A Kind of Somnambulism


It’s embarrassing how consistently surprised by the vast amounts of time that run between each update. This blog I pay a hosting plan and domain registration fee for is not treated anywhere near a priority as my old free Livejournal account used to be in my teenage years. Not for lack of interest, but rather that resource of time that’s stretched thin by the obligations and demands of day-to-day life. With matters related to work and school being of a higher priority than building out and maintaining a modern blog, it’s been nice to write directly in an offline journal when needed and not have to concern myself with editing for potential review by anyone other than myself. At least when there’s anything to write about, given how much of life over the past year has consisted of sheltering at home and focusing on getting the work done backstage than worrying about what’s being presented onstage here.

Over the last three months, my life’s been entering a period of disruption and change. After wasting the month of February being overwhelmed by the demands of my last job, the situation finally became so untenable that I tendered a resignation last month, officially ending my time there as of the 15th of March. I had a first week of paralyzing anxiety, the existential dreck I evaded in February on my 35th birthday coming in late and aggravated by being unemployed for the first time in years: the outcomes today of my past circumstances and choices; the pressure on the next years of my life to be productive and experientially fruitful, since old age and death aren’t as far off as they once used to and are beginning to form specks on the chronological horizon; The need to take all my knowledge & skills and actually begin producing something tangibly impressive instead of continuing to languish. Though the anxiety eased up during the second week as I began doing initial research and resume updates, that sense of looming energy persists nonetheless. The first week of April, I gave myself the gift of Spring Break, a full seven days free of having to worry about anything related to either work or school. Since then, that’s pretty much been all I’ve been focused on.

Yet, even though I’m going through the necessary motions, there’s a certain disconnect I’m having where life feels more like a waking daydream than a vibrant first-hand experience thats keeping me from operating at optimal efficiency. In times past, it would have been the precursor to a depressive spiral cycle, but over the years I’ve gotten very proficient at reigning in my thinking when it starts trying to go in unhelpful directions and not getting lost inside of it. In my efforts to unpack it so far, the leading hypothesis is that this is a lingering consequence of those abandonment issues of my formative years, compounded by the socially isolated conditions of most of my childhood.

Not being around people and having to rely my own interests and devices to keep myself entertained became the norm starting in the 4th grade. After so many years of that and commuting to school from a sparsely populated crude housing development off in the hills of Tijuana, it became natural to my adolescent self to prefer being alone and exploring my interests than having to accommodate or engage with someone I didn’t have much in common with. Topped off with the traumas of the events that led to my family separation as a teenager, detaching completely and abstaining from life is a behavior pattern I can clearly reflected over the experiences and lost relationships over the past three and half decades. Underpinning all this are those age-related existential pressures. In the face of the question as to the reason to do all “this” for, I can’t claim any of the answers a typical person would. Parents to care for, spouse to grow with, children provide for…not even a pet. My only reason to do things is for me, a hard place to draw motivation from considering that’s someone I only stoped hating a handful of years ago.

Hence this casual disengagement, where I’m on auto-pilot in relation to school and seeking employment but most preoccupied with having to audit my relationship with myself in this waking dream. I assumed things were good since it hasn’t been harmful and antagonizing as it used to be, but “not bad” doesn’t inherently equate to “good”. And unfortunately, self-awareness doesn’t correlate to automatic exemption to one’s own human nature, just a guardrail to run along.

Now is a critical time to capitalize on, having so much more time available and mental bandwidth to find & seize potential opportunities. It all begins with getting out of my way and behind myself.

Over a Year Later

The last time I pushed an update to the blog in 2019, I was feeling hopeful and inspired. I’d gotten things ready to make a push into professional freelancing and pursuing some vocational changes, and the game plan I put together in the winter months then went flying out the window with 2020. California’s ongoing efforts to reign in independent contracting labor killed the prospect of freelancing, not just locally but online as well; why bother with learning the intricacies and exemptions of the state-specific law when you can simply just filter out California-based talent altogether? Being forced to accept that the plan I felt so confident in was ultimately unfeasible, I decided to take advantage of the proximity of the day job to San Diego City College in downtown and return to school. If contracting administrative and creative services wasn’t going to be feasible, I would at the very least get the ball moving on something that would contribute toward long-term improvement, obtaining a degree and perhaps shop around for a different job with new growth prospects. Halfway through my first semester back in academics for the better part of a decade, the COVID pandemic hit. Though school was able to swiftly accommodate the situation by switching to an online format, that came with its costs as well. Without in-person instruction, I knew I’d have to withdraw from the Algebra class I’d invested all that time in, not willing to stake learning and grading on an un-tested online format.

