Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Be Best.


Yesterday when I posted I was feeling pretty down about my own lack of follow through when it came to building a more effective and productive life. I should mention that I am not one of those self-help-book-reading people who wants to maximize their output and vibrate into some sort of astral projected new plane of productivity. In fact, I tend not to like those people. All I’m looking to do here is be better. Be best.


The work of a life is never done until — you know — one day it suddenly is, and with great finality. Until then though, I think it is important that we should make efforts to build lives that we can both enjoy and be proud of.  That is a weirdly tall order. Both ENJOY and be PROUD of. We live in a society that requires us to have these jobs that consume so much of us, that exhaust us so, that most of us, all we have the bandwidth to do after them is eat crappy food and watch TV. If you’re lucky maybe you find love (or a close enough facsimile). Maybe you have kids and in them can find both joy and pride. So much of ourselves though we are forced to abandon along the side of the road of life. Some people make it work, I guess, squeeze their passions into “side hustles” or something like that. Or convince themselves that what brings them joy are actually childish things that must be put away.


None of this seems great.


It is almost as though we live in a system that prizes capital over people …


Zoom out from our own lives to everyone’s lives. What would a world look like if it wasn’t organized this way? What would a world look like if it was organized around people and not profit? I’m not trying to be a dorm room Marxist here. This is something I think about a lot. 


It probably would be a world with fewer cars and televisions, but a shitload more public access television shows. But who builds the cameras and the who strings the cables that move around the electricity to power those cameras? Who works at the power plant that makes the electricity? I’m sure there are probably people out there whose passion is running a nuclear reactor, but probably not enough of them to make this all work.


There is a fallacy that we have to choose between an electricity-less, pre-modern world or the one that we have now. As if those are the only two options. Discussions like this usually degenerate into those kind of blunt abstractions. 


Often I like to think on a world like ours, but better. We can keep our electricity, but it is solar and wind now. And yes, someone still has to run the power lines, but it is a hard job, so maybe they don’t have to work as much. Maybe we can just all agree to 20 hour work weeks instead of 40 hour work weeks. Or, as is the reality for so many people, 50, 60, 70 hour work weeks. I believe it really is possible to construct a way of life that cares about people and so reduces the size of our capital-focused activities. I believe we really can create a mode of socially organized life where working for a wage is only one of many parts of our lives. That society would have to be structured a little differently than ours and it would likely result in a world that physically looks a little different than ours (higher density housing, fewer cars, more communal spaces, community gardens, etc.). It would be a world where you can’t necessarily get a banana 12 months out of the year, but it would also be a world where Jeff Bezos doesn’t buy a second yacht to follow around his first yacht because the first yacht doesn’t have a place to land his helicopter. 


I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase, “From each based on ability, to each based on need” and even now, all these years after I first read it, I still think it is one of the most beautiful ideas I have ever heard of. I think we can nudge our lives closer to that idea. 


It would have to start with nudging one another. It would have to start by spreading the word a little, which is what I am doing here (to all of my non-existent readers).


This post was not supposed to unspool into my own take on post-late-capitalist utopianism. All I had planned to do was tell you that after feeling down about my life yesterday morning, I worked on getting my shit together a little. I worked hard at work. I ate clean all day. After work I went running even though it was cold (I ran a 10k and my time was TERRIBLE!) and then I made a simple dinner and then I read a book for a while and then I went to bed on time. Yesterday was one of my (treasured, but hard to pull off) RWR days, where I ran, wrote, and read all in one day.



I worked at making my own life a little better yesterday and I will try to do the same thing today. Living a good day is like adding a dash of hope to the next day. So this morning I have a little more hope than I did yesterday morning. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking on a world that is better. 


I hope your day is better today and I hope it makes your life a little better.


Be better.


Be best.


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Monday, May 17, 2021

Inconsistent Failures.


 A friend of mine joked once that the third post on every blog says, “Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile.”


That’s a funny joke, but it also speaks to something very true about our human tendency to let our ambition outrun our execution and I have got to tell you, I am feeling that lately. Back in February I started thinking about ‘redesigning” my life so that more of it would belong to me and less of it would belong to my job. I gave it a shot in March and had a good month. Then in April work completely consumed my life again. In May I have fine tuned the re-design and I was all clear to leap into it, but then I kind of just … didn’t?


