Lacking All Conviction

things fall apart; the center cannot hold

Category: Confessional

Then, There’s The American Way To Be Crazy

by eataTREE

So I’m hoping you read the Tactician’s previous post about what around here we call ADHD. You know, the original membership criteria for Editorhood Without Conviction was originally to be a) expatriation; b) moderate, or at least nuanced, political views, and c) one or more neurological conditions, but the latter was discarded in the interests of broadening the universe of potential collaborators. Nevertheless, the majority of us still qualify, with extra diagnoses to go around, even. (Perhaps we should retroactively amend the hiring policy such that the number of separate psych and/or neurological diagnoses cannot be fewer than the number of editors; sort of a Craziness Parity rule that would also be a form of affirmative action.)

So. Yeah, I’m pretty crazy. I don’t particularly enjoy talking about it, but the Tactician is good for making one feel usefully uncomfortable. ADHD — the H is for hyperactivity, which I don’t have, but according to the American diagnostic manual, that’s “ADHD without hyperactivity” and not the infinitely more sense-making “ADD” — makes my head a pretty awful place to be. Because I don’t actually need external stimuli to be distracted; they will arise from within, and they arise from within pretty much always in the form of thoughts about how much I suck; usually including but not limited to how much I suck for not making progress on the task I’m currently being distracted from by thinking about how much I suck.

If you’re seeing the potential for a bit of a downward spiral there, you are to be congratulated on your perspicacity. And my tendency to ride the Spiral Waterslide of Anxiety all the way down to the Crazy Lagoon would constitute my second diagnosis, that of GAD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Then there’s the autism. I really hate talking about it. I would rather you just assume I’m weird and an asshole than some species of mental deficient; assholes have more dignity. Suffice it to say that I have never understood why the fuck any of you wonderful people were doing whatever you were doing. To the extent that I was ever able to gauge your feelings or engage in appropriate social interaction with you, it was by carefully considering your likely motivations and goals and making an intellectual guess about what was going on in your head, and what you might be expecting from me at that moment. Long years of practice have made me adequate at this; you should have seen me when I was younger. Still, if there are more than three of you together at once, trying to keep track of everything you’re all doing at once becomes total sensory overload and I find myself needing to flee the room.

There are a few, and only a few, things I can easily do to help. One is to get up quite early, which is not remotely in my nature, and start getting work done before I’m awake enough to remember that I actually hate myself. I always prioritize tasks in descending order of odiousness so that I can get the worst out of the way before distraction sets in. And I try to divide tasks into discrete, easily completed chunks, so that no task looms too large. Sometimes these methods work adequately, other times, miserably poorly.

So how do I cope with all this and still maintain my high-flying lifestyle of looting Western Civilization’s twitching corpse?

Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s very simple.

I take speed.

No, don’t be thumbing the “Report This” link at the top of the page, it’s all quite legal, I can assure you. I am duly prescribed the stuff by a physician. Who, I promise, really does have my best interests in mind in so doing.

The first time I took a dose, it was though God’s hand reached down and turned my metaphysical tuner dial just that extra fraction of a degree into the radio station of my soul. I know you’re howling with laughter right now, but I can’t describe it in terms less exotic and get across just how much of a difference it made. All of a sudden, impersonating one of you fine, normal, non-crazy people seemed a laughably easy thing! I could do it while barely thinking about it! I could… go to parties! And stay there! And not run and hide in the bathroom! And during the day, I could actually concentrate on doing work and not on why and how I’ve gone wrong with my life to lead me to my sad pass.

There is a downside. Speed frees the id. It tells you that what you want is right and that you should have it. In a culture where being a greedy, scheming, ambitious striver is seen as the highest good, it will make you more of one. One has less patience. One relaxes and allows emotional connections only by thinking about it. One finds one’s self thinking of the bad things one could get away with.

And yet. To be normal. Successful, even. Socially well-integrated. Living outside one’s invisible mobile fish tank. Of course I take the pills.

Your joke is bad, and you should feel bad.

by spastictactician

“Oh, hey!  A squirrel!”

Have a conversation that even tangentially involves Attention Deficit Disorder, and someone is almost certain to make a joke based on an apparent sufferer who interrupts himself with a silly, unrelated observation, consequently losing complete track of their original thought.

Please know that ADD isn’t that.  It is NOT the inability to maintain a train of thought, the inability to finish a task due to failure to stay on track or complete lack of focus.  No matter how many times you’ve heard the joke, it just isn’t true.

Let me assure you that I’m not about to tell you how people with ADD are being subjected to great harm due to this misunderstanding.  I’m not going to demand that you stop making the joke.  I don’t believe that it is particularly important that everybody gain a proper understanding of what ADD is, nor do I believe we need to start any sort of movement to improve awareness.

