Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for June, 2008

Approaching being a year older

Posted by shannonclark on June 12, 2008

And I hope wiser, though I wonder often at that phrase. Next week will be my 34th birthday, the third birthday I will have celebrated here on the West Coast and in many ways a major milestone for me.

But in many other ways I look back on the past decade and though I have much to be proud of in my life, I am also far from achieving many of the goals I had always assumed would have occurred in my life by now. So in a bit of what I suspect may be a bittersweet post and one that may be a bit more personal than many of my more recent blog posts, here are a few of my thoughts back and forward as I approach this milestone in my life.

In high school and college my vision of myself in the future started with getting a PhD. I wasn’t sure in what field, indeed well into college I was still rethinking this, but I always assumed that my “real” life and work would start after getting a PhD. That like my father I might then have a career that bounced between industry and academia, that straddled and likely blurred both lines, a career where I found a way to make money (always assumed I’d find a way to make a fairly large amount of money someday) but would also likely involve teaching and to some degree (dependent on my final career/field choice) advancing the state of knowledge.

I was never, however, all that interested in the politics of academia or in pure research for research’s sake, I did (and still do) love the act of teaching, the process of helping people learn and grow.

Since sometime in high school I have found myself with a bit of a split in my interests and in how people perceive and interact with me, to a large degree this persists to this day.

A few examples to illustrate this point. Starting recently and working back to high school.

  • I was recently asked “What do you do?” to which I replied “I’m an entrepreneur” but that, by no means, sums it all up. I’m very deeply technical (know some half dozen+ computer languages, many OSes, have edited standards, done serious AI research, supported over 1000 full time developers around the globe, etc). But I’m also very involved in business, my current company is not really a technology firm as much as we are a business connector and to a degree translator of different businesses to each other. Much of my consulting work has been relationship building, strategy consulting, business model advice and brainstorming. I’m also deeply interested in and expert at event organizing. Plus over the past months my blogging and writing has turned semi-pro with many posts for Centernetworks and the launch of my new blog Slow Brand. So I’m also a writer. Oh and I take my cooking and my photography relatively seriously (and think I’m pretty good at both).
  • In high school I conformed on the one hand to the stereotype of a particular type of math & science nerd. Heck I was seriously the captain of the high school Chess Team for 3 1/2 years. Was also on the math team, did a project for the Westinghouse Science Fair, competed in other science competitions, was an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club (and as part of that started a science fiction convention which is still running now almost 20+ years later) and yes, I played AD&D and was part of the gaming club. And of course I was in straight honors math & science classes, took many AP classes in both math & science and had taken AP Computer Science as a sophmore (and then spent the next three years spending a lot time in the computer labs). But all the while I was also in honors English and History classes, took French, took philosophy also as a sophomore and then spent the next two years doing college level independent study philosophy, the summer after my junior year in high school I went to the University of Chicago for summer school and Western Civilization (a class I later learned was most often take as a 2nd or 3rd year at the college) and my senior year in high school I was an editor for the school literary magazine. And I was actively writing poetry and fiction. As a freshman I had taken a drama class (found I wasn’t very good at memorization) but all throughout high school I attended almost every single play which was performed (and my school typically performed about 11 different plays and musicals each year) plus I had taken and greatly enjoyed a class on photography which included learning how to develop our own film. So in many, many ways I was as equally a “social sciences/creative” geek as much as I was a math & science geek. But people tended to see me mostly as the math & science type.

And that, to a large degree is my challenge still.

On the one hand I am deeply technical, am quite happy reading through code, or analyzing 100’s of academic papers on AI techniques. I am fascinated by the application of technology to solve complex problems – though I am strongly of the belief that most complex problems are equal parts technology and people related, that the design is as important (often more so) as the underlying technology. In recent years I have been deeply following Network research and have been off and on working on a theory of Economics from a Network perspective.

But at the same time I am seriously interested in creative pursuits. I cook passionately (and I think quite well) expressing myself through my cooking. I don’t own a very expensive camera but I think I have a very good eye so the few photos I do take I think are well composed and engaging. I mostly write non-fiction these days, but I have been told that I express myself well (these overly long blog posts not withstanding). I care deeply about politics – though I am also strongly an Independent (supporting mostly Democrats this election cycle) – my political views are far, far more centrist (and even of some parts of the “right”) compared to the more typically strongly left & activist views of much of the Bay Area.

I am also very interested in business – and yes in global, corporate business. My goal with Nearness Function is not to make a quick buck, nor is it to be deeply radical, rather my goal is to work with great brands, great publishers, and I hope, millions of individuals around the world to help create lots of value, spread messages and provide support to amazing communities and services people value. But most definitely via means that allow for large and yes “corporate” companies to play an important part (and to pay for that).

