An act of kindness is never trivial. Hunter Hogan, 8 February 2012.
If I am able, I will tell you about my complete loss of hope. My story does not have a natural starting point, and I am sure my perspective and understanding will change over time. (I learned this from Gandhi’s autobiography; he wrote something similar in the introduction.)
Subsection updated: 21 June 2012
One way of describing my hopelessness is that I feel (and think) that there is no way to change my life so that I will ever be happy again. Another way is to say that I feel (and think) that I will always feel overwhelming pain and sadness for the rest of my life.
When I try to write about my hopelessness, it is nearly impossible for me to accomplish anything. I ask myself, “What’s the point?” I do not believe, nor can I imagine, I will benefit from this. Humans are social animals, however, and even though I have lost my hope, it seems that I have not lost the innate compulsion to be pro-social.
Paragraphs added: 21 June 2012
Why am I writing about my life? I am not sure, but I talk about some likely motivations on a sub-page.
I sincerely doubt that anyone could have a complete loss of hope from a single event or even from a short series of events. My complete loss of hope was gradual, and there were many times when I believed my life was improving. Because I cannot point to one event and say, “This is when my life started to transform into what you see today”, it is difficult for me to decide how to begin this story.
Subsection added: 23 June 2012
I still wish I had the skill to magically write down everything; since I do not, I decided to recycle things I have previously written. I am not happy with this idea, and I think the recycled-writing below is a great of example of why recycling is not my first choice. Unfortunately, the alternative is to write nothing at all. If recycling this particular piece from this particular source is successful, then all other recycling will be simple.
The writing below is from my profile on OkCupid.com. It is primarily a dating website, but some people use it for social networking or for the absurd quizzes (For example, “What kind of nerd are you?” and “Which Hogwarts house are you in?”). The source is odd, but it accurately reflects how I felt at the time (I think I wrote it on 5 Feb 2012), it has useful information it in, and it is the most well-organized “introduction” that I have written. Ironically, the source, OkCupid, is the “straw” that the ARDC used to break my back. (Foreshadowing! Suspense! Are you impressed? Don’t be. That was an accident: I am not that skilled of a writer.)
On OkCupid, a person’s profile is divided into sections. The first section is titled “My self-summary”. At the time I wrote the information below, the first paragraph in my self-summary was, “I am fanatically idealistic about justice, beauty, reason, and life.” The second section is titled “What I’m doing with my life”. The following is an excerpt from that section. With only a few minor but necessary edits, this is exactly what I wrote, even the formatting is from the original.
What am I doing with my life? Trying not to break. Fanatic idealism is dangerous: it says, “I will break before I will bend.” Patrick Henry, an American who advocated for violent revolution against the British, said, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” Do we really think he is the only person that said something like that? Throughout history, hundreds or thousands of people all over the world (maybe even millions of people!) have yelled such absurdly idealistic things. Uh, most of them got the “death” part of their request. And we don’t like to talk about them very much, you know? It’s kind of a downer.
One of my heroes in Gandhi. He fought tirelessly against injustice for 50 years. And the sad truth is that he achieved almost nothing. His arly life was in South Africa opposing apartheid. Failed. In India, he advocated for “home rule”. Yes, India achieved “independence” just before his assassination, but independence had very little to do with him. Palm trees survive hurricanes by bending and by letting their branches be stripped away. A rock does not “survive” a hurricane: it just exists. Gandhi was a rock. I am in awe of his strength.
Wu wei is a Daoist concept that means, to me, a) “living in the moment”, b) accepting the world as it is but always trying to make the world a better place, and c) being balanced, harmonious, and peaceful. I have been trying to achieve wu wei for years, but the phrase wu wei literally translates to “without doing”, so it’s prtty much impossible to “do” wu wei. And now, after years of looking for wu wei, it seems that it is looking for me. (I guess all I need to do now is to accept it.)
Of the 7 billion people alive today, on the day I was born, I already had major advantages compared to other people: born in a prosperous and powerful country, male, part of the majority ethnic group (it is sad, but still true that sexism and racism are part of American culture), taller than average, smarter than average, better looking that average, and my family was lower middle class, so we were not destitute. I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve any of these advantages: it was just luck.