I otherwise completed the semester successfully. Throughout the brief “relaxed “ summer intersession and the grueling fall-winter semester that followed, to return to organizing and actively updating the ol’ blog was something I intended to do. Yet, amid the time constraints of a full-time job and three-course load on top of household chores—which have increased in frequency in light of all the time being spent at home throughout the pandemic—there wasn’t really much spare time in which to really maintain a blog, much less generate content for it given that what I had intended on doing in terms of online presence wasn’t really feasible, given the dramatic changes in environmental circumstances.

Further complicating matters has been the continued lack of eagerness to participate in “the internet” these days. There’s the long-standing real world implications that social networks have had that discourages their active use. I shoot out the errant missive on Twitter, but I don’t actively consume the trending feed. Facebook is banned from being installed on my phone, so I only use its properties less than a cumulative half hour per week. Beyond social networks is the nature of the current “web 2.5” we’re all living with. Being old enough to recall the original read-only internet that one used to dial into via a landline, there are too many inherent privacy considerations to beware of. Once upon a time, “thechexican” was more than a login handle, it was it a virtual identity. I could let myself known to be the same individual across different websites and forums, but never more than whatever detail was embedded in my activity. These days, pretty much any information is sufficient means by which to identify me and those around me.

Yet, here I find myself halfway through the first month of a New Year, and once again trying to persuade myself that I do need to up my game to what it once used to be back when I found all these services novel and full of wonder, despite my present-day aversions to it all. More so in light of how remote and digitally driven everything has become in the face of the COVID pandemic. One year ago, I started by delineating my personal persona here from the professional at jlew.pro. These days, I’m not so certain that separation was necessary nor prudent; barring undesirable advanced WordPress hackery, that entails managing and attempting to syndicate two different blogs. A problem to resolve down the line, I suppose.

Despite the outcome of the 2020 election cycle, the world still seems dangerously on edge an increasingly unstable. Yet, the stoic ideology I aspire towards prescribes not getting lost in the details of the picture at large and the obstacles they present, but rather to keep an even keel and focus on maximizing my ability and potential in any given circumstance. With better discipline and focus, 2020 itself could have been a period of substantial more improvement that I ended up making of it. One of the things that has certainly helped is making the time to write in my personal DayOne journal, and I can neglect that It would greatly benefit me to start funneling some of those efforts into public-facing writing once more and honing that aspect of the craft further.

On The Move

Over the past couple of months, I’ve (once again) been largely offline and inactive with with my public-facing profiles. Save for a couple of weeks in October spent getting over and bouncing back from a flu, I’ve been spending my time and effort assessing the current state of my life and mapping out ideas and plans for how to get things moving along vocationally. Yet, each time I’ve set mind to beginning to execute on those plans, I’ve been distracted by the overwhelming nagging feeling to get an update pushed on this blog. Even though it’s not integral to the task at hand nor something I’ve been actively engaged with, this space dedicated to my self as an individual is my most personally “important” project. And because it’s so intrinsically tied to me, it’s not that far off by way of a reflection of my current state in life: past buried & archived, spread thin in many directions, and inconsistently engaged due to a lack of certainty in what it is I should be doing to get myself where I want to be.

At my last update, I had received my shipment of printed business cards that I had designed myself, wary of the fidelity of the final product to the artwork file I had submitted. The cards looked good, but I realized I’d made a very basic design mistake when implementing the QR code that made it undetectable. The vendor has a print satisfaction guarantee, but the corrected replacement order I received had a working QR code, but had been poorly printed and cut, leaving me once again with a set of unusable business cards. With all the back-and-forth with the vendor and the resulting shipping times, it wasn’t until early mid-October that those were good to go.

