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The Empath

When I was in my formative years living in Colorado, I would come home from school and turn on the TV, waiting for "Star Trek" to come on at 4 pm. I don't know if it was partially because that I went to school with a bunch of Air Force brats at the end of the lunar exploration era, but "Star Trek" quickly became must-see TV for me. My favorite character was Mr Spock, not only because he was the science officer (heady stuff for a six-year-old), but also because he was a man with No Emotion. I was fascinated by that. I decided that if he could do that, I could do it too. So I spent a long time -- years, in fact -- attempting to suppress my emotions and building walls.

I had some natural intellectual and creative abilities that appeared at an early age, so I was usually ahead of my class, really until high school. But because I wasn't half-Vulcan, I ran into issues. A lot of that spilled over into periods of arrogance that belied a teenager. I still tried to keep the idea of the non-emotional scientist alive and even studied physics in college. It turned out I wasn't especially good at that level. And I found ceilings for my other abilities as well around that time, so by my mid-20s I effectively had the arrogance pushed into the background by good old-fashioned emotional beatdowns.

However, for some reason I vividly remember a particular Star Trek episode that I saw one afternoon after elementary school. An alien race had pulled Kirk, Spock and McCoy into a building along with a woman from a different planet. This woman had the ability to recognize someone's suffering, pull it out of that person's body, and internalize it into herself where she could process and dissipate it. The story was not about the Enterprise or its crew, but rather about the woman. The aliens afflicted Kirk, Spock and McCoy with increasing levels of pain to test the woman, to see exactly how far she'd go. Finally, McCoy was given a horrible pox-like fatal disease and the woman had a choice -- to let him die or to absorb his illness and likely die in the process herself. She chose to absorb the illness...and she died. Or would have if the alien race had their way, but Kirk pulled out one of his speeches and convinced the aliens to save her. Still, an interesting lesson for a small child.

The name of that episode is called "The Empath."

For a long time, I never really understood empathy other than what I saw for that 60 minutes on TV. My concepts of “sympathy” and “empathy” were blurred. The words sound similar. The working definitions are pretty close, with sympathy perhaps being on the logical side of the coin and empathy being on the emotional side.

You can be sympathetic without being empathetic; for instance, an episode where you feel for the person because you might have been in a similar situation at some point, but you don’t have a strong connection with the actual person.

An example of being empathetic without being sympathetic, is that one could be in an episode where a person is a bad situation of their own making and as a result, you’re empathetic for the person as they work through it, but not necessarily sympathetic because they made poor choices.

Empathy was not something that was stressed in my family. We were taught to recognize a difficult situation, analyze it and deal with it. Emotional responses were a separate issue and disposed of fairly quickly, especially in public. This also fed my non-emotional way of looking at the world, to a degree. It took a while to get out of that mindset, as I mentioned earlier.

One thing that helped was being in a position to raise a little girl from birth until she was about four years old. Parenting is a difficult, difficult business, and you learn quickly about your baseline emotional state. Luckily, this happened for me when I was in my late 30s, and I had gone through a bit of a transformation from a non-emotional sometimes bratty kid to a better understanding of what I was doing.*

* I also discovered that I was able to be completely empathetic toward one person and not so much toward a different person. That’s a period I’ve discussed before, however, so there’s no need to rehash it.

In the midst of that parenting part of my life, I went to a local new age store and had an aura picture taken just for fun. An aura picture works like this -- you sit down in a chair that has electric plates for each hand. You put your hands on the plates, you get covered up with a heavy black cloth so that just your face is showing against a black background, and then the picture is taken with a modified Polaroid camera. The electric plates send a low voltage through your body, boosting your personal electric field -- that is, your "aura" -- and the camera captures the shape and colors of the field that surround your face.

Now, I had some interest in this idea both from a personal perspective and also a scientific perspective (see above - just enough physics knowledge to be dangerous). Every living thing creates its own personal electric field. The idea is that different colors signify different energy levels; the practice of Reiki healing uses many of the concepts of personal energy and keeping various energy levels in balance. As part of this, books have been written explaining and codifying the colors of the aura.

