Thursday, September 29, 2016

267. Social Media Is Hard

A quote I read from Omid Safi, a columnist for the program On Being yesterday, really stuck with me.

Surround yourself with people who always insist on seeing the incomparable radiance of your being, and who refuse to let you settle for less than who you are.” That sounds a little hippy-dippy, but I kind of like it. I’ve been trying to funnel that sort of feeling into Facebook.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted something on the presidential candidate Gary Johnson. I’m not going to vote for Johnson, but I’m also not going to disparage anyone who does vote for Johnson. A few comments below, another friend just posted an article titled, “Why you should not vote for Gary Johnson.” I’m fairly certain the two of them haven’t talked in years. (My other friend responded gracefully with “Good points, just want to see him debate.” I respect that.)

I usually enjoy “talking politics” with friends. I don’t really anymore. Now, it’s just all about how people hate this election, how we can’t believe what Trump said, and how Hillary is Hillary. Moods seem to fluctuate with the polls. And there is still a freaking month left in the election.

I’ve started to treat Facebook like I would when I interact with them in real life. (I don’t think you can say “in real life” because Facebook is real life.) I don’t like it when friends relentlessly harp on one topic. I don’t like it when they say ignorant things. I don’t like when they can’t seem to move on over things.

I imagine if I talked about the election day after day for over a year, people probably would get sick of me. I understand that. It’s a normal part of life.

To bring it back to the opening quote. I like it when friends notice things about me. I like it when they push me to be my best, are generally happy when good things happen to me, and are inspired by me (and me by them.) While I’ve met some really awesome people who I am now Facebook friends with. Most of them just don’t fit into that quote. Some of them don’t inspire me. They don’t make me laugh. They aren’t people who really do anything for me. I just see bite-sized chunks of their life along with some rants about politics. Is that really a friendship?

I like seeing my friend’s successes and when they get back up off of a failure. I (sometimes) like seeing pictures of their trips and their families. I like when they share something thoughtful or funny.

I’m going to look at it like this. Facebook is a giant campfire that we’re all sitting around. Is this article/post/whatever something I would like to hear around a campfire? If the answer is no, then maybe I need to reevaluate some things in that friendship. I’d probably change some things in a friendship if it got to be so bad. Social media is hard. But friendship really shouldn’t be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

266. Doing One Thing

I’ve tried to let myself to allow myself to just be. It’s easy to find yourself pulled in a million different positions in one day. I’m no different. I felt like I had to do something yesterday. I wasn’t feeling all that great, but I felt like I should either go grocery shopping, do laundry, or start on a new project on my house. I didn’t do any of those things. I told myself that I’d just try and feel better and get over my cold. So I made some  I just laid down on the couch and finished reading the newspaper. I just wanted to do that one thing.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel lazy. I felt good to get through the newspaper that usually sits on my kitchen table throughout the week. I didn’t need to be anywhere. I just focused on that one thing and I felt all right at the end of the day. I slept well and now I’m up for the next day.

I’ve tried to just do one thing at a time throughout my day. If I’m listening to a podcast, I try not to take out my phone and browse on it. I put away my phone on the bus and just concentrate on reading, or if I’m listening to a podcast, I just try to enjoy that.

I guess the fashionable thing to call this is mindfulness or being in the moment. That’s fine. I think it’s kind of dangerous that we expect to be entertained on all of these fronts in our lives. I keep thinking about how we literally have billions of hours of movies, music, television, podcasts, and books at our fingertips, yet we can’t find things to entertain ourselves. That seems kind of dangerous and disgusting. I get that choice is a good thing, but I think three choices is much healthier than 3,000.

I’ve thought about that with dating apps. Even though I’ve used them extensively, I thought about their usefulness. I know I’ve brought out one where you swipe while I’m doing things. It feels like homework or something you’re supposed to do. I think that’s one thing I miss about courting someone (wow, that sounds old fashioned), it hasn’t been a lot of fun. You’re supposed to have a bevvy of hookups and potential mates at your fingertips! It’s more complicated than that. If you’re presented as part of a pu pu platter, you’re going to be treated like one. You’ll be sampled, and if they don’t like you, you’ll be put back. It just feels weird. I don’t like it anymore.