I don’t eat caviar for breakfast, drive a Maserati, or have a yacht (and my gals don’t include being super-rich), but my life is still much better than that of 95% of the people in the world. I suspected that was true even before I had traveled, but living in China and traveling through so many other countries, I got to see exactly how lucky I was when I was born. Pictures from my travels:
Homeless in Budapest
Child on the road from Shigatse to Lhasa
Doing laundry in the canals of Suzhou
Road repair on the road from Lhasa to Yamdrok-Tso
Man hauling scrap wood
Drying cow-dung to use as fuel
Mumbai shanty town
Palestinian boy shooting Andrew with a BB-gun
Hundreds of unfinished buildings in Bethlehem, West Bank
As a kid, I was taught that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I have an overdeveloped feeling of duty to others and to mankind in general. I think this is a virtue, but as I say below, our strengths are also our weaknesses, so sometimes my desire to “save the world” is just silly. It took me a long time to figure out that I have such a strong sense of duty and what I should do with that feeling. At 30, I went tolaw school because I thought it would help me “save the world”—whatever that means. But even before law school, I felt the need to speak up when I thought something was unfair. Before the Iraq war, for example, I felt that if I didn’t speak up, then I was tacitly supporting the war, so I used my website to express my views.
After law school, I was a prosecutor in a very small county. So small that it only had one stop-light and I was the only assistant prosecutor. I did not like living in such a rural and isolated place, but the work itself was amazingly satisfying, especially because it was in a small county. In a large county, there are so many cases, that no individual case really matters that much (to the county asa whole), but in a small county, every case has the potential to make the county a better place to live. I worked hard, and even though I didn’t save the world and I didn’t even save our county, I still helped to make our community a better place to live. It was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done; I felt that I was finally satisfying my duty to help others.
While a small county was good for my job satisfaction, it was not good for my personal life. In a county that only has a few thousand people, after you subtract all of the married people, the kids, the retired people, and the people you are not compatible with, you are left with approximately zero people to date. After I had lived there for almost a year, I spontaneously spent a couple of hours hanging out with a woman (it was not a date.) Towards the end of those couple of ours, she told me that she had a crush on me. I kissed her good night. We never hung-out again. The catch? About a month prior to the spontaneous meeting and kiss, I had prosecuted her. I didn’t try to hide what had happened (in part because the previous assistant prosecutor had turned a former defendant into a girlfriend). In a small town, everyonnows everything, and about one month after the kiss, my boss asked me if it happened; I told the truth, and he fired me on the spot.
I immediately started looking for another job, and I have had a ton of great interviews, but it is a very competitive time right now. I went back to school to work on a second law degree. I tried some other things. A lot of things almost got my life back on track, but almost doesn’t count.
For the first 34 years of my life, I was usushy;ally more successful than the year before, started college at 16, had my own business by 18, enjoyed the dot com boom in the 90s, graduated in the top 3% of my law school class, and then I was a prosecutor. The last two years, however, have not followed that trend.
During those 34 years, I developed habits and skills that added up to success. During the last two years, I’ve applied those same habits and skills, but since they have not worked, it is time for a change. One thing I used to do when I faced a difficult challenge was to focus on the problem and withdraw from social activities. Over the last couple of years, I’ve slowly become less and less social until I was basically a hermit. But it’s time for change, right? And here I am.
Of course, it is a bit absurd for me to be more active on this website right now I’m still looking for a job, and I am pinching every penny: so no fancy dates from me. (Fun dates, yes; fancy dates, no.) Part of the penny-pinching is that I am sometimes staying with friends, but I usually just sleep in my car. In the past, I’ve often slept in my car—that’s how I have seen so much of the US—so it’s not a big deal to me. (I talk about the times I have purposely slept in my car in this journal entry. [OkCupid has “journals”, but since this is not OkCupid, I removed the link.]) [Feb 17, 2012 edit: I’ve noticed that I didn’t explicitly write “I don’t have an apartment.” Instead, I strongly imply that I don’t have an apartment by writing that I “sleep in my car.” In the past, I wasn’t embarrassed about sleeping my car; it served a purpose and had greatnefits. This time, however, I am embarrassed that my life situation in&hy;cludes that I don’t have an apartment. Maybe that is too honest for an online profile, but it is the truth.]
Despite a couple of bad years, I am still much better off than most people in the world (see above), so who am I to complain? I’m not content with my situation, so I am still trying to change it, and I think my track record suggests I will change it.
Despite the hopefulness of the last paragraph, a few weeks later, I broke. My hope has not returned, and now I am writing my story here.
