Huntsville, My Home

My first time in Huntsville was at Space Camp.  It’s true — I was one of those nerds.  Even worse, I went to Space Camp (well, Space Academy) twice.  How my parents afforded it, I don’t know.

It was at my second visit to the Rocket City when I first stepped foot at what would become my home for five years: The University of Alabama in Huntsville.  We did an aquatic rescue exercise in the swimming pool that is now filled in and covered by a weight room in Spragins Hall.  I got a one-hour credit for that week in town; I ended up with something like 168 towards my undergraduate degree.

I moved to Huntsville for the first time in mid-August of 1997, fresh from two years at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.  My MSMS experience made adjusting to college life fairly easy — probably too easy, because I was too lackadaisical to keep my GPA at a 3.5 or higher.  (Note to past self: you really should’ve taken 21 hours your second semester.)  I wasn’t a stellar student, mainly because I had too many non-academic things going on in my life — namely Student Government and my co-op experience.

I didn’t settle down right away because I didn’t really think that I would stay here, and so I moved from a dorm to my parents’ for a summer to a dorm to an apartment to an apartment to an apartment to an apartment to a rental house where I lived in a detached garage to one final apartment to a townhouse that I’ve owned for over 11 years.

That 11-year period is the longest I’ve ever had one address in my entire life.  Such is the life of a military kid.  That house is on the market now, because my wife and I have bought another, much nicer one.  I bought that townhouse thinking that I’d be in it for a few years before getting married.  Try 10.5, kid!

As of today, I’ve lived half of my life in Huntsville, Alabama.  (Yes, yes, I live in Madison.  I hate Madison.  If I cross my cul de sac and walk through my neighbor’s yard, I’m in Huntsville, and that suits me just fine.)  It’s frankly astonishing to me that what I thought would be a launchpad to greater things somewhere else in the country has ended up a base of operations.

I’ll turn 38 in a couple of months, and I realize now that I’ve lived about 2/3 of my life within a four-hour drive of my home — the exceptions being Dayton, Ohio, and San Antonio, Texas.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I figured out once that I’ve only been gone from Huntsville for more than 10 days at a stretch just three times since I moved here:

  1. A summer with my parents in the Mississippi Delta between my first two years of college.  I drove back at least four times over the course of the summer.
  2. Three weeks with my parents in 2012 after my dad had a heart attack.  He needed taking care of, and I was available.
  3. Eight weeks in 2013 when I took an internship at MITRE.

When I look back at Facebook’s Memories gee-gaw, I see the sadness and frustration that built up during those last two experiences.  The longer I was away from home, the more despondent I was.  The last experience was definitely trebled by the fact that I figured out just a week into my internship that there was no way that they’d be able to hire me, as a freeze was on for that group.  (I think it’s still in effect.)

The MITRE thing is funny to me, too, because I was living about ten minutes from my in-laws’.  I was a year away from even meeting my wife.  It’s always interesting how these little jumbles and bumbles keep life jiggling on — like how getting back into aerospace happened because my co-op mentor needed to clone himself and suddenly I was back in his orbit, or how that job led me to meeting my wife, or how we both got moved away from a glovebox project within a week of my starting my current job, or how I’m now studying to work on glove boxes again.

And yet that Saturn V is a marker, a fixed point, a lighthouse seen in most any storm.  It’s a symbol of our city’s (and nation’s) aerospace past, sited near its present at NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, and placed right next to its future leaders at the US Space and Rocket Center.

Sam Cristoforetti and I both went to Space Academy in the summer of 1995.  I like to think that we were there together, although I think that I’d have remembered an Italian girl with a lot of heart.  I don’t know when Kate Rubins went, but she is the first ISS astronaut younger than I am — by all of 13 days.  I watched Sam work on orbit while I was in my training, and now I’m getting to watch Kate kick a lot of ass in her increment.  I may not be a Space Camp Hall of Famer like those two are, but I do my part, I guess.

