It seems that only being on an airplane, with its combination of computer availability and lack of internet access, is able to convince me to write these entries any more. I don't remember exactly when I wrote my last entry, though I know I was pretty unhappy when I wrote it, and I'm fairly certain that both of my parents' visits to Dallas, as well as the Christmas vacation from which I am now returning, were after it.
My dad's visit was the week of Thanksgiving, and was fairly similar to the other visits he's made. (Highlights included the baseball museum, a couple of Woody Allen movies, and buying a very nice vacuum in the hopes it would convince me that vacuuming is every a worthwhile activity, which so far it has a couple of times.) My mom's was notable because it was the first time she's been to Dallas (and the first time she'd been on a plane at all in something like 7 years). In fact, she seemed pretty unfamiliar with the “big city” experience in general, which surprised me since I'd been to New York City so many times while living in upstate NY—evidently she hasn't. Her visit was pretty short since she came for a non-holiday weekend and didn't want to do anything without me, and I didn't take any vacation. We walked to the central location of the Dallas Public Library, and went to the arboretum.
My Christmas trip had two main components, the Hamm family Christmas on Sunday and Christmas Eve / Day at my mom's. Hamm family Christmas was held in Catskill this year. It was the first year without either of my grandparents around, but it wasn't too obvious even though it was held where they used to live—though some comments were made about the things they used to do. There was a profusion of food and everyone (including my sister, down for a week from Alaska) was there. I absolutely dreaded holiday shopping this year, and in the end decided for most people to just buy a bunch of chocolate bars (from Seattle Chocolates, a recommendation from my mom) and Vermont Country Store sampler cheeses and let each person pick two. (I also placed all my orders on Wednesday, but somehow they still arrived on Friday, important since the event was on Sunday).
On Christmas Eve, I bought a Brita pitcher and a wireless router for my mom's house—both things that have often irritated me in their absence when visiting there before (incidentally, I discovered that when my dad switched to DSL he also got a wireless router, though he hadn't realized it, so both houses are set for that now). Dinner was at Mangia, and after that I came home as my mom, Betsy and Vic went to church.
Christmas day, my big present was a Garmin nuvi 350, from my mom's whole side of the family. I had kind of been expecting this, as I had discussed it with my mom after falling in love with Doug's GPS device during my most recent visit to Pittsburgh. When I get off the beaten path I tend to get very lost, and drive in extremely circuitous routes until I find my way back to something I know, so I expect that this will save me a ton of time and frustration. I also handed out my presents, which following the pattern were nothing too showy.
When I wake up every morning, I'm pretty grumpy and unintelligible until I get my coffee. Oddly, though, even though I also have a bit of a headache I don't really mind this state for a few hours, until the headache starts to get really bad, and when I don't have work (work tends to cement me slightly more to a specific schedule) I often delay. It can cause problems when interacting with other people, though, and I think it may have precipitated a bit of irritability at my mom (towards whom I tend to be a bit more irritable than normal, anyway; and also, I think I've been pretty irritable when dealing with other people in general, lately, due to its being so easy to avoid them most of the time that communicating starts to feel like a big hassle).
Towards the end of the day, I started arguing with her over the fact that her husband Vic's relatives give me presents of cash every year, despite the fact that I don't even know them. I made it pretty clear that I consider this quite rude and a very certain net negative for me, since the cash is negligible to me and the having to deal with/thank another person definitely isn't. She proceeded to expound that it's the thought that counts, and it occurred to me just how strongly I disagree with this. Rather, to me, it is the results that count. In giving a gift, one's goal is presumably to benefit the recipient—to make him or her happy. Obviously, one has to realize that one wants to benefit someone else in order to attempt to do so, but while something that has the social form of a gift can fail for a lack of actual goodwill (for example, a Bible given to an atheist to attempt to convert him), something that has the correct intent can fail just as badly for lack of information. When the cycle of gift-giving and thanks becomes entirely ritualized, as it apparently has in this instance, it also becomes entirely pointless—actually, destructive, since the existence of “sham” presents has the potential to ruin the real ones too.
If you generalize, I think you'll find that these sham social conventions are all over the place in our society, and I don't like it. I'm still spending an enormous amount of time playing Final Fantasy XI, and something said by the leader of my former linkshell (he's no longer playing, and the shell has disbanded) made a huge impression on me. We were riding chocobos together somewhere, so that he could help me with a mission. He waved to someone on foot as we went by, and I asked “Do you know him?” He said “No, just being friendly.”
Ever since then, I wave to people all the time in FFXI and always try to be friendly (currently, I can't do much to actually help them, but if I can save someone lower-level from a monster I do). Before that, a lot of the time I was just going about my business; now, I realize that it costs me hardly anything and pays back for itself many times over to show a tiny bit of warmth. It's even affected my behavior in real life slightly; I had gotten in the habit of not bothering to hold elevators or doors for people, but now I sometimes try to, on the chance that someone is tuned-in on the other end (though I'm still far more friendly towards strangers in FFXI than I am in real life).
Speaking of FFXI—I've been building my character a ton laterally, but hardly at all vertically (I've hardly leveled my main job in months). Hopefully that means that I'm setting up an engine that, once I get it going, will spin very fast and enable me to reach the endgame, where most of the other players are. It's been kind of an exhausting process, and the results aren't all that visible at times, since a lot of the goals I have take reasonably long to achieve and have little or no result in their intermediate stages. Hopefully, I'm learning some lessons from the game that will apply to real life—it seems like this may be the case, but I have no way of proving it isn't a rationalization. And I've definitely noticed that most real-life conversations of sufficient length in which I participate end up coming back to FFXI, which I find fascinating, but I sometimes worry this fascination may not be shared by my conversation partners.
The solution is probably to get more of a real-life social context established, and then things will automatically balance themselves out. But that's something that I've only haltingly attempted for many years, due to the perceived low yield of any attempts to improve it (and my subsequently allowing infrastructural elements, like keeping my apartment clean or remembering how to interact with people, to decay, thus further decreasing said yield). Hmm. Shifting my environment is clearly the way to go, but the details of that have yet to be established.
And now, I am back in Dallas for two days, and then off to Pittsburgh for New Year's.