Life

In 2014, I was 28

It was my birthday on Saturday. I was born 29 years ago from the date. And to follow up a thing I started last year, I’m going to take it as an opportunity for some very direct navel-gazing.

Work & Finances

In 2014, I was making good money working in a company I co-own and excited about what I was doing. It was mostly a complaint-free experience. Fueled primarily by a single enthusiastic client for our consulting at Press Up — if you’re looking to solve a hard business problem and think web technologies could help, hit us up — I made a very respectable middle class income.

There was one less-bright part, though. In a tiny company, I was essentially at the mercy of myself as a boss. And I was an irresponsible one. I let myself drive a little too hard for too long on a specific project. The result was me putting too much of the rest of my life on hold and burning out a little too fast and hot over the summer months. Vacations postponed, workouts skipped, and social events suffered through with as much angry preoccupation as I could muster.

But it wasn’t all bad. More personally, I made some positive changes. I’ve made some (very modest) progress on what I hope will eventually be the best quotation site on the internet. I finally dropped from my regular time-sinks a project where I basically just linked to things on the internet. The time investment just ended up not feeling worth it. And I made my first ever microsite (which could use a more skilled designer’s touch).

Wholistically, career-wise, it was a good year. Fred and I were able to hire our first employee and she’s brought a welcome new energy to our work. We’ve made something more of a name for ourselves as well, not to mention starting to work on making our fractured attention across various side-projects start to resemble money-making businesses in their own right.

Health & Fitness

During my time being 28, I didn’t really lose weight which I’d hoped to. In fact I gained almost a dozen pounds (some of which I’d lost during the early part of the year). But what’s important to me is that I only gained about a dozen pound, and I know that I can get rid of them and keep them off. I know this because I’ve been successfully keeping off the almost-100 pounds I’ve lost over the last few years.

A large part of being able to have the confidence in keeping them off is that I’ve learned how I can effectively lose weight. And I know how to stay active. I love cycling and that’s one of the best things I’ve done this year. I really enjoy it. It took me far too long to learn, but exercising can be fun if you find something that agrees with you, and finding something that agrees with you is possible and a good goal for everyone. Hate jogging? Try other things that keep you moving!

Community & Relationships

I’ve lived an anomalously quiet and self-contained life thus far. This has its advantages, but in the last year I’ve much more consciously appreciated its limits and disadvantages. It’s not that you can’t go through life as your own little island — though really you can’t — but that your life can be so much richer and more interesting if you let people in.

My writing in the last few years has said these things more loudly than my actions have. While I penned a series on kindness in 2013, for example, I was still rarely making a strong effort with the people in my life. And I’ve hardly reached the level I’d say I’m proud of.

But I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made. Progress in being more available to people and in being more honest with them. Progress in actually attending social gatherings other than those of a few of my best-known friends. And managing to walk away from them happy that I’ve gone. Progress, even, in not having to drag myself mentally kicking and screaming to these events — though I admit I can still throw quite a “I don’t wanna” fit. But progress. Real honest progress in being more of the person I want to be.

If you’ve read this and want to help me meet more people, send me an email at david@www.frozentoothpaste.com. Or leave a comment. I’d love to know you better!

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Life

To Live is To Be Uncertain

When everything is going your way, it’s easy to feel good. To feel like you’re in control, right where you want to be, completely satisfied with your life. To feel able to help others, to feel able to help yourself, to feel comfortable and certain about things. And so it’s really attractive for us to think that the solution to eternal happiness and well-being lies in continually and eternally having things go our way.

And to the extent you can do that, do. It’d be foolish to be able to make things go as you’d like them to and intentionally choose against that. To intentionally choose the less-certain, less-clear, less-happy path. It’d be almost masochistic, a form of intentional self-harm.

But there is another thing: sometimes you don’t really get a choice. Sometimes the wills of others, or forces completely beyond human control, will overwhelm you. Sometimes a hurricane will be bearing down on the city you’ve called home for 40 years. Sometimes a militia will have gathered size and force outside your village with clear intent to do you and your village harm. Sometimes an out-of-control vehicle will crash into you or the people you love. Sometimes you’ll just get sick. Or laid off. Or see your parents die from old age.

That is all to say: sometimes things will change on you. Unexpectedly. Sometimes things will be different than you want them to be. And you can no more change that than cheat death.  The real measure of your outlook is how it changes when things turn against you. Does a cloud arriving in a previously cloudless sky ruin your day? Week? Life?

It’s not easy to get comfortable with uncertainty. I wouldn’t claim to be. It’s unnerving to know that things may break against you. To know that you’re less secure in your world than you used to be. But it is the ultimate goal. The highest development. To be a mature adult is to be comfortable and patient with uncertainty. To accept the many shades of grey, and to keep working despite them. To remain in control when things seems to have gone a bit out of control.

It’s really the ultimate measure of life. How do we deal with the fact that it can never be perfect? Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods”, saying it better than I feel able to, ends:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

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Life

What Is Love?