When I started this blog so many years ago, it was intended to initially be a therapeutic tool to help work through the personal issues I had at the time and a public facing record of my “true” self, the authentic unfiltered personality that can’t be accurately conveyed with social media posts, and eventually evolving into a all-in-one site for both my personal and professional endeavors. But it didn’t develop as planned, and in an effort to get my freelancing career going without needing to first review and reconcile all of my existing content with a more professionally-oriented tone, I gave up on the notion of keeping everything under the umbrella of my personal internet moniker and designed my business cards stylizing my real name. I’ve also registered a domain to match, and have been spending my time away from this site working on getting my new landing page setup. Maybe one day down the line I’ll be able to consolidate and merge my professional persona and content into this site, but for now, a delineation between the two seems to be the best way forward.

My penultimate post briefly touched on pressure and anxieties I’ve been having in regard to my professional development, and I’ve still been wrestling with those more than I’d care to have to admit. Both myself and the circumstances in my life have improved considerably in the past two years. Back in November of 2016, I was a barely-functional mess, lost in figuring how the person I was trying to rebuild myself to be fit into a modern world spiraling out of control and seemingly hellbent on the self-destructive and irreverent attitudes I was attempting to move past on a personal level. These days, I am reconnected with a firm sense of self and confidence, and though the majority of my legacy mental/emotional baggage is squared away and no longer affects me, I do have this resulting fretfulness over how delayed I am in certain aspects of my life as a result of having spent so much time working through those issues without the support or guidance of anyone other than myself.

However, I also know that fearfulness and rumination won’t accomplish much by way of catching up to my idealized self on the runway that is my lifetime, and the situation as it stands now isn’t a matter of getting started, but amping up that which I’ve already been doing. Unwilling to complacently settle with things as they have been going, it’s time to really start chasing dynamic changes in my life.

Business Cards

Personal business cards arrived, but having done the layout and formatting myself, there’s a certain hesitation about opening the box and seeing how they turned out in actual print…

On Labor Day Labors

In the weeks since my last blog update, I’ve been focusing my spare time largely on moving the needle on the career development gauge. For a good while now, I’ve wrestled with achieving a productivite state due to the overwhelming analysis my brain starts automatically focusing on—false task dependencies and a constant guilt-driven shift in prioritization. Taking the weekend to decompress and realign, I spent almost the entirety of the Labor Day holiday in front of my computer screen, working on the landing page to compliment the business card design I finalized earlier in the month. Though not covered as extensively in my public blog as it has in my personal DayOne journal, the pressures and anxieties over what I’m currently doing and where I’m going professionally (and the financial corollaries) have really been bearing down on me lately. The disparity between the life I’m living and the one I want to be has grown large enough to the point where idle planning and preparation have become an unafforadble luxury. The lack of a degree and the massive debt it carries on its price tag are limiting enough, and continuing to get older without a portfolio to compensate isn’t achieving anything. I suppose in a way I’ve been waiting for some sort of “permission” in lieu of a degree to start trying to get paid to do what I want to do instead of doing things I can be paid to do. Ironically, it’s something I can admit to having already obtained, just haven’t allowed myself to truly believe; my former boss tells me he still gets compliments on his website I redid for him, and feedback on the photos I’ve shot of the Airbnb units at work from the bosses’ industry network have all been highly positive as well.

Revisiting my personal reflections on a piece from Art of Manliness on the concept of thumos for (re)inspiration, I dediced to make a milestone out of the holiday and enact an overhaul in my approach to all areas of my life. I’ve got the momentum going on the personal marketing materials, and I have an actionable plan for content generation and portfolio building, it’s all of matter of making the time and enacting the requisite willpower to drive these items to completion.

Feels like there’s more to write here, but now is not yet the time. For now, back to work.

