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Things That Are True

As I noted in my Greece / Prague travelogue, I kept a list on my recent trip to Europe, which I named “Things That Are True”. Disappointingly, the content of the list had little to do with philosophical truths or anything which would be of interest to your average human; instead, this was a list of things that were true mostly concerning myself (with the occasional random observation). It was a special list more because of the concise nature of the statements, the self-perception achieved, and the relatively high degree of honesty. So what follows is a very incomplete but nonetheless good summary of, actually, my identity as it currently stands, phrased in terms of struggles, loves, hopes, observations, and more.

Here it is, exactly as I wrote it out over the 10-day adventure (any editorial additions or comments will be italicized and in brackets):

Things that are true

Things that are true, honest, bare, stripped down, inspired. The result of travel, solitude, conversation, thought, pain.

1. I love languages. I love being in places where there are many spoken. I love learning them. I love reading them. I love thinking about words, their histories, their variants.

2. I love being overseas. I love being in a place where I know so little that my goal is to understand. In the States, I criticize. In Greece, I try to understand. This is better. I don’t know the rules of the game, so I can’t judge people or systems. [For example,] I don’t know what faith means here, so I can’t judge. It is a relief.

3. I love foreign women. I love it when we catch eyes. We can’t understand each other, but there is a connection. I want to understand…I want to progress in knowing. Maybe a foreign woman is not necessary for this, but there is some real, obvious symbolism in the juxtaposition of languages and cultures that makes me think: here, there is something in which I can progress in understanding.

4. I really want someone to love. I long and yearn for the possibility of a caress or kiss–these physical realities are central and important to me, and I feel deprived of them. I know they must correspond to emotional and spiritual realities, but I am blessed with friends and companions so much that I do not feel deprived in those areas. Thus right now the daydreams focus on the physical–not meaning sexual–since it is what I lack.

5. I love solitude. I am beginning to realize this again after years of growing in social skill. I love community, but at the root I am an individual, and I need time alone. To think, to play music [without wondering if I am annoying roommates or neighbors, without being afraid to sing loud], to wonder, to be sad, to pray… I think I have been deprived of this lately. What I need is radical, intense community, and radical, intense solitude. Recently, I have had neither. Even when I am married, solitude will be important to me. Separation and union, separation and union–Riddle-maker of Hed style [which won’t make sense to any of you unless you read this book]. Is this healthy? In any case it is new–in relationships I am usually clingy–tending toward perpetual union. But now I taste the desire for solitude and space even in that [most intimate] relationship.

6. I am ashamed of Christian symbols. The Bible on the table, the “I went to Bible school,” the cross necklace, the mentioning of Christian band names, etc… I am afraid when a stranger sees or hears these things on/about me or someone I am with, they will assume I am a certain way–corresponding to an image of a Christian they have in their head. But I am almost certainly nothing like that at all! [Maybe the more general observation is that] I want no one to be able to stereotype me in ways I don’t encourage. Is this possible? Should I care? Is this feeling tantamount to being ashamed of Christ?

7. In social situations, I am a paradox. I have two contradictory drives. One is to avoid notice and attention–to be like everyone else–to fit in. Another is to insist that I am different–to stand out. Maybe the rule of thumb is this: in situations where people would think I am the same as those around me (church, for example), I insist on my difference. And in situations where people would think that I am different (Greece, for example), I do all I can to avoid this attention–to blend in.

8. In general, I am very wary of people making assumptions about me. In fact, I hate it. For example, I am easily annoyed on this trip with my sister partly because I see people assuming that we are dating/engaged/married (she has a promise ring on her wedding ring finger which could be mistaken for something else). It really rubs me raw–not sure if it has anything to do with Rachel or if it would be the same with anyone. [After reflection, I’m thinking the latter…it is just hard to flirt with girls if they think I am with the person who is actually my sister]

9. I love exploring. I love going places other people aren’t, especially if it involves difficulty. I love doing it alone, and finding secret hidden treasures! (Or places, views, moments…)

10. I love moving. I love motion. Whether running, biking, driving, mopedding, sailing, ferrying, flying, swimming…. I love the feel of wind or water against me. I especially love it when I am controlling the motion–I have a natural affinity for driving, flying, boating, piloting anything [and by affinity I don’t mean skill, but rather something more like “joy”]. And, I always want to do these things as fast as possible. It seems beautiful to combine speed and controlled motion. I will always choose such activities over standing still.

11. When I am learning languages, random words that I recently learned tend to pop into my head, and I roll them over and over–I don’t forget these words, but I do forget others.

12. I need someone who is skilled at drawing me gently out of the depths of myself at the right times. Those depths are beautiful, but can be suffocating. In return I will draw her in to that world where there is much wonder to be experienced.