When I say that I feel pain and sadness in every part of my being, I am nearly certain that you cannot comprehend what I mean. I am nearly certain because if I could magically have a conversation between Hunter-of-today and Hunter in November 2011 (just six months ago), I would never be able to describe my current feelings to my old self. If Hunter in November 2011 could not understand how I currently feel, then how could I possibly describe to you, anonymous reader, how I feel today?
My sadness is not just an emotional feeling: I often feel the sadness as a physical sensation, especially in my eyes. I usually describe the feeling as a “sadness behind my eyes”. The physical sensation seems to emanate from a location just behind my eyeballs. In this case, it is not pain or burning or itching or any other sensation I would typically association with a physical experience. Instead, it is a physical experience of sadness. It does not feel anything like crying feels. It is not throbbing or dull or sharp. It is sadness, but a physical experience in addition to the emotional sadness.
It is similar to how stress can give me a stomachache. Sometimes, stress merely causes a stomachache; if the stress is severe, then sometimes I will feel like my stomach is twisted into knots. These sensations are relatively common, and many other people have felt something like this. (I tend to “put” my stress in my stomach, and I think it is interesting that my father used to do the same thing. I am not sure if he still does, but he certainly “put” his stress in his stomach for many years. It is interesting to me because my parents divorced when I was young, and even though I spent most of my life with my mother, my father and I still have many eerily similar characteristics.)
The “sadness behind my eyes” is similar to the stress-induced stomachache, but there is a major difference. The stomachache is still completely physical, even when caused by stress, and I can have a stomachache feel the same way because of food poisoning or sickness. The physical sensations may have been caused by stress, but they are still merely a physical experience. The sadness behind my eyes, however, is a physical experience that can only be described with emotional words; and I have never felt “sadness behind my eyes” because of an illness.
All of this may sound trivial, and these experiences alone—stomachaches and sad eyes—are trivial. The problem is that these are not the only ways that I feel my sadness, my stress, and my hopelessness. I have these emotions, and all of these emotions have leaked out into the rest of my existence. I feel the sadness in my eyes. I feel hopelessness in my arms: it is almost as if my arms are asking, “Why should we move? No good will come of it.” I have not catalogued every physical sensation, so maybe there are parts of my body that do not feel the sadness and the hopelessness, but I have certainly felt emotional manifestations in my eyes, my stomach, my arms, my ears, my toes, my scalp, my chest, my lungs, my heart, and other places. These are not constant feelings, but they are too common.
I am listing these things merely for context. I do not want pity. I do not blame other people for my current position in life. I made my choices, and
obviously I made some poor choices. [28 August 2012: everyone makes some poor choices. I previously considered it “obvious” that my choices were poor because my life situation is dire. I have learned many new facts, and I now understand that my life situation is dire because two-to-three people have expended tremendous effort (and tax-payer money) to destroy my career and life. Some of their actions are so absurd that if my life were a movie, most people would say, “That would never happen in real life.” But it has happened in real life—my life—and it took me at least 26 months to accept that it was happening to me.] [24 June 2012: My view about this might be changing. I know I made decisions that contributed to my situation, but other people also made choices. Some people have deliberately made the decision to hurt me. Furthermore, of the more difficult things for humans to accept is that life is mostly random: some people win the lottery and some people get a rare infection in their brain. That randomness, especially when it causes pain, can be difficult to deal with.]
No one can honestly say, “I have hit rock bottom.” When people do hit rock bottom, they do not live to tell about it. Corollary: it can always get worse.
“Well, look on the bright side, at least it can’t get worse!”
No, it can always get worse.
Subsection added: 5 June 2012
As I start to write this, it is 11:23 am on 5 June 2012. Last night, at about 2 am, I was tired, so I found a place to sleep on a quiet residential street in the northern part of Chicago (within the city limits, which is an important detail). At approximately 10:20 am, I was sleeping and heard what I thought was someone hitting my car with their car door or backing into my car. I spend a lot of time sitting in my car in parking lots or on streets, and you would be appalled if you knew how often your car gets hit by other people. After a few hits, however, I realized that someone was intentionally tapping my car windows: a Chicago Police officer.
I was sleeping in the passenger seat, so I turned the car key to activate the electricity and I lowered the passenger window. This is the second time the Chicago Police have awakened me while I slept in my car. The first time was about two months ago. I was sleeping in the parking lot of a McDonald’s with a 24-hour drive through, and it was about 3 am. Two female police officers woke me up.