When Nearness Function is a success that will mean both that we employ an amazing mix of people, very likely across the planet, but as importantly that through our efforts 1000’s of individuals and businesses will have the resources to also pursue their passions and create sustainable and great businesses, all while also delivering great value to their communities. I welcome the time when I’ll have lots of employees with all the headaches that can also bring.

On a personal level I find it hard at times to settle into any one community of friends or any one social circle. My interests and personal views are quite diverse – I love live music but not just current pop acts, also electronica, classical and yes also opera. I am and have been pretty deeply interested in film, but also in art – I’d love to go to more serious films, attend film festivals and go to many more museums and gallery openings. At some point in my life I definitely hope to do more than just look at great art, I want to collect it, to help support amazing artists in seeing their visions realized. I have traveled across the US at times to see works of art (flew to NYC to see the Gates in Central Park for example) and I frequently visit museums when I travel.

I take cooking and food very seriously. Definitely from a slow food/localvore perspective in many ways, I try to expose friends to great foods whenever we go out as a group for business dinners and post-event dinners. And when I have dinner parties I typically cook almost entirely seasonal and local ingredients. But I would love to have a close circle of friends (and yes a girlfriend) with whom to explore even more of the amazing food being created around the world and here in the Bay Area. I want to go to the French Laundry, to El Bulli in Spain, and to countless other restaurants large and small. And not just to eat there by myself, but to share those experiences with people who would also appreciate the experience.

For the past decade, actually probably for longer than that one of my few constants has been that I have had a subscription to the New Yorker magazine. And I have read pretty much every single issue, cover to cover, of the New Yorker for the past decades (starting sometime in the early 90’s if not late 80’s). But for most of that time I have not had anyone with whom to consistently share and discuss what I have read (ideally what we have read).

More recently I have found some additional publications I plan on reading on a nearly monthly basis as well. Monocle being among the first. I’m considering adding a few others. And I also, and here’s a bit of a contrast again, have for nearly as long if not longer, also read the Wall Street Journal every day. Even as a kid I would read the Wall Street Journal when my parents were done with it, not every article but a good mix of the articles.  Now I continue to scan the Journal on most days, grumble about the politics but use it to keep abreast of a particular aspect of the global business climate (and to a lesser degree the political climate).

In Chicago my somewhat, semi-secret vice was that I listened to Sports Talk radio, had for many many years. Again, I didn’t have a lot of people with whom to share this particular aspect of my personality or interests, the geek circles usually don’t overlap with sports fans, and likewise the sports fans (especially in Chicago at the time) tended to not be my social circle either) and I’m not an overly passionate sports nut – but I do love and enjoy many sports. I’m a supporter of both Chicago baseball teams, though with some favoritism for the Chicago Cubs, and I generally follow the Chicago Bears. In years past I have paid attention to the Bulls as well and for many, many years my father and I would attend at least one Notre Dame football game each season (the University of Chicago in contrast doesn’t have very serious sports teams) and I still consider myself a fan.

For the past few years I have had to make do with a couple of short podcasts each week talking about the Chicago Cubs but that’s about it. I made sure to watch the Chicago Bears when they were in the Super Bowl, but not owning a TV or for that matter a radio it has been hard for me to follow my Chicago sports teams to the degree I would like to. And though I could listen to some stations streaming over the Internet for the most part I don’t.

And again, I don’t have a circle of friends with whom to share these interests with either.

My personal philosophy of life has been remarkably consistent since that Philosophy class in high school. I am (and was) an Existentialist (a note, that Wikipedia article is pretty rough, emphasizing a very different aspect of Existentialism than I focus upon and focusing instead on some issues I mostly don’t care much about – such as existential psychology etc). I rejected the Catholic faith in which I had been mostly brought up, refused all throughout high school to go through Confirmation (which if you don’t know is a Catholic sacrament when you officially become an adult member of the Catholic Church). I am of the atheistic strain of Existentialism and very much influenced by Sartre (whom I have read in French as well as in translation). Though I definitely don’t follow him when in his later years he grew more Marxist in his views.

But on my mom’s side of the family I am also Jewish, though I was not raised as a practicing Jew when pressed I most definitely claim a Jewish identity at least from an ethnic perspective. However my name being so dramatically Irish in origins generally leads people to assume that if I am religious I am some form of Christian (and probably a Catholic) and even close friends have been known to forget that I am Jewish. Jewish enough that I could, if I wanted to, emigrate to Israel.

