01 July, 2021

Snippets of Birthdays Past

July 1st, 1981. I am delivered slightly after midnight, at nearly the exact middle of the year, 183 days into a year of 365. The doctor delivers me via Caesarean section. Unbeknownst to my mother, the doctor has chosen this date specifically so that my mother and I might share a birthday. She does not realize until days later that I am born on the same day of the year that she was.

1984. I am three. My parents and I visited Miami, Florida, to see family on my father's side. My abuelo spoke no English, but we bonded anyway by watching Looney Tunes together. Later, I will tell my grandmother about the trip, which ends up being my first narrated diary entry.

1988. I am seven. The front yard of my grandparents' house has a huge pile of dirt (as tall as I am!) from the work done in their back yard. My best friend at the time, Greg Cochran, helps me to dig tunnels and edifices in the dirt pile that we then use to play with figurines from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers. The big gift that year feels like the Nintendo Entertainment System, but in reality it is the new house that my father built just down the street from my grandparents' place. Before finalizing the design of the building, my father asks me: is there anything special you'd like in the house? I tell him I want a secret passage, and the first thing he shows me in my new room is that there is a tunnel from my bedroom closet to the guest bedroom closet.

1990?. I don't know my age. My elementary teacher asks the class what their favorite color is, intending to say that each color means something about each person's personality. I'm not yet familiar with skepticism as a field, but it feels wrong to me. I don't have a favorite color, so I decide to answer flippantly, specifying the glow-in-the-dark halloween orange that you most often see on the uniforms of workmen on the side of a road. I am told that I am being obsequious for my malicious compliance, so I go home that night and resolve that, from then on, orange will be my favorite color. To this day, it continues to be a color in almost every outfit I wear each day.

1993. I am twelve. Summers are a welcome break from school. I use a pair of three-tonged cultivators as my implements of choice as I climb the quarter-mile long cliffside. It is only ten feet tall, but its sheer vertical dirtface continues for well over 1500 feet. There is real danger to falling: it is situated on a roadside, so tumbling down the cliff may result in rolling into the street, which occasionally has traffic. But although I sometimes lose my grip with one hand, the other stands strong, and my feet find purchase on roots and other minor outcroppings that keep me from falling.

1994. I am thirteen. I am in love with Final Fantasy VI. Over the next decade, I will play this game so many times that I am able to memorize the script. I challenged myself to win with only three characters; to win with as low levels as possible; to collect every item and level up every party member. I would later name my daughter after a character in this game. The main reason I consider myself a gamer today is because the epic that is FFVI affected me so deeply.

1996. I am fifteen. I am sulking. Earlier this year, I was expelled from the Alabama School of Math and Science for repeatedly being with a girl, Laura. It was a boarding school I'd been attending since July 1993 that had fairly explicit rules that were supposed to discourage sexual activity. We broke them, became suspended, and then ignored suspension to break them again. Later, I will invite Robin to the high school prom, only to ignore her calls the day of. I am extremely not proud of the person I was back then.

1997. I am sixteen. I've been with Amber for over six months. I couldn't get enough of her. She is an explorer, and I follow her everywhere. The city of Mobile, which once was just the big town I lived closest to, became a labyrinth we would move through each week, seeing this and that, walking through any doors that were left open, so that we could see what was inside and do what teenagers do. Those first eighteen months are ones I'm proud of. I am a good boyfriend; I am a good friend. But I make poor choices, and by my next birthday, things will turn sour.

1998. I am seventeen. Amber is pregnant. My mind was very confused at the time. I think I thought that actions never really had consequences, so the world must somehow work itself out so as to not too terribly effect me. I guess I assumed that the pregnancy would end without a child, or that Amber would move away to give birth and give away the child, or some other such nonsense. Instead, I will end up marrying her out of misguided obligation and becoming a father to an infant that I will never really end up knowing. Starting in June 1998, I become less and less of a good boyfriend. Less and less of a friend at all.

1999. I am eighteen. I live alone in a two-bedroom house. Amber is gone, along with Adrianah, the five-month old child that I will never see again. She has done a great favor to the child, to herself, and even to me. I was not ready to be a father. In fact, even now, twenty-two years later, I am still not father material. I know that I would be a terrible father, and so I am glad to have ensured that I'd never make that same mistake again. (Today, I am happy, at least, to know that Adrianah Celes has been able to grow up in a good, stable family these past 22 years, though I've never spoken to nor seen her since.) By this point, I had dropped out after less than a semester of college. Every day is spent sulking in my home. My friend Greg brings me groceries, because I am too depressed to leave the house. For some reason, I think that if I leave, I might miss Amber coming back, which I don't really want, but which keeps me from leaving the house anyway. It will be another couple of months before I get the strength to leave the house. When I do, I go to Barbara's house and watch Star Trek: Voyager on VHS lying on her couch for hours on end while she's at work.

2000. I am nineteen. I live alone in a McMansion. My parents are separated. My father has left the area. My mother would have stayed in the house they used to inhabit, but she is afraid of my father breaking into the home while she is sleeping, so she instead stays with her mother. This leaves the house empty, so I live there on my own. You might think this would mean I would throw huge parties, but instead it just means that I watch endless episodes of Saturday Night Live on Comedy Central while I eat doritos on the couch.

2001. I am twenty. I live with Allison in Colorado. She is submissive, which is apparently what I wanted in a partner back then. I spend my birthday playing Chrono Cross while receiving fellatio. Later, I will spend a week eating nothing but Hot Pockets for the duration while she is gone. I have still not yet learned to cook my own food, and it will be years yet before I'm forced to start. However, she has instilled within me a love for journaling, which I've kept to this day.