Love has a number of forms. There’s the love of a parent for their child. The love of friends for one another. The love of two people who are committed to each other romantically. The love of a keeper for their dog, cat, or other animal. But all of them, I think, have something in common.

Quite simply, love is the recognition and appreciation of what is beautiful in another. And just so there’s no confusion, what is beautiful in another is not only their form. It includes their actions, feelings, pain, and quirks too. Everything can possess beauty, and when we love something we’re perceiving its beauty.

One of the keys to my spirituality, if not the whole of it, is figuring out how to love everything. I want to love the flowers and the clouds and the birds and the rocks. And I want to love the beautiful celebrity defamed on the cover of the latest tabloid, and I want to love the defamer working at that tabloid. I want to love the victims of crimes, but I also want to wisely love the perpetrator.

When you really love something, when you fully see and appreciate what is beautiful about it, you want to what’s best for it. You want it to never suffer unnecessary harm, you want it to be safe and happy, you want it to get what it wants. In some sense, you want it to be protected.

And these second order out-growths of the pure thing that is love are where people get confused. For times in my life I believed that to love was to worry. That to report to your child that you really were concerned about their safety because you didn’t know where they were or how they were doing was to love them. But it’s not. That worry actually blocks the pure love which is the appreciation of what this person is and thinks is appropriate for them to do.

Don’t get me wrong, to love is to care for. And sometimes to care for is to take action to protect. You don’t care for a criminal by blithely allowing them to continue to commit their crimes. You care for a criminal and protect him from harm by teaching him why in a just society he cannot continue to commit such crimes. You don’t care for a family member prone to self-harm by allowing them to continue to do so. You care for such a person by helping them move beyond the pained psychology that makes them feel that self-harm will solve any of their problems. But you shouldn’t think that those caring actions are the substance of love, they are merely a result of it.

People get tired out by what they think love is. They get bored and frustrated with it. The idea that they could love something they don’t like feels wrong to them. But typically, they’re misunderstanding the substance of love. They’re thinking it’s about something — fealty, commitment, worry, etc — that it’s not.

You can love a lamp. You can love a dirty rug. You can love a dangerous predator. You can love your father. You can love them all — see all that is worthy and good and praiseworthy in them — and still know what they are. Love is not transformational. Love is not a reciprocal relationship. Love is not a conditional state. Love is just the purest expression of appreciation that we know how to talk about.

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Life

Loving the Mystery

There’s a lyric that’s been trapped in my head for nearly a decade. It’s from the song “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The lyric is this: “Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all.” It’s the last line in the song.

The reason it’s stuck in my head didn’t have a lot to do with the song, really. The first fifty times I heard the song I didn’t pay much attention to its specifics, just that line. The line resonated with me because it so clearly states a deep truth: it’s really “strange to be anything at all.”

We take it for granted most of the time, but it’s the central unanswerable question of our existence. We exist, we know that. So clearly we’re a thing. A thing with the capability to think of itself as a thing.

But we can’t, as people, all agree on from whence we’ve come and to where we’re going.

Some of us — me included — think we came from a process which spans billions of years and a universe so vast we hardly have the ability to understand its size. Some of us think that the story of the Bible: it all started six thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden when God created the first people, Adam and Eve. Many doubtless know or believe in creation stories I’ve never been exposed to, never mind have the ability to summarize in a sentence.

Some of us think we die and get buried in the ground, where we decay and live no more. Some think that we separate from that body that’s buried and ascend to a place to be judged and separated. Some think that we return to this planet, to become a person, or whale, or dear, or fly.

All of these are attempts to answer this unmistakable feeling: it’s so strange to find ourselves here. As anything. At all. For some people the feeling of that strangeness — I’d describe it as having a vibrating warmth — is called “God’s love.” For others, it’s called “the mystery.” For others still it goes unnamed. Some call it “Allah.” Some think it can not be named. And some people have never experienced it at all.

However it works for you, you’ve got to think about it from time to time. I find it’s energy-giving, and an inspiration to try harder to be better. To be kinder. To be smarter. To be more me. To get all I can out of this strange existence. It is indeed “strange to be anything at all.” It is also fantastic.

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Life

Focusing on the Right Decisions

I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. One thing I’ve only recently realized I’ve learned is this: the truly consequential decisions our lives are exactly the ones we spend the least time worrying about.

There are decisions we spend days and weeks obsessively pondering. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Which school should I attend? The answer to these questions do matter. To insist that they make no difference in your life would be foolhardy. But they matter a lot less than we think they do.

The day-to-day reality of your life is not sexy, but it’s where you really live. And decisions like who you share a home with and where you spend your days being able to pay for that home have influence. But their impact on your life can  pale in comparison to the vast number of unthinking decisions you make on a daily basis.

