Through various conversations and interactions it's come to my attention that I've never really properly introduced myself. By now, if you've read this blog at all, you've probably come to realize that I'm rarely challenged for words. So, forgive this indulgence while I delve into a little bit about who am I, where I've come from, what I've been doing, and so on. In so doing, I hope to give you a glimpse of who I am without providing detailed enough answers that would allow you to bypass passwords on all of my various accounts. :)
Arf. Haha just kidding. Sort of. Until 4th grade, I went by Benji. Then we moved and I decided that it was time for a more "grown-up" name. True story. People who know me from pre-4th grade still often call me Benji.
The name is actually an interesting short story. Benjamin means "son of the right hand". I am, in fact, the oldest of two boys. We brothers are very different, and yet so much alike. I was born in Wisconsin, where Dad was teaching high school math. Not long thereafter we returned to Ames, IA, where my Dad completed his PhD in Mathematics Education at Iowa State. He'd met my Mom there while he was working on his Masters degree, sweeping her up and then jaunting off to the hinterlands (well, hardly;).
My earliest memories are from when I was about 2 years of age (no lie). They involve hanging with my Grandpa Upchurch around the house, doing yard work, etc. My 3 most vivid memories are:
1) Grandpa accidentally slamming my fingers in the door of his Rambler.
2) Riding with Grandpa to the waste management facility to drop of yard waste.
3) The move from Ames to Morris.
Mom assures me that these memories are pre-3-years-old.
Fundamental Christian Upbringing
I've completely and thoroughly rejected organized religion. I like the philosophical teachings of Buddhism, as well as the writings of Deists like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. That being said, I've not always been this way. In fact, far from it. I was raised in a conservative fundamental Christian home (northern Baptist churches). This upbringing taught me to take everything very seriously, almost in the manner of the apologists, but more in a self-loathing, self-disciplined, self-hating manner.
For those who have never been in that environment, I don't expect you to fully understand or appreciate the weight of this upbringing. Even now, I find it extremely difficult to explain what it was like. It was very much your stereotypical "hellfire and damnation" type preaching, combined with intense study of scriptures. Let me put it to you with an old joke (apologies in advance - this is meant in no way to offend):
A man died and showed up at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter greeted him warmly. After the welcome, St. Peter offered to show the man around. They walked down a long radiant hallway with several doors. At the first door, the man peered in and saw a bunch of people sitting around eating with a long random buffet at one end. St. Peter explained that this was the Lutherans, enjoying a social time together. Next up there was a room with much celebration and noise. Here, St. Peter explained, were the Catholics, still living life to the fullest. As they approached the next room, St. Peter stopped and advised the man to be very quiet as they were going to quickly walk by. The man asked St. Peter why they needed to this, to which St. Peter responded "Oh, that's the Baptists - they think they're the only ones here."
This joke summarizes very well the type of upbringing I experienced within the Baptist church. We were told to keep ourselves separate as much as possible, and were reminded to beware the influence of the non-believers. I could go on, but I think you get my point.
So Serious, So Funny
While the religious upbringing certainly accounts in part for my high-strung, serious nature, don't be fooled into thinking it's solely responsible. I've been wound up tighter than a drum for much longer than I remember religious education. The fact of the matter is that I suffer from being the eldest son. My Mom, it seems, is also wound very tightly, and thus has passed this trait down to me. For example, I hate getting dirty - a trait that my Mom eagerly demonstrates every time she visits us and cleans the house from top to bottom! :)
The interesting thing is that I also have a very generous and sharp sense of humor. Ok, I'm a dry wit, I admit it. Puns, one-liners, zingers, and anything corny and lame: that's all me. :) Sorry! I've inherited my sense of humor from my Dad. I'm torn as to whether or not it's really a good thing. It is what it is. The good news is that I do have a sense of humor. Unfortunately, if you catch me at the wrong time, you are just as likely to get both barrels as you are to get a hearty laugh.