During the home stretch, I’m guessing we’re all going to get way more addicted to the political horse race. It’s going to happen while we’re at work, eating dinner, on the bus, or doing any number of things. After the debate on Monday, I watched the 10 to 15 minutes of analysis from the PBS folk and I logged onto Facebook for a little bit. After a few minutes of scrolling through cheers for Hillary, I decided to log off. I didn’t need anymore analysis. I could step away. I allowed myself to. Sleep would probably be more helpful anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

265. A rant about Facebook rants.

I’ve started to drastically reduce my political talk on Facebook. It’s not worth it to keep sharing articles. I used to think it was some sort of act of patriotism to share the knowledge I gleaned from reading another article on the awfulness of  Trump or how Obama really is awesome, but it’s not.

Deep down I think it’s kind of egotistical exercise needed to feel validated. I’ve done it too! When I post some partisan article, I don’t do it to share knowledge with my friends or family. I’d like to think that’s why I do it, but it’s really all for the likes. The dopamine rush from getting validated by your friends is great, but it’s so deceiving.  

Sharing political stuff on Facebook isn’t healthy for the following reasons.

  1. The people who are seeing the post probably agree with you. If you’re like me, you’ve probably set your filters to block articles you disagree with from coming across your news feed. You probably have unfollowed your Uncle Tommy who posts NRA memes. You probably only like news outlets you agree with. And Facebook wants you to keep browsing, so filtering out stuff that makes you angry is in the company’s best interest. And that’s fine! I really don’t want my blood pressure raised while I’m on Facebook. But don’t pretend like you’re some above-the-fray commentator who will be the one to bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives. You’re not.

    I do enjoy articles shared by friends, but they have to either 1) Make me laugh 2) Make me tear up 3) Or make me thoughtfully reexamine my beliefs. (Political stores rarely do those things.)
  2. Facebook is not a good medium to convince someone to vote for your party, it’s a good medium to feel validated. As my cousin is fond of saying, “Nobody changed their political beliefs because of Facebook.” When it comes to partisan politics, chances are you’re not looking for articles to be informed. You’re looking for articles to validate your opinion.

  1. If you’re concerned about Donald Trump and just NEED to share another article on how awful he is, do it in a more thoughtful way. I’ve been emailing with a friend who I thought held more stereotypically conservative beliefs. He does, but it’s so much more complex than that. If Donald Trump has as much support as the polls says he does, there have to be some really smart people who have good reasons to support him. I don’t know those reasons. It’s pretty much the height of liberal arrogance to think that anyone who is not voting for a progressive candidate is a friggin idiot. Don’t do this. If you want to know how someone could vote for Donald Trump, just ask. But come at it viewing the other person as an intelligent and thoughtful person, chances are you’re probably going to get a thoughtful, intelligent answer in return.

  1. You don’t have to post anything. You don’t have to chime in on the debates. You don’t have to share the news article. You don’t even have to be on Facebook. It’s ok to log off. It’s ok to not say anything. I will not think less of you if your feed is devoid of political chatter. (I’ll probably think more of you, actually.) It’s ok to go enjoy life before the election. It’s ok to spend time with your family in total ignorance of the political fray. October is a great month, go out and enjoy it.

  1. Just don’t forget to vote.

Monday, September 26, 2016

264. A Second letter

Here's a second letter to my conservative friend.

I think about the issues raised in the piece a lot. It reminds me of back on campus when Christopher Horner (a speaker brought by Students Fostering Conservative Thought to debunk global warming) came to speak. He caused quite a stir the first time he came and he became campus enemy number one for many of my fellow Environmental Studies Majors.

A few months later, he was invited back to be a part of a debate over the issue "Is the free market the best way to protect the environment?" He would be on the yes side, while Dennis McDonough--then an aide to candidate Obama, now Chief of Staff--would be on the no side. I volunteered to be a student contributor on the no side. I studied hard for that debate. I didn't want to be humiliated. Unfortunately, McDonough had to cancel and so the debate was called off, but Horner still came. Many of my fellow ES major who planned to go, decided they didn't want to. I had done a ton of preparation, so I decided to go. I came prepared with questions. During the Q&A I got him to say "I don't know" a few times. I'm still proud of that.

We don't learn things by talking to people who agree with us. I'm afraid that students today won't want to be challenged. It's sad and scary.

I'm writing this about an hour before the debate. I'm not excited about it. It's not going to be a substantive exchange on the issues, it's going to be a reality television show. Blegh.

To bring it back to the election. I don't know who you are voting for, but I remember the last time it was brought up in discussion (I think at Joel's baby party) you said you didn't know. If you don't mind sharing, I'd be curious to hear how you came to your decision. No judgement from me. By laws of math, I know there has to be some smart, thoughtful people voting for Trump. I don't hear those thoughtful responses. While some of the Trump voters shows like the Daily Show picks on flabbergast me, I know that's not everyone. (I'm sure there are plenty of "Bush did 9/11" liberals who hold just as shocking viewpoints.)

