GitHub Pages updated to Jekyll 3 a couple months ago, but since I rarely post any more, I hadn’t bothered to do any updates until today. I wiped out the sort-of-custom theme I had been using and went back to the Jekyll default, because really, who cares? I also dropped comments, because again: who cares?
I’d like to get in the habit of posting here again, but I like looking back through old posts to see what I was up to way back when, and I’ve been failing to keep that pipeline full for future me. My bad.
OmniFocus is both my favorite tool and my worst enemy, because it ensures that I do the things I need to get done, but it also provides a seemingly-endless supply of anxiety.
I generally don’t remember so good, so I need to write down things that need to get done. At some point years ago, I read Getting Things Done and started using a rough approximation of that system. OmniFocus has been my software of choice for years, and everything I need to do goes in there.
The problem is that everything I could need to do goes in there. It’s full of blog post ideas, half-baked plans for projects, and things that would have been a lot more useful years ago when they first went on the list. For example: collect together information about all my insurance policies and retirement accounts and what have you, so that it’s easy to find and deal with if I get hit by a bus. That would still be useful to have around now, but it would have been a lot more useful back when I was married, and someone would actually need that information if something happened.
So now I’ve got a task management app that’s full of tasks that I don’t really want to do. Some of them are things I need to do, but a great many of them are things that I once wanted to do, or simply feel like I should do, for one reason or another. The reality, though, is that I don’t want to do most of it, so I find myself feeling guilty for failing to get stuff done, or spending a weekend (like this one) relaxing and taking some time for myself instead of getting something—anything—accomplished, whether it’s worth accomplishing or not. At times, I’ve even felt bad for spending time out with friends, or spending an hour or two on the phone, because I felt that I should instead be getting something done—I mean, my todo list has all sorts of things on it, so clearly there’s important work to be done, right?
It’s stupid. This is not helping me be more productive, it’s just making me feel guilty for living my life. In the past year or so, I’ve finally come to terms with that fact, and have started to feel a lot better about ignoring various things on the todo list. I say “ignoring” because they’re still there: I feel guilty just dropping these projects. That is a foolish thing for which one could feel guilt, but I’m working on it.
Erin and I divorced early this summer.
This is not news to anyone who knows either of us. We split last fall, and took some time to ourselves before concluding that things just weren’t going to work, and trying again would just leave us both in the same place another year or two down the road. We certainly could have sorted out the legalities months before we did, but neither of us had any reason to be in a hurry. She wrote about it months ago, and I haven’t really been sure what to say about things until now. I still don’t have much to say about it: we’re still on good terms and I don’t think one could have asked for a better divorce, frankly, and Erin covered things pretty well in her post.
Months later, I find myself at a place that made more sense to me at 21 than it does at 31. I’m dating again. I’m living in a studio apartment with cheap furniture and a poorly-equipped kitchen. I’m trying to pay off the debt we racked up during our two cross-country-ish moves and setting up a new home for myself after we split. I’m wondering, again, what I’m doing with my life, and whether I’ll find someone I want to spend the rest of it with. Five years ago, when things were good, and our finances were in order, and we had made a home for ourselves in DC, this is certainly not where I expected to wind up.
I’m thankful that this happened now, and not another five or ten or twenty unhappy years down the road; starting over like this surely gets that much harder as one gets older. And it’s not like I’m even that old, really; it’s just difficult to see myself as 31, when I always thought for sure that people had everything figured out by their 30’s, and that I would too; I can’t possibly be this old, because I haven’t.
So now I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing with myself: what I’m doing with my life, what I want to be doing with my life, how much longer I want to stay in Chicago. I always assumed that I’d be leaving Chicago again sooner or later, and moving back to Denver was always the leading option, but now I’m not sure.
Part of me wants to go back to Denver, or somewhere near there, maybe Boulder or Golden.
Part of me wants to move to some other city, a new-to-me-city, maybe a smaller one where I can get a bigger apartment and actually get to know the city well; Chicago is so big that I feel like I can get to know part of really well or all of it really poorly.