(In most situations in life, gender has very little impact on situations. But I do believe that gender had a small but noticeable impact on these two encounters with the police. I could be wrong, however. There were some other differences in the situation that might explain why I was treated differently. The first time I spoke with the police, there were two police officers, but today, there was only one police officer [that I know of]. Violence against police officers almost always happens when they are dealing with seemingly benign situations such as a speeding ticket or a homeless man sleeping in his car. Police must constantly be careful because even someone that seems harmless could be a very dangerous person. In my first encounter with police, there were two officers and that is significantly safer for the officers than my encounter today, when there appeared to only be one officer. On the other hand it was full daylight today, while the 3 am encounter was, well, at 3 am. Gender might not explain tifference, either, because people have all sorts of temperaments. The officer today had a much more aggressive attitude than the two officers I met a few months ago. The difference in attitude has nothing to do with gender, but the difference in attitude might completely explain why the police handled the situation differently. A third non-gender explanation could be geography. The 3 am encounter was in a densely-populated area of Chicago and the police in that area likely have to respond to a lot more calls. Today, I was near the edge of the Chicago city-limits, and the area was arguably suburban. Police in this part of town likely have less calls. Therefore, the officer today probably had a lot more time to devote to me than did the officers at 3 am in a high-incident part of Chicago. In fact, homelessness in that part of Chicago is common, while I assume that homelessness in the part of Chicago I was at today is relatively rare. Gender is also a horrible predictor of behavior. When you look at behaviorinh entire population, there are clear differences is gender behavior. But those differences have almost no value when dealing with an individual person. Just because a gender class tends to have a specific character trait, there is no reason to believe that the individual person you are speaking with will have that specific character trait. In these two situations, it is my belief that broad gender character-tendencies had a small role in how things were handled, but even if I am right, the gender character-tendencies were only one of many different factors and cannot possibly explain the entire situation. Please do not put more emphasis on gender in my description than I am placing on it. Finally, if gender character-tendencies did play a role in either situation, I do not think that one set of gender character-tendencies is superior to the other set of gender character-tendencies. Different doesn’t always mean one is superior. In fact, differences within a population is nearly always superior o pplaions that lack differences. Two easy examples are genetic diversity and group think: homogeny is the enemy in both cases. Differences are healthy.)
When the two officers awakened me at 3 am, they did an excellent job of quickly establishing control of the situation and finding out who I am and why I was sleeping there. I explained that I was homeless. They explained that I still couldn’t sleep in that parking lot. By the end of the conversation, they were still very clear and very firm that I was going to move my car as soon as possible, but they also spoke to me in a very respectful, sympathetic, and understanding manner. I was scared and ashamed, and I believe that they performed the job excellently and that they were also excellent and caring humans at the same time. I left, and there wasn’t any trouble. (To be clear, if gender had any role here, I think it was that the officers found a way to excellently perform their job while still having sympathy.)
Today, the officer was significantly more aggressive and distrustful. (I don’t think this officer was aggressive or distrustful because of gender. I hate that I have to spend so much time explaining gender. I want to be able to talk about my life experiences and views as frankly as possible, but I also don’t want people to misunderstand the amount that gender might have impacted this situation. I especially do not want anyone to think that my discussion of gender means that I think one gender is superior to the other. While I firmly believe in gender differences, I also firmly believe that those difference do not mean one gender is superior. [Why did I tread into this minefield? For those who care, the language I am using sometimes implies a binary-view of gender, but that is because I am not yet good at using language that escapes the binary-gender paradigm. I am sorry if my word choices offend anyone because that is not my goal.])
I have been writing non-stop, and it is now 12:20 pm. Said differently, I have spent the last hour trying to talk about what happened to me today and how it helped me to understand something that I think might be very important, but I have not even started to explain the true point of the story. Instead, in my attempt to put the events into context, I have had to take massive detours to diffuse potentially explosive comments. This problem is all too common in my life. I have traveled an unusual path in life and I have atypical opinions and beliefs that do not easily compress into sound bites or labels. I cannot even answer a simple question like, “where did you go to school?” without either oversimplifying so much that I am basically lying or alternatively, spending at least 15 minutes explaining my convoluted educational history. To answer the question thoroughly, it probably takes about an hour. “Where did you grow up?” Full answer? One to two hours. “What do your parents do?” Full ans Ha! Two hours? Three? Five?
I really wanted to share this full experience and this insight, but I am emotionally exhausted now. If I can, I will write more later.