone not to pay attention to you. Eyes glaze over. Why do we do this? It’s like some deep-seated inadequacy. They can’t possibly care about me enough to do something just because I want it. (Or maybe, it’s an accumulation of old slights? Interesting thought.) So I’ll frame it in objective reasoning terms instead.

When in fact, it’s much more persuasive if your significant other just tells you they really, really want something because, well… want!

You love this person. Want? I’ll get! I’ll do!

And yet the book is absolutely right. People—certainly us—do this “appeal to objectivity” and “appeal to authority” thing instead that totally leaves you cold, and that also leaves a big opening for debate about facts.

Gotta wake up and smell the coffee and just ask for what you want from the people that are most interested in giving you what you want.

Toughness.  §

People that say they’re tough tend not to be very tough in the end.

Actually tough people don’t want it put about that they’re tough before it’s needed. The less everyone knows, the better. If everyone knew you were tough, it would kill the advantage that toughness gives you.

That’s what you learn on the playground, and you learn it pretty early.

Don’t be afraid of the tough guys. Be afraid of the quiet guys that don’t flinch.

Shut up and dance.  §

I was in the fifth grade. Ten years old? Eleven? In the Equip program, which would later be retired as semi-private extensions to the public school system for the “gifted” kids became controversial.

We were dancing in a performance for our parents, everyone in Mrs. Hooper’s fifth and sixth grade combined classroom.

I had my hair slicked back, a black leather jacket and rolled up jeans. Leather shoes. We’d spent weeks learning to dance the jitterbug like proper kids of the period, listening to period music, reading period works and period news. Now here we were, dancing on stage.

I’m not much of a natural dancer; there was and is zero dance and very little music in the cultural DNA of my mixed highly-religious-highly-Asian family. But on this occasion—on this occasion I was feeling it. The outfit, the music, the lights, the immersion had all come together to embed me in the period and in the moment.

And then my hair started to flop around. A little bit at first, and then a lot. The spell was breaking; I no longer felt like Chinese Fonzie so much as like a kid in the fifth grade getting embarrassed on stage. I started to stumble. I said to my partner, mid-song, “My hair’s breaking loose! Oh shit, is it bad?!”

Molly Gallivan. She was in the sixth grade and pretty, so she had a natural authority in that moment as we kept our feet moving and our hands clasped. She used it.

“Shut up and dance. Just shut up and dance!”

And so we did.

Out of the mouths of babes. Funny where the wisdom that we take for granted in our lives comes from, when you get a moment to reflect on it.

So what now?  §

The thing that happens next in my life is all about this blog. No, that’s not a metaphor, that’s in fact the case.

I need to get the archives integrated, and merge this with my “home page” and resume stuff somehow. It pains me to leave out all the behind-the-scenes content (for example, the 2011 blog had a massive, complex Drupal backend into which I poured research notes, quotes, citations, papers, and a million other things, more advanced than anything DevonThink has ever put together) but that’s too massive a conceptual task to figure out. So I’ll get all the old public material integrated, and merge it with my persona content.

Then, I need to sit down and have a long, long read. A read of myself, what I’ve written. My own path.

Somehow, I feel like that’s the next step. I’m turning 40. It’s the right moment. Time for a personal life-in-review before I try to figure out what’s next.

It will take a while. Already when I printed this out once in 2005 intending to do this, it was about 1,100 pages. Now it will be longer. But it is what it is. It needs to be done.

And then?

And then…

I know why.  §

I know why I don’t ask questions in conversation that open paths for further discussion, but rather shut it down.

Because when the people I want to be closest to close themselves off in response and don’t answer—when the answer is an emotional wall—it kills me.

So best to take what I can get and accept it (“that’s great”) rather than ask a question that’s hoping for a ten-paragraph answer and get a one-word answer with the smell of finality about it instead.

It’s another defense mechanism. It comes out when I know they won’t share themselves with me anyway, generally because they have repeatedly said no already, which I can’t argue with, and each time, I have had a river to drink afterward. And at some point, you have to be kind to yourself and stop beating your head against the rather innocent pavement, which is only being what it is.

There are some defense mechanisms you can’t let go of. They’re there because you actually do need to be defended in order to be okay. Because you need to exercise some self care and stop trying to be close if other people just want to be farther away.

— § —

But is it really me, these feelings, or is it a momentary “cognitive distortion?”

Will the real me please stand up?

And is the real me sustainable in all of this?

Is she going to “lose me” after all? I hope not. I wish things were easier. I wish I was the person that she needed right now.

But I need to stay the person that I need me to be. That’s the long and short of it.

It’s just me here.  §

That’s the thing. The thing that has to be faced. The thing that makes the sky spin.

The shirt.  §

Well let’s see, how quickly can I put this thing to bed?

Never fast enough, it seems.

