and into the river we’d dive

I have a thing about heights. Being up high, or even just standing next to subway tracks, is a source of sometimes significant anxiety, and it has always been that way. Thus, whenever I have been invited to sit on an outside patio on a high-rise building, take a look at a beautiful view from a cliff, or found myself in a position were falling was a possibility, I have a stew of unpleasant emotions stirring within me.

As a kid, when waiting for the subway (which I rode to and from school, and later work, every day), I would occasionally be faced with the reality of my mortality, and of the fear how easy it would be to just jump into those tracks at any moment.

Or slip. Or be peeking to see how close the train was along the tracks, and then lose my balance and just fall.

Or, you know, what was actually stopping me from jumping? And this last thought was not about depression or suicide, it was just a realization that I could, if I wanted to, just jump off that platform, that cliff, or that high-rise patio. This was a disquieting realization, that I started having when I was around 7 or 8, if my memory serves me.

(this is not me rope-swinging, as I had no camera on the river with me on Saturday)
This is not me rope-swinging, as I had no camera on the river with me on Saturday. The rope we swung from was actually somewhat higher than this one appears to be.

Later, when I was in high school and I discovered philosophy, I read bits and pieces of Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and was somewhat relieved, but also somewhat gobsmacked, that this experience was not mine alone.

Sartre describes the experience of radical freedom, and being burdened with the realities and consequences of that freedom, and I felt like I had found someone who understand what it was like inside my head, most of the time.

Because did I distrust myself? Was there reason to think that, given the radically free choices I could make, I could make one which could end or significantly damage my life? Always.

Sometimes, what becomes most clear to me is how easy it would be to destroy everything, how fragile it all is, and how even if you were to act in such a damaging way just because you can, you cannot take it back. Because knowing that you could have not done something (whatever that means, right Dan Dennett?*), when in fact you did is not sufficient if you did it, right?

Perhaps. But I think that we know ourselves best when we can tell the difference between something we could not help doing and something we could have done differently, but didn’t do so for bad reasons. And what’s worse is that when those who have been on the receiving end of those actions cannot understand, will not hear, or don’t care about that distinction.

River Tubing, Ropes, and climbing that tree

Cut to this past weekend.

A few weeks ago, I went to party at a college-friend’s house. I had not seen him in a couple of years, I had the day free, and so I drove out to the Lambertville area to see him with my girlfriend Kristen and some other people close to me, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and enjoying his well-kept grounds on a lovely summer day.

At the party, my friend mentioned that he was going river tubing on the Delaware, north of New Hope, PA, and this sounded like a lovely idea and so Kristen and I planned to go. While tubing (which was awesome), someone mentioned a rope swing. Having a good time and being carried away by their enthusiasm, I proclaimed some interest in swinging out on a rope. And we floated on some more.

And then I saw the rope.

I saw people swinging out, and it looked like fun. And then I saw the rickety steps going up the side of the tall tree from which the rope hung, and as I thought about climbing up to the platform (which was essentially some wood nailed to a tree), I felt my stomach tighten. But I climbed up anyway (not to the highest platform, because I’m not crazy like Kristen is, who climbed up there like she was strolling in the park), and grabbed a solid hold on the rope and felt the acceleration of gravity swing me over the water, until I felt the rope reach it’s maximum height, before it would swing back, and I launched myself into the air and landed safely into the water.

It was so much fun that I did it again. And, of course, my stomach clenched as I climbed the side of the tree the second time, but it didn’t stop me. The fear was still there. It was unpleasant, but I knew that the effort would be worth it. I would not allow my fear to prevent me from enjoying the thrill of flying through the air before plunging into the cool water on a hot summer day.

And then we got back onto our tubes, rafts, and inflatable boats and kept drifting down the river with friends.

And I’ll do it all again, if I’m lucky enough to have the chance.