I’ve made some changes that have stuck. I’ve been getting up earlier so I have more morning time, but I haven’t been consistent enough with it. Every morning I post a silly drawing on my Instagram (@standard_kink) and MOST mornings I write a blog post like this one. I’ve also standardized my bedtime and I’ve been able to stick with that. My diet is better now than it was a few months ago, I’ve even been eating fruit and vegetables consistently! 


So those parts of the re-design are functioning, but the other big parts aren’t. I’m not writing more, I’m not reading more, I’m only running and doing yoga sporadically. These are the things that the re-design was supposed to be in service of. A lot of the minimalism stuff I read/listen to tells you that what you actually do is what you actual value and if there is a misalignment between what you value and what you actually do, that is a point that you need to deliberately address. So obviously these are the things I need to address. I have built out a daily schedule that (generally) has enough runway in it that I COULD and in fact SHOULD be able to run and read and write all in addition to what I am already doing.


Admittedly it is hard to work a stressful 8 hours and then say, “Well, I need to go out running now even though I’m totally drained and it’s cold and gray outside.” I know that I have it in me to do that because I have done that sort of thing before. I just need to find a way to do it again.


I know that I am lucky to have such small problems in my life, but that doesn’t make them not problems. As I grow older, I really do feel the hallway of the rest of my life narrowing. I feel like I’m approaching a lot of last chances. If the person I want to be is someone who writes and runs and reads everyday, I feel like I’m running out of days to become that person. 


But the one great thing about the relentless forward movement of time is that every morning we get a whole new day. Let’s see what I can do with this one.


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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Vaccine Summer in Bloom.


I’m trying to grow flowers now. I have avoided flowers because I am apparently so proficient at killing herbs that I was certain flowers would not be hearty enough to survive my poor farming skills. But the other day I was browsing the seed aisle at my local Walmart and they had packets of perennial wildflower seeds and I thought, “Ah yes, WILDflowers! They will grow anywhere! Surely they can survive little old me!” 


I bought a few packets and came home and potted them and now they are sitting here on my windowsill. It has only been about five days but they have already started to sprout. Thai little green head already have the shape of a tiny leaf and their little stalks do look healthy. I’m really impressed how quickly they have come up. 


This is maybe the part that I enjoy the most; when the little seedlings start to emerge and there is a little more life in the world. I really admire these tiny plants. There’s so much hope in them. During the day I find myself getting up from my desk and wandering into the dining room to bend down over their pots and just study them. It makes me really happy.


The next part is the part I have proven to not be good at: keeping them alive. I think I am getting a little better at it. I’m more careful about when and how much I water them. That’s about all I can do. I can’t control the amount of sunlight they’ll get, but I’ve done the best I can by completely giving over my window sills to them.


It would be really nice to go into summer — particularly this summer, our Vaccine Summer — with actual flowers blooming in my little apartment. There would be something fittingly promising about it.


We’ll see. 


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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Thinking on the Life of Lars Larce.


There is a Spanish idiom that goes, “Thinking on the immortality of a crab” and I only learned about it recently, but it has become one of my favorite phrases. It relates to daydreaming and it is a funny way of saying, “I’m not doing nothing, I’m actually deep in contemplation.”


So the usage would be like this:


INT. DAY. LIVING ROOM.


RINALDO is staring passively out a window. Enter MARIA.


MARIA: Rinaldo! You lazy bum! Why are you just sitting there while I am making dinner for the kids?


RINALDO: I’m actually thinking on the immortality of a crab.


MARIA: Well why don’t you do that while you set the table?


RINALDO: Yes, Maria.


MARIA: My mother was right about you.


And scene!


Now, whatever marriage problems Maria and Rinaldo might have are not the topic of this blog post. I am mostly concerned now about daydreaming.


I have spent enough of my life engaged in creative endeavors that I recognize how essential it is to daydream, to ponder and to simply let the mind wander. I’ve had trouble with it the last year or two though and I really do think that it is because of podcasts. 


