Making an unexpected difference

In general I’m a pretty crap citizen of the websphere. I produce in my spastic little way, but I don’t read or discuss or contribute much to the community of the thing. Or if I do, it’s really scattered and unfocussed. This is especially true in the blogsphere, if less so in Flickr space.

So I blog, but erratically and without any real focus. You’d hardly guess that I’m a computer scientist by profession, or that I’m deeply interested in evolution and evolutionary computing. I keep fantasizing that I’ll write all these cool reviews (esp. music, but books as well), but that rarely happens in practice. I post photographs at random intervals, but not with any focus or arc.

Worse, I’m a truly terrible reader of other blogs. And there are dozens, nay hundreds out there that I know I would find useful, interesting, enlightening, fun… But reading is slow and I’m busy and scattered, so it doesn’t happen.

Every now and then I worry about it, but rarely for long. I occassionally fantasize about being some significant figure in the blog universe like my friend down the hall. Then I think about how much of his life he has to put into building and maintaining that status, and I know it will never happen.

And I’m usually OK with that.

Sometimes I think I need (not necessarily want, but need) to write a book or record an album (or seven). How else can I really make a difference? Leave my mark?

But that’s mostly illusory as well. Even books that top the best sellers list are usually forgotten in a few years, and a few decades wipe out nearly every semblence of significance for all but the tiniest fraction of authors, painters, musicians, etc. And lord knows, I’m not Plato or Da Vinci or Godel.

While a rare few get to place some rocks, or even boulders, on the beach of human experience, most of us get a few grains of sand if we’re lucky. And it really has to be that way; if everyone got a rock, then rocks would just become the new grains of sand. (But we can never understimate the power and importance of lots of people pooling their sand; 59 million U.S. voters dropped their sand in George W. Bush’s bucket in 2004, and look where that got us!)

So I muddle through, trying to balance my family, and my teaching, and my music and photography and writing and gardening and whatever, knowing that I need it all to be me, but that I’ll never “Be all that I can be” at any of them because I’m so distracted by the constant buzz of the world. But still trying to put my grains of sand in places that do some good, if in small ways.

Now and then, though, fate drops a penny in my bucket to remind me that sand counts. Sometimes it’s a former student writing back to say how valuable something I did turned out to be for them. (And I promise that every teacher worth sending something like that to treasures every such note they receive.) Sometimes it’s an unexpected thank you for something you didn’t even think was terribly significant at the time, but which meant a lot to that person.

And sometimes you find out you helped a near stranger break an addiction.

I posted the following about two months ago, both here and on Flickr:

We're thinking of you

This was mostly just part of my response to Dad’s illness, and something I knew would make Mom cry (in a good way). But it was also my small attempt to bring some attention to this issue, and how the decisions we make can have consequences, not just for us but for those around us.

I was very honored by the very supportive responses I received both here and on Flickr, and shared many of those with my family. We were all very grateful for the support and help, both from long-time friends and from people I only sorta-kinda knew from the on-line world.

And I figured that would be the end of it.

Three days ago, however, just as I was scrambling to get course stuff together and drive the 14 hours south to spend a few more days helping my folks out before having to come back for classes, I got a most unexpected comment on this photo on Flickr. csharp_gal has a wonderful eye for gorgeous landscape photography, and was also apparently addicted to nicotine. After describing her addiction first to cigarettes, and then to nicotine gum, she went on to share:

Then, one day I saw this photo and I read about what’s happening with your Dad. I left a comment and started thinking about it. That day, I went off the gum. It’s almost two months and no gum.

Just wanted to let you know that this posted picture helped me to end my almost relationship with nicotine in any form. It’s very important to me, former nicotine junky. I will always think about your Dad while being nicotine free.

I just about cried. It was so unexpected, and so positive, and just so cool! Huge thanks to csharp_gal for sharing her story, and best wishes in her fight against that nasty beast.

I know I’ll never be some giant of the blogsphere, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to writing a book or making an album or whatever. Regardless, I’ll have surprises like this, and my amazing family, to remind me that some of my sand ended up in a good place. And that’s pretty damn cool.

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One thought on “Making an unexpected difference”

  1. Oh, hi!
    I just run into this blog entry by accident.
    Wow… thanks.
    I am the person you mentioned here, who was addicted to nicorete gum for few years. I am happy to say that in about a week it is going to be a year since I kicked the habit.
    I hope everything goes well for you.
    WHile I don’t friequent Flickr anymore, thinking of events like that makes me miss wonderful people who directly influenced my life.
    Yes, indeed, I knew that this gum is bad for my health, but i was very addicted. Thanks for sharing your story – it made me kick the habit overnight.

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