So for me religion and the social and cultural circles around it have not been, at all, a source of community. My father is an active member of his Church and growing up we attended mass every Sunday, though I stopped going as I entered high school. I haven’t yet found a secular equivalent and though at times I consider being more active in Jewish social events I don’t always feel entirely comfortable. Though I am Jewish, I wasn’t ever practicing so I don’t know Hebrew, don’t have all the same cultural associations, and as I noted once people see and know my name they, perhaps subconsciously, assume I’m not actually Jewish (though as I noted my entire Mom’s side of the family is and has been for as many generations as we can trace, back to the 14th century for at least some branches).

All around me I see people hanging out in groups, in couples and in groups of friends and coworkers. Here being the “boss” has always made that last option a bit awkward when I have had employees. In many other cases friends seem to cluster around certain common, shared experiences – membership in the same cultural subgroup (punks, hipsters, burners, etc) or for example having gone to the same school. I do have a few friends from when I was at the University of Chicago, but for the most part they live all over the country. I don’t fit, at least not comfortably, into any music focused social group or into any driven at least in large part by dress.

And there is another category around which many people cluster, sex – both sexual orientation (and the complications of it) and various kinks. But even here I don’t fit into any of the subgroups. I’m straight (since college I’ve thought in many ways my life would have been easier if this wasn’t the case but I definitely know what turns me on – and it isn’t men). And though I know many people who are actively polyamourous and indeed I have been in somewhat poly relationships (my first and indeed only girlfriend in college had a simultaneous if long distance girlfriend), my life experience is rather too limited to decide, and generally speaking when I am in an active relationship I find myself pretty comfortably monogamous.

But to be blunt, I haven’t been in that many relationships. Just two serious and even somewhat long term ones (one for less than a year, the other for nearly 3 years) and a few, very very few, shorter relationships. So even on the sexual front my fantasies are, especially by San Francisco terms, quite, quite tame.

And no, I’m not going to share them here, but it is definitely a personal life goal to sometime have a girlfriend with whom to share them (I think for the most part they are all rather so tame as to be likely easily achieved and comfortable for her – I’m not into BDSM or the like in the least).

So for me though I have friends who have (indeed have had these friends since college) rather complex and diverse sexual habits and interests, since my own are so tame in comparison, I’ve actually never dated anyone who was part of my social circles.

And that, I think, may be my biggest personal issue, that somehow all of the social circles I have been a part of, since high school, have not, ever, resulted in a deeply personal relationship – at least not one that was long term. I did have a few short flings in college (which in fact sadly lost me a friendship in the end) and I definitely have close if not intimate friendships – with both genders – but in terms of a girlfriend I’ve never dated someone who was also part of my then social circles.

I would like to – either by changing some of my social circles or by figuring out why I haven’t.

Another social circle I am definitely a part of, at least to a degree, is that of science fiction and fantasy fandom. I have been since high school. I’m a fan of lots of authors and written science fiction and fantasy, and I’m a fan of tv shows, comic books, and movies. Most years i go to at least one, if not more than one science fiction and fantasy conventions and my bookshelves are full of the genre. I know dozens of authors personally (and have taken writing classes and written some, albeit not yet published, works of genre writing myself). But at the same time I have for many years of late felt somewhat removed from the fandom community (or more technically from any one community – there are probably dozens or more of subgroups within fandom). I’m not active on LiveJournal, I’m not dating a fellow fan, and though I read a lot of genre fiction (and attend cons and go to book signings etc) I don’t at times feel a full part of the community.

And I don’t quite know why.

I’d like to figure it out, but I don’t know the answer.

One, perhaps, is that like the hipster/not-really a hipster issue is that I have many other interests and a worldview that is not entirely overlapping. Another, perhaps, is that to the extent that at least among my particular closest group of friends who are also fans there is also a huge overlap in groupings which also involve sexuality I don’t really fit in. Never have. Perhaps who is most attractive to me is also often not in these groups (though that isn’t entirely the case – but what attracts me to someone is fairly complex and I haven’t yet fully figured it out myself). Though one, perhaps, strong sign I’m definitely not “poly” is that pretty much any woman who is in a relationship isn’t then someone to whom I’ll be attracted.

And yes, that’s probably why I don’t date much, since for the most part people meet each other while one person or the other might still be in a relationship. Intellectually I know this, but it is quite like a switch in my head.

Anyway this is getting far too long and rambling, suffice it to say I have much I am thinking about as I approach 34, and in the next year alongside of growing my business I hope to find ways to expand my social circles in new directions, to form new strong relationships as well as to renew old ones which I haven’t paid enough attention towards. And who knows, perhaps after I post this, I’ll meet an amazing woman who gets all the complex aspects of me – and who will both expose me to new things and, perhaps, share a few of my passions. (food, fandom, and generally being a fellow geek would be great starting points)

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