I'm not incredibly enthusiastic about HRC, but I've boiled it down to this. Jer Graney and I were talking about this and he said that the president is faced with hundreds of decisions per day and their main job is to not react to 99.99% of things. I don't think Trump has that capacity to not react to things. He hasn't shown that at all. Looking back on it, I probably was too harsh on Bush, McCain, and Romney. While I disagreed with many of the viewpoints of those men, they probably could have handled the rigors of the job just fine. I don't believe that's true about Trump.

I don't know if you're thinking about switching parties, but if you are, I could see how it would be difficult. It would take a lot for me not to vote for a Democrat. I'm trying to think of who I wouldn't have voted for. I probably would not have voted for John Edwards had he received the Democratic nomination in '08 and all that terrible infidelity stuff had come out afterwards.

I think the thing we forget is that people just want to have dignity. It's a core value. That's easy for big-money politicians to forget. The coal miner who lost his job because a mine shut down wants dignity. The single mom raising three kids in a bad neighborhood wants dignity. The migrant worker who works a number of crappy jobs wants dignity. The family who lost everything in the housing crash wants dignity. We all want dignity.

I'm going to early vote tomorrow because I want to get it off my chest. There's too much worry and dread, and not enough action.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” - Julian of Norwich

I hope the family is bringing you tons of joy.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

263. A letter

I wrote this email to a friend of mine. Somebody I have a ton of respect for, who also has differing political views than me.
I read something a while ago, I can't remember where, but it asked, "How many people do you talk to who are different from you?" I think this person was referencing politics. I realized that I don't talk to many people who have differing opinions than me. Most of my friends are white, middle-class, left-leaning folk who are sensible, smart people. I tend to avoid politics with my extended family, and I've filtered out most political posts on Facebook. You're one of my few friends who I know leans right in a political sense.

A lot of my liberal friends have been posting anti-Trump articles with accompanied by passionate polemics. While I tend to agree with most of them, I try to think, who are you really doing this for? Your liberal friends probably agree with you, and your conservative friends have probably filtered you out. As my cousin is fond of saying, "Nobody changed their minds because of Facebook."

I'm not here to try and sway your vote. I don't know who you're voting for, but I trust you came to it through thoughtful analysis and reflection. I'm here to pick your brain about what you think about this election season, and more importantly, the dialogue around it.

I read this article by Andrew Sullivan, a conservative Catholic blogger. It's really stuck with me. It's called, "I used to be a human being. An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too." I would highly recommend it. I read over it a few times (something I almost never do.)

I recently went on a hiatus from Twitter, and I'm starting to take note of how many times I log on to Facebook in a day. (It was eight times on Thursday.) I swore off Twitter for a while after the whole Hillary Clinton pneumonia thing. I didn't need the opinions of thousands of people who weren't doctors. I didn't need the opinions of people who criticized the opinions of people who weren't doctors. I didn't need the THIS. I didn't need the WHAT IS HAPPENING. I didn't need a pot flowing over of takes. I just needed to get away. I don't miss it.

Social media has made us think that all our opinions are validated. We will find our takes validated in some corner on the internet. And then if we put it out to the world along with a "SEE. THIS SO MUCH THIS." I don't think this is healthy. And I don't think that's good for democracy.

I think this creates a deficit of empathy. We're so loud we forget that other people have pain. A blogger I follow wrote something a while back where he, paraphrasing here, said that we live in a world where your pain is not valid because it's not my pain. I can't remember what he was referencing, but that stuck with me.

A few months back, after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, I wrote something on Facebook about remembering that it was a person who died. That didn't necessarily mean everyone had to write flowing tributes to the man, but saying nothing was an option too. (As the old saying goes, "If you don't have anything nice to say...")  A few people bit back on that, saying that I had to check my privilege as a white guy. I wasn't saying that I agreed with any of his decisions. But he was a public figure, with a family, who contributed a lot to American legal knowledge. (He was also BFF with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) It made me question, are liberals really the compassionate ones? We like to think we are, until we meet someone who has a different opinion than us.

So I've started to step back a little bit. I'm trying to let those little whispers of wisdom in when I see an opportunity. I log off, shut up, and a step back. I've felt a little better so far. I'm still informed, I'm still in contact with my friends, and I'm far less anxious about things. I've learned that not being active on social media does not equal apathy. You just continue living your life in less documented ways. And that's all right.

