steph

a documentary of the mundane

Tomorrow I turn 33, and I can't really believe it. It was the age, as a kid, that I imagined was the unequivocal adult; not quite old but certainly not young.

So what are some of the things I've learned in these 32 years? These are some of the big ones. And I won't pretend they'll all apply to you, but they are true for me and they might help you. So:

  1. Your energy and your attention are the most valuable resources you have, and you should invest in improving them, and protect them at all costs.

  2. You can opt out of the standard narrative (9-5 job, house, marriage, kids, and lots of stuff) and still be happy. Maybe even happier.

  3. Alcohol isn't just overrated, it is downright toxic.

  4. Meditation is an excellent habit to make part of your every day life.

  5. Nothing means anything without your health.

  6. Living alone is wonderful.

  7. Owning a dog is HARD, but worth it.

  8. “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

  9. I genuinely believe the bicycle is on the best inventions of humankind and it is the single most enjoyable activity I do.

  10. Relatedly, exercise every day, you won't regret it.

And don't know what to do with them.

I don't have time to pursue them all, and I don't know which ones are best, so I often end up doing nothing.

That has to end. Doing something, even the wrong thing, is better than doing nothing at all.

So today, I am going to pick one of my ideas, and I am going to spend my time researching it and pursuing it. I will then test it with my target audience. I'll take their feedback and either recalibrate, or shelf it. But I'll shelf it in an informed way.

The idea I'm pursuing now has to do with books, elderly folks, and internet security. It's a random niche, one I didn't think I would be interested in, but it's one of the ideas that's been nagging at me for about six months now. It was triggered by an in-person interaction with my parents' neighbor, an elderly woman who was hopeless around computers. I highly suspect she is the norm amongst her age group.

Also, I'm home now after spending two weeks in Texas. I love my home. I can luxuriate in my furniture, my floor, the way the light shines in the bathroom, the soft rug in my bedroom. I just love it. Every little thing about it. Because it is completely mine. Because it's beautiful but not overbearing. Because it has a lot of work to be done on it, so I'm always thinking about ways to make it better. So yeah. I love my place :)

This morning in May I am sitting outside, listening to the water fountain. There's green all around and I have no shoes on.

There's vines growing over a stone wall and I'm not so different from them. They're climbing vines, defying gravity as they grow upward, unlike trailing vines that follow the natural laws of physics and grow down towards the earth.

We used to have to learn to grow plants through time-consuming experiments. Plant, observe the apparent whims of sun and water, nurture what grows, or try again. Now we can just look it up online.

I'm in Austin, Texas, the heat during the day is like a warm, soft blanket I roll around in. The heat during the night when I want to be covered in actual blanket is oppressive. Can't have it both ways, I suppose.

TV Free

I plan to spend the next month, maybe more, without television. When I moved in to my own place, my parents' housewarming gift to me was a TV. I hadn't had one of my own for the previous five years of city living; this didn't mean that I didn't watch TV, but rather I streamed Netflix on my laptop.

Since getting the TV my time watching television has increased quite a lot. Watching a show or movie on a big screen is far more pleasing and relaxing than on a 13” laptop. So since November, I would predict my TV-watching hours have averaged around 14 hours per week, or two hours per day. Now during this time I'm typically multi-tasking, with Breaking Bad on and a laptop in my lap, scanning Reddit. Or a movie on while I cook dinner. So it's not like it's 14 hours per week of pure television. Still, it's a lot*. And I suspect the multitasking is doing me no favors; I'm not fully absorbed in either the TV show or task I'm carrying out.

  • 14 hours per week amounts to 56 hours per month, and 728 hours per year! That is one full month (30 days) of TV watching per year. Ridiculous.

So, will be literally pulling the plug from my TV. And I plan to replace that time with reading, walking, cleaning, working, spending time with friends. Anything but mindless gazing at a screen. I will allow myself the occasional Youtube video for educational purposes, but otherwise will not be consuming any video media.

I'll be interested in how this exercise will change my mood, routine, habits, etc. I will check back in in one month.

TV Free

I plan to spend the next month, maybe more, without television. When I moved in to my own place, my parents' housewarming gift to me was a TV. I hadn't had one of my own for the previous five years of city living; this didn't mean that I didn't watch TV, but rather I streamed Netflix on my laptop.

Since getting the TV my time watching television has increased quite a lot. Watching a show or movie on a big screen is far more pleasing and relaxing than on a 13” laptop. So since November, I would predict my TV-watching hours have averaged around 14 hours per week, or two hours per day. Now during this time I'm typically multi-tasking, with Breaking Bad on and a laptop in my lap, scanning Reddit. Or a movie on while I cook dinner. So it's not like it's 14 hours per week of pure television. Still, it's a lot. And I suspect the multitasking is doing me no favors; I'm not fully absorbed in either the TV show or task I'm carrying out.

So, will be literally pulling the plug from my TV. And I plan to replace that time with reading, walking, cleaning, working, spending time with friends. Anything but mindless gazing at a screen. I will allow myself the occasional Youtube video for educational purposes, but otherwise will not be consuming any video media.

I'll be interested in how this exercise will change my mood, routine, habits, etc. I will check back in in one month.

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. Where nearly all of my free time used to be spent with an ex, 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.

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