Regrets, regrets.

Blogs, money, fatigue, Bowie.  §

This morning I feel young. I took off my jacket and I felt as though my shoulders and arms were the same as they have always been, as they were when I was 20.

They’re not, of course. But they felt that way. It was nice.

— § —

Some people make money doing this kind of thing. They sell advice online through their blogs and earn a living doing it.

I could never do that.

They do it a bit differently, of course. Their properties are presented in such a way as to support ad money and social sharing, and they focus and hone their “articles” for impact and for Facebook-friendly headlines.

Thing is, most of them have f**ked up lives themselves. At best, ups and downs. At worst, their blogs are a weird amalgam of “I am completely off the beam and full of mistakes in everything I try to do. So here’s what you should do.”

I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I couldn’t presume to give advice to anyone who didn’t find me and ask for it. Even then, I’d include a disclaimer.

“I seriously don’t have anything figured out. I mean, look at my life. Are you sure you want advice? Come back in an hour and ask me again, when you’ve had a chance to think about it.”

— § —

Last night I stayed up and did some data migration. I now have all entries from 2004 to mid-2009 and from mid-2011 to present in a single database. I’ve exported a bunch of Drupal nodes from previous versions. That’ll get me mid-2009 through mid-2001.

By tonight, hopefully, I’ll have mid-2004 through present all online in one place. That will leave the raw HTML blogs from 1999 through 2003 to cope with. I don’t think I still have the source files for those (the HTML files were actually rendered by a shell script from a fairly simply formatted text database, my own code back then). So I’ll have to do some parsing and cleanup.

Maybe by the middle of next week, I will have one blog that contains all of my public blogging from November 1999 through January 2016 all in one big timeline.

— § —

Why now?

Because now I’m brave enough to do it. And there is an opening.

– My academic career is likely not going to happen, having suffered suicide
– My wife is not living with me and isn’t sure at times that she likes me anyway
– I am in the middle of a massive self-teardown and self-rebuild
– There is still every chance that my life circumstances will fall apart
– So, in short, I do not give two s**ts about caution

It is time to own up to myself, to own up to it all, in front of the whole world, and see what we have here. What is salvageable, and what it means for where I should go. There’s no point in trying to obfuscate any longer.

My wife never liked some parts of me, including the blogging parts, since they were somehow dark and unreassuring. But right now she’s often not seeing any part of me as reassuring, at the very core of things, so what’s to hesitate about any longer? This is me. It is the me she married, and she knew it, and she read, and she married me anyway.

So after years of not doing this, I’m back to doing this and owning this.

— § —

It’s when I’m working on this, which is turning out to be something of a life’s work, the only one I really have, that I have sustained throughout my adult life, that I hear music in my head. The rest of the time, I live a basically music-free existence these days. It doesn’t fit anywhere, and marketing (day job) and kids (night life) don’t really lend themselves to beat drops.

But here—here, when I type—all I hear is music. Silent, internal. Insistent.

David Bowie right now. Maybe David Bowie forever. I continue to feel a kind of awe at his work, now that he’s gone. I wonder what it was like to be him, what he thought about when he was alone looking out a window for a moment, how he felt about his life and career. The meta of it all.

— § —

Chicago is a dream. Los Angeles is a dream. Portland is a dream. New York is a dream.

There are a thousand dreams in my life, things that I totally made up, complete fictions that were obviously never real. The story of my Ph.D. The story of my life as an editor. The story of my M.A. The story of my travels up and down the west coast. The story of my life as a Linux guy. The story of my life as a professor. The story of my life as a small mixed-race kid on the west side of Salt Lake City. The story of me.

Light reading, unfocused writing, something to peruse when you don’t have anything else to do, late at night.

But they’re all here, in this anthology of short stories starring the same flawed, often unlikeable character.

It’ll never be published—the quality, focus, pacing, and plot just aren’t there, not to mention that the author narrates rather than using vivid writing, describes rather than shows everything—but it’s a valiant attempt by a student that always wanted to tell stories and is getting a chance to do so before he graduates to Real Life someday.

— § —

Chartreuse and coffee.

Once upon a time, I turned up every day at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein library drinking just that, spinach and feta in other hand, purple hair, strange trousers, to study and to be.

I’m still that guy. Can’t shake him. Every single detail is now different, but turning up to study and to be in a kind of glorious, apologetic strangeness… that’s me, boy. That’s me.

— § —

“So you train by shadow boxing,
search for the truth
But it’s all, but it’s all used up
Break open
your million dollar weapon
And you push, still you push,
still you push your luck…”

Resurrecting the blog.  §

It’s time. It’s time for the resurrection. It’s time to come back out of the shadows.

I’ve been putting it off, fighting with myself for a long time about this blog. But now it’s time.

