Temporary Home

A recent topic of discussion with my wife and her family has been the amount of time I’m away from home.  It always surprises me when I take the time to add it up.

For one particular destination, the hotel rewards program keeps an easy to access tally: 202 days away over the last 4 years (including tonight).  I’ve probably had another 40-50 days to other destinations for work.  This doesn’t count the days where I’m gone most of the day traveling back home.

Before 2013 back to when I started working remotely, I probably was gone for another 250-300 nights–most of that during a 2 year period where I was traveling 3 weeks a month.

So, a pretty safe estimate is I’ve been away for almost 2 years of my 15 years of marriage.

There are some positives to this abundant travel: I’ve racked up enough hotel points and perks that I rarely pay for a room when I travel for fun and even those free rooms usually get upgraded.

On the downside, you start to lose the sensation of “home” after being gone so frequently.  I was gone for almost 70 nights last year and it seemed like my time at home was a never-ending transition from returning from one trip and preparing for another.  Thankfully, I don’t have children or this would be a big problem with my relationship with kids.

My feelings about the travel go in cycles–there are times that the solitude at night can be really helpful.  I struggle with stress due to work and not having to interact with others for a few hours at night can really help me reset.  The flip side is when I don’t need that kind of reset, it can get quite lonely and I don’t always handle that well.

It would help if my destinations varied more, but most of my travel is to the city I grew up in–so there isn’t a lot of novelty to enjoy as a tourist.

I think it would impact any relationship, but being gone so much really has challenged my marriage at times.  While it does make you not take for granted your time together, you miss of lot of the small things that happen every day.  At least for my wife and I, we’re not big long distance communicators, so only big things tend to be shared and our calls are fairly brief.  That is not at all how we share when we’re together (when I’m not in the early stages of my return transition, anyway).

The forced distance has helped our disagreements–we’re forced to decide if the issues are important enough to revive when we reunite.  Yet that same distance at times makes us feel disconnected or as if we’re leading very different lives (my wife hasn’t had to travel for work for a few years).

All the goods and bads aside, my desire to continue being gone so often is waning fast.  I will be making that a factor in my next position and hopefully will regain that sense of home I’ve lost these past few years.


My wife and I decided to spend this past New Year’s holiday in Savannah, Georgia.  At the time we were imagining a nice drive to a warm Southern town.  Unfortunately, they were having a cold snap (for them), which meant it wasn’t much different from a normal December day back home.

I wouldn’t say the trip was a disappointment–it’s always worthwhile to explore somewhere new–but it wasn’t what we were imagining.  The downtown area was much more of a party scene than we expected–perhaps due to the holiday and the influx of college kids.  Still, there were some aspects that lived up to the hype: Tybee Island was quaint and charming, although I did not locate that lost nuclear bomb.

The local cuisine was wonderful–from the glorious grits to the fresh seafood.  The Spanish moss and palm trees were a nice change from our familiar landscape.

We probably won’t visit again for a while–I think our next trip to the region will be to Charleston instead.

Here are some pictures from our visit.


Bad Faith & the Futility of Discourse With Someone Uninterested in Facts

Anyone who has banged their head against the wall after arguing with someone of the alt-right persuasion or raged about President Trump’s latest trolling effort should give this quote from Jean-Paul Sartre a read. I saw this pop up on Reddit and thought he summarized the concept of bad faith used by racists and fascists so well and why argument with them is pointless: their position is not because of ignorance of the facts, it’s anti-rational response to them.

From “Anti-Semite and Jew” (p. 13):

Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

It’s challenging to accept this reality–especially for those of us who enjoying engaging ideas that are different from our own.  We believe that if we could only make those stuck in the mindset understand the logical flaws of their arguments or the lies they’ve built them upon, they will come into the light.  We have to accept that maybe they are committed to a cause that has moved beyond reason–like religious fundamentalists.  They want the ends so badly, they’ll say and do anything to get there.

Let’s hope exposing them for what they are contains their ability to achieve those ends.

The Human Condition

“The Human Condition” is one of those phrases used so often during my literature courses in college that it lost all meaning.  In fact, when I’d hear it I’d sort of do a mental eye roll and prepare myself for the inevitable flowery bullshit that was about to follow the phrase.  It was something that people would use to sound more intelligent or make their points sound more important.

In case you have not be subjected to the phrase ad nauseam (see, that’s another flourish used to sound more important), “The Human Condition” is supposed to refer to the shared challenges we face living in the modern age with all its contradictions and complexities.  What it often really refers to is how upper middle class white people in American suburbia deal with their ennui (again–score!).  I don’t say that to be flip–rarely would you hear of examples prefaced with “The Human Condition” that deal with abject poverty, the plight of the working class, or what it means to be in some marginalized group.  It’s something other American upper middle class white people say to universalize their own challenges, which may be legitimate but would be subject to derision among people facing more immediate crises.