Believe it or not, I've mellowed considerably in the past 10 years. Those who are just starting to know me now might find that hard to believe, but it really is true. When I first got married (10 years this coming July) my wife refused to play tennis with me because I would get very upset at my lack of skillz and would devolve into a tirade-temper-tantrum. Today, we enjoy hitting around.
If there's one thing that I wish I could change about myself, it's how serious I tend to take life. This seriousness is a plague to me, because it causes me to constantly fight myself over whether or not I'm happy, satisfied, etc. At its darkest, it involves self-doubt, loss of confidence, and a being harder on myself than anyone might ever imagine. Who needs enemies when I can mentally shred myself?
Perhaps of any other trait, the seriousness and high-strung behavior (and, yes, hyper a lot of the time) is what people seem to note about me. It cause people to (incorrectly) describe me as acting older than my age when I was growing up. Now I recognize that I'm really not very well adjusted, despite making progress in this area.
Passion, Compassion, and Deep Emotions
Along with the seriousness comes a passion for my interests. I'm extremely passionate about information security, as well as other topics. This passion tends to come off badly in text-based conversations, but the simple fact is that I'm often enthusiastic to a fault about my ideas and opinions. This trait can be a fatal flaw at the worst of times, but is a wonderful resource when pursuing goals.
I am also a very compassionate person. I'm the schlepp who cries at movies. There are times when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, with a particular bent toward pain and suffering. I realize that this is not a particularly masculine quality, but it's who I am. Though few ever take me up on the offer, to my friends I extend a ear to listen, a hand up, or a shoulder to cry on. I consider this to be very much a lost quality in society as a whole. It vexes me to no end how cold a place our world can be.
Lastly, as you might expect, my emotions run deep. While I certainly won't claim to have the depth of feelings as the average woman, my roots definitely run deep. For this reason, when confronted with emotional discussions, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed or out of control. A perfect example happened today as I unleashed the full weight of my anger on a dear friend. I don't get truly anger very often at all, but when I do, watch out.
Through all of this, there is one thing that perplexes me more than anything, and that is how to live a life without regrets. I think it's a laudable goal, but it's one that has escaped me thus far. There is much I wish I had done or said over the years, and I very much wish I'd done things differently.
Failures of Mind, Body, and Spirit
In many ways, I feel like I'm only now coming of age, as strange as that may sound. Having grown up in a highly repressed environment, there is much I wish could be different. Regardless, the life I have now is all that I have to work with, and so it's best to make Jarritos Lima-Limon out of the proverbial lemons.
That being said, it's instructive to look back and points in my life where certain failures or frustrations have flummoxed me.
Wrestling fail - 8th gr
The single most defining moment in my athletic career came in 8th grade. I was a remarkably adept wrestler, undefeated throughout my 8th grade year, including wrestling JV (we were a big school - this was not podunk country wrestling). My skills were anchored around my strong legs, combined with a talent for sound strategy. Unfortunately, it all fell apart during the last Jr High meet.
Without going into great detail, let me summarize with this: the first match the ref screwed me on the score because of a personal vendetta against my Dad. The 2nd and final match of the day, I was so upset and injured (I literally broke my hand on the gym wall after the first match) that I literally picked the poor kid against me up and slammed him on top of me, pinning myself to the mat. He had won before he even knew what was going on.
That moment of not only quitting, but completely folding, haunts me to this day. It is a demon that I still struggle to make peace with. I've only in the last year or so regained my competitive spirit, the impact was that severe. Others may mock or question this event in my life, but it is, and probably always will be, one of the greatest torments I will have faced.
I was an early appointee to the United State Air Force Academy. With that appointment I became extremely arrogant, to my own demise. Being early in the online days, I opened my big fat mouth on ISCA BBS and made all sorts of comments about how I was going to do well at the USAFA and I wasn't worried about anything. Boy did I learn a thing or two very quickly. I got my ass completely and thoroughly kicked. Not only was I not in adequate shape when I got there (despite coming in 2 wks after the State track meet), but I did not make the psychological shift. Remember how serious I am? I couldn't play the game that one needs to play. I took everything personally and deeply, to the point that I was unable to sleep. I finally washed out with an "adjustment disorder". Pinnacle of failure. How could I, "destined for this future," wash out?