Part of me wants to get an actual house somewhere, maybe even with a yard for a dog, which would definitely mean a smaller city at the very least.
Part of me wants to shed as many worldly goods as possible, to retain the option of stealing away in the night with only the things I can carry. All of me knows how flakey and naïve that sounds.
Part of me wants to stay in Chicago, to actually put down roots, to figure out which neighborhood is the one where I belong (because I certainly haven’t found it yet), to nurture the friendships that are finally taking root, because I’ve moved enough times to know how hard it is to start that all over again.
Part of me really thought that with space of my own and a couple months to mull it all over, maybe a few solid Saturdays with a pen and a pad of paper, that I would have all of this sorted and figured by now, and now that it’s been nearly a year since I moved out, it’s beginning to bother me that I haven’t. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise; there are entire sections of book shops dedicated to helping people figure out what they’re doing with their lives, so I don’t know why I thought it would be a straightforward endeavor.
I’ve been thinking about notebooks a lot lately.
It’s kind of a weird ting to think much about, really, but I’ve always enjoyed a good notebook…briefly. I have a tendency to use a notebook only a few times before kind of losing track of it. Six months or a year later, I’ll get a new notebook and repeat the process.
There are a couple reasons for this. For one thing, I have this weird tendency to feel like a nice notebook should only be used for things I’ve deemed worthy of such a quality piece of hardware, which is, without a doubt, among the dumber things I’ve found myself thinking. Still, it tends to prevent me from making use of notebooks for very long. Or, I carry around an empty notebook, waiting for an “appropriate” thing to start using it for. Or, I’ll have a couple of notebooks in rotation. Because see, this one is for ideas, and this one is for journaling, and this one is for random notes and whatnot, and this one—it’s absurd. I know it’s absurd, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. The problem is that I like structure and consistency: I want to be able to find information from the past where I expect to find it, and have it organized in some way. A notebook is most useful to me when I just jot into it whatever I need to at any given time, but then I continue using digital tools because this is where I journal, and this is where I manage my todo lists, and this is where I note the books I’ve read, and so on and so forth. Everything has it’s own place, and when I try to impose that kind of structure on a notebook, I just don’t bother using it at all.
Another factor is my terrible handwriting. If I don’t make a concerted effort to write slowly, I can’t even read it myself. This means it takes a lot longer to write things down than it does to type them out, and thanks to years of constant typing, my wrists will only tolerate so much writing.
The bigger factor, though, is that notebooks are not searchable. They are not backed up. I mentioned this in my post about Day One yesterday: those are two big reasons why I like using Day One for journaling, because that’s something I definitely don’t want to lose, and I like being able to find old entries easily.
But, there are a lot of things to like about notebooks. I love flipping through my old ones and seeing notes about what I was feeling or doing at the time, alongside diagrams for ideas I had (one project I never got around to: turn signals for bikes). I love the fact that I can flip through; this really isn’t an option (or at least, not in the same way) when using something like Day One. I like the emotion that comes through in the way it’s written, the way thoughts stop abruptly when I decide to go a different direction; when typing it up, I would go back and edit something like that, and it’s lost forever. I love the weird connection they give me to the past, because I’m one of those people that gets sentimental about weird stuff, and a notebook is far from the weirdest thing I’ve been sentimental about even just this week (can you believe I’ve been using this keychain for over three years?! I was a totally different person when I got this!)
So I want to take another crack at using actual, physical notebooks, but even as I say that, I find myself thinking: I need to find the right one. Because obviously, I can’t just pick up where I left off halfway through the last Moleskine. That notebook has a bunch of old stuff in it, and this is a fresh start! It’s ridiculous, but this is how my mind works. I need to break this weird sanctification of notebooks the same way I did with regular books. I used to hate breaking the spine or making notes in books. These days, by the time I’m done with a book, it looks like I’ve been living in it for a week. That’s exactly the kind of approach that would actually make notebooks useful to me, yet somehow I can’t get there.