Settling My Social Media Dilemma

As I wrote at the start of the year, all of the ways in which social media—Facebook specifically— has been negatively impacting society on a global scale has really killed my engagement and interest in using the platforms. In the seven months since then, there have only been more reports of Facebook’s mishandling of user information and privacy liabilities, culminating in a $5 billion dollar fine they generate per calendar quarter so laughable that their stock went up after it was announced. With government oversight clearly not in play given the ineptitude and corporate influence rampant in the current administration, it would fall on its users to dole out the punishment via a boycott. However, Facebook is too engrained and diversified to be able to eliminate completely. Though I personally haven’t been using the social networks actively and have kept Facebook off my phone, WhatsApp is still the primary external communications tool at the day job. Even if I could delete all my Facebook-owned accounts, I’m keenly aware that user tracking technologies are so advanced that even browsing the web is feeding them data from me via their partner networks.

It’s a bothersome logical conflict between the idea that you’re losing out without gaining anything if you’re not actively using their services since you’re still providing them data anyway, but if you do use them, you’re opening the valve on the data hose and giving them far more information to mishandle & misuse; Facebook’s now primed to create the facial recognition technology stateside that could be used in nefarious ways as they do in China. And that’s just the concerns over domestic threats to society. Just a few weeks ago, I was alerted by a friend of an account that had uploaded my photos with their original captions, triggering a mention notification on their end. Who knows what we’re unintentionally providing information, visual data, and/or avatars for, but in an age of digital warfare and foreign election interference, it’s not so easy to just write it off as a “harmless” spam bot like in the early days of the internet.

iPhone screenshot of an Instagram profile with a Russian username using my profile picture and uploaded photos
A (seemingly) Russian account harvesting my photos

I’ve spent all of this year letting two perspectives battle it out: a rationalist mindset that accepts that change takes time and that there are, or the informed idealist that expects nothing good to come from either big business or government and opts out entirely. It feels irresponsible and unpatriotic to idle by and do nothing, and with the situation looking so bleak by way of solutions, evaluated against both the things I know objectively and my personal ideals, it feels like the best option would be indeed to follow the suggestions of Facebook’s former founders/leads and delete my own accounts. Keeping them open and using them whenever I rarely do makes me feel like a hypocrite, but conversely, one man deleting his accounts isn’t going to make a ripple, considering they’ve already been in a pretty much abandoned state. Then there’s the bigger picture to consider, that many of the problems with Facebook’s operations also apply to a majority of other tech firms, big & small. As a digital worker in today’s world, being able to tap into those networks is virtually required. Like it or not, that is where the public conversation happens.

I’ve known for a while know that I’ve settled, reluctantly, on the side of continuing to use social networking services, and hoping that eventually—sooner rather than later—government gets it together and finds a way to properly oversee & regulate these modern services. It’s just that despite the resulting consequence of not being up to date with what’s going on with many of my peers, not being actively engaged in social media has been so nice. A lot of time and mental bandwidth gets used processing a constant flow of information that largely can’t be acted on, and having reclaimed that for myself this past few months has been so enjoyable I haven’t been in a rush to give it up again. But as it’s said, all good things…

Homecoming

In the three months since Beyoncé’s *Homecoming* concert-documentary/live album hit the internet streams, I’ve been listening repeatedly with levels of enthusiasm and engagement that I haven’t felt with music in quite a long time. At my desk at the office, at the start of many of my long distance runs, or when I feel like listening to something but don’t have anything particular in mind, it’s effectively become the soundtrack to my life this summer.

I’ve never really seen myself as a Beyoncé “fan”. In my formative years when she was part of Destiny’s Child, she was just another singer in an all-female performance group. Being in a passive household genre-based audio war with my older sister, fighting against her CD catalog of rap, hip hop, R&B, and oldies with my new love spiral for hard rock and metal, Beyoncé was just another singer for a type of music I didn’t care about. As age and experience broadened my taste for music to allow me to enjoy genres I used to arrogantly dismiss as “not real music” or write off otherwise, I got familiar enough with a enough of her songs as a solo artist to find myself impressed by her infamous self-titled album, from the elevated composition/production and lyrical content to the marketing strategy and material involved. It was a methodically planned album went far beyond music tracks burned onto a $20 plastic disc with a small set of liner notes, something I’d previously only seen in the Japanese music industry—for example, releasing music videos for every track on the album a la Dir en grey’s 1997 *Gauze* album— and elevated it to another level. But it wasn’t until 2016 when she began actively and unapologetically lean into her Blackness that I started finding myself truly drawn to her as an artist. The personal-but-publicly-known narrative (as well as the finesse and privacy it was handled under) behind *Lemonade*, abstracted and poeticized to be made relatable to and representative of the experiences of the Black woman, was art in the truest sense of the word. Even the revisited “visual album” component was of another level, laden with intentional imagery and showing an arcing narrative over twelve songs. I was awestruck then, but this year’s release of *Homecoming* marked the moment where I considered myself officially “stung”.