This is easiest to see in dieting and weight loss. Almost no big decision you make in your life really affects your weight. There are probably outliers who make a resolution that they will gain 80 pounds, or intentionally opt-in to a less-active life for the purposes of gaining weight. But for most people, most of the time, their weight is decided by the 100,000 minor decisions they make about food over the course of a year. Compare:

  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! I’ll have two, thanks.”
  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! That sounds good, but I don’t think I should have more than half of one. Want to take half?”

If you regularly choose one or the other side of that kind of dichotomy over the course of your life, you’ll wake up healthy or having gained 50 pounds. But you’ll probably never have said to yourself, “You know I think my life would be better if I weighed 50 pounds more than I do.”

These cumulative choices are everywhere. It’s no single choice, but rather 1,000 minor one in the course of holding a job that decides whether your boss secretly wishes to fire you or eagerly wants you to be promoted to be able to get even more opportunity to work with you. Your relationship with your husband is determined more by the way you choose to deal with him leaving the cap off the toothpaste, his dirty dishes in the sink, etc than by what he was like when you first met him.

There are important choice-points in life. But balanced on a scale, the slow drip into your life from the thousands of thoughtless or minor decisions you make vastly outweighs the large volume of the big choices. If you fail to bring your attention to all the small decisions in your life, you’ll suddenly wake up with a life you never chose. Life really is just a sequence of small decisions; a life can be shaped without realizing.

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Life

Taking Care of Yourself First

All my life I’ve wanted to go change the world. Make it better, more like I thought it should be. And it took my a long time, but I finally know something about that process of changing the world: it starts with you.

The single thing in the world you have undeniable influence over is yourself. Your mental and physical reality is the only thing you have meaningful control over. Getting that in order is a great first step for putting the world in order.

One of things I always wanted to change out in the world was that I saw conflict and strife cropping up in places it wasn’t necessary. Misunderstandings have an amazing tendency to become emotional or physical conflicts between people, groups, and nations. It’s always seemed an insane and unnecessary process.

And I saw the urgent need to change that in the external world. But it took me a while to realize that right in my own life this very problem, which was so obvious in the wider world, was operating. Emotionally, I’d regularly find myself out of control and blowing a simple misunderstanding well past its proper proportions.

What I came to realize is that it’s nearly impossible to reasonably expect others to respond calmly to situations when you can’t do it yourself. I wanted other people to check their understanding before they got angry, but I’d myself regularly failed to do it. I’d fly off the handle and not realize it.

So I’ve spent the last few years working on myself. I’m less prone — though I still have some distance to go — to fly off the handle and find myself out of control. It’s a gradual process, bringing more peace into yourself, but it’s made a difference. Numerous people in my life have noticed and commented on the change, so I’m confident in it even as I’m sure it’s not complete.

My whole life I’ve heard a direction about oxygen masks on airplanes: in the case of an emergency, parents should put on their own first before they help their children. To the untrained observer this may read as cruel or stupid: a child is more vulnerable and in need of help. But a parent who passes out from oxygen deprivation trying to save their child is of the least possible use to their child. So you work on yourself first.

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Life

Personal Annual Report: In 2013 I was 27

I had an idea about half-way through last year that doing an annual review was a pretty good idea. I also had the idea that it would be nice to anchor it to my birthday which is at the end of January. Dates are mostly meaningless, but that one would be memorable to me and unconventional.

I think the best structure for me to do this regularly and keep the reviews a reasonable length and in-line with my mission for the site is pretty simple: I’ll decide three themes for the year, and throw as much as I think relevant and interesting into them. The themes will probably change with time as my interests and the parts of my life in need of reform change. This 27th-year wrap-up is the first I’m writing, but I don’t think it’ll be my last.

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"Ignorance is the worst form of violence" - E. G.
Life

The Depths of Our Ignorance

When you stop to think about it, it’s shocking how little we actually understand about anything. We know only the edges of things, and use them to guide our reasoning about them. Neuroscientists and psychologist are increasingly aware how few of our decisions and thoughts are a result of careful consideration. We constantly make inferences and jump to conclusions without a lot of evidence. This is what makes it possible for us to do as many things as we do, but it’s also a big source for the growth and stability of ignorance.

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Life

Moving Beyond the Psychology of Defeat

When I think back about how I’ve changed and who I used to be, a word that comes to mind is “defeated”. I lived most of my life as a lazy, overweight, and unmotivated student. There’s a lot of weighted meaning in that characterization, but all of those words are related in my mind to being defeated.

When you’re defeated, every bad event is a disaster. And it’s a sign of something far bigger: your failure, your oppression, or your fate. Pessimism, realism, defeatism, the loser mindset — all just variations on the theme of “well I can’t change it anyway.”

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Life

Boiling the Frog, Resolutionism, and Exercise

When it comes to changing your life, people always get a critical things wrong: they overvalue aspiration and undervalue planning. It’s understandable: apiration is easy and planning is work with the promise of ever more work to come.

But the other, perhaps more powerful part of change that people get chronically wrong about life-change is that they get caught on what I like to call “resolutionalism”. Continue reading

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