steph

a documentary of the mundane

The book “The Great Work of Your Life” is starting to have a surprisingly positive effect on me. It took a little bit to warm up, like many a novel I never finished. But some of its most salient points, like the importance of deliberate practice, and the concept of detachment from outcome, align well with my own values and speak to me in a way that I want to take action.

The most immediate way I can apply this to my life is through LSAT study. Since I've started studying, I've noticed myself becoming happier and more focused. I have a goal to work towards, with clear output and clear feedback via the test scores I get. I find the test intellectually rewarding, as crazy as it sounds, and find that I can focus on it for hours without distraction. In fact, I get frustrated by the other parts of my life, such as my job and errands, that I need to do that pull me away from studying.

I think if I maintain this attitude of deliberate practice, focus, concentration, and a letting go of outcomes, I will be able to knock this test out of the park. I have two full months left of study, and plan to use them wisely.

Yesterday I took my first practice test since beginning studying, and scored a 172. I was quite happy with this result, and it also revealed to me that my biggest weakness right now is in the Games section. This is actually encouraging because it is a very learnable section, and when I took the test last, I was able to get all the answers correct. So, I think with more practice I can get this score up.

Coffee

This week I decided to give up coffee. I am taking a more controlled approach to weaning off of it, and have taken all my coffee drinks as ½ decaf this week. I will keep this up until Monday 3/18, at which time I will drop down to ¾ decaf, ¼ regular. I will continue that for another week or so, until I'm 100% decaf. As of the past week, I was consuming an average of 3 cups of coffee per day, usually a medium sized iced coffee from Starbucks in the morning, and another cup of coffee after lunch. Mm, even writing about it makes me crave the stuff. At least I'll still have decaf.

A few observations I've noticed so far: – I have a headache in the morning. It is not debilitating, probably a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale, but it is there and somewhat distracting. – On the night of the first day, I went to bed at 9:15 (about 2 hours earlier than usual) and slept all the way through to 8:30. That is over 11 hours of sleep, about 3 hours more than normal. I woke up feeling about the same as I normally do (slightly groggy but ready for the day). – No discernible differences in energy level, ability to concentrate, or mood. – I haven't exercised too much this week besides a Tuesday morning working pre-coffee, so I haven't noticed any changes here.

From “My Antonia” by Willa Cather

“I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

I spend a lot of time alone these days. I moved into my own apartment in November, and broke up with my girlfriend two weeks later. Where nearly all of my free time used to be spent with her, or in the company of my roommate (we didn't consciously spend time together, but I always felt her presence in the room next door), now my time is spent alone. I still see friends a few times a week, but this doesn't account for the many hours alone over the span of a weekend, or the time after work and before bed on week nights.

You could say I'm purposely doing this. I've had another relationship opportunity that I turned down in favor of spending more time with myself. I am trying to fall in love with solitude, I am trying not to see it as a negative but rather an opportunity to take full ownership of my time. I'm an introvert so some of this comes naturally. I always needed a certain amount of alone time each week when I was in a relationship. Now, I find the default of alone time quite nice, with the sporadic interruptions of socialization throughout the week.

So what am I learning? What have I been doing?

I'm learning there are times when I am really uncomfortable with my mental state. Where I want it to change, I don't want to just let it be. This is when I turn to CBD oil or edibles. I'm not sure if the resulting change is qualitatively better, it's just different, and that is what I'm seeking in the moment. Writing this out makes me think I need to give meditation another earnest chance.

Other times, I feel content, like now. I am sitting in my bed, drinking French press coffee, listening to Small Million, writing this. Moments like this I wish could stretch out and unfold deep into the night. I could probably live out my days like this, breaking only for food, bathroom, and an hour bout of exercise each day. Alas, even today I will have to break from this situation soon enough, because I have plans to go to the Legion of Honor with a friend.

I am learning that TV does not make me very happy. I resort to it when there is nothing else I can think of doing. I'd just as well do away with it altogether, and watch the occasional movie. That said, right now I have more time than any other particular pursuit demands, so TV often wins out.

I'm learning that passive creativity suits me well. I find it hard to sit and focus my attention on just one thing, but if my attention can disperse to a couple things, I can stay engaged for a while. For example, yesterday I drew and colored with the TV on in the background. I was barely paying attention to the TV, but I would not have been able to sit and draw for that long without it on. Similarly, I have music on right now – without it, I would not be able to sit and write this. Once again, this makes me think I need to give meditation another shot. My attention span is nearing zero; even at work it flitters from one thing to the next with barely a minute in between.

I'm learning that I am in love with my apartment, and my neighborhood. Home environment is so important to me, and I love making small improvements to it over time to make it feel even more like home. I hung up my guitar yesterday, thus creating a little “music nook” where my piano and now guitar live. I could just sit and look at the way my bed is situated against the gabled windows, or my clean kitchen floor, or my bathtub, for a while and never tire of it. My apartment makes me so goddamn happy.

I'm learning that a few good friends are way better than many acquaintances. I only feel the need to socialize maybe 2 or 3 times per week, so I'd rather fill those times with deep connections, with people I can skip the small talk with. It is enough for me, and I have no desire to fill up more of this treasured alone time with people I don't like or know very much.

I'm learning that I need to be creative. I spend my work day as a manager, which, for however challenging it is, is not the most creative. Of course I often need to come up with creative solutions for dealing with people or distributing work, but I mean “creative” in the literal sense, where one creates something. I do not produce anything at work. In my free time, I need to. I like to write, draw, code, practice music. I like to cook. I need to be making things to feel fully content. I'd like to nurture this side of me even more. Right now, I dabble. I'd like to get really good at some things, though. On my list right now: writing, piano, data visualizations.

I'm learning that I still need rituals to moor me. Every weekend morning I make a batch of French press coffee and drink it in bed while reading or perusing the internet. Every evening I stretch and use the foam roller. Every night before bed I read the New Yorker. These little things create predictability, comfort, they serve as guide posts from one day to the next. I can't imagine not having small habits like this. Daily repetitive acts that are unique to me remind me of my own personhood.

What do we do with our finite time here, our lives bumping up against those who happen to be here at the same time? What if you and I were alive at different times so that I never knew your curls, your two different laughs, and you didn't know my insatiability?

What if I died before I met you? What if you weren't born for another century? I'm so glad we won't have to know I'm so glad we won't spend this lifespan apart

You never trusted in my ability to tell the truth I never believed in the possibility of forgetting

You were an angel that night, but it wasn't just for me I was a devil grasping for skin, something coarser than you

You were an angel that night, but it never was for me Does it belong in our story, or [this page is intentionally omitted]