That seems like a leap, but hear me out. The explosion of podcasts has made it so that whatever your niche interests, you can find a podcast. For instance, the inimitable Glen Weldon of NPR now has a podcast called A Degree Absolute that goes episode by episode through the 1960 British TV show The Prisoner which is the single most insane television program that has ever been produced. And listening to the podcast is absolutely delightful and I love it because it was clearly made for me and like the four other people in existence who would like to see David Lynch make a James Bond movie.


The problem is that my podcast consumption has been increasing substantially over the years and there are some days when I basically don’t even take my earbuds out. There is just SO MUCH information out there to consume! And some of it is good. It is not all bubblegum that I’m listening to. I listen to several daily news pods and numerous wonky policy pods and shows on minimalism and stoicism and history and all kinds of other smart and fancy stuff like that. 


But what I’m not doing much lately is thinking on the immortality of a crab.


Last night I was in bed trying to go to sleep and a name came to me. This is not a terribly unusual thing for a writer and I like odd names, I even keep a list of them. So even though I was warm and comfy under my blankets, I had to roll over and reach for my phone in the dark and that is why this morning I have an email from myself that just says, “Lars Larce”. Now I don’t know who Lars Larce is or what I’m going to do with his name, but at least it did not leave me in the middle of the night, which would have happened otherwise.


As I settled back into bed last night, I realized it had been a long time since I’d had to do that. This was my first Lars Larce in a long time. That makes me sad because when the creative process is really kicking, you are getting Lars Larces all the damn time. A productive writer lives a life drowning in post-it notes that say things like: “The feather is GREEN” or “the roof of the arboretum needs cleaned and so it’s gloomy when they meet.” Stuff like that is common.


But you can’t realize that the roof of the arboretum needs cleaned if you’re not letting your mind wander around in there. You can’t find your way around the arboretum if you’re focused on Glen Weldon talking about the state of BBC Four in 1967. 


I need to find a way to cram more non-time into my life. I need to spend more time thinking on the immortality of a crab. I need to open up some space for more Lars Larces in my life. After all, who is he meeting at the arboretum? Why there? And what’s with the feather? I’m never going to figure it out unless I find some time to.


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Monday, May 10, 2021

The Wonderful Return of Being Boring.


Today is Monday. So get this: I just had the closest thing to a normal weekend that I’ve experienced in the last 14 months!


There was nothing amazing about it. In fact it was pretty mundane. I went to see a coworker’s kid perform in a little play at an outdoor theater. I went to BOTH Target and Walmart. I planted some new seeds in my window sill garden. Yesterday I made a frittata and as I was getting started I realized I was out of cheese, so I just hopped in the car and drove to the store and bought some cheese, without even feeling any trepidation about it! No Greco-Roman mental wrestling about the ethical implications of making an unplanned grocery store trip. I even went to a thrift store on Saturday! 


Now I am not saying life is back to normal. It will be a long long long time before we get back to whatever “normal” was, and we probably won’t ever get there anyway.


But what I am saying is that this past weekend was the closest thing to life I have experienced since the quarantine began. And that is a good thing.


I should say here: I’m fully vaccinated as of about a month ago. And YOU should go get vaccinated too. Everybody should. If you’re not inclined to protect yourself, then do it because it protects the people around you. This is not complicated.


After the so so so many months of quarantine, it was so very nice to be able to return to even the most mundane aspects of living in a society. I walked around Target slowly and just looked at all the stuff and I even touched some of the clothes! Can you even believe that? What joy it is to be alive.


It gets even more exciting! I have PLANS! With other people! PLANS TO SPEND TIME WITH HUMANS! Later this week I am going to go with a small group of fully vaccinated people to get drinks! DRINKS, I SAY! I have not had proper drinks in more than a year. I think sometimes about whiskey and I wonder, “How is whisky doing? How has whiskey been without me all this time? Will whiskey remember me???”


And even more exciting! Next month I am taking a trip! Yes, A TRIP! I have requested vacation days and everything!