We all have our internal emotional and psychological landscapes, and we all have these little things that are terrifying to us which seem like nothing to other people. Climbing up on that tree was not easy for me, but I knew there was a payoff that I wanted. And the second time climbing up? It was slightly less scary. Perhaps the 3rd and 4th, next time I float down the river, will be easier yet.

Boundaries are important to recognize and to communicate, both with ourselves and to others. But we need to push those boundaries from time to time, or we stagnate. Is something scary? Fine, but don’t let that, alone, stop you from making the attempt to find out why it is scary, if perhaps the fear is unfounded,, and maybe to see if there is something on the other side of that fear which is worth investigating anyway.

If you don’t push your own boundaries, and if you ask that others do not do it for you, then you will never grow. And sometime, the scariest things are the things we should challenge the most.

Carpe Diem (et noctis)!

FYI, The title of this post is derived fro a lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which was a favorite of mine from my childhood. Here it is, for all of you not familiar with The Boss’s deeper tracks.


* “l have not yet touched the central issue of free will, for I have not yet declared a position on the “could have done otherwise” principle: the principle that holds that one has acted freely (and responsibly) only if one could have done otherwise. It is time, at last, to turn to this central, stable area in the logical geography of the free will problem. I will show that this widely accepted principle is simply false.”

“The “could have done otherwise” principle has been debated for generations, and the favorite strategy of compatibilists – who must show that free will and determinism are compatible after all — is to maintain that “could have done otherwise” does not mean what it seems at first to mean; the sense of the phrase denied by determinism is irrelevant to the sense required for freedom.”

-Daniel Dennett


Bubbles and Reality

forever_blowing_bubbles_by_nac_nud-d4antnuPicture a child blowing bubbles, those glistening balls of air floating on the breeze, dancing, colliding, bursting, and perhaps a few being carried up and away until it leaves our vision. These generally spherical objects, puffs of air derived from within us, are compelling aesthetically, scientifically (because surface tension is a thing), and perhaps philosophically.

We use the concept of a bubble in a few ways. We use them as a metaphor for things like our social and/or cultural circle. In economics, it’s a metaphor for a period of growth which is artificially inflated, and thus will burst at some point leading to price crashes (like in 2007-2009, with the housing market crashed). In cosmology and theoretical physics, some use the analogy of a bubble to explain the topology of the universe.

In short, we like bubbles and use them as imagery for all sorts of things (including everything, it seems).

But, let’s get back to actual bubbles for a second. Essentially, a bubble is a segment of the environment we live within (an atmosphere of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other constituent parts of the “air,”) separated from the rest of the atmosphere by a thin layer of liquid. Usually soap if we are “blowing bubbles.” There is no fundamental difference, generally, between what is inside and outside the bubble, it’s just that there is a barrier which is permeable, breakable, flexible. And yet it persists and separates what is within from the rest of the world. It is the barrier which defines the bubble, not its contents.

A bubble is a shape of reality, separated by a thin film which creates a temporary definition and shape isolated from the rest of the environment. It’s sort of like our worldviews. Our conclusions, opinions, and our very being, and our community all exist, metaphorically, like a bubble to the environment of humanity. Those opinions are made up of the same stuff as other people’s opinions, just shaped, prioritized, and arranged differently. Once again, it’s the barrier, the structure, and the perspective which separates one worldview from another, not the constituent parts.

living-in-a-bubbleWe all are made of the same stuff. We have brains, organs, and bodies which have some basic similarities. We float about in our human environment, and our perceptions, experiences, emotions, and cognitive abilities are a permeable barrier which defines what is within us and what is not. And if you have ever gone through enough trauma, significant change, or have simply changed your mind in some significant way, then you might understand what it means to have your bubble “burst.”

But, perhaps similarly, if you have ever found yourself faced with something difficult to comprehend, tolerate, or believe, then you know what it’s like to have that surface tension hold.