So, with that healthy disclaimer showing I realize the folly of what I’m about to share, I give you an interesting thought that popped into my head last night:

The human condition is this: We feel the pain and loneliness of no one knowing who we really are, but we fear the rejection of sharing that authentic version of ourselves.  This contradiction and the resulting actions and thoughts constitute a deep dissatisfaction with a life that is by nearly all accounts comfortable, safe, and desirable.

I’d like to say this is a little more applicable to the general American populace than most of these kinds of statements, but I realize my perspective is limited by my own situation that fits wholly into my characterization of the type of person described above.

Oliver P. Huff : 2002 – 2014

Oliver P. Huff

As I write this, my old friend Oliver, canine extraordinary,  is still sleeping on his bed by my office bookcases.  I’m writing this  now because I’m not sure I will be able to write it later.

This evening a vet will be coming to the house to euthanize Oliver.  He’s always been fearful of the vet’s office and it just didn’t seem right to have his final moments be fearful ones.

Oliver’s story has a short-version: While we were living in Christiansburg, VA, we adopted Oliver from the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in early 2003.  He, along with a group of other dogs, had been dropped off on the grounds of the shelter unceremoniously, so little was known about his life before then.  He had been given the name Hershey, due to his chocolate colored coat (he was an odd mix of dogs that somehow came together to resemble a miniature Chessie).  He was renamed after Oliver Twist, which grew even more appropriate as we came to know him better.  It was estimated he was about 6 months old at the time we adopted him, which was about how long K and I had been married.  In addition to being a dog, Oliver was a marriage counselor; my wife and I would both tell you that he gave us a common purpose and forced us to work together in ways that I’m not sure we would have on our own at that age.  Oliver was not an easy dog; the first several months were spent trying to keep him from attacking K.  He mellowed with age and after battling chronic disease.  As he grew weaker, we adopted a second rescue dog named Mollie who gave Oliver a lot of comfort and aggravation.  As we had expected to happen at some point (but we were still not ready for), Oliver’s body eventually failed him in a way that his spirit never did.  He was deeply loved by my wife and I, as well as his adopted sister Mollie.  He will be missed, but never forgotten.

Of course, that’s not the full story.

Today, Oliver does not resemble the dog we knew even a month ago.  He stopped eating normally about 3 weeks ago and has only eaten what would have been a normal day’s worth of food since then.  He has become very frail.  He can only walk with great effort.  He’s not alert, but he still recognizes us.

We took him to the vet a couple weeks ago.  I thought at that time he was dying, but there was some evidence it may have all been resulting from a nasty infection.  He spent a few days in the vet hospital and was loaded up on antibiotics and had been given nutrient drips since he wouldn’t eat.  For a few hours when we got back home, he did seem okay but he still wouldn’t eat much of anything (and we tried pretty much everything).

Last week, I had a business trip it was going to be hard to get out of.  I didn’t want to leave him, but I wasn’t going to be too far away that I couldn’t drive back if he got significantly worse so I went ahead with it.  I was glad that he made it through that week, but by the time I had gotten back it was obvious that he wasn’t going to bounce back from this.

On Saturday, we took him back to the vet just to confirm what we knew already.  There were some additional measures we could take, but nothing that we had a lot of confidence that would work in the sense of returning him to normal.  He could be sustained through IVs, but that would require weekly 24-48 hour stays at the vet.  The likely cause of his infection could be resolved with surgery, but he wouldn’t survive it if he couldn’t get to a better place before he was operated on.

I didn’t think the infection was the issue–I thought this had all started a couple months back.  Oliver has always been the top dog in the house, bossing around our much larger Boxer/Staffy mix, Mollie.  A little before Thanksgiving, he had started licking her incessantly.  I did a little research and read that kind of licking was usually a sign of submission or affection.  As soon as I read that, I thought Oliver must not be doing well.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, he was still acting mostly normal but was sleeping a little more.  I remember taking him and Mollie out around midnight on Christmas Eve, after having watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  The sky was so clear and you could see a ton of stars.  While we were outside, I suddenly had this realization that this would be our last Christmas together.  It wasn’t some Nostradamus-like predictions–he had clearly gone downhill in the past year–but it was sort of sunk in that he probably wasn’t going to make it another 12 months.  Like my emotions often are related to Oliver, I was sad but I was also thankful for the time we’ve had together.

About 7 years ago, Oliver was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia or AIHA.  I still remember the day I had taken him out and he started peeing what looked to be red wine.  Dogs either are born with AIHA or they develop it as a reaction to cancer, blood disease, or various toxins.  The best guess the vet could come up with based on the evidence is he either got it from eating onions or from rat poison.  Since we didn’t have rat poison around, I always assumed it was from some onions that may have fallen to the floor (we never fed Oliver leftovers or he only got “regular” food very rarely).