13. I am deeply and irrevocably romantic (though it may only last until I find a girl, or she finds me). Every time I go outside, or ride a bus, or fly on an airplane, or whatever, I believe with a real hope that girl X who sits next to me has been divinely put there so that we can start a beautiful story. Just like how all romantic movies begin.

14. I do not know if my desire to be in love is selfish. [By which I mean, I do not know if it is purely selfish]

15. I am not accurate at guessing girls’ ages. Or guys’, for that matter….

16. Some people inspire me to think great thoughts–they don’t think the thoughts themselves, necessarily, but rather spur me towards an exciting personal intellectual discovery. Some people inspire me to dream great things in areas other than intellectual (say spiritual, social). Some people, on the other hand, frustrate me, and leave me feeling like I’ve gone nowhere, or backwards. Others don’t have either of these effects. Two observations: (1) After being around the inspiring kind of person, it is such an incredible experience that I unavoidably want that in a girlfriend/wife. (2) I can understand the need to be around the frustrating and ambivalent types, but right now I feel that those are the strong majority of people who surround me. This causes unhappiness.

17. I really want a dog.

18. I have an inflated view of my appearance. On the inside I feel dramatic, dark, mysterious, and enticing. I walk around feeling/imagining myself this way. When I see pictures of myself, I am always surprised at how disappointingly not like this image I am. It does not lower my self-esteem, however, because as soon as my eyes leave the photo, I believe I am the image again. Thus my self-esteem is very good, but based on a lie. That’s referring to my facial appearance, hair, mannerisms, etc… i.e., things I can’t easily change. Things I can change via exercise, like being ripped/fast/strong/sexy, I “fix”. But that’s not what I mean when I talk about “image”.

19. When I hear stories of great and heroic deeds or discoveries, or about great leaders or thinkers of the past, there is a deep resonance in my heart and soul. Maybe I have just read too much fantasy, but I believe I have a high and important destiny. Thus when I look around and see that this is in all likelihood an illusion (there are no more real adventures to be had), I am deeply saddened. The progress of humanity has destroyed the possibility for true individual greatness, and so I feel that I was born for another time and place; here and now, greatness is dead.

20. I identify with archetypes and archaic or mythical roles and persons–not real people living here and now.

21. It is much easier for me to flirt with girls in other cultures than in the States.

22. I have a high opinion of how responsible I would be with a lot of power, and the revolutionarily Christian way I would use it for good.

23. I can do everything, but the world is set up for people to do just one thing.

24. Going out for the sake of going out is expensive and often a disappointing waste of time. But it is all some people do.

25. Music is my great companion and comfort, the way that I believe God loves me. I believe another such doorway will open when I fall in love with a girl. For now, it is music.

26. I love logic, symbols, and mathematics.

27. It never occurred to me until recently that I might not become an academic.

28. Of all the cultures I have traveled to, I find that Americans have the worst attitudes and are the least helpful in service roles.

29. I form habits extremely quickly, but discard them much less quickly. (The first part relative to others). Hence I often force myself to switch things up, arbitrarily, in minor issues.

There ended the list from the trip. But in the last few days, I would have added one more (if only to round it out to 30):

30. For me, joy is inextricably linked to hope. If am hopeful, I have joy. If I am hopeless, I do not. For any number of reasons, I have not been hopeful for over 4 months, and that explains why joy has also been absent. This is kind of a problem–hope has to do with the future, but joy is supposed to be concerned with the present. But it explains why I always like to have some trip or something fun on the horizon to look forward to–it ensures that there will always be a minimum of joy in my life.

I was hoping that maybe the process of creating this admittedly random list might help me with my current life dilemma, which is that, given that there are no practical limitations on where I might live and what I might do next year, where should I go, and what should I do? We could make it a binary dilemma: should I stay here and do what I’m doing now, or not? As should now be apparent if you read the list, there does seem to be something in me that wants to live in another country, for example, or devote myself to learning a new language. The problem is that such a choice would come with all kinds of sacrifices…and I don’t know how to navigate them.

In the end I don’t know if the list helped. As I should have expected would be the case, I just feel more confused. Any ideas? Well, I hope the foregoing has been illuminating as regards my personality; I am certainly happy with it as the fruit of my solitude during the trip.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan has been making things out of code as long as he can remember. Jonathan is the architect and project lead for Appium, the popular open source automation framework. He is also the founding Principal of Cloud Grey, a consulting firm devoted to helping clients leverage the power of Appium successfully. He has worked as a programmer in tech startups for over 15 years, but is also passionate about academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively. Living in Vancouver, he’s an avid musician, and also writes on the philosophy of technology.

3 replies on “Things That Are True”

Lipps, thanks for sharing these truths about yourself. i love the way you express yourself so easily through writing. it is a gift to be able to learn more about you through this honesty and vulnerability.

A very true and illuminating entry.