And, unfortunately, the truth is not the criteria by which that surface tension holds or bursts. More often than not, it is our comfort, our emotional experience, which is the arbiter of this tension. Because in many cases, that surface tension holds in lies, holds back the truth, and sometimes that bubble is as much a hindrance towards understanding as it is a defense against harm, lies, and manipulation.

We love our own bubbles, and sometimes when we form that new bubble we shape it in comfortable ways. Sometimes it seems as if we were to allow our bubble to burst, we would cease to be. But this is an illusion. Our subjectivity, our pride, our fear, and our little bubbles of reality–our very identity–are made of the same stuff as what’s outside of it, and we might be better, more often than not, of simply bursting that bubble ourselves, from time to time.

We might be better questioning the wisdom of holding onto our identity, our voices, and our limits too tightly.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this; if you have ever seen someone you distrust, dislike, or disagree with in their ridiculous bubble, remember that you aren’t immune to the same psychological bubble maker in your own mind, and you are very likely doing the exact same thing they are doing.  You are comfortable in your bubble just like they are.

Your insistence that you are right, you are better, and that you are different from them might be a complete lie created through the refraction of that liquid barrier between you and the world. That barrier, its tension holding together your very identity, acts like a lens to bias everything you see, and it might be better to break that lens now and then, insofar as you can, than to continually take pride in it because it is yours. That is the seed of narcissism and self-absorption.

We all are comfortable in the little lies we tell ourselves in order to make ourselves comfortable.

All of us. Without exception. Yes, even you, dear reader. And yes, even me.

Don’t let your pride and comfort keep you separate from reality. Burst your god damned bubble already.

Experience, bias, and precaution

I have some experience, in my life, with people who are skilled at making themselves seem innocent when they are not, at directing a narrative which suits their needs, and cultivating followers who will stand up for them even when they act egregiously. Whether such people are sociopaths, narcissists, or just your common douchemonkeys is up for debate, but in any case such people will use small segments of truth to bend a narrative which will make them look like the victims.

And, I think, I found someone else who might–just might–fit into this mold. And what I have been asking myself, for the last couple of days, is whether I’m biased to see this pattern or if it’s actually what’s happening. So, dear reader, here’s a story about some of my weekend.

Resistance is NOT futile
Resistance is NOT futile

I play this GPS-based, augmented reality game called Ingress. In fact, I downloaded the game just over a year ago as you can see from this post. On Saturday evening, I got into my car with two other Resistance agents and went to take down a long set of level 8 Enlightened portals along Germantown Ave, starting in Mt. Airy all the way down near Broad street (which will make sense to other Philly folks). It’s a significant stretch of road, with dozens of portals, and it take a fair amount of effort to destroy them all.

As is natural, whenever any agents attack and destroy heavily upgraded and shielded areas, it’s an annoyance for the other faction. People will defend, and will ultimately rebuild their area, and sometimes it will lead to some complaining, personal (but generally harmless) animosity, and often retribution on your own areas where your faction holds more control.

It is, after all, a game.

Except some people take it way too seriously. About half way through our “booming” of Germantown Ave (AKA, destroying the virtual portals along the road, with our virtual bursters, which are virtually placed along the actual Germantown Ave), I received a few text messages.

text1OK, so I don’t have this number stored in my phone, and I don’t recognize it. So I ask who it is. Nothing abnormal here; every once in a while I get a strange text which someone has sent me by accident or from someone who I just recently gave my phone number.

I continue to boom Germanton, destroying portals and moving on to the next cluster, and my phone buzzes again, but I don’t read it immediately because I’m busy Ingressing.

And, I want to point out here, that it’s not uncommon for people to send messages, usually in game, to attackers. Sometimes it will amount to whining, playful taunting, and sometimes to actual annoyance.

Reaching out to agents of the other faction happens frequently, and in fact I’m in a Google hangout dedicated to cross-faction (X-faction) conversation and event planning (which I sometimes attend, because there are some very nice and fun people on both sides–and it’s a game which we play together).

But what happened next was beyond simple line-crossing.