Periodically I've gone back to the same store and taken aura pictures using the same equipment and discussing the results with the same person, so I have a series of photos from 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2015.**

**I also have others from 2013, but on a different set of equipment and the colors are different.

The photos start out primarily as blue and progress to mainly purple and white. According to the standard definitions, the colors indicate that I have a very strong empathic ability.
This may come as a surprise to many people. It originally did to me.

However, it may also explain some particular personality quirks I have.

One of the issues I deal with is not necessarily social anxiety, per se, but it might be better described as "social awkwardness." It's very difficult for me to interact with people in normal social settings. I'm uncomfortable with the art of small talk. I don't socialize with people at work and never have. I'm not interested in what people do in their daily lives. I actively distance myself from that. The walls are fully functional, especially at work. Now, that doesn't bother me in the least. I don't need to know what my co-workers do in their spare time.

The more disturbing issue I deal with is that I have similar issues with my friends. I try to interact, but mostly I end up either hovering around a group listening, not saying much and trying not to be creepy, or I just isolate myself for chunks of time and end up in the kitchen for several minutes while my friends are in the living room.

I've always thought it was a by-product of my original obsession with being a non-emotional person, so I never bothered to be at ease around people. However, now I wonder if this is a defense mechanism I've developed to keep from being overwhelmed by people.

I have an active "leave-me-alone" persona that I use quite a lot and it works. Being a physically large man helps with that, of course, but I also have a bubble that I project. For the general public, I've discovered three of the most powerful words at my disposal are "I. Don't. Care." They are so powerful that I don't actually say them out loud much at all; rather, I use it as a mantra to clear my mind from the clutter around me.

I can be extremely sensitive to surrounding noise, which can make it difficult in a work setting when several people are on the phone at once or even just chatting within earshot. I get irritable and angry more easily, which does not make for a healthy work environment. Meditation is often mentioned as a grounding technique to dissipate the maelstrom of outside noise. I must confess, I don't do this often enough.

I also have periodic issues with intense depression. My technique to combat that is to isolate myself completely until the feeling passes. Sometimes it's only an hour or two; occasionally it's longer. Some people believe that empathic people tend to battle depression more often, as it takes a lot of energy just to deal with the everyday world. In my case, I spend a lot of my energy keeping the walls up.

If I do have empathic abilities, I would classify myself as a "selective empath." As part of my science training, I pay attention to my surroundings. I can tell when someone's having a good or bad day. But I also make an immediate decision if that person or situation is something I want to spend my energy on. Most of the time, I don't. It's not worth my time.

I'm much more inviting with my friends. Even with that, though, I run the risk of opening up too much and draining my energy reserves quickly. So often, I use a technique of smiling and nodding when I feel my energy running low. It's not a "fake" engagement, but rather a device to show that I'm still interested and listening while conserving.***

***Of course, this is also a form of Southern manners. Having a Texan mother helps in this regard.

When I really need to pay attention to a situation, I'm able to do that and I'll worry about the energy levels later. The people I care about get maximum effort. When that happens and I fully open myself up, I seem to be able to help people, whether it’s giving insight, allowing them to work through their issues with some level of active support, or just being there as part of a general “blanket fort” theory. If that's just a matter of being in the moment or actually having some level of empathic abilities, I don't really know.

Most of the things I do from an empathic perspective are instinctual. I don’t have any formalized training. Really, I don’t have a consistently grounded emotional foundation to work from, which means that I still can misunderstand events and not be in the correct frame of mind. Sometimes I don’t offer support when it’s needed, and sometimes I might offer an incorrect type and/or level of support. That’s all part of the learning process. I’ve been told that I have healing power in my hands, which can also be a tactile form of empathy.****

****Taking it back to Star Trek, the empathic woman absorbed the suffering of others by touching them.

At some point I’d like to delve more into Reiki so I can further my own knowledge and not rely wholly on my instincts. That would be a good way to go, I think. Not just to help others, but to help better understand myself. And that’s the best way to go about it.

Ghosties

I keep meaning to post about the paranormal investigation I attended in Independence about a month ago. A couple of friends were running the thing and shepherded the 15 of us through several hours of checking out the 1859 Old Jackson County Jail.