Hope all is well and I hope we can chat some more over lunch.

262. Visiting states

I read something interesting yesterday about what it means to “be in a state.” I’ve long used the “driven through it” or “as long as I stepped foot in it” analogy. In an email newsletter I get, the writer Will Leitch disagreed.

Here are the activities Leitch counts towards “being in a state”:
  • Spending the night.
  • Attending a sporting event or concert.
  • Having a dinner with an old friend (as opposed to eating by yourself on a drive and then leaving).
  • Going for a run.
  • Visiting some sort of attraction, whether it’s a historical landmark, an amusement park or the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota. If you go do it, even if you’re just on a drive and stopping for a couple of hours, does count.

I’ve long counted some states that I’ve just driven through. So I’m going reevaluate and see if I can remember what I did in most of those states. Blue means I have been to the state, grey means I have not. (I think that's the color grey.)

Click the map to create your own at

Ok, so first, I've never been to either Alaska or Hawaii, so those are two easy ones to cut out.

California- Visited LA numerous times, went to San Diego, was in Northern California for a wedding. 

Oregon- Family vacation on the coast. Can't exactly remember which town, but would like to get to Portland

Washington- Family trip to Seattle. Also went camping with a buddy in Olympic National park.

Idaho/Montana/Wyoming- I've never stepped foot in in Idaho. I took a nice trip to Glacier National Park, and I have visited Yellowstone National Park. All good times. 

Nevada- Trip to Vegas with family. I was a teenager, so didn't have that much fun. Also went backpacking with a buddy in the Ruby Mountains. Northeastern Nevada does not have much going on in a human sense.

Utah/New Mexico/Arizona- I first thought I just hit Arizona and Utah due to a family four corners trip. Now that I think about it, I've been to Salt Lake City (I don't remember why.) But I haven't done the same for Arizona. Weird. I've been to New Mexico a handful of times to visit an aunt that lives in Albuquerque. I also went to Philmont Scout Ranch.

Colorado- I went to Colorado three times last year. My last trip was to the Boulder area for a friend's wedding. 

North Dakota/South Dakota- I stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I made a few trips to Sioux Falls this past year. We also did a family vacation to the Badlands earlier. I also remember a scouting backpacking trip in the area as well.

Nebraska- Since two of my good friends live down there, I've been to Lincoln a few times. 

Arkansas/Kansas/Oklahoma- I think we drove through these states for a family trip to Texas. I used to count them on my list, but I can't remember if we did anything of significance in either states.

Texas- We visited Dallas on a family trip when I was in second grade. I also went to Houston for the quiz bowl national championships.

OK, round two coming up in the next blog post. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

261. Dear Al

Dear Al,

I had an interesting thought yesterday. What if Jesus were on Twitter? Would we “follow” him? Would we retweet parables, or share pictures of the loaves and fishes? For some reason, I highly doubt it. (I’m guessing this is not an original though. There are probably people who have already taken on this project. I haven’t gone searching for them on social media though.)

I’ve been especially drained by social media these last few weeks. It started with the whole Hillary illness thing (which now seems like a million years ago, when it was just last week.) I realized that I didn’t need to see the 140-character opinions of people who weren’t medical professionals. I also didn’t need to see people’s opinions on those people’s opinions. I just didn’t need that in my life.

That exhaustion continued. Especially with the events of this past week in Tulsa and North Carolina. I’m doing my best to stay informed of what’s going on. I’ll read a few articles to stay informed, but I don’t want to go on Twitter. And while the heartfelt posts of my liberal friends may be earnest and well-meaning, I’ve realized that they don’t do much for the “national conversation” we’re supposed to be having on race. I don’t mean to question their intentions and I don’t mean to silence any voices, but are our Facebook posts really adding anything worthwhile? As our friend Joe told me once, “Maybe we’re not supposed to say anything.” Maybe we’re just supposed to listen, pray, and then figure out what to do.

I’ve come back to this essay by Andrew Sullivan multiple times this week. It’s about how the digital distractions in our lives can really affect us. I’d highly recommend it. What is this constant stream of information really doing to us? Being constantly begged by our digital devices to come back leaves us without valuable space for reflection. That’s one thing I’ve enjoyed about church; I turn my phone off and don’t worry about it.

In one of those quiet times, I thought about what I can really do to affect my own little patch of space. I can’t do much about Charlotte. I don’t mean to sound callous, but my voice doesn’t add much, and I don’t have the extra resources to help. In my job, I’ve been lucky that I can maybe help move the needle a little bit on issues of race and policing. It’s not something that involves marching in the street, but it’s a small, hopefully positive addition.