Yeah… So that happened.

In recent weeks, I had been hearing, through conversations with other players, that there has been some drama with some players who were cheating, harassing, etc other people in the game. One of these players, and possibly some of his friends/cronies, had been a nuisance to people I know, and the week prior (the last time I boomed Germantown Ave) I was actually followed, by a car, by two Enlightened agents as I did so. One of those agents was this same person who I had heard bad things about, recently.

Now, being followed, whether in a car or on foot, while playing Ingress is not unheard of, and it’s usually actually harmless. After all, the game is location-based. It might be considered obsessive to do so for long periods of time, but it is a relatively normal part of the game. But this car was right on my bumper, and I managed to lose them (twice) because my car has a better turning radius than theirs and because I’m secretly a government agent trained in advanced urban driving techniques.

That last part might not be true.

What I didn’t know, but suspected (as do leaders of both factions still suspect), is whether the person who texted me is the same person who has been responsible for some recent harassment, cheating, and who was recently kicked out of PIE (the local Philly Enlightened community, which has many wonderful and very friendly people, despite their poor choice in factions :P).

Yeah, don't bother with these...RESIST!
Yeah, don’t bother with these…RESIST!

(All I’m saying is that if you receive a cryptic message from an alien source which promises to help you transcend to the next level of human evolution, compare it to those promises of registry cleaners and other software that promise to make your computer run faster, and choose to not install the software (because it’s probably malware). In other words, resist the offer of infection. I’ll get off my Resistance soapbox, now.)

Anyway, I don’t know if they are the same person, but the coincidences seem too convenient for them to be purely random. This agent (who I will not name, publicly, until I’m sure) was the owner of many of the portals I was attacking, so he would have received notifications of my destroying them immediately. The last time I did so, he showed up within 15-20 minutes to follow me in my car (so he knows what me and my car look like). He has been accused of harassing other players as well. And, as I have found, he has previously been involved in a local NAZI skinhead organization (now, apparently, he’s associated himself with anti-fascist organization, become a vegan, and so seems to have turned around those aspects of his life). But he was also involved with a murder in 2000.

A murder.

Apparently, he got probation, possibly due to his cooperating with law enforcement, but he has a past with organizations and individuals capable of violence, and now he’s [potentially] writing me threatening text messages, which make reference to people to whom I have, or have had, close relationships. This is a person who spent some effort to find out who I am, who I’m close to, and how to contact me.

And then, yesterday, as I’m walking my neighborhood, I see him walk into a restaurant very close to where I live. And he looks right at me. And then he destroys the portal that the restaurant sits on (which is fine; that’s part of the game). But then that player, who may or may not be the same person who sent me the texts, messages me in game saying he wants to talk to me, face-to-face.


Now, I’m reading this and I’m thinking a few things.

One, It’s possible that this man, nor any of his immediate friends, sent me that text message. It’s possible that he’s being falsely accused, and he’s trying to talk with me about it, perhaps to reassure me.

Two, it’s possible that he wants to beat the shit out of me, in broad daylight, in my neighborhood knowing he’ll be suspected and not care.

And three, (and this is the one that bothers me the most because it’s so familiar) He wants to talk really nice to me, face-to-face, because he knows he’s made a mistake and he wants to make himself look, especially to his friends, harmless and an innocent victim. In other words, he wants to massage his image to people around him as not a transgressor of common behavior and a person who threatens people’s health and possibly life over a game, but as a nice, misunderstood, reformed man.

That last possibility is scary to me because I have seen this behavior too many times in the last couple of years. Having lived with Wes Fenza, who is quite capable and willing to lie, manipulate, and twist the perceptions of the world around him to make himself look like the victim of everyone he harms, I have learned to recognize the signs of such behavior.

And then I start to self-doubt. I start to say “Am I priming myself to see this everywhere, now?”