Basically, what happens with AIHA is the immune system destroys the dog’s red blood cells.  As you might imagine, untreated this can kill a dog rather quickly.  We got very lucky because our vet had done some work on AIHA and quickly introduced that as a possibility when he was examining him.  His quick response more than likely saved his life at that time, but the treatment took a lot out of Oliver.  In addition to the drugs that forced the bone marrow to quickly release red blood cells, he had to be put on a variety of drugs to suppress his immune system.  At the time, the prognosis was that he’d likely have another major attack within 2 years and he probably wouldn’t survive it even with early treatment.

Before he got hit with AIHA, Oliver was a very energetic dog.  He liked to jump around, climbing on top of our couch to get a view out the window.  In our cars, he’d even climb up in the back window ledge when we weren’t paying attention.  After his treatment, he never really was the same.  The days of jumping were over and while he still was as stubborn and grumpy as before, he lacked the energy reserves to let everyone know about it too much.

As predicted, about two and a half years later he did have another attack.  However, he did respond to the treatment and made it through.  Like before, he was diminished after recovery, but he didn’t have another issue with AIHA other than some minor relapses.  Due to the nature of his disease, he never made it off immune suppressants, which did make him susceptible to some other minor problems that we had to treat over the years.  Overall, given his prognosis, he had an excellent quality of life for the remainder of his time.

Oliver’s toughness belied his physical vulnerability, so there was a moment of disbelief when we had to come to terms with the fact that he was not going to recover from this most recent health challenge.  But my wife and I both strongly believed in him dying with dignity and we’ve didn’t waver with our choice once we understood what Oliver was facing this time.

Oliver was so much more than his health problems, though.  Due to the fact that I worked from home, we spent a lot of time together.  Without any office friends around, the initial transition to working alone at home all day was a little rough–even for a staunch introvert like myself.  Oliver had plenty of personality and quirks that made him a great companion during my long days plugging away on database code or learning how to be a manager.

One thing Oliver was famous for was “going on strike”.  If we needed him to go somewhere, he would often flop down on the ground to prevent you from leading him there.  You could either drag him at that point or attempt to pick him up.  If you went with the picking up option, you’d find that he had gone completely limp and had magically doubled his weight.  We decided he must have been some kind of protester in a past life.

Like most dogs, when he was healthy Oliver loved to chase squirrels and had an intense dislike for cats.  Also, he was not a big fan of small children.  One thing we discovered early on was he had a strong affinity for old men.  When we’d take him on walks in a park, he was always trying to run off with some random old guy.  That combined with his intense fear of smoke detector alarms and burning smells of any kind (even if you were just trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich) led us to create a tragic origin story for Oliver–his previous owner was some old man who lost everything in a fire and couldn’t support his dogs any longer.

Oliver loved the rare treat of rotisserie chicken and cheese, which were often employed to get hard-to-swallow medicine down.  He seemed to enjoy watching Dallas Cowboys games with me until I would start yelling–then he’d prefer to look out the window.  He loved laying in sunlight and rolling in clover.

The advantage to writing this ahead of time is I haven’t felt the real pain of loss yet.  This evening will be really difficult.  The first time I forget he’s not around and go to do something with him will be hard.  Over time, though, I know the pain will subside and I can comfort myself knowing that he did not suffer much in the end.

Oliver was a remarkable animal and an excellent friend.  I’m so glad he’s been a part of our lives these past 11 years.

Own It

If we want to solve problems, we have to admit our mistakes

I think a lot of the problems in our country, with our dominant set of values, and with our culture is this idea that something must either be without flaws or it is without value.

We have a very hard time telling the truth about ourselves, our families, our culture, and our national history. Why can’t we see the problems and failings as opportunities to improve? Why can’t we accept that we have made and will continue to make colossal errors, but do our best to right the wrongs when we understand that we’ve screwed up?

Our current values turn denial and delusion into the preferred way of dealing with problems—no wonder we rarely solve any of our real issues.

One of the bravest things someone can do is to say: “I’ve really messed up, I’ve hurt you, and I’m so sorry. I’m going to do my best to change so it doesn’t happen again.”

How I would fix Congress

Assuming I have magical powers

  1. We change Congress to a more Euro-style legislative body with many, many parties. This way any fringe parties can win their 1-4 seats, speak their lunacy, and have almost no real power. Also, this would mean no single-party majorities unless that party was extremely popular. So most of the time, by necessity, the people elected will actually have to compromise and negotiate.
  2. Elected officials who take special interest money must not only disclose all contributions, but they must wear advertisements for those special interests on their clothing like a NASCAR driver.
  3. 2 consecutive term limits for all elected officials. You can run again after sitting out a term, but you only get 2 terms consecutively.
  4. Performance-based incentives for things like passing a balanced budget, passing bills with a low pork index (independently calculated), and reaching certain productivity metrics (also independently calculated)
  5. If you run for another office, you must resign your current elected position