I thought about your little school on the southside of Chicago. I thought about all the good things you’re doing and all the lives you are inspiring. I thought about your kids feel during these all too often flare ups.

To go back to my first paragraph. I don’t think Jesus would be on Twitter. To be more precise, I don’t think Jesus would be listened to if he tweeted parables. That’s why it’s good to step back and listen in other places.

Be well,


Thursday, September 22, 2016

260. The Conveyor Belt

I tried to measure a bunch of things yesterday. I marked down every time I logged onto Facebook (eight). I took a made mental note of every time I did two things with my phone (i.e. listening to podcasts and doing something else.) And I was mindful of completing things before I retreated to watch the couch to watch Workaholics.

I’ve been inspired by the Andrew Sullivan article. I loved the Louis C.K. line that he quotes:

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away,” he said. “Underneath in your life there’s that thing … that forever empty … that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone … That’s why we text and drive … because we don’t want to be alone for a second.”

We don’t want to be alone for one second. I repeated that to myself multiple times yesterday. It’s so true. Even in the bathroom. We don’t want to be alone even while we’re on the toilet. (Don’t lie, you do it too.) That’s my big goal for the week. Don’t use your phone while you are on the toilet. On the top of the fact that it’s unsanitary, it’s also kind of sad. You need validation and to feel an empty space even while you’re pooping? Seriously.

I also tried to be more cognizant of what I am listening to while I’m doing other things. I have to ask myself: Am I doing this because it brings me joy, or am I doing this to fill the quiet? I would say about sixty percent of the time, it’s something that brings me joy. I love listening to the Men in Blazers podcast. I should make sure I’m not doing anything else while I’m listening to it. There are also another handful of podcasts that I try to catch every week: This American Life, Hang up and Listen, NPR Politics, Modern Love, and Pop Culture Happy Hour. There are a few that I enjoy on an A la carte basis: New Yorker Radio Hour, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and Howler’s Dummy. I figure that if I can’t find anything to entertain myself in those podcasts, I should probably just put my phone away.

It’s sort of the same way with dating. Do I need to be constantly swiping? That’s not even fun anymore. It’s just mindless judging from far away. Lately, I’ve just been doing a lot of swipe rights just to deepen the pool. There have been more than a few connections that I’ve let lapse because I really didn’t want to go out with them. I just wanted the affirmation of a connection. My new goal is to at least make an effort with every person I connect with on a dating app. Don’t be the person you hate.

Reducing my time stumbling through my digital life has cleared things up a little bit. It’s more difficult without the internet’s never ending conveyor belt of distraction. I’ll give it more time though.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

259. Mama Hansen

It’s a big day for my mom, Kathy, AKA Mama Hansen today. It’s her birthday. I’ll do her the favor of
not divulging her age. My mom has taught me a lot, probably more than I give her credit for. She is the kindest person I know, the most compassionate, and one of the most thoughtful. She is one of those people who sends cards, remembers birthdays, and will willingly spend an hour on the phone catching up with one of her friends or siblings.

The best lesson my mom taught me was that you should always have an inclusive personality. Invite people into whatever you’re doing. That really affected me when i was in Boy Scouts. We had one particular scout who was autistic and not liked very much by the troop overall. I was in a leadership position at the time. My mom told me to keep an eye out for him and to try and include him in troop activities. I don’t know if I was his best friend, but I’d like to think I made his scouting experience just a little bit more enjoyable.

Scouts often forget that “kind” is the sixth point in the scout law. It appears ahead of brave in the scout law. That’s the other thing I’ve taken away from my mom: be kind to people, especially those who work cleaning up after you. She worked in schools for a number of years. She knew janitors by names and had a connection with them. I always admired that about her. It always grates me when I’m somewhere for a meeting or an event and a door is locked. The organizer has to flag down a janitor to unlock the door, but has to rely on a, “Hey, you!” I always find that a little uncomfortable. Couldn’t you have at least gotten to know their name? (Note: I could be better at doing this.) She remembers the names of students she had, a good portion of which are foreign names that most people would butcher.

My mom has gone through many more challenges than I give her credit for. She had Bright’s disease as a child. (Google it.) She, the oldest of five, left for the convent as a young teenager only to exit a little over a decade later. My dad and her left the U.S. to go teach in Central America during a time of tremendous upheaval. My mom had three miscarriages before having me. (Miracle baby!) And adopting my brother involved its own set of challenging circumstances. She taught ESL and GED students for a number of years. A lot of them didn’t speak english, or came from troubled backgrounds. Taking care of my brother’s medical needs has been difficult, and I’m sure sending me off to boarding school was as well. She’s gone through a lot, and yet she continues to radiate kindness day after day.