Maybe. But what if I’m right? What is the price of trusting this man, and giving his friends, the community, etc more reason to think twice about a person who might be capable of harassment, assault, or even murder over a game is to risk my own safety? What if my willingness to trust him leads to his further harassing others because he’s able to make himself appear innocent, just like other people formerly in my life continue to do to this day?

My experience has taught me that some people simply do not care if they hurt people, so long as they can distract everyone to look the other direction, that they are the victim, etc. Hell, in some cases such people can apparently have their own partners change their mind about the severity of their own trauma when it’s exposed that their own husband did similar things to other people; gotta keep that cognitive dissonance in check after all, right? If the only way to keep your savior complex alive, after said savior has assaulted and traumatized several people, is to make that type of behavior not actually assault, in your mind, then that’s what you do. Hence, months of therapy, anger, and blame against other people who did the same to you must simply be washed away for the sake of the comfort of your soul.

But back to the question at hand; am I being overly-cautious? Am I biased to see manipulative behavior even when it’s not there? Maybe, but the simple fact is that I was told by other people I know that this person is manipulative in this way that I have seen so many times. I have been told to be careful with this person. And I have heard this from people from both factions, and that has to mean something.

Because, for example, much of last year was about making sure that the poly community knows that Wes Fenza is a dangerous predator, potentially a sociopath, and that he will not hesitate to fabricate, embellish, and seek out information which will make any of his accusers appear incredible, dangerous, or unstable rather than face his own mistakes. And this effort has paid off, as many people in the local and national community have distanced themselves from him (some simply don’t know, care, or are so dependent upon him that they ignore the claims against him). Others are complicate in his actions. Whats’ worst about it is that many of his cronies are people I’ve heard him shit-talk about several times. You know; before people started abandoning him and he had to hold onto like the pilot fish they are.

And it seems that some people have made similar efforts against this person with whom I interacted this past weekend. I want to say that where there is smoke there is fire. I do not want to simply dismiss the warnings from other people who have experience with this person, because the risk is too high. I will leave some small doubt that I might be wrong, but I will not risk my health and life to find out, so I’ll stay away.

Because even if I am biased (which I certainly am), I’ve decided to take the precautions necessary to keep me away from this person, just in case they were the person who sent me threatening texts. I have created a police report with all of the pertinent information, I have informed the local Ingress community, and I have told many people close to me about this so that they know that if I’m harassed, attacked, etc that there is someone to look into.

Because in the unlikely event that this person is who I suspect he is, he follows through with his threats, and the police catch him, then perhaps he won’t be able to weasel himself out of prison. Guilty people walk free in our communities all the time, unreformed, unrepentant, and they sleep well at night because they have convinced the world and themselves that they are innocent or they are incapable of the feelings of guilt or responsibility which most of us feel when he make mistakes.And since they keep getting away with it, they’ll be much more likely to keep harassing, threatening, and maybe even following through occasionally.

Such people need to be indicated, so that we all can know that there is reason to be cautious.

Because even if people can learn, change, grow, and rehabilitate, some simply do not want to. I’ve certainly made some mistakes myself (although, if you listen to some people those mistakes are much much worse than the truth, because some people have a casual relationship with the truth), and I have paid for those mistakes. The problem is that sometimes people don’t feel the need to learn, change, or grown because they never accepted their responsibility, and they will have no compunction about continuing to do what they want to do without the pang of conscience or remorse. And we should all make sure to be aware of such people, and keep ourselves safe.

Good luck, out there.

And if you decide to play Ingress, just remember that the Enlightenment want you to be brainwashed by aliens who claim to want to help us evolve. They’ll couch it in terms of transcending what we are now (which has some obvious Nietzsche-esque qualities), and creating something better for our future, but they probably also checked the box, when installing Flash Player, to include all the Yahoo crap. The Resistance simply want you to not accept this free gift of salvation, because most free gifts of salvation are bullshit.

And yet, there is that murderous AI ADA… Lesser of evils?

It’s just a game….