Wednesday, June 30, 2021



Recently I ran across a quote I like from a guy named James Clear from his book Atomic Habits:

“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

I have not read Atomic Habits because I try to steer clear of anything that has the whiff of a self-help books, because I think it is a fairly exploitative genre, however I have head about a couple of books recently that seem to be carefully straddling a line between self-help and just — you know — topic-oriented non-fiction. Clear’s book seems to be one and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is another.

I have heard both of these guys on podcasts and … I’m not sure. They seem like nice people, but I also suspect they may be on that Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Elon Musk, Donald Trump axis somewhere … white men, amIright?

Anyway, my point is simply that I agree with Clear’s quote above. Your goals only really matter to you, it is the work you do underneath them that makes all the difference. This is why I write here all the time about the schedules and diets I am trying to refine. However I also thought about it the other day when I was walking through Target and half the lights were out because California is trying to avoid rolling blackouts. It is also what I thought about when I talked to a friend up in Portland who is backing in 112 degree heat with no AC, just sitting in front of his fan and trying not to move for days at a time. 

We are a nation of people and those people all have a lot of goals, but we do not seem to be a nation of effective systems, which begs the question of the level we will fall to.




Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Butterfly Part.


Let us recap: Previously on this blog …

Since about February I have been trying to figure out how to construct a life. I’ve been trying things out. I’ve been looking for ways to protect my personal life and time from my job which is constantly trying to expand beyond its box. I’ve been testing out better sleep schedules. I’ve been testing out different diets, different foods, different ways to spend an evening. 

Because I moved here shortly before Quarantine dropped on all of us, I didn’t really much of a life to speak of when we went into lock down and I have realized — much to my horror — that as life begins to start up again, it means that I have to begin anew the work of building a life for myself. 

I’ve done this sort of work before, but usually it was because I was in grad school a couple of times and, say what you will about grad school, it comes with a built in cohort of people. This life doesn’t, not exactly. I’m blessed with a handful of great coworkers who are fun people to grab dinner and a drink with occasionally, but because they’re my coworkers I can’t just call them up and be like, “I’m lonely!”

I have a couple of friends in the Bay Area, but more than a hour away, so that limits our interactions.

So in the weird period where the world is open, but not fully up to speed yet, I’m concentrating on myself and what I can do to build up a life that I like, so that when I eventually have to go meet people and try to make friends and — god forbid — try to date, I will at least be a person who has his shit together and has something to offer.

With all of that in mind, I’ve been doing the basics: getting enough sleep, drinking enough water (never once paid any attention to this before like a month ago), I am more consistently doing yoga in the mornings, I’ve been scouting out new running trails, I’ve been trying to both clean up my diet and remove most meat from it (two things I have needed to do for awhile), I’m also going to cut back on the booze and try to dry out for a month or two. Red wine got me through Quarantine, and I will always appreciate that, but Quarantine has ended here in California and now I can’t justify the extra 600-800 calories in a bottle of Malbec. I’ll still grab drinks with people out in the world, but both meat and booze I’m just not going to bring into the apartment anymore (with the possible exception of tune, I’ve been eating a lot of tuna and rice lately).

I also purchased a scale recently because I was convinced I’d put on 20 pounds during the big Q. The reality is that I weigh about what I did when I moved here. I know I have lost muscle mass and put on flab, but my weight has about netted out, so that’s something. I figure that just by losing the wine, the pizza, and the potato chips I’m off to a good start. Add to that a cleaner diet that involves actually eating the fruit I buy, and now we are off to the races. On a day when my job does not eat my life, I can get in about half an hour of yoga in the mornings and I have scheduled time to run for about an hour in the early evening. In the latest interaction of my daily schedule I have built in time specific to writing, which I hadn’t really done before. If you add up all of these small changes I’ve been working on, you start to see how full on habits could emerge. That is the idea. I always get ambushed by life and work, so each time I try to make improvements, only a few end up sticking, but that’s why I keep trying; some of them do stick, it just takes time and effort.

Such is life.

One thing I have learned from earlier attempts is that if I can actually have one of these good days (yoga, clean food, a reasonable work day, running, writing, reading) I actually sleep better (I toss and turn a lot lately) and when I sleep better, I wake up feeling better, which makes it easier to have a good day, and a good day means I sleep better, which means it is easier to have another good day, and on and on and on … but that cycle is somewhat difficult to get into to, but I’m trying to get back into it.

When I feel bad about my failures in these efforts, I find some grace in reminding myself that everyone in the world has endured a terrible trauma over the last year and a half (and in some places that trauma still endures) and so we can’t really judge this new life we’re entering into the same way we might have judged our previous lives. In some ways the fact that I have to build a new life from scratch here in this place is actually kind of thematically fitting. I did the chrysalis of Quarantine here, I just need to now figure out how to do the butterfly part.




Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Together Apart

Technically I am still on Work From Home until the middle of August, but lately more and more I have been having to go into the office to do things and today I will head in and be there all day. The particulars are unimportant, but I will be around what feels like a lot of people throughout the day. I’m vaccinated and they are all vaccinated, everybody will be wearing masks, socially distanced, all the things. 

It’s strange the way that this country is coming back on line. I live in California and as of June 15th all of the Quarantine measures are basically gone. That is different in workplaces and some other places, but out there in the world, all bets are off. I went to Target on June 16th and I was still wearing a mask because I honestly just didn’t think about it when I got out of the car. Putting on the mask is just part of the routine now, you know?

In the store people were mostly still wearing masks, except for white men. White men were just all like, “Fuck your feelings.”

I am a white man and man, I gotta tell you, most of the time I feel like I’m adopted.

I don’t wear baseball caps or watch football or go in for libertarianism or gun ownership or the KKK. I know that I am infected with that toxic white masculinity that you hear so much about and sometimes it still comes out even though it is something that I work on. And keep in mind, I have basically three English degrees. You know how much of my life I have spent reading and thinking about Critical Theory? You know how much time I have devoted to figuring out what my brain is doing and why? I’ve said to people before that I am still running 20th Century white American male software no matter how many fixes and updates I try to install.

And yet, walking into Target the other day and looking at these pale baseball cap wearing football dudes, I was all like, “Do you not see how much of an asshole you look like, dude?”

Look, I get it, these are MAYBE vaccinated and so not actually doing anything illegal, but I think that the thing that has so completely shaken my faith in humanity over the last 15 months has been discovering how many people (sometimes people close to me) just lack actual human empathy. We are members of a society and that means we have obligations to one another, which means that we are all supposed to give a damn about other people. 

So maybe read the room, my dudes. We have all experienced trauma since this virus thing started, but we have not all experienced the exact same trauma and we certainly have not experienced it collectively. We should have though, but we didn’t navigate it that way. That’s what the “Together Apart” slogan was supposed to be about, but that was a slogan, not a description of what we did.

I’ve really been shaken the last 15 months about the way people behaved, especially since it was so clear that the solution was so simple: choose to care about other people and then make all of your pandemic decisions downstream of that.

As our society comes back to life, I don’t know what the next few months are going to feel like, especially once we start getting pocket spikes among people who have refused to get vaccinated. I fear we are going to be stretched even further apart. People are still dying in this country, but now there is even less that any one of us can do about that individually.

Vaccine Summer is going to be fantastic for some of us, but terrible for others. 

The worst parts of this may be behind us, but this next part is still going to be weird.




Monday, June 21, 2021

Back on Track, Baby!


Just a short post today because I am running behind schedule this morning.

I feel like I have been running behind schedule since I got back from my Washington trip about two weeks ago. I’ve expended lots of emotional and mental energy over the last several months trying to make adjustments to this life of mine, with varying degrees of success. Going out of town — while fantastic — screwed up my progress and last weeks I lived more like I had been living for most of Quarantine, which is to say I let my sleep schedule get away from me and my diet somehow decayed back to wine and pizza. That seems to be my default setting, which is no good.

So here I am today, trying to get back to the business of living better, healthier, and non-Quarantine-y.

So while I slept later than I was supposed to today, I have still managed to wedge in the time to sit down here and write out this little post. So now at least I have this little marker for when I started to get back on track. 

Today I have a full day of work, followed by what is supposed to be a run this afternoon, followed by a reasonably healthy dinner this evening. Back on track, baby!




Thursday, June 10, 2021

Boating with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Aaaaaaand I’m back!

I took a little vacation. I went up to Washington state with some people and spent a few days staying in a beautiful house on a lake. I had a wonderful time, thank you for asking. I got to ride on a boat. I got to run in the forest. I went to new places and met new people and I only embarrassed myself a little more than the normal amount.

The pandemic is not over, I know, but the scientific miracle that is these vaccines has given us back a version of life that I am incredibly grateful for.

It wasn’t until I arrived back in my empty little apartment on Tuesday night that I realized how debilitatingly lonely I have been. My situation is not unique. Lots of people went through quarantine alone. I was lucky to have family zoom calls and a supportive group of coworkers and friends to talk to, but nothing is quite as life affirming as being in the same room with other people. It is with good reason that some countries consider solitary confinement to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. 