So happy birthday, mom. And in case I don’t say it enough, thank you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

258. Cookies

I changed it up yesterday. Most of my evenings end up with me on the couch trying to get through a couple of Netflix episodes (or more recently, episodes of Workaholics on Amazon Prime.) Those were perfectly good ends to the evening, but they weren’t something I was proud of. I was passive and not in control of things. I was exposed to entertainment instead of taking charge of things I wanted to do.

Work kind of got to me last week. While I did accomplish things, it felt like I was managing things. I don’t enjoy being a manager. I don’t think it plays to my strengths. I’m a doer and I like to see projects get completed. I felt moody and cranky by the end of last week. I wanted some control back in my projects. I guess the first step in regaining some control is to change things you can control. So that’s what I did.

We’re having a cookie baking contest at work on Wednesday. I decided that I am going to win this contest. I’m not much of a baker (though I do enjoy consuming cookies.) I like cooking with alcohol (because I get to consume some during production), so I googled “Guinness Chocolate Cookies.” There was such a thing! It looked like a simple recipe, and I already had half the ingredients, so I decided to try it out on Monday night.

It wasn’t that difficult of a process even though I didn’t have a mixer. I think mixing by hand makes it slightly more fluffier, but they still turned out delicious. (I forgot where I heard this, but I like the theory that anything with a cup of butter and sugar is delicious no matter what happens to it.) They turned out halfway decent. I spent my evening listening to the Current radio station, cooking, and cleaning up. It felt like I had some control in my day again. Accomplishing something made me feel good.

Taking on some projects and reducing my time passively consuming content is the first step towards gaining some control. This article really inspired me to make a change. It’s so easy to be a mindless consumer of things. Having your brain filled at all times with content and information leaves very little room for precious reflection and personal growth.

I don’t think one has to be a real productive person to be the envy of friends. Accomplishing one project can leave you to be the envy of your friends, “You baked cookies last night? Wow! I don’t plan on accomplishing a bunch of projects in one night every night. If I can get even just one thing accomplished, I know it will feel pretty good. I think I’m going to tackle some projects with my car after work. That’s been an area that I don’t really enjoy facing, but I think it’s time that I just check things off the checklist.

I’m giving up Facebook for the week and I’m going to take on some other projects, like cookies. That will feel really good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

257. Hangups

I’ve been both fascinated and frustrated by excuses. I have them. You have them. Everyone makes excuses. I think about the little excuses I’ve made the past few weeks. I haven’t gotten rid of the mattress and boxspring leaned up against the hallway in my room because I don’t have a truck to bring them to the dump. I haven’t bought blinds for my front room because I don’t have the money or the desire to pick out blinds. I hadn’t built a bookcase because I hadn’t painted my front room because I hadn’t picked out a painter because I hadn’t picked out paint because I was anxious about the color (so I avoided it.)

Lots of these things could be (or were) taken care of relatively painlessly (outside of the money I spent on them.) Painting was just a matter of scheduling, and the color of paint I ended up choosing worked surprisingly well. It was really just a matter of scheduling and effort.

I think a lot of my generation doesn’t want to face that initial grunting effort. We’re so used to things being done painlessly and requiring minimal effort. We want our internet to work seamlessly. We want Netflix to not be buffering. We want Netflix instead of walking outside of our house to get our entertainment. If we’re not comfortable and not exerting effort, we get anxious.

I’m probably equating procrastination with other issues. I’m going to try and tackle some of those things this week. I’m looking at some of the hang up points in my life: blinds, car stuff, furniture. I’m going to take care of them this week. It’s hard to take care of other important things when that stuff is occupying the bandwidth in your mind. Tonight I’m going to buy some new kitchen table chairs and order some blinds. I found some really great ones via the Nextdoor app.

I thought about these hangups when I was at Saint John’s for my reunion. A number of my friends are getting married, having kids, and making plans for the “next” stages in life. I’m still single. (Insert shrill violin noise here.) I really can’t make plans on par with those life stages, but I can control some things in life. I can stay in shape. I can work on my house, and I can work to improve my writing. All things that make me happy.