I only want to let you know that, when you say things like this, those of us with ADD tend to shake our heads sadly at you and wonder silently how you continue to choose to comment on something that you so clearly don’t understand.  It doesn’t take away from the marginal humour that you’ve managed.  If that’s what ADD was, the joke would be prescient.  If your aim is to cause brief, twitchy smiles amongst people who don’t really know what you’re talking about… be my guest.  Nobody is really the worse for it.

“Well, then, Mr. Patronizing Jerk,” I imagine you asking, “What in the hell is it, if it isn’t the whole “Oh, hey!  A squirrel!” thing?”  Fair warning:  The real thing doesn’t lend itself quite so easily to quick, lazy jokes.  For me, ADD involves a heavy, near constant internal monologue.  I talk to myself, coach, warn, coerce, motivate, keep track of and regulate myself.  The problem is that the internal voice doesn’t limit itself to observing the important things and keeping me up to date on them.  It has access to everything my senses can pick up, and it is unable to effectively filter what I need to know.

Here’s where the reality really differs from the joke:  When the internal moderator gets ahold of a new piece of information…Say, a squirrel that has just popped up in my peripheral vision, it doesn’t shut down whatever I was just doing to refocus on the squirrel.  My entire consciousness doesn’t just switch to the squirrel, leaving my previous tasks untended.  That is how babies, dogs and people on cocaine work, not people with ADD

When I’m hunkered down at my desk trying to create a lesson plan, I start out incredibly focused.  When that squirrel pops up, I certainly notice it, and my internal moderator announces it loudly.  I am, however, not a slave to the moderator.  I know what I’m here to do and I know that paying too much attention to the squirrel will prevent that.  I apply myself to my task.  The problem is, now that I know the squirrel is there, the part of my brain that doesn’t work well believes that I need to keep track of it.  I keep getting updates about the squirrel.  Where it is, what it is doing…  The only thing I can do to make sure I can finish my task is to not fight the squirrel updates but, instead, to dedicate a part of my consciousness (as small a part as possible) to the squirrel.  Partitioning focus is WAY easier than fighting to maintain a single track.

Now that I’ve split my attention two ways, and ensured that the split is as heavily weighted toward my task as possible, I can get on with the work.  Here comes the part that makes most ADD kids bad at school:  There are more than two things within range of my senses.  There is the task at hand, the squirrel, the ticking of the clock, the flickering of the fluorescent light, the question I had about the TV show I watched last night, the itchy spot behind my knee, the .faint beginnings of a food craving, the lingering smell of the fart I let squeak 5 minutes ago, the recognition that there is a word I’m going to want to use soon that I never remember how to spell, the thing I can feel behind my front teeth that might be a grain of pepper…

Partitioning is really quite easy when there are only two partitions.  Once you have a dozen or so, however, the resources applied to non-primary functions begin adding up.  When the internal dialogue begins cycling through so many different topics that, even at just a second or so each, you can only focus on your task once or twice a minute, you’re pretty much doomed to failure.

The way I’ve learned to cope with this recurring problem is by physically resetting myself, using strongly distracting breaks.  By interrupting the internal cycle, I get to start fresh with just two or three partitions.  Also, I tend to intentionally subject myself to big, full distractions while working.  As counterintuitive as this sounds, there actually is some logic here.  If I can fill the entirety of my aural spectrum with “Gangsta’s Paradise”, I’m almost sure to not hear any of the other 37 tiny little noises in the room.  I have essentially ensured only one partition from this particular sense.  I do the same for internal distractions by setting my mind to thinking about something interesting but unrelated to my task.  Often, naked ladies.  The mental image of the Samantha Fox poster from my friend Scott’s room cancels all the other trivial stuff that would otherwise horn in.  I now only have to control the amount of attention I pay to it.  Not giving Samantha enough attention leaves me open to other little distractions.  Too much attention, though, and I drift into a daydream that is almost certainly not going to help me get my lesson planned.

So.  The thing that sucks about ADD isn’t an inability to focus and maintain processes, it’s that sufferers focus on too many things and maintain loads of partitioned focus points.  It is too much focus, not too little.  We aren’t goldfish, wandering from thought to thought, never finishing anything as we get sidetracked by every damn squirrel that wanders by.  We are much more like a…. Why doesn’t he just pick up the damned acorn, already?

Oh. Damn. My Bad.

by spastictactician

In light of eatatree’s recent salacious admissions of immoral behaviour and general lack of basic human goodness, I feel the compulsion to share one of my all time “I wish I hadn’t done that” highlights.

This is the reason I’m going to hell. There are many, but this is the one that sealed the deal.

I had recently graduated from university and had yet to land the kind of job that would allow me to come remotely close to meeting my financial obligations. I was engaged in a dance with my creditors that involved choosing which ones would receive enough money to shut them up each time I got paid, and which ones would only get my excuses, apologies and lies.