The simple fact of the matter is that I was simply way too high-strung to be successful in that pressure cooker environment. It's easy now, 15 years removed, to realize my shortcomings then. What I find more interesting is how I keep experiencing similar challenges to this day. The more I learn, the more I realize that I still don't know.
It took me 30 years before I broke my first bone, and I did it in grand fashion. No, not really. I was bouldering indoors at a climbing gym, went for the last hold, missed, and fell about 10 feet, landing perfectly on the edge of thick crash pad. My right ankle was already very loose from many, many, many sprains over the years, and so it easily rolled over, causing a fracture of the end of the fibula (i.e. the lateral maleolus). It was fortunately a stable break, but it ripped the ankle up fairly well. I was in a cast for 2 wks, and then rushed into rehab.
The problem is that I lost my nerve with bouldering. To this day, I'm extremely hesitant to climb without a rope. The immediate pain was quite severe, and I'm rather loath to experience that again.
I didn't know what I had done, but I knew I'd done it well. I had finished a kettlebell workout and then was cooling down in my office chair, catching up on email and the sort. About 20 minutes later when I got up I could barely move. My entire back was one massive knot and I was in severe pain. I've always had lots of cramps around my shoulders and neck (see high-strung comments above), but this was completely different.
After visiting the doc, it was concluded that I had fractures my C7 vertebra - a "full avulsion" - literally snapping the thin tip of the vertebra clean off. This occurred in September 2007, and I distinctly recall an event in May 2007 when I set my personal best for free-weight squats (365lbs). I was squatting alone, and I remember lifting the bar and doing my reps and feeling like my vertebra was pressed in as a result. It didn't really hurt, though, so I didn't think anything of it. I did find it odd that a vertebra that had previously stuck out was now smooth to my back.
It seems that doing kettlebell swings improperly (too much arching of the neck/back) aggravated this earlier event, resulting in the full avulsion of the C7. The pain was immense - something I'd never felt before.
Once the doctor established that the break was stable, I immediately sought out a massage therapist. Jennifer is my personal hero. If you live in Norther Virginia, I fully expect you to get in touch with her if you ever need a serious massage. If there's one thing I greatly miss about NoVA, it's massages by my dear friend Jennifer.
Serendipity Massage, Inc.
Aimless and adrift
For whatever reason, I've never felt settled. Anywhere. Ever. In many ways, I feel completely adrift, not really knowing my purpose in life. I guess it's not enough just enjoying the moment. I'm the guy who plans everything out. One thing I've learned in life is to quit making so many long-term plans, because none of them come to fruition. Maybe by the time I die I'll be able to truly live in the moment. Until then, I'll be drifting along awash in self-created misery and frustration. It is not a perfect world, and it never will be. Or so I keep trying to tell myself. ;)
The Importance of Sleep
Do not ever underestimate the importance of sleep. It is extremely important, as I've just come to realize again. As noted about the USAFA story, when I go long periods of time without sleep, bad things happen. The most recent sleep deprivation event just ended a couple weeks ago thanks to a help prescription from my new doctor. Inadequate sleep results in the body doing some very weird things. I lost my appetite and subsequently dropped 10lbs in 2 wks. Not that I couldn't stand to lose a few pounds, but this was not the healthy way to do it. Even now, I can feel that I'm nowhere near caught up on sleep.
Things that have improved since getting some sleep over the last week and a half: my aim is better tossing things into buckets (picking up toys); my mood is generally better; my focus is vastly improved; my self-confidence is slowly recovering; my heart rate has dropped about 10bpm; my appetite has returned; my ability to perform in Jiu-Jitsu has returned.