Most of you who are also on FB have seen short hits about it and I've also posted EVP clips there (via Soundcloud):
https://soundcloud.com/edward-quentin/sets/oct-11-2014-evps-old-jackson

Here's also the photo album from that investigation:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sandstorm889/sets/72157648287408790/

Short version -- I'd really like to do it again. It doesn't even have to be at that venue.

Happy birthday Katie!

Happy 8th birthday to Pirate Princess Katie! I love you very much and hope you're enjoying the hot air balloons in New Mexico.

Detroit and Roots

Last weekend I went to Detroit for Detcon1, the North American version of Worldcon when WC is overseas.

Detcon1 was a (slightly) early birthday present to myself, and I really couldn't have spent money any better.

I ran into 70% of my Detroit friends within a couple hours of getting to the hotel Thursday (predictably at the bar), had my first John Scalzi sighting again on Thursday (also predictably at the bar), and got quite possibly the best hotel room view ever with the Detroit downtown skyline at night.

hannunvaakuna was kind enough to be my driver Friday as we went all over creation, starting with what was supposed to be a quick sojourn into Canada and turned into six border agents pulling their guns on a car at the USA crossing on the Ambassador Bridge. We went into Dearborn, where I took pics of my dad's old house, then found my grandparents and an uncle in a cemetery west of Dearborn Heights. (I also discovered that my dad has a plot there as well that he won't use and he offered it to me. That was a surreal conversation.) We finished up back in Detroit, stopping at the Fisher Building, then down the street to the Motown Museum, which should be on every musician's bucket list.

Pictures from the trip are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sandstorm889/sets/72157645473314730/


Friday night the author Jacqueline Carey was kind enough to sign one of her books for me. I wore my Jayne maille hat to the signing, as Jacqueline had a thread on her page a couple of months ago about Jayne hats and I mentioned that I had a unique one. I got lots and lots of hits Friday night about the Jayne maille hat. Lots. Of. Hits.

The Tigers were in town, and the convention arranged for a group ticket block for Saturday afternoon. I was absurdly pleased to take the People Mover to the ballpark (KC just approved light rail a few months ago, but it won't get going until sometime in 2015). It was a gray, drizzly afternoon to watch baseball, but I wandered all over the park, taking pictures everywhere, and then walked back to the Ren Cen while taking even more pictures.

Saturday night was the infamous Scalzi '80s Dance, at which I ran into Jacqueline again and she was overly patient as I tried not to turn into complete fanboy.

The only thing I would have re-done was planning Sunday afternoon, as I had way too much time to kill before my evening flight out... but then again, I still have places to go and stuff to see next time I'm there. Which hopefully will be sooner than later.

------

A friend made a post earlier this week on Facebook about being a person without a hometown, which is a topic I've been chewing on since I got back from Detroit over the weekend.

I've talked about my love for Detroit several times over the years. When I was a kid growing up in eastern Iowa, we could pull WJR-AM during the evening and my dad & I would listen to all of the sports teams as the seasons went by. Dad had a few early Motown 45s (and also early Beatles, which I got that love from) that I'd listen to. Dad was a product of the Detroit metro in the 1950s -- the golden age of Detroit sports, but also the first push of post-WWII white flight out of the city into the suburbs. He grew up in Dearborn, just a couple of miles from the city line. I visited that neighborhood last weekend and it's still a very nice, well-kept place with a large park down the street and a corner store, where I remembered they were.

My own feelings for Detroit are more idyllic than anything else, though. We visited my grandparents only a handful of times, and the last time I was there as a child was 1983, which was also the only time I went to Tiger Stadium. Due to my long online friendship with aiela, she convinced me to go out to Confusion sometime in the mid-2000s, at which point I fell in love with the city on my own terms and have tried to make at least an annual trip back ever since. Every time I've gone back, I've met new friends, seen new places, and taken more pictures.

I spent most of my formative years in Iowa (nearly 20 years, in fact) and in many ways Cedar Rapids is still my hometown. But I don't have any family there now and there's really no reason to go back except for special occasions. I couldn't move back there, as I'd be bored to tears within three months.