At this point in time so far out from it’s initial release, there have been many reviews and analytical thought pieces on the deeper cultural significance of *Homecoming*; I’m not a member of the target demographic nor an scholar of a relevant academic discipline to be attempting to craft one of my own. That said, I’d be remiss to not sing its due praise. Here, in 2019 Trump America, is Beyoncé’s entire career, curated and distilled into a (literally) flawless 105 minute-long performance showcasing Black and sending “the bar” to the moon. Her breath control is insane, never missing a note while simultaneously dancing out complicated choreography for well over an hour. Not only that, but she sounds the best she ever has—listening to the original recordings of the songs included leaves them sounding tinny and flat by comparison, lacking the bombastic arrangement of the band orchestra and the full-bodied and more relatable vocal tone of a full-grown adult woman. The documentary bits spliced into the performance are a testament to the both the benefits and importance of humility, sacrifice, and hard work, leaving us with hard proof that the most well known and highly regarded example of a humanity at its best being a Black woman. It’s like a modern-day entertainment equivalent of Jesse Owens in nazi Germany sweeping up medals and setting multiple Olympic records in under the course of a single hour.

As Beyoncé narrates herself, she didn’t put on her “flower crown” for Coachella, she put on her culture, and presented it to the world with all of the power and refinement her personal brand is known for, giving everyone a chance to see themselves reflected in her accomplishment to at least some degree. Growing up bi-racial in a time before widespread internet adoption, I can relate to the feeling of being insufficient at *two* races and not being fully accepted as either one. The inclusion of her collaboration track *Mi Gente* with J. Balvin (which I’m assuming it got edited down to just her verse in the video due to licensing conflicts) makes a part of me feel reflected on that stage, and more relevantly, millions of Afro-Latino people out there a representation of their dual ethnic identities harmonizing together. We tend to evaluate things on what they mean to us as individuals, but one audience that isn’t capable of verbalizing and pouring thoughts online are the millions of children also being exposed to this release. Being born a half-Latino American citizen raised in Southern California, I’ve always been keenly aware of the xenophobic American attitude toward the Mexican people and the looming threat of deportation for family and friends who weren’t as fortunate as I was to be born on US soil. Having Selena sellout the the Houston Astrodome in the mid 1990’s was a revelation to my child self; my culture *could* find success in America with non-Spanish speakers and fill stadium arenas, and make a lasting impact on society at large. By extension, it fills me with a quiet happiness to know that in a time of *Black Lives Matter*, when Eric Garner can be murdered on camera without consequence, children today out there have a shining example of both objective & Black excellence as I had my Latino one decades earlier at their age.

After losing some of 2019’s entries due to a migration error, I moved my focus away from the blog and put it on the other projects I’ve been working on. But the importance of commitment and a hard work ethic aren’t my only takeaways from the *Homecoming* experience. It was titled as such not just as a reference to the HBCU theme of the show, but also as a return to her art after being away from it for so long with her recent pregnancy. I too should come back to my form of expression, and start executing it consistently.