I can do it only because I came to this little nook of the Tennessee Valley 23 years ago.  I came because my school friends from Ohio were coming here, and I missed them and wanted to see them.  It’s funny then that in searching for a home that I’d left, I found one that I barely knew existed.

Sweet Home Alabama indeed.

Lent Has Brought New Life to the Old Blog

No, I’m not giving up Twitter after Lent is over, but needing a place to write some thoughts down has brought a bit of a rebirth to the old blog.  I was blogging before it was cool, and now I’m blogging after it stopped being cool.  While I don’t really know what all is going on with my friends, I’ve been trying to fight that with email.

When I look at the frustrations in that second link, I remember what they are, but only barely.  I only remember that they happened at all because I made vague references.  Letting the anger out is worth it, but I’m not sure that doing it where everyone can read it is the best thing.  I don’t know if the anger is any better-controlled, but not having a record of it may not be the worst thing ever.

IJSM.org is no more.

When I first had a Web site on the Internet on a domain that I owned, it was on IJSM.org, which I registered in January 2001. I was in my third year in college and found myself wanting a voice. I’d been doing small-scale self-publication on the Internet for a while, running a sports e-zine titled Top of the Key. I picked up the domain and hosting at a time when I realized that I was drifting away from the writing on that site. We had talked about trying to do something national with it. That would have been a terrible idea, especially as Ralph was trying to get me to leave college to pursue it. Eep. We were an American McCarver written by lesser lights and more mainstream voices, stuck bridging the eras of email publications and Web publishing. TOTK was email-only from its inception in 1995 until we started putting it on the Web in the early 1999 timeframe. I spent a lot of time on the ezine, both writing and editing. Like many publications of that size, it finds a voice in the person who heads it. Plenty of folks said I had a good one, but I kinda cringe at some of the stuff I wrote then.1

The headshot we used for IJSM.org.  I love that hat, but I can't wear it with a beard without looking Amish.IJSM.org was always based on the credo of The Indiana Jones School of Management: “Plan B? I’m still working on Plan A.” Improvisation has always been my modus operandi, and back then it was almost a raison d’être.2 It described the early personal writing well as I struggled to find my voice. I never posted cat photos, but you knew when I had a sinus headache or a was mad at one of my roommates. That site would have been so different with a place like Twitter, as I could have focused longer writing on it.

My personal publishing always goes through feast and fallow seasons, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Not long after I started personal publishing, the estimable Noah Grey said to me, “You should get your own domain. You won’t always want to be ijsm.org, but you will always want to be Geof Morris.” He was right, so I took the moniker gfmorris and made it my domain root. Now, nearly a decade later and three years after I took all the content here and moved it here with the idea of rebooting it, all the content is here on gfmorris.net. What makes me sad is that I can’t3 link up the content that was published under the templates it was published with. It would be great for everything that went out on IJSM.org under that template show up in the themes I used. It would be great to show the site as it was, not as it is going forward.

IJSM.org will actually fail for a few hours while I get DNS changes propagated to park it atop gfmorris.net. Everything will be copacetic from there. I have to keep the continuity, and no way in hell am I selling the domain.


  1. That’s not to say that I don’t want that to all make its way back on the Web. I would gladly host a Web archive of it, both before and after my involvement, if it were available. 

  2. My brother and father try to attribute this credo to me, but Dad brought it home from work. It just stuck with me. 

  3. easily 

Making Room

Roses budding in my front flower bed
These roses budded in my front flower bed back in June

For many, summer is about love: summer romances, May and June weddings, long days stretching out and giving the day that last gasp of diffuse light before the night is quickly upon you, thought not long to stay. I don’t know what this says about me, but I’ve never been one for love in the summertime. I typically find myself falling in love in the fall. I don’t know if it’s autumn breezes chasing the muggy sullenness of August or whether I associate fall with new school years, even nine years removed from attaining my degree. It’s just where I am.

Continue reading Making Room

On Addiction

I couldn’t really leave you hanging there, could I?