In 1995 I moved to the Kansas City area and as long as I've lived here, most of my adult life and all of the experiences involved, this has never really felt like home to me. Kansas City was originally a way station while I figured out what I was going to do next, and it's really been through sheer inertia that I've stayed here this long. Again, I have no family locally, although I've been lucky enough to see my friends circle grow significantly the last few years. But I have no deep roots here.

(I also have a huge Texas family history on my mom's side, nearly 200 years worth, which is why I'm comfortable visiting. Actually living there might be problematic, though, because I have relatives scattered everywhere in that state.)

I'm thinking about all of this again for a couple of reasons.

One is the bizarre conversation I had with my dad last week about him transferring his Detroit burial plot to me. The positive is that the plot's already paid for, so it's an expense that I wouldn't have to worry about should I want that option. The negative is that I'd be buried next to family members I barely knew. Plus there's a twist in that one of my uncles is also buried there, close to his parents, so people could easily (mis)construe that I was his son as the third generation of the family. That wouldn't be right. I'm considering the tree option. The science option would also be good, but there's usually a weight/size limit and I'd be disqualified at my present size.

The second reason is work (of course). My contract's up again at the end of August and I don't know if it'll be extended, so I may have to start looking nationally one more time. But I've gone over that many many times in the last year or two, so I won't re-hash it. It's just something coming up.

So yeah. The life of a barely-invested nomad who travels for science fiction conventions.

More dream info

Going back to my previous dream post, I decided to log the various locations I put myself when I have brain weasel dreams. These are the most common -- I've "lived" in these multiple times; that is, I've moving back into these locations where I've previously "lived."

a. A squalid motel-like setting, low, one-story, two or three buildings all lined up end-to-end in a kind of hidden area in a cranky part of town. For some reason it feels like a seriously old Holiday Inn, except all one level, and not the place you want to rent if you can help it.

b. An older building on the edge of an old downtown. It feels like a kind of grungy Victorian, but with a basement that connects to a series of caves that may or may not have electricity (in some versions, there's a tunnel that runs down a hill toward a street that gets you to a highway out of downtown). One basement room is the general storage area for all of the tenants in the house. One of the recurring themes in dreams involving this location is that I had stored stuff from my previous time, but was too uncomfortable to go back down and get it out of the room after I had moved back into the place. Some kind of violence has definitely happened in the basement area.

c. A corner multiple-story building that has a row-house-like facade, but is very deep. There may be a separate building that's been connected to the main building via a second or third story walkway. The inside looks a little like the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles in terms of the ironwork. I'm usually alone in this location and the building itself has very few people, although it could potentially hold several apartment-type rooms. Often there's not much going on, but it usually has a mild menacing feeling. Sometimes that feeling bothers me, sometimes not. But it's a place where others do not feel comfortable.

d. A slightly more traditional apartment building, built probably mid-1940s in a suburb. This building is surrounded by open space with some parking, but the cars aren't seen. This seems to be the least threatening of the four and when I'm in this building I usually have the calmest dreams, relatively speaking.

Very occasionally I've had dreams being in a tall rectangular dormitory at a university, similar to the old towers at Iowa State more than the two tall ones at UIowa. It's full of students, so obviously during a semester. That location also has some discomfort, but some of that is because I'm closer to age 30 (dream age) than a traditional student age. This location usually pops up when I'm having full immersion college-related dreams. Option d above is also a college dream location and c sometimes can be as well. Options a and b are usually more all-purpose.

I also have an apartment setting in Kansas City that I never actually lived in, but for some reason I visit in dreamland to potentially rent. It's a very long narrow living room with huge 20x20 bedroom in the back. I've "seen" it often enough that I sometimes wonder if the place is actually real and I did step through it once upon a time.

Dreams

I've figured out over the years that I have three basic categories of dreams. I can usually tell what type of dreams I've had based on how I feel when I wake up, even if I can't remember the dreams themselves.

A. Sexy dreams. Most of these are about friends. They usually involve people that are unavailable for various reasons -- already in a relationship, distance issues, not interested in men, etc. I understand -why- I have these "requirements" for this type of dream, but still. Frustrating. (Not a lot of celebrity sexy dreams any more, oddly. I have a feeling that may be a result of my age more than anything else.)