I’ll be back later tonight to work on this. There are a few things to do first. Kids to bed. Self to peace. Then, return and resurrect.

Suddenly everything has a terrible urgency about it.


Who the f**k cares. Time to make it happen.

Life.  §

It is a long life.

I don’t want to die.

But someday I will also be glad to reach its end.

Is it strange or sad or maladaptive to say that?

I’ve felt it many times in the past. I feel it again tonight.

— § —

I’m listening to David Bowie’s acoustic performance of Dead Man Walking from 1997.

Years of hard, confused living, up and down, alive and as good as dead. Integrity is poison, to go with all the other kinds. Hard living it has been. I’m not a rock star or a member of a biker gang, but I’d put my wear and tear against any of theirs.

How is it for the people that don’t live hard?

Do they feel as much? Do their colors seem as bright? Does the air smell as fresh to them as it does to me early on March mornings as the dew looks for places in the sky to hide?

Do they love the same? Do they hate the same?

Is there some advantage to all of this? Does the candle that burns twice as fast necessarily and really burn twice as bright? And even if it does, is that a good thing?

— § —

It is what it is. It has always been whatever it was.

There is only one lesson that can be learned in life, and even then not everyone learns it.

It is what it is.

— § —

How many people have I been? How many places? How many times have I told the truth? How many times have I lied? Are there even answers to these questions? Does it even matter if there are answers to these questions? Should I be reading C. S. Lewis? Kahlil Gibran? Can I give my kids what they need before my time is up? Can any parent?

Why does it get so dark? Does it seem darker than it used to be? Is it my fading eyesight? I know that my hearing is fading, as it did for my father once, a long time ago.

— § —

“Like a dead man walking…”

Atlantic City. I remember being in Atlantic City with a car full of geeky undergrads, climbing the fountains, creating mayhem, spending money left and right, drinking to excess in the middle of the night, far away from everything, far away from reality, far, far away from the selves that we all so badly wanted to leave behind, a universal human impulse if ever there was one.

Or is it? Is that a conceit?

So many questions. It’s folly to look for answers. You won’t get them. You can try. You can scream, kick, drink, make a scene, push everybody away, pull them close, fight, fight, fight the sky and every last one of the stars with every bone and muscle in your body. You won’t get them.

They aren’t there.

That’s the dark secret of the universe. The answers aren’t there for you. They aren’t there for anyone. That’s not what the universe is for. And you can’t know what it’s for.

And you won’t. Ever.

— § —

Tomorrow. Tomorrow is always terrifying and always inspiring and always hopeful and always depressing. Because tomorrow you will live. Or because tomorrow you will die.

The same goes for everyone.

And today… today is just tomorrow gone beyond its sell-by date, all spoilers on the table.

— § —

“The secret story is the one we’ll never know, although we’re living it from day to day, thinking we’re alive, thinking we’ve got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn’t matter.”

The hardest thing.  §

The hardest thing right now is just being alone. Not because I can’t be alone. I can. I have. At times in my life, I’ve even reveled in it.

But right now, I’m married. And yet I’m alone. And I just want some… Well, some company. Someone to be with. Not on a date, at an event, nothing in particular. Someone to talk to as I go out and come in from taking out the trash. Someone that will lean through in my office door and ask me where something is. Someone that is sitting on the couch as I walk by, and that walks by me as I’m getting a soda out of the fridge.

You know. Companionship.

It is so frustrating at times not to have this. I don’t want to put pressure on my wife. It’s not what we need right now. But it is hard at times not to be able to share life without having to—you know—having to share it. Because sending a text or making a phone call makes things into a thing. Now you are spending time talking about them. And in a charged relationship environment, making things into a thing is more than ought to be done, most of the time.

It makes no sense to send a text and say, “gosh, this ketchup bottle is dirty,” or “dog needs out again,” or “it’s really cold out, wear a coat,” or “I can’t find my keys—oh wait—I found them!”

So all of these things go unsaid. And it feels weird to message them or call them over. Like I’m trying too hard if I do. They don’t deserve a message. They don’t rise to that level. But these are the things life is made of. Without them, what do we share? Memories. I sometimes worry that we’re drifting apart in ways that are just as significant as the emotional drift that we experienced before.

Sometimes I feel like we’re gonna end up in “we really love each other, but from a distance, and as friends” territory. And that would be a damned shame because it doesn’t have to be that way. At least, it doesn’t on my part. I guess it does on her part. I’m trying to understand and accept that. Sometimes I do better than other times.

Right now, at this moment for me, it just seems backward to try to put a marriage back together by willfully staying apart. You don’t talk. You don’t interact. And without talking and interaction, what is there?

Ugh. Okay, this has been me venting. I guess I need to trust the process. If wife and therapist aren’t bothered by it, then maybe I shouldn’t be either. But I’ll be damned if I don’t just want some companionship sometimes.