Remember where I dropped that life-is-a-rope-we-weave-together business? I am also influenced by the concept of the Hegelian dialectic: thesis and antithesis meet, and gradually, synthesis occurs. I find that nature and nurture are synthesized—a reason that I’m an Open Theist who buys that there are some who are elect and some who choose to believe, but that is an argument for an entirely other day, right?—into a new whole. In my case, I’m sure that I was always going to have the propensity to be bi-polar, or to be addicted to food, or any number of my other personality quirks. The environment I’ve had around me, though, has certainly had an influence on how my life has happened to date, and how it’ll go forward. [I am not a determinist.]

In a way, I guess I’ve long known that I’ve got a food addiction, just as I’ve long suspected that I had some mental health issues to address. In both areas, I was convinced that I Could Handle My Shit, but addiction is something you’re powerless to control. In my case, I used the addiction to self-medicate. It’s an effective measure, of course: go read neuroscientific studies about the effects of food on the brain, especially with the pleasure centers. When your brain has you convinced that Life Is Really Kicking You in the Balls, you might be tempted to eat yourself out of that hole. You’re eating yourself into another hole, of course, but that doesn’t occur to you at the time—your whole goal is to Make It Stop Right Now.

Even if you’ve got a problem, you still have to admit that you have one. For me, there was a confluence of factors that brought the topic to mind again and again and forced me to confront the ugly reality. Loosely:

  1. As you’d expect, this is a topic of discussion with my therapist. She’d used the word addiction a number of times in our sessions, and I’d always nod, but I’d never really accept and deal with that reality in my brain. I never wanted to engage with it.
  2. I’ve been re-watching The Wire lately, and watching junkies work for their fix, I kept returning to the concept of addiction.
  3. Paul Graham argues that addiction is accelerated with technology. I viscerally reacted to Graham’s assertion, not thinking that he’d be wrong, but because, well, he was using the word addiction. So I hit Mark Pilgrim in that reply, and Mark, well, he knows what addiction is. I pretty much loved Mark’s reply to me:

    @gfmorris If he knows anything about addiction, he hides it masterfully in a sea of bullshit. Get your own word, PG. This one’s taken.less than a minute ago via web

  4. Lastly, there was the Rescue Me episode “Breakout”, where Lou talks about his addiction to food. I tried to find a clip online, but all of FX’s legal clips miss his full speech. I’ll edit this when the clip is available so you can get the full speech for yourself, but he gives the classic discussion of what it means to be a food addict. It’s pretty close to what Misty wrote the other day:

    I eat when I’m happy. I eat when I’m sad. I eat for entertainment. I eat to celebrate with friends. I eat when I need something to do with my hands. I eat because it tastes good. I eat because I like food. I eat. I eat. I eat…I eat too much.

All this came to a head on Tuesday morning. I’m to the point with EMDR that we’re working on future templates: taking plausible situations and working on cognition to reverse negative behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Last weekend, I’d come to realize something: I didn’t want to grocery shop for a week at a time, because I didn’t want to have that much food in the house. Why? Well, because … I’d eat it in half the time. Then I said the words, “And I guess that makes me an addict.” Therapists use the term breakthrough a lot, and it was one, but it’s still a bit tender.

I think the realization and the admission are the key things here. The first of the twelve steps: “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.” I would call being near four bills unmanageable. I would call not wanting to keep food in the house, for fear that I’d eat it, unmanageable. I’d call the 20 Chicken McNuggets I ate last night on the way home from Stephen and Misty’s, when I wasn’t even really that hungry, unmanageable. That, after Misty and I’d had a good conversation about how this is a struggle that we both share. I’d also call this evening unmanageable, where I’ve not wanted to eat because I didn’t want to give in to whatever my inner addict would have me eat tonight—now I’m writing on an empty stomach.

So, what now? Treat this as an addiction. Admit that I can’t handle it, which is the only way to begin to handle it. The hell of being addicted to food is that you can’t abstain from it. It’s damnably hard to abstain from alcohol if you’re an alcoholic, but you can do it one day at a time, making the conscious decision each day to not take that drink no matter how much your body may want it.