B. Brain Weasel dreams. These are dreams when the brain is chewing through something and apparently needs to go through some angst to do so. I had one of these a few days ago when I had laptop issues during the evening a called tech support and gave them remote control of my laptop so they could work on it overnight. I then had dreams of people trying to break into my house while I was there. These are mostly disturbing on one level or another.

C. Generally weird dreams. Situation: friends and I are dropped into a plot from a TV show like Downton Abbey or Doctor Who and we basically go at it. Or we're in a touring band. Some type of group activity that's pushed out toward the edge. These can be sometimes entertaining, sometimes tense, and generally odd. I tend to go through cycles of this particular type for some reason and right now I'm not in that cycle. I need more of those.

Seventeen

I had a job interview in Detroit last Wednesday, and while I was in the middle of the interview I heard my phone buzz. When I got out of the interview, I checked the phone and it was from KC. I called back, discovered that it was a recruiter and set up a meeting for Friday. Friday morning I talked with the recruiter and in the afternoon I had an interview with the client.

Monday afternoon I got a call from the DET recruiter saying that I was the runner-up for that job. I had a really strong interview and they liked me, but the dream person fell in their laps. I was kinda cranky about it, but honestly not all that surprised considering that I wasn't local.

Tuesday afternoon I got a call from the KC recruiter -- the client liked me and wanted to hire me. I did the drug screen today and have a start date of Dec 2. Six months to start (there's plenty of work beyond that) and a possibility of conversion at some point. And it's ten minutes from my apartment.

Seventeen months. Seventeen.

Oh yeah

I've also been doing this the last couple of weeks.

brittle samples 102613

Peanut brittles using Splenda and reduced amounts of Karo syrup. The flavors shown here are (clockwise) Dragon's Brew tea, bourbon, and cinnamon-cayenne. I also have two different types of rum coconut, one with unsweetened flakes that I toasted first and the other using shredded unsweetened coconut partially dipped in chocolate that turned out to resemble a Mounds bar.

The bourbon, cinnamon and coconut flake flavors will be presented at Contra this weekend.

Birthday

Happy 7th birthday, Princess Katie the Pirate. I love you and miss you very much.

Swag

When I was diagnosed as a type II diabetic back in the early 2000s, I started exercising on a regular basis, doing mostly the elliptical machine until I lost enough weight to use the treadmill without killing myself. In 2004 I signed up for my first 5K, the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot around the Sprint campus and Black & Veatch.

(It was largely a disaster, partly because I hadn't done enough time on the treadmill yet so my legs weren't in shape, and also because KC had gotten four inches of snow that week and there was black ice on the roads. Good times.)

Nevertheless, I continued to sign up for a handful of races every year to keep my motivation up to go to the gym.

Cut for length.Collapse )In May 2011, I signed up for the Heritage Park triathlon and got my first finishers medal. That was much better than getting a t-shirt. So I started looking for races that gave out finisher medals. In 2012, I received a medal stand as a birthday gift that had the ability to hold 12 medals.

(I've participated in a couple of races that didn't have finisher medals, namely the annual 4 mile Trolley Run in April 2013 and the Head for the Cure 5K in August 2013, so it's not like I'm in it completely for the swag.)

With today's Diabetes Dash for Life 5K, I now have 11 of the 12 filled.

Just for fun, here's the total, starting at the top and going clockwise --

1. Stars & Stripes 5K, Lee's Summit, MO, July 2013
2. Heritage Park Triathlon, Olathe, KS, May 2011
3. Olathe Medical Center 5K, Olathe, KS, August 2013
4. Plaza 10K, KCMO, September 2013
5. Glow Run 5K, KCMO, July 2012
6. Hospital Hill 5K, KCMO, June 2012
7. MLB All-Star Game 5K, KCMO, July 2012
8. Diabetes Dash 5K, Leawood, KS, September 2013
9. Plaza 10K, KCMO, September 2012
10. Mustache Dash 5K, October 2012
11. KC Chiefs 5K, May 2013

eleven medals 092213

Not bad for a fat guy.

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