If you find yourself losing sleep on a recurring, extended basis, go to your doctor and get help immediately. Do not wait for things to get bad. Depression can set in, your judgment will suffer, and you may find yourself making very bad decisions. Not to mention the toll it will take on those around you. I'm thankful that I still have my job and family and friends after this event. Learn from me: sleep is a vital aspect of life.
The Importance of Music
I am a musician and music-lover. Regrettably, my art is now generally reserved to my car. I miss singing in a choir terribly, and I really don't know what to do about it. It used to be that you would join a church and sing in the choir and life would be grant. I don't see that as a particularly viable option now.
My first musical skills were singing and piano. Mom was my first piano teacher, and I thus learned to hate piano lessons (sorry Mom). Once I got to 5th grade I was able to pick up violin, which freed my from piano. I was a very good sight-reader, and in fact turned down a scholarship for violin when I attended Luther. I somewhat regret stopping violin (which I picked up for the first time last Fall since June 1994). More so, though, I miss singing.
I grew up in a musical family. Mom plays piano, taught piano lessons, and was always the church pianist and on the music committee. Dad was always the song leader in church and has directed the choir for about as long as I can remember. Together, their musical upbringing has heavily influenced my life.
When it comes to music, my tastes are quite varied. I was raised on traditional Christian music (hymns and gospel), as well as classical music. I'm a big fan of Bach and Beethoven. To this day, I find singing traditional hymns to be soothing, even if I don't believe the words.
I love lyrics. When I hear music, I want to know the words. It seems rare these days that people actually listen to the lyrics. Perhaps it's because most pop music has garbage for lyrics. Nonetheless, I think the lyrics are important. As said in the movie "Music and Lyrics" - melody is like dessert, while lyrics are like dinner.
To this day, music plays a very important role in my life. There is rarely a moment when I'm either listening to music, or have music playing in my head (Chris Cunningham's "soundtrack of mine" sums that up nicely). And I love many kinds of music, from classical to country, christian to metal, rock to adult contemporary. My music collection includes Josh Groban, Sara Barreiles, Tonic Sol-fa, Acappella, Joshua Bell, Gershwin, Bach, Beethoven, George Winston, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Storyhill, Ellis, and so on. My iTunes playlists cover Classical, Rock, Metal, Folk, and Country, to name a few. Music provides lift to the soul.
Switching gears tremendously, I wanted to briefly comment on my academic nature. I wasn't a 4.0 student in HS, but I was darned close (3.95, I think it was). In 8th grade I led the Math Counts team to State. In HS I was involved on academic competition teams in addition to music and athletics. I was the kid who was literally in everything (I had to give up theater after 9th grade - just not enough time - though I could still be found helping out on tech on occasion, rather than being on stage). Anywho...
My academic interests are very broad, ranging well beyond just Math or Computer Science. I was raised in a Science-oriented household. One of my favorite video series growing up was "Mysteries of the Unknown" (I think that's what it was called - cannot find any record of it today). It was a great Science series about various mysteries and their investigations therein.
When it comes to discussing various topics, I enjoy everything from Biology to Physics (astronomy in particular), Math and Computer Science (all aspects), Psychology and Cognitive Science, basic medicine and first aid, athletic training (as a discipline under medicine), and so on and so forth. For the record, I suck at Trivial Pursuit because I don't know anything about Pop Culture. I've read some history books, but I'm not too big of a fan. I'm slowly beginning to understand economics, as is also true of Bayesian statistics.
The point here is that my interests are broad, and love to discussing topics outside of infosec. I'm told that this can come off very badly, such as in a "know-it-all" kind of way (part of this also relates to a very, very bad habit of speaking over people, cutting them off, and reading ahead in the conversation - I get too darned eager for my own good sometimes).
All one needs to do is go back through my blog archives to see my varied interests. Most of them end up coming back to information security, but not all.