If you leave those little things to fester and hang up in your brain, it can feel like it’s crowded up there and that’s gross. I don’t like that. I’m going to try and just get the things done that I can. For instance, I’m writing this in the morning with a cup of coffee at my side. It’s something to get done with early in the day so I can feel productive. I like that feeling. It probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s just really a matter of sitting down at the keyboard to get those accomplishment endorphins flowing. Hope it helps the rest of my day.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

256. All will be well

I attended Mass this morning at the Abbey church on the campus of my alma mater, Saint John’s University. I put my phone on airplane mode before I went into church. The service was wonderful, as always. And I felt spiritually refreshed after heading out. That’s a great feeling. I looked at my phone once after my friend Jer and I got out, but I forgot to switch it off of airplane mode, so I thought I didn’t have any messages. It took me an hour before I realized what I had done.

It felt really great to be on the campus of Saint John’s for the weekend. It was my first homecoming and the weather was ideal. I was in the company of good friends, which included my friend Jer who had flown in from Rhode Island for the weekend.

My anxiety towards world events was exacerbated this week due to a variety of reasons. The constant refreshing of the news feed was not doing me any good. That’s why I was glad to go back to a place that, at its core, is still the same as it was. The Benedictines understand tradition. I still kept off Twitter, but I did post to Facebook and Instagram, just to show off to friends where I was.

Jer and I walked around campus. I feel like there aren’t too many other college campuses where you just want to walk around the grounds. (Walking around BU didn’t feel like anything special.) We went to the football game, even though the Johnnies ran up the score early and I spent most of the time keeping an eye of my friends’ kid who probably would have ran onto the field had he not been supervised. We had cold beverages on the tundra and also made our way to Saint Ben’s.

My favorite part of the evening came when Jer and I decided to walk back to Saint John’s from Saint Ben’s. It’s something both of us did only a handful of times. The sun was setting and we purchased some adult provisions to accompany us on the way back. We talked about our futures, our regrets, our hopes, and just about everything else. I told him that these types of things don’t happen that often anymore. People are busy with families, jobs, travel, and tons of other things. And that’s all fine, but it was nice to have a few hours where our only purpose was to get back to campus, talk, and take in cold beverages while we walked.

I’m going to go on “airplane mode” for the next few weeks till the election. I have had too much anxiety towards things I have little to no control over: elections, terrorism, global warming. I just want to focus on those essential functions in life. I don’t know exactly what those functions are, but I’m pretty sure many of them could be found in my weekend experience at Saint John’s. I’m going to take a few more breaths, call a few more people, and do more things that build myself up. All wil be well.

Friday, September 16, 2016

255. Stupid crap

Everything has just felt a little icky this week. It was a mixture of lots of projects at work, an unwelcome turn in the presidential race, the continuation of the presidential race, a (second) rejection from a female that I was fancying, another trip to the DMV, and a mid-week loss for Spurs in the Champions League. By the end of the day today, I was exhausted, and a little queasy.

I really felt like a zombie this afternoon. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to see any political updates. I didn’t want to see opinions from people I didn’t care about.

I gave up Twitter for the week this week. It was one fewer thing I had to worry about. I’m glad I did. I didn’t need to see more takes and opinions from people. The conversation around 2016 has just grown too loud anyway. By that I mean, everyone is just feeding into a negativity and desperateness about this year. Whether it’s been the bevy of celebrity deaths, terrible police shootings, or the crap-filled presidential race, people seem to want to proclaim THAT THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER. There are bad things.

I don’t want to tell people how to feel. False positivity is the only thing worse than negativity. I think it’s just important to step away from things we can’t control. I can’t control the presidential race. Everyone I know has pretty much made up their mind on who they’re going to vote for. I try to listen in delicate conversations about race. I try to understand points of view that are different from mine.

It’s hard. It’s boring. It’s awful. I want to be positive, but I also don’t want to be naive about things that are going on in the world. That’s why I’ve been trying to visualize things more. It sounds weird, and it probably is, but I’ve become slightly happier and more productive because of it. I tell myself that I’m going to go for a run after work. I tell myself that I am going to clean the kitchen after I finish cooking. I tell myself that I am going to just relax and watch soccer for two hours. When I put it in my mind that I am able to and can accomplish different things, I feel better. It feels like I’m allowing myself to be productive and make a claim to my day.