As always, I don’t share this out of some desire for self-aggrandizement or -flagellation. I share because it never hurts to know that you’re alone. I share because I believe in honesty, even if I don’t practice it enough. I’m not asking you to hold me accountable—unless you’re local to me, you really can’t even begin to do that. The most important audience for this site is me, because I have to face up to the words that I write.

One day at a time.

Twitter: The Connective Tissue in the Narrative

In a larger entry about information, Rands writes:

Those frustrated with Twitter are frustrated because they have a belief that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end. And that it should have all of those parts before it’s presented to them. What the hell am I supposed to learn from a tweet? The point of Twitter isn’t knowledge or understanding, it’s merely connective information tissue. It’s small bits of information carefully selected by those you’ve chosen to follow and its value isn’t in what they send, it’s how it fits into the story in your head. There are great stories to be found on Twitter, but you have to do the work.

I tell a narrative with my tweets—the narrative of my life, mainly. I announced my probable bi-polar II diagnosis on Twitter long before I posted it here. [And before I got some great feedback from friends who wanted to tell me that I’m not alone. That made it worth it.] My friends have an idea what’s going on in my life, because I share a goodly chunk of it on Twitter. Jonathan figured out that I had an obsession to eating sushi last week. My tweeps know I’m sick today. [Oddly enough, I didn’t tweet where I went in to work for a couple of hours because I felt I had to do it. It was the right idea, but I’m paying for it now in feeling puny. I’ll live.]

I’ve often said that I don’t know why someone who didn’t know me would read my Twitter. I’m largely the same way with Twitter—I care about the people that I follow, for the most part. I know about my friend Justin’s music school debt, how it creates angst for him and has him in a job he hates because it pays him well enough to get out of that debt. I know that some friends saw a lot of snow today, and some saw none. [And folks know that I saw very little at my house but a lot out by where Stephen and Misty live.]

Now, few of these little blips of information make a whole lot of sense if you don’t have some sense of the larger picture, which is why I write here. Why I share my life online, I’m never 100% sure, but the fact of the matter is that I do it. Part of me thinks that it’s self-expression. Part of me thinks that it’s narcissism. But I find value in it, which is why I’ve done it for almost a decade [!]. But these moments make more sense in the context of friendship, which is why I enjoy it when I go visit Rick and Jessica and don’t have to fill in gaps about what’s been going on with me since they last saw me, or how I’m excited when Mike Terry or Josh Stockment come to visit and roll on up to Nashville [’cause that’s how we do], or when we meet Hubbs in Nashville.

Fundamentally, I find that Twitter is a channel of that narrative, a way of taking your friend’s temperature. What has their eye? [when it comes to links]. What has their ear? [when it comes to music.] What has their ire up? Are they at GEOFCON TWO? Are they happy about something? Have they been in a car wreck? [Happened to two different friends this week. Found out via Twitter both times.] I care about Twitter because I care about people, both those I’ve met and those I’d like to meet.

Feelings … whoooa, feelings.

Somewhere in my MSMS days, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I came up as an ENTP, which was jokingly called the ENgineering Type Personality. “Cool,” I thought, “I’m going into the right field.”

As it turns out, my T score really was, as I now understand it, a repression of just how much I am ruled by emotion rather than logic. Some of you who know me may dispute this, but let me tell you … here inside me, my heart wins out over my head all the doggone time. I really am an ENFP, or what the Keirsey folks call a champion.

Where this plays out as a problem with me is that I often end up feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions that I feel about things. A case in point is today: Misty posts a photo of Eli on the way to his first day of school, and well, it makes me cry. Misty was incredulous, but I yam what I yam.

This is, perhaps, the most important thing that I’ve learned about myself in therapy. I sabotage myself when I get overly emotional, because I think I can’t handle it and/or shouldn’t be feeling this [sadness|happiness|fear|anger] so intensely, and so I try to cut it off. That’s acting against type, and honestly, it’s just about the worst response that I can give myself—because then I seek to numb things out a bit. And if you’ve taken one look at me, you might imagine that I do this by stuffing something in my pie hole.