I’m slowly trying to get my head in gear for that. We have all — well most of us anyway — internalized the Covid caution over the past year and I think that for some of us it will take a little bit of time to be able to deprogram ourselves out of that. I think that the fact we still have to do mask wearing is actually a good thing. The masks function kind of like training wheels for us as we begin to take those tentative steps back into the world. When I walked around Wal-Mart this weekend, I could often hear the sirens going off in my brain telling me that I shouldn’t be inside, that there were too many people in the store, that my trip wasn’t essential.  Then I’d have to calmly remind myself that it was okay, that I was vaccinated, that I wasn’t going to hurt anybody with my germs, that it was okay to do something non-essential. It will take some time for those sirens to quiet, they’re on a hair trigger after the last 14 months, but with time, they will fade.


While it is true the pandemic is not over and while it is true that the pandemic may never entirely end, it is also true that we are probably through the worst of it now. We are entering a new phase of this whole thing and by all accounts, this phase is so much better.


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Friday, May 7, 2021

Sky Butlers.


Back in 2019 I was flying back to Arizona after a job interview in California and at that point I had already not gotten several jobs I’d interviewed for and I was feeling pretty bad about myself. I ended up getting the job in California, it’s the one I have now. The plan had landed and we were sitting on the tarmac and I was sitting in the back of the plane because I prefer to sit in the back of the plane and I was watching over the top of the seats as the passengers did that slow and frustrating thing where they both take forever to gather their stuff and also try to push past the people in front of them. You can learn a lot about a person by watching how they behave during this small moment. You can learn who is organized or not, who is pushy, who is patient, who is kind, who is self-important.


I was sitting at the vert back of the cabin and I could overhear a couple of the flight attendants chatting about what’s next and what city they would end their day in that day and I thought for a moment that I would enjoy that life. The notion of spending the day hoping from city to city, looking at hundreds or thousands of strangers, getting to watch them all in these liminal moments, getting to study strangers for a living, that all seemed really appealing to me. Plus, it would be an excuse to live a slim and streamlined life, since my days would have to fit into a single bag that I traveled with each and every day. I imagined having a cool little studio apartment that I barely ever lived in. I imagined nights at odd bars in strange cities. Having friends in lots of places. Having a life that took place mostly in the air.


Obviously I’m romanticizing that life, but I was having a tough time then getting the kind of work that I wanted and so it was probably healthy to think outside the box of my own expectations. After all, people do live a life like the one I’d imagined. Probably it is more grueling and stressful than I’d imagined. I’d heard before that flight attendants are actually extensively trained and actually highly skilled and have to be knowledgeable about their aircraft, but that they spend 90% of their time doing 10% of what they’re trained for. Most of the time they’re sky butlers, but every once and a while they have to save someone having a heart attack. What a weird job.


That weirdness appealed to me and, if I’m being honest, kind of still does. I even looked into it some, but before I could spend much time on it, I was offered this job and then it was off to California to do what I am doing now. 


And lucky me, because a few months later Covid hit and lots and lots of airline employees lost their jobs and the ones that didn’t were hurtling around the skies in sealed steel tubes with strangers who were so poor at risk assessment that they were on the plane in the first place. It must have been complete terrifying hell there for a while. I really feel for people who had to do that work, it must have been a total trauma and I haven’t really heard people talk about that. Honestly, we have kind of stopped having discussions about the sacrifices that front-line workers made. Probably because as we draw nearer the end of the pandemic, if we talked about them more, we might be asked to actually reward them in some way, which I think we should do, but which this country will never do because we are kind of a nation of assholes. But I digress, that is a topic for another time.


As we creep ever so slowly back toward some kind of normalcy, I have been thinking more about a life spent in the air. My own employer has been making plans about returning to face-to-face work and there are committees and proposals and waivers and union negotiations and clarifications of terms and underneath it all is the implication that some work simply can’t be done from home even though that work has been getting done at home for 15 months. I have been thinking more about a life spent in the air perhaps because we are approaching a point where many of our lives will return to something like normal, like we are all coming in for a landing, or maybe we already have landed (I remember hearing the whooshing noise of a 737 engine when I got my second vaccine injection) and so now our whole society is just sitting on the tarmac and we are learning a lot about each other while we sit here waiting. We are stuck here waiting and thinking about all the things we’ll need to do once we deplane. We are thinking about the lives we live when we are not up in the air, we are getting ready for our return and so we are thinking about what exactly we are returning to.