Can I make things all better? I cannot quiet the cacophony of the news. I can step out of it though. I don’t feel any less uniformed since I gave up Twitter. I still probably visit news sites way too often, but I’m shielded from dumb opinions, or smart people acknowledging dumb or whiny opinions. I’m happy because of that. I’m just going to keep doing my job, writing, running, and watching soccer till the election. Sometimes you just need to step out of it all to see how stupid all the crap we worry about really is.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

254. The Night of the Gun

I finished reading “The Night of the Gun” by David Carr last night. I feel like I have a special connection to Carr even though I never met him. He’s from Minneapolis, and now that I’ve been living in the area for a while, it was kind of cool to identify with many of the places in the book. I also recognized some names that he used. (He didn’t use last names.) Carr was also a columnist for the New York Times and I made it a habit to read his columns on a regular basis. He kept me optimistic about journalism.

This story was unique. It wasn’t your typical addiction memoir where the protagonist goes into lurid detail about all the benders he or she went on. While Carr did describe many benders, he explored them through a journalist’s lense. He went back and interviewed lots of people about his life. He got police reports, newspaper articles, and other firsthand source information. It was a really interesting way to explore one’s past.

I’ve been reading a lot about addiction lately. I’ve read a lot about the study on lawyer’s that came out earlier this year. It basically said that around 20 percent of lawyers show signs of problem drinking. They also suffer from high rates of anxiety and burnout. Basically, it’s not a good thing. I’ve been wondering how best to convey this message through my work being in communications for a bar association.

I liked this memoir because it didn’t feel like he was exagerating or exhibiting false modesty at any times. During the times he partied too hard, he would admit that he didn’t remember. When he succeeded, he gave credit where credit was due.

I thought the most interesting part of the book was near the end. Carr was living in New York City and had a steady job with the New York Times. After 14 years of sobriety, he relapsed. It wasn’t a sudden jolt back into his partying ways. It was a steady, steep decline. There were drinks after work that suddenly turned into benders. The turning point was when he was pulled over for a DWI. Neither of his teenage twin daughters had seen him drunk (they were both young when he went into recovery), so they’re perspective on that time was both enlightening and infuriating.

David Carr was somebody who I admired in journalism. I liked that he had a rugged optimism about the business even as the walls were crumbling during the financial crisis. I admire that in a person. I don’t think it was misplaced optimism either. It was genuine. After a few dozen years of working in all sorts of outlets, he had perspective that lots of people these days do not have.

I don’t have any other column that I’ve really latched onto since he died. It’s kind of sad. I really miss his perspective on things. I’m still optimistic about journalism. Though, it would be nice have someone who could still carry the torch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

253. Dunkies

The best cup of coffee I ever had was probably from Dunkin Donuts. I don’t remember a specific cup of coffee, but their coffee in general just gets me. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and at its core, it doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy. It is just there to get you caffeinated.

My favorite memory of Dunkin Donuts was during the week of the Boston Marathon. On that Friday, when the whole town was locked down, pretty much the only thing open in the whole Boston area was Dunkin Donuts. (There may have been other places of business open, but the news made a big deal about Dunkin Donuts being open.) I LOVED that. I’m guessing it was open because some poor schmuck didn’t get the message that the city would be under lockdown.

At the first place I lived in Boston, there was a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts on opposite sides of the street. It seemed like the college kids and the white collar professionals of Brookline would always be in Starbucks, but the cops and the T workers would always be in Dunkin Donuts. While I am decidedly not blue collar, I like to think of myself as a down to earth person who appreciates the simple things.

One time, after a particularly hard day at grad school, and with assignments to do in the evening, I decided that I needed some coffee in the evening to keep my going. I went to a coffee shop around campus. (It was neither a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts.) I decided that I was going to get something special. I really only have a vague idea of the differences between different styles of coffee. I chose something off the menu. The barista told me that it comes “Italian style.” I had no idea what that meant, but I went with it.  A few minutes later, a paper cup the size of about two shot glasses filled with a thick black liquid came out. I was so pissed.

I walked out into the cold fall night with that cup feeling like an idiot. I didn’t even want to drink it. I think I took two sips before throwing it out. It just wasn’t working for me. All I wanted was a cup of coffee to sip on while I worked on some homework, but that wasn’t going to work. I know you’re supposed to sip on small cups of coffee, but I had no desire to look that stupid while I sipped on coffee.

I probably drink too much coffee as it is right now. I do miss the Dunkin Donuts. I think I like it because it just feels unpretentious. I don’t drink it for the logo. I don’t drink it because it makes fancy drinks. It just makes decent coffee, and it’s never let me down. I hope they get some in Minnesota soon.  

Now I’m really hungry. I also love Dunkin Donuts donuts as well. I could probably write a few more paragraphs on that, but that’s for another blog post.