2002. I am twenty-one. I live briefly with my grandmother for a few months. During the period surrounding my birthday, I am fired (then rehired) nearly a dozen times in a span of three months. I work at a call center cold-calling people to get them to sign up for a credit card. Most of my colleagues only manage a sale each day; I'm able to get four each day reliably. My strategy involves ending calls as quickly as possible if I can tell they won't switch, and focusing only on calls where I have a chance of making a sale. In practice, this means that I sit reading my book while call after call comes in, with my voice automatically droning as boringly as possible the opening lines of my pitch. Only when they show interest do I set the book down, and this only happens once per hour so. The rest of the time I read, ignoring my job for the most part. The manager hates me. But I make way more sales than anyone else, so the manager loves me, too. By Wednesday of each week, I tire of working, so I tell the manager that I won't be coming in on Thursday or Friday. He tells me that this is against company policy, and he has to fire me -- but that I'm welcome to reapply on Monday and he'll rehire me. We do this for three months straight. And then, on one particular Monday, I don't feel like going to work. So I instead stop by Spring Hill College and ask to join the classes that just started that same day. They say yes, and my first day of classes occurs on the same day I applied. Soon after, I decide to make my journal entries public online.

2003. I am twenty-two. I was supposed to spend my birthday in South Dakota, digging dinosaur bones. Instead, I ended my trip early and came home after digging up only a scapula of a triceratops. My sister, Anh, greets me in the car with several balloons. I feel loved.

2005. I am twenty-four. My summer is spent reading Aristotle's Ethics with a group of fellow students at the local Barnes & Noble. Each night is spent at my mother's house. It is the last extended length of time I will spend with my mother. In a couple of months, I will move in with Stephanie.

2006. I am twenty-five. I live with Stephanie. I am so very much not a good boyfriend. Shawn Allin, my first college friend and chemistry teacher, committed suicide a month earlier. It is the second suicide I've had happen to someone close to me. The first was only a few years previous, while I was teaching Tae Kwon Do. She was presented with her newly earned belt. She looked proud. But that night she hung herself with the same belt. I'm not a fan of suicide.

2007. I am twenty-six. I live in Maryland for the first time. I'll leave for elsewhere later, but Maryland will eventually end up my permanent home. I finish my first published book. It's on email marketing techniques. I'll later publish other texts on social media, and will go on to speak at conferences on how to properly use social media at food banks. My lifelong career in communications has begun.

2008. I am twenty-seven. I live with Rosemary. It is my first romantic relationship that was net good overall. I am now the webmaster of a national nonprofit with over $150 million in revenue. Life has become routine, but I am happy. I feel successful.

2010. I am twenty-nine. I live with Robin. She helps me to learn how to be a better friend and partner. Much of my growth in terms of what I can offer in a friendship matures during this time, partly due to her influence, and partly due to My Little Pony. Looking back, I certainly was not yet what I'd consider to be a good friend (nor even a good person, really!), but I was definitely changing, and I greatly appreciate this time in my life.

2011. I am thirty. I don't live with Amanda, but we spend enough time together that it may as well be so. I treat her more as an accessory than a friend. I think at the time I just wanted companionship romantically, without any other attachments.

2012. I am thirty-one. Six months earlier, I learned about Effective Altruism, which has since dominated my life choices. I was listening to a podcast with Toby Ord and Luke Muelhauser while trekking through a flat portion of the Appalachian Trail, fascinated by the discussion. That night I slept outside in the rain, sitting in a camping chair that I brought on my back, with a 'tent' draped above me, held aloft only by my head. My iphone was the only light as far as I could see, and I used it to listen to podcasts on all kinds of philosophical positions on charity and what we should be doing with our lives. It has been nearly ten years since that day and I still am fascinated and moved by the tenets of effective altruism.

2013. I am thirty-two. I live with Katherine. Jack has just died. I am sad, but life has become much, much better for me. Katherine is, by far, the best thing to have ever happened to me.

2015. I am thirty-four. I attend my first effective altruism conference and am extraordinarily excited by it. These are my people. Meanwhile, at home I remain happy with Katherine, and at work I greatly enjoy the company of Day.

2018. I am thirty-seven. Check out this awesome puzzle portrait I received as a gift this year.

2019. I am thirty-eight. My grandmother is dead. I haven't seen the maternal side of my family in years. I stop for a moment to wonder if this is a mistake. What is it about me that makes it so that I don't think much of going for long periods of time without talking to people that I used to care deeply about? Is this just another facet of my aphantasia, or is there something deeper going on?

2020. I am thirty-nine. I am weak. I survived sepsis only a few months earlier, followed by several life-saving operations. Although I had gone this far in life without ever taking medication more than a dose of tylenol once or twice a year, from now on I must take pills every single day. For the first time, I start to feel like I am finally older.

2021. I am forty. I feel strong. COVID-19 has dominated my life for the past sixteen months. I haven't seen family, outside of two occasions for my father's side of the family, and two occasions for Katherine's mother, for the past sixteen months. But later today I will go to a physical restaurant for the first time since the end of 2019. I will see my family in person. I will celebrate the dismissal of all that lost time. I will tell my family about the charity that I'm starting. I will give gifts to my siblings and parents for the missed birthdays, the missed Christmas, the missed everything. I am looking forward to being able to give on my birthday, rather than to receive. I am happy.

202X. I will be older. Hopefully wiser. It is my wish that my success continues. That my partner and I continue to support each other in all that we do. That my family is happy and forward-looking. That no more deaths haunt these future years. I wish that our long term future is secured; that the alignment problem is solved or finally looks solvable; that lab-grown meat supplants killed meat as the cheapest meat source; that poverty declines ever further worldwide. And, maybe, if I can get past the akrasia, I'll finally pull the trigger on cryonics.

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