On this particular day, I was heavy into the dance. I had cashed my paycheck and spent several hours driving from location to location around the city, dribbling out just enough cash at each location to ensure a few weeks reprieve from collections departments. I hadn’t made it to all of the places on my list, but the cash was gone, so I didn’t really have much I could do except mentally prepare myself for the evil that is phone calls from people to whom one owes money.

In addition to having just spent several hours graphically affirming my status as a deadbeat with few prospects, I was also suffering in more immediate, physical ways. The day was absolutely sweltering. The kind of mid-summer face melter that makes you mentally check that you are, indeed, living in northern Alberta. My car was a 1981 Ford Fairmont with no air conditioning and navy blue vinyl seats. That car was unbearable. The back seat had a bunch of garbage and crap piled in it that smelled like someone was baking an ass pie back there. The steering wheel had the kind of faux leather wrap on it that soaked up heat and tried to melt your hands each time you gripped it. Everything about that car sucked at that moment.

One final thing about that day: My girlfriend was with me. Now, I had just dispiritedly emptied my wallet, and she had watched me do it. With each stop we made, she watched her prospects of any kind of date more complex than watching TV and eating whatever is in the cupboard disappear. What this meant was that, after each stop, her mood got worse and she was the type of person who made sure that the people around her knew exactly how bad her mood was by transmitting her status in loud, shrill complaints. She had, by this point, been making a fairly continuous high pitched attempt at (further) emasculating me for several minutes and was disinclined to accept my offer of getting the fuck out of the car and walking.

To say that I was in a shit mood would be an unbelievable understatement.

At this point of the day, I was stopped at the world’s longest red light. It was one of those signals where a pissy little side street is joining a major thoroughfare, and you can wait 5-6 minutes for the light to change. When stuck at a light like this, one inevitably questions the motives of whichever city planner brain farted this part of the plan together. It was absolutely interminable, made worse by the aforementioned heat and girlfriend noise. I gripped the lava clad steering wheel ever more tightly and blinked sweat from my eyes.

Anyway, the light finally changed, and I took my foot off the brake only to realise that some fucker was just straight up driving through the red light. He wasn’t even moving fast. Maybe about 30km/h. I stepped back on the brake and began to spit some horrible insult at him, but, before I could get properly started, I realised that there was another car running the light right behind him. And behind that guy, was a third. I couldn’t even begin to believe what was happening. By the time these fuckers had moseyed through the intersection, my light had gone yellow again, almost costing me the opportunity I had suffered through several eternities for, but I was fucked if I was gonna let it go.

I hammered through the intersection and shot into the right lane so I could get up beside the last dude. My window was already down due to the lack of A/C, so it was no problem to extend my angry middle finger and start screaming. Honestly, I fucking lost it. I gave the last guy a full 15 seconds of vitriolic abuse, then moved up to the next car. By the time I moved on to the first guy who’d run the light, I was in another world. Consumed by rage, I was actually leaning out the window, driving with my knee so I could flip him both birds.

A sane person would have let it be, but I was far from sane at that particular moment. I let the rage grow and just moved up the line of traffic, absolutely shrieking profanities. I was using swear words that I had never heard before, let alone uttered. I must have snarled and screamed my way past 7 or 8 cars before I finally got to the hearse.

The sudden, sobering realisation that you have just completely lost your mind and cursed out an entire funeral procession is most certainly a defining moment in a life.

I’m pretty sure this makes me a bad man.

(I have told this story many times, and have even posted it on the internet once before, with largely the same words. To the folks who have read it before, as a post in the forums at letsjapan.org , I apologise for the repeat, but thank you for all the nice things you said about my horribly revealing bit of reflection.)

Spastic Tactician
July 7, 2012

Unethical: An Apology

by eataTREE

In the year 2001 I probably infected your computer with spyware. I’m really sorry about this.

We were, to my knowledge, the world’s first spyware company, or at least the first one to reach widespread infection adoption. (As much as possible I’m going to avoid providing identifying details in my confessionals, but some of you will probably be able to guess who I mean here. They’re long-dead, so it’s okay. Did I mention I was sorry?) My Mariner’s Tale, you’ll recall, left me a young man in New York City who had just secured employment at a salary rather higher than he was used to; and this, you’ll appreciate, is a pleasant thing to be. So pleased with myself I was, that I confess I gave not one damn that our business model involved tricking you into installing our software — in those insecure days, many users’ configurations allowed us to install our stuff on their computer without asking or telling them a thing — and then messing with their Internet browsing experience for our own jolly fun and profit, mostly profit.