Here is a single thought that is probably most appropriate for a real conversation, but I’ll probably forget it when that time comes.

Having lived in PA for a year and a half, your potental for finding guaranteed success in EVERY [JT significant] area of life (girl, solitude, community, adventure) is significantly lower than if you were to move overseas, as you have experience behind you. Over there anything is possible. However, the potetential for finding guaranteed success in ANY ONE area is not greater over there. In fact, because community is already a relative success here, by moving you would be perhaps be conceding to likely fail in that area in hopes of finding success in a different area. So even if the potential of finding success is greater overseas, it is unlikely that a place exists where every area is fully realized.

Look at it this way, in terms of random numbers:

Let’s assign a percentage to each area of life in each location relative to how much we’d expect to find success in that particular area.

First, Palo Alto
Girl – 10% – it hasn’t happened yet and chances are pretty low after 18mo (but not impossible)

Community – 90% – safe to say finding community in PA has been successful

Solitude – 50% – goes both ways, at times

Adventure – 25% – most things around here are old hat, but every so often opportunities like climing a mountain present themselves and give this area a decent number

Average Success rate of PA – 43.75%

sounds about right

Now let’s look at overseas:

Girl – 25% – might seem a bit low seeing as how attractive they all are, but this number is based on JT overall success rate in Girl for all locations (AZ, PNG, TX, FL, CA). it seems location has little to do with Girl rate, as rates between location are all pretty similar. even so, we’ll give iit a higher rating than PA because at least we havent yet experienced failure OS.

Community – 5% – not knowing a language adds to Adventure rating but significantly hurts community rating.

Solitude – 60% – slightly better OS over PA. regardless of quality, the quantity would certainly increase.

Adventure – 75% – pretty high, seeing as how it is a new and foreign place.

Average Success Rating of OS: 41.25%

Wow, pretty damn close ratings. It seems, though specifics range drastically, the average between all locations remains relatively consistent. Apparently wherever one lives, one still has longings and desires for a richer life…

Nyffy, thanks for a very helpful categorization of the problem. You astutely chopped things up into four areas that were implicitly central in the list. Though I would have added one more – “Language learning / learning in general” – which to me ranks right up there with “Solitude” and “Adventure”, if not “Community” or “Girl”. Clearly, language learning would get a much higher success rate OS than in PA.

That being said, I don’t disagree with your perceptive analysis, particularly the conclusion, which is that “wherever one lives, one still has longings and desires for a richer life…”. This is undoubtedly true, and I have been mulling it over throughout this process. As I expressed Monday night, it’s entirely possible that my desires to be elsewhere have more to do with temporary, current dissatisfactions than with some core identity that can only be validly expressed elsewhere. (I should also say that we’re not even considering the question of “call” or “God’s will”, which, as far as I can tell, is not playing a role in balancing the problem here). I mean, maybe it’s just the case that 6 months to a year after living somewhere, I just get dissatisfied–and so moving elsewhere is not so much a solution as a way to keep running from boredom or dissatisfaction or dealing with the same people. If that’s the case, then choosing OS will not fundamentally help me or make me happier, though it might be exciting for a time. I’m trying to recognize those forces as possibilities in decision-making.

Maybe the harder issue for me is made more clear because of the helpful way you have chopped up the problem into categories. However the numbers turn out in the end, it looks pretty clear that one thing is not true, namely that either OS or PA is higher in all success rates than the other. In other words, it’s not the case that one is (even slightly) better than the other in all categories. There are fundamental trade-offs, as you said; PA will have better community, OS will have better adventure. The trade-offs are hard because it puts different things that I think are important in conflict, most saliently, Community and Girl.

Over the past 6-8 months, it has been rather painfully beat into me that Community is just not set up to provide the kind of intimacy and love that I desire. It’s great, of course, and relative to not-Community it is far superior. But the message I have got from it is that it cannot give me everything I have been asking of it. It’s a hard message to hear, because I had high hopes, and thought that maybe ordering my life around Community would make everything else fall into place. Not so. Anyway, from my observations, the category which looks most likely to provide the things I am currently seeking and desiring is Girl.

Ideally, a single location would have high Community and Girl success rates, but this location has not been realized in PA. There doesn’t seem to be any inherent impossibility in having both, but after living here over a year, Girl’s success rate (defining which would be an interesting weblog entry) has been miserable (partly due, dare I say, to such a high Community success rate and a general lack of interaction with others).

In other words, the questions become: are all categories equal, or is there a hierarchy? Certainly the situation is not static, but right now I feel more inclined to say that I want to focus on Girl over others. That being the case, how do I evaluate marginal gains in Girl potential success rates versus substantial losses in Community potential success rates? It’s hard to know.

Anyway, all that is to say that I think looking at things this way is helpful, but ultimately the tensions replicate themselves in terms of relative importance of success rates for the different categories.

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