Oh Hey, 2019

Hello “new” year, despite it already now being more than halfway through January. Though I hadn’t planned to hit the 1st of the month running a la resolution mode—personal growth & development is a perpetually ongoing process that doesn’t reset with the the year— I still was secretly hoping to be able to have some big milestones to associate with it. Over the start of the winter season, I took out a new hosting plan and imported my blog content into a new self-hosted WordPress installation. I haven’t done any updating since I’ve been busy laying additional groundwork for other key projects I’m working on. That, and since blogging and said projects inherently involve social media, I’ve also been enjoying these last few weeks off the grid. I went inactive on social media for after accidentally deleting my entire Twitter history last year when I forgot to reactivate my account prior to the end of the 30 day restoration window; I assumed it would be like Facebook and stay parked in the digital rafters until I was ready to bring it back online. When it comes to Facebook itself, all of the news stories last year regarding data privacy misuse and the negative global impacts of widespread social networking, from the US elections to the Myanmar genocides, have really turned me off to using it and its properties (WhatsApp and Instagram). Having spent almost an entire calendar quarter now without notifications and “likes” has been wonderful and not something I’m in a hurry to give up. 

Aside from preparing the blog for use again, I’ve also been spending my time registering a couple different domains and putting together landing pages for them to start to actively market freelance professional services. The freelance gigs I’ve squeezed in to date have been far more lucrative than my job, and I thusly decided to try to make those more of a primary income stream and regular employment less so. That, or find a better paying day job while I continue to build these ventures out. Even though common sense and conventional wisdom would dictate that I get those ducks lined up before disrupting what I already have in place, that hasn’t been an effective approach over the past weeks with the post-work burnout and the luxury of complacency. To that end, I gave notice at my day job, indicating that I do not plan on being their full-time EA after the end of the month, and will be temporarily part-time depending on availability. Having a close personal relationship with my employers, I discussed this transition plan with them, and they’ve been understanding and receptive to the idea. This removes a lot of doubt and friction that would normally be involved in this process, leaving me free to focus on all that’s really needed right now: action. 

There’s a lot I’ve got going on under development right now that needs a bit more work before I start publicizing it, but I’m excited to see where things go. New year, new strategies. 

Absent Cause

It’s been a few months since I’ve last sat down in front of a blank page/screen to do any writing for myself: 3 months since my last blog entry and virtually nothing by way or journal entries, written or typed. After the election climate, all the perpetual coverage in the blog and news feeds, I felt like every possible thought I could have on political matters was already being dissected and disseminated in much greater detail and clarity than I would muster. Not only that, I started having some health complications that had me in chronic pain and knocked me off the workout routine I was starting to actively pick up again.

The holidays gave way to the new year, and I was spending every waking day trying to muster the energy to get out of bed and just focusing on making it through until the part where I relax at home with my best friend before going to bed. I got locked in a zombie-like routine, and doing much of nothing beyond work and watching TV. Having only unpleasant things bouncing around in my mind and not wanting to actively think about them.

With the turn of the new year came the start of coverage with my Covered California health plan, and after a month of roughing it out I finally went to go see a doctor about the abdominal pain I was having. I had an ultrasound done, which came back clear, and no real resolution to what was happening.

Having missed the hitting the ground running at the milestone of the new year (which I’m sure many others did because of the current social-political landscape) I set a soft target for my birthday. I’d focus on getting myself put back together, healed up, and actively set to get to myself back to where I was physically before winter. That didn’t play out as planned; the things were going on with me alleviated but still persisted, and every week it seems I’ve been having some other temporary flare up with various symptoms.

Looking back at the past three months, the cold early nights of Winter, the rainy weather, and all of the things breaking down with my body have backed me into a mental-physical rut. Constantly in varying degrees of pain, unable to workout like I used to, and feeling defeated, as if this crappy state has become the permanent new norm. Much to my own disappointment and personal embarassment, my mental strategies for dealing with this all have been proving very ineffectual.

Now at the final day of February, I’m reaching my frustration limit. My whole goal was to journal progress with this blog, yet lately, I’ve lost so much ground that seems impossible to make up with no foreseeable improvement in personal condition that it’s highly tempting to hit the delete button and give up blogging altogether. But thanks to present circumstances commandeering my internal monologue, this blog is the last bastion of my psyche that refuses to give up. Without it, I would be in a state where I’ve given up on myself completely, and I can’t abide that.

A few days reflection and seven paragraphs later, I don’t really have a plan moving forward. All I know is that come tomorrow, another month will begin to tick away, and need to start doing things differently and get back to task, even if it feels like physical hell every step of the way.