It is good to think on what we want to return to and what we don’t


It is good to spend this time thinking on the other lives we could be living, it is good to think on the world of possibilities that will be opening to us as the world is reopening to us. 


A lot of lives will be completely different a year from now, not just because of the vaccines, but because of what coming back to life will mean for so many of us. A lot of marriages are going to end. A lot of people are going to quit jobs that they realized they don’t want. A lot of weird little businesses are going to get started because people will realize that life is brief and if they really do want to open that cupcake shop, they had better get on it.


I doubt I will become a flight attendant any time soon, but I’m certainly thinking on it. And that is a good thing.


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Thursday, May 6, 2021

To Duvet or Not to Duvet.


I have a small and unimportant quandary.

So I’m a minimalist. I don’t actually enjoy using the term that much because it is ironically freighted with so much baggage as of late, but that is what I am. I am more interested in not owning much than I am in the austere aesthetic, though I do kind of like the aesthetic.


Over the course of the quarantine I have put more effort into making a comfortable home than I would have otherwise. So I probably do have more stuff in my apartment than I would otherwise and lately I have been feeling weird about it. So I have been thinking about going through everything again and doing a purge. So that is Data Point 1.


Here is Data Point 2: During quarantine I had to turn my guest bedroom into my home office and though it still has a bed in it, it isn’t really arranged properly to function as a guest bedroom because it primarily functions as an office and a cat napping area right now.


Now on to Data Point 3: Within the next few months I will be transitioning back to in-person work (though I don’t know exactly when that will happen). I am also beginning to hear from (fully vaccinated) friends and family who want to come out and stay with me, which is lovely and also something I had hoped would start to happen. After all, I live on the central coast of California and have an extra bedroom (because this two bedroom apartment is actually the smallest and cheapest place I could find. That’s a long story and not important right now).


So add all of that up and it means I have to start transitioning my guest bedroom back into a guest bedroom. Since I’d only lived here about five months prior to the pandemic and because the “extra’ bedroom was the last thing I was worried about furnishing, it was never really outfitted properly and was not a particularly pleasant room to be in, though people had slept in it.


Now I am beginning to think about how to make a pleasant and welcoming space for guests to stay in and almost without exception these will be people who are NOT minimalists and who — in some cases — actually think I’m kind of crazy for living the way that I do.


I’d like to provide a pleasant experience for people who come see me, because quarantine has left me feeling terribly lonely and there is little I’d like more than to see people, but, being a minimalist, I really bristle at the idea of buying a whole bunch of stuff I’m not going to use 90% of the time to cram into a room that I don’t use most of the time. I’m staring down the barrel of having to buy extra towels and bedding and probably some bins to organize the towels and the bedding and I need some more lamps (the light in the guest room kinda sucks if the sun isn’t out) and probably a chair and a rug and … other stuff? What goes in a guest room? I’ve never really had to equip one before. 


It feels like my natural inclination to make a bedroom look like a monk’s cell (that’s basically what my own bedroom is like) is probably not what a normal person would think of as pleasant after they had to take a weekend off work and make a long drive to come and visit me.


Surely there is a middle path here that I can find a way to navigate, but I simply have not yet found a way to navigate it. Probably this is what Pinterest is for, right? 


The other thing that bugs me about all this is that at least while the room has been my workspace, I was USING IT. Once I turn it back into a guest room, I will barely be using it most of the time. I would love to give it some kind of hybrid function, but I already have a dining room talke (where I am typing this right now) and a small desk in my living room where I also sometimes write. So I don’t need it to be a home office after Covid. I don’t have any other space-requiring hobbies. I don’t secretly make jewelry or anything, so I don’t know what hybrid function I would try to jam in there.


I also kind of hate how much time I am going to have to spend thinking about all of this. I’m going to end up saying things to myself like, “Maybe I should have a backup duvet …” and that is just going to make me go insane.


Look, I said at the top that this was a SMALL and UNIMPORTANT quandary. At least you know I am being honest with you.


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