I’m learning to just ride the waves as they come, because they will eventually go away. If I try to cut it off—or worse, bottle it—it gets even worse. I’m tired of it being worse.

And so concludes this introspection that you didn’t really ask for me to perform. Now, don’t ask me about the bullshit decision by the CCHA today—I’m still too angry to talk about that rationally.

Shorn

Before [well, a couple weeks ago; I’d let it grow since then]:

Before

After:

After

I grew the beard in my 20s to look older at work. I had plenty of reasons for this, but the main one is that I was way younger than my peers and wanted to fit in a bit more visually. Now that I’m 30, though, I don’t really care about that kind of thing as much—plus, I’m established in my position. Also, I associate the growth of the beard with the growth of my gut over the same period of time. I’m trying to get rid of one, so why not both?

It’s all in how you choose to see things. This I have learned lately. And I now choose to see myself as a cleanshaven individual. [But yes, I will Whiskerino in three months. No worries there.]

Openness

So I’ve been thinking lately about openness. I am, fundamentally, an open person. As such, my decision six months ago to lock down my Twitter account was a very hard one. I reversed it today. Why? Simple: I am an open person. You ask me a question, and you’re going to get an answer. Whether you like it or not really isn’t my concern. I talk about my faults, probably not often enough. I understand and respect the reasons for privacy, but at my core, I would rather be transparent than not. As such, I have a tendency to say some surprising and shocking things—partially because I don’t have much of a filter, and partially because would rather just speak my mind and be judged for that rather than hiding things.

So I’m sitting here in my terribly messy house, waiting for guys to bring in my furniture. In fact, they just called—they’re 15 minutes out. Is my house a wreck? Yes, it is, but I’m working on it. My house is a metaphor for my life, I think—too much junk, too much stuff of little value being held onto, entropic, chaotic and full of music and computers. It’s just who I am, for better or for worse. There is some of that that I’d like to change—de-junk the house, learn to let things go more, etc.—and I think that I can change that if I put forth the effort. But I really don’t want to change the fact that I’m a fundamentally open person.

As such, you can read my Twitter account if you wish. Warning: it can be scary inside my head. 🙂

It Makes a Difference.




Leah | Day #020

Originally uploaded by Geof F. Morris

First, let me provide you a musical setting, friends. This track runs about ten minutes, which is far more time than it will take you to read these meager words, but maybe you’ll get to thinking during the guitar solo.

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Cindy was 34.

Barry was 29.

Leah was 28.

All of them left us far, far too soon. All of them left us in much the same way—their brains conspiring with their bodies to take them from us long before any of us were ready to see them go. Cindy was my sister-in-law; Noah’s Barry would have been a good friend, I’m sure, had I ever had the chance to make his acquaintance. Leah was an acquaintance, and her husband Jamie is definitely a friend. All three of these men now share the same grief—a lifetime that was to be lived together now suddenly lived apart.

If you aren’t familiar with Over the Rhine, well, I’m sorry for you. The music that should be playing through your computer is, I think, wholly apt for this setting. The lyrics are reprinted, below, in their entirety, with my emphasis:

it makes a difference
when you walk through a room
with that worrisome smile
road weary perfume

but this isn’t the place
and it isn’t the time
for this beautiful delusion
that is robbing me blind

I want to know
I want to know
will it make a difference
when I go

it makes a difference
that I’m feeling this way
with plenty to think about
and so little to say

except for this confession
that is poised on my lips
I’m not letting go of God
I’m just losing my grip

I want to know
I want to know
will it keep you guessing
when I go

what is a love
if the love’s not my own
this is not my home
this is lonely
but never alone

I just want to hold you
in my gaze for awhile
so I can remember
every line around your smile

then I want to know
I want to know
will it make a difference
when I go

For those left behind, picking up the pieces, let me answer the question: YES.