I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I got back here. Not because it is terrible here — I’ve made the best of quarantine, I suppose — but because of how much simply being around other people felt like such a warm blanket. It was like walking in out of a bone chilly cold into a room warmed by a fireplace and with chocolate chip cookies baking nearby. I had to go back out into the cold eventually, but the experience of the cold is different after you’ve known warmth.

There is a scene I always think about from the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is a book about prisoners in a Stalinist gulag. Each morning they have to pile out of the bunkhouse into the Russian winter and the guards inspect each prisoner to make sure they’re not taking anything illicit out on their work day. Solzhenitsyn goes on for like two pages about Ivan’s strategy for standing in front of the fire in the bunkhouse absorbing as much warmth as he can before he has to step out for inspection. About the way he’s learned to buckle his coat over his body to make sure he takes as much heat with him as possible. The thing that sticks in my mind about it is that Ivan knows that the guards are going to make him open his coat once he lines up outside. He’s not trying to take the warmth with him all day, he knows he’s only going to get to enjoy it for a few brief moments. But he has a whole strategy for it, because he knows that at the very least, those are moments that he can enjoy. Ivan has learned to appreciate things as brief as that.

Now, I am not in a gulag. I did think of Ivan though while I was gone. I so enjoyed being able to be a person in the world again, to talk to people, to drink with people, to play cards with people, to enjoy people again, to laugh until I cried. There is so much life out there still and bit by bit by ever-too-slow bit, it is coming back. And I am eager for its return.




Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Tomorrow)!

Short post today.

I am doing a half day of work this morning and then this afternoon I am driving up to the Bay Area to meet up with some travel buddies and then in the morning we are driving to Oakland Airport from which we will be flying to Washington state where we will be spending a few days in a beautiful house on the shores of Lake Whatcom, which is basically in Canada.

I know what you’re thinking: Is this an adventure? Because it sounds like an adventure …

Let me ask the judges … Judges???


Man, I love an adventure.

I am especially looking forward to this one because of — you know — Covid. While I know that the pandemic is not, strictly speaking, over in America, I am fully vaccinated as are all my travel compatriots. My county is doing great, the county we’re flying to is doing great. We have reached the point where those of us who are vaccinated in this country need to start giving the middle finger to this disease. Vaccine summer, baby!

I have practice-packed and repacked my little black backpack, my travel clothes are ready to go, my devices are charged, my airplane snacks are ziplocked and loaded. Let’s go!

We are getting to that point where life like sunlight after a storm is beginning to break through the glowering clouds of quarantine and I am here for it. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, I am returning to cheap airfares on budget airlines to go to weird places just for the pure fuck all joy of being alive.

It is good to be alive again.

Not sure if I will be able to blog tomorrow morning, not sure what the morning will be like, but if I don’t just know it is because I am just so busy being alive again.

It is good to be alive again. 




Tuesday, June 1, 2021

How to Feel Grateful When You Don't Wanna.


I’m in an odd little funk today. I have a bunch of work I need to get done today for my job and I’m feeling a little weird about it. Tomorrow night I will begin my first post-Quarantine trip and I am very excited about that! But there is this pile of work between me and that.

Interestingly, this might be one of the first real “vacations” I have taken as a professional and grown up person that is specifically happening because I need some time to chill the fuck out away from work. Most of the times I have taken vacations they occurred because there was someplace I wanted to go or an adventure I wanted to have. This is that too. This trip basically fell into my lap (a friend put it together), but I was going to take some time off no matter what. My boss even told me recently that if I didn’t use some vacation days, she’d make me. That was very nice of her.

I’ve explained to people before that I am not a workaholic. In fact I’m the opposite; I’m just doing what I have to do to do my job well. Lately that has just required a lot. The stress of it kind of ruined my weekend too, but that is a longer story.

Perhaps it is because I know that tomorrow I’ll get to check out that today already feels like such a slog. I don’t like feeling this way at the start of the day. 

But we carry on, right?

Attitude matters, not to get all self-help-y on you. Sit up straight. Smile. Grit your teeth and get your nose to that grindstone. 

All the minimalists that I follow always eventually get around to talking about what you should do AFTER you have purged all of your stuff, because it isn’t really about the stuff, it is about the life you are trying to make for yourself, and eventually they get around to gratitude. About how important it is for people to recognize how much they have in their lives and to feel grateful about it all. I’ve been trying to do that more. Sure, my job is hard, but I am happy to have a job. Yesterday I drove down to the beach for no reason and sat on a log as the sun was sinking into the sea and I just watched the way the light played on the water and it was a nice and peaceful moment and I’m thankful that I got to have it. I have people in my life and tomorrow I get to take a trip with them. I have a place to stay and people who will welcome me. I feel gratitude for all of that. Or, I’m trying to feel it, at least. I’m not good at this part yet, but I’m working on it.