Our most lucrative “service” worked like this: If you looked like you were conducting commerce on a site that wasn’t paying us protection money our customer, our software would detect this and pop up a better offer from one of our paid affiliates. We also would spy on the user’s Internet activity and keep that data to do with as we pleased — a lot of this, fortunately, became illegal later. And we had a HUGE installed base — by some metrics, we were one of the busiest “websites” on the Internet, although almost all of that traffic was from our spyware conducting its activities and not what you would particularly call voluntary.

I was a fast learner and quickly proved myself useful. Within a few months, I had devised a number of fairly simple shortcuts and improved methods for what we were doing that made our operations greatly more efficient. As it turned out, unlike almost everyone else who had jumped aboard the dot-com bandwagon, I was good at this shit. It was the first occasion that the gratification of doing something well, and the pride that comes from the knowledge that one is doing it better than others in an environment of cut-throat competition, was sufficient to make me entirely ignore the fact that what I was doing was, strictly speaking, morally wrong.

Despite this (in those days) creative business model, the company managed to lose money.

Most of the reason why was that, in a fit of exuberance typical to the era, it had entered into a fixed lease for a beautiful old building way down in Lower Manhattan as its permanent headquarters, the entire lower floor of which was unneeded — fortunate, because it was also stripped, gutted, and unfinished. Consider the effect on my twenty-six-year-old, fresh-from-the-Canola-fields-of-Alberta brain when I was informed of the reason why: this building had been the former offices of a Latino daily newspaper until, angered by a crusading exposé on their activities in NYC, Mexican gangsters shot out the lower floor in a drive-by shooting. (My first question: “The Mexican gangsters know they moved out, right?”) And on the rent for this luridly storied but utterly impractical building were being spent any potential profits for the firm month by month.

So we had to fire about two thirds of the staff, but my quickly-growing technical abilities made me a keeper. (The keeping-your-job bar is set higher now than in those days when most dot-com employees had no clue what they were doing.)

The first I heard of it was when The Director summoned my boss and me to his office.

The Director was one of those sorts of men I met a lot of in New York in those days: powered by sheer boundless optimism and a protective layer of one-dimensionality, they lived in a world where everything is getting better and there is no bad news. Self-hypnotists, fervent believers in their own hype, they delivered a sales pitch that never ended: even when they are telling you that almost everyone is losing their job today and handing to you a list of people whose access to all the computer systems you are to revoke before they learn that they are no longer employees of Spyware, Incorporated. And of course I went and did that, feeling grateful for the small mercy that I had merely to disintegrate them in effigy and that it was someone else’s job to tell the actual people.

As it turned out, like a lot of floundering dot-coms, we didn’t need nearly as many people as we had had employed before. What had seemed like it would be a skeleton crew turned out to be more than adequate to continue and even expand our operations. The company hadn’t been able to get out of paying the exorbitant rent on The Building, but with payroll so greatly reduced it was turning, for the very first time, a small monthly profit. And so The Director rejoiced, and called for a Brainstorming Session on ways by which our profitability could be further increased.

At this meeting The Director had an idea of his own that he wished to advance. Like a lot of ideas from non-technical technical managers that I was to hear in years to come, it was a foul and stinky idea, of great and unredeemed crapulence. It would probably screw up the user’s Internet experience even more than our software did already, while providing neither we nor they with any appreciable value.* And because I was a forthright young man, as diplomatically as possible I explained to The Director the technical problems with his idea and how it would be unlikely to deliver much, if any functionality. And I proposed an alternative: why not have the product include an a pop-up ad blocker? One’s browser did not build that in in those days; no other product that provided the feature really dominated the market space; it would attract more users who would actually want to install our product, on purpose.

The Director fixed me with his “tactful” look and said that he didn’t feel that such a feature would be appropriate. Preventing a user from seeing an Internet advertisement, he solemnly informed me, would be unethical.


 

I left the company shortly thereafter and eventually found more respectable work (doing, as it turns out, worse things, but we’ll get there when we get there), but the company stayed in business for quite a while. A few years later, some sense of curiosity, or perhaps it was the desire for penance, I went and deliberately infected myself installed the latest version of The Spyware on my computer. Clearly visible on its toolbar was a new feature, the PowerZapper Pop-Up Ad Blocker.

I’m sorry, okay?

* It was going to be one of those “Internet Accelerators” that were sometimes marketed in those days as a means of magically bypassing the fact that dial-up modems using telephone lines had almost zero bandwidth due to physical limitations of the old telephony infrastructure. It was going to play with the TCP window settings and do a bunch of other things that would have the effect in sum (I told The Director) of providing an extremely small speedup 2% of the time, making no difference at all 48% of the time, and actually making the user’s connection slower 50% of the time. With the help of my direct boss, who was the most competent man employed there by a large margin, we were able to talk The Director out of it.

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