A Strong Mind in a Strong Body
I'm a firm believer in maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. I'm also a hypocrite. :) My intentions are there, but I can also be extremely lazy. My main interests these days are in weight lifting, kettlebells, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I switched to kettlebells when I wanted to train for both strength and endurance. I used to run, but my knees simply can't take the abuse any more (I used to be a hurdler).
Kettlebells are an interesting workout implement, and perhaps lead to the most diverse uses. For those not familiar, imagine a cannonball with a handle opposite a flat side. That's what it looks like. My collection includes a pair of 35lb, 53lb, and 70lb kettlebells. Since moving, I've not been able to work back up to the 70 pounders, which is unfortunate. I'll get there, in due time.
I also own an olympic bar and weights that total about 495 lbs. Due to my C7 fracture, I can't do squats any more, so I instead focus on dead lifts, and occasionally side press with the bar and a couple small plates. Overall, the dead lifts have made a huge improvement on my overall leg and core strength.
Rounding things out, I also use pistol squats for body-weight exercises. These supplement for my inability to do squats, and they are highly effective! Some day I hope to be able to do reps fully unassisted while hold both 70lb kettlebells. :)
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is my most recent addition to training. My secret desire (oops, I'm telling, not so secret) is to achieve the level of Brown Belt so that I can start my own academy in Montana. I'm currently studying at a Relson Gracie school in Phoenix, and I'm very hopeful that I will again start making progress.
I first heard about Gracie JJ through the Discovery Channel show "Fight Quest" where the co-hosts went to Brazil and trained with the Gracies. I was immediately drawn in by the similarities to wrestling, though I've since found that I have good wrestling habits that are bad JJ habits. Nonetheless, I find the sport wonderful overall, and hope to some day compete, despite my age. ;)
Joy of Travel
Beyond my formalized workout habits, I also enjoy hiking (and sometimes camping). While we lived in Montana we were able to get a couple hundred trail miles on our boots. Moving to VA was very difficult, because you pretty much had to fly out to places. Which, don't get me wrong, was great, but it makes it very difficult to get away for the weekend. Overall, though, the only better place to live, I think, would have been NYC in terms of the ease of traveling around the world.
Unfortunately, we did not take full advantage of the opportunity until it was too late (i.e. we had a baby;). We visited Rome, Sorrento, and Athens, as well as friends in England. There are myriad other places we'd love to visit, but for now we'll have to settle again for the good ol' U-S-of-A.
We've driven across the entirety of the country. In fact, we ate fresh seafood in Seattle, WA, and Portland, ME, in the same year, both reached via car (no flights involved). I've also lived in several places. Since college, I've lived in Chicago, Minneapolis, Montana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and now Arizona. I often wonder what will be next. We talk often of returning to Montana, but I think I'd also like to live in Sorrento for a while. Of course, I also said last week that I'd like to move to Honolulu in 3 years or so to advance my JJ training. :) Only time will tell where we'll end up in the future...
I don't care what anybody says, getting old sucks. Seriously. Memory gets weaker, joints ache, muscles ache, strength comes and goes, and so on. Despite all that, you'd think I'd get smarter at some point, but that doesn't seem to be particularly true. All I know is that I felt much more spry 10 years ago than I do now. :)
If I ever stop fighting aging, somebody smack me up-side the head, please. I'm unapologetic about this point: I see no reason to accept aging gracefully. If there's one thing I can try to do, it's work toward Thoreau's goal of "sucking the marrow of life". Maybe some day I'll actually figure out what the heck that means and start living by it. ;)
Details I've left out thus far: I'm married - coming up on 10 years very quickly. I've apparently married a saint, since she's put up with me this long. We have a lovely daughter who has a talent for making me laugh (most of the time). My parents are both around, as are my wife's. I have one set of grandparents still alive, in their 90s. My wife has younger grandparents on side still around. My family is relatively small, hers is relatively large. As much as I love music, I also love the quiet. As much as I love being off by myself, I feel weird now in an empty house. And... that's about all you're going to get from me this go-round.
I hope you've found this very long post of interest. If not, whatever, it's meant as much for me as anything else. :)