This is weird, right? This is so weird.
Anyway, it just occurred to me to go look and see if I’d written about this before, and perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that I wrote basically this exact same post six years ago.
I’ve been using Day One on a daily basis for the past three years, mostly for my daily log—or journal, or diary, or whatever you want to call it. It’s been serving me well: I like that it saves my entries in XML (so I can easily migrate away from it in the future if I need to), and does so on Dropbox (so the iOS apps sync easily, and I’ve got that built-in backup).
The Daily Log
Sometime around the beginning of this year, I started adding some structure to those daily logs. I still do a quick list of what I do each day, but I now have several sections that I’ll fill in when appropriate. I’ve found this really helpful in prompting me to take a closer look at what I did with my day, in part because it’s forced me to think about how I’m spending my time, in a way that I wasn’t always thinking much about before.
I started off with just a couple sections, and have added more as they occur to me. My template now includes the following (and thanks to TextExpander, a few quick keystrokes expand into the starting template that I use each day):
- Watched: TV shows or movies I watched. At a couple different points, noting these has made me realize how much time I was wasting watching TV shows that really aren’t bringing any value to my life.
- Listened: Music or podcasts I listen to. For me, particular songs and albums wind up being very closely linked to events in my mind.
- Read: Books, mostly, and sometimes magazines. This one is empty more often than I’d like right now, but it’s improving.
- Spoke to: Who I talked to today, by phone, text, IM, whatever. This is just one of those weird pieces of information I like to have, so that I can answer questions like, “Oh crap, when’s the last time I called so-and-so?”
- Went to: Again, mostly useful in answering, “When did I go to that thing at Logan Arcade?” This is rarely vital information to have, but it’s the kind of thing that drives me nuts when I can’t remember.
- Felt: This one has been really helpful in noticing trends, to which I had often been oblivious in the past. Have I felt tired or depressed for a few days in a row? That probably merits some consideration, then, doesn’t it.
- Learned: This is another one that’s empty more often than it should be. It’s the kind of thing I need to stop and think about at the end of each day, and too often, I just kind of glide right past it and leave it empty.
- Positive steps taken: This one’s more of an ego boost than anything else. Meditated? Right on! Had a salad for lunch instead of the pizza I wanted to get? Well done!
- Negative actions: …and this one is kind of the opposite. But, it’s another one that’s valuable in spotting trends. Spent money on stuff I didn’t need? Ate the pizza I wanted instead of the salad I should have had? That kind of thing.
- General impression of the day: How did I feel about the day in general? Am I in a good mood at the end of the day, or frustrated with something?
Since these entries make up the vast bulk of my Day One database, I don’t bother tagging them.
I mentioned that several of these items are mostly helpful in identifying trends, which brings me to:
The Weekly Review
I started doing these right around the same time that I started using a template in my daily log. I realized (because I’m super smart and it takes me some time to note the obvious) that the only way to make progress moving forward was to stop and take a look at where I had been going, and make course corrections as needed. I typically spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 or 20 minutes on Sunday evenings looking back over my daily logs from the week, then answer some questions that come from another template:
- What did I do to improve myself this week?
- What habits, trends, or patterns did I see in myself this week?
- What am I looking forward to in the next week?
- What am I dreading in the next week?
- What do I need to work on/focus on for the next week?
- Highlights of the week
Weekly review entries are tagged “weeklyreview”.
I started using Day One for regular old journal entries last fall, and wrote a lot of them for several months there. In the past couple months, these have really fallen off; but then again, things have been going pretty smoothly lately, so I’m not trying to make sense of thoughts and feelings as much as I was this past winter when things were…not.
I have mixed feelings about using Day One for this, which I’ve been meaning to write about more. The short version is that I like having a searchable, backed-up journal that goes with me everywhere, that I can write a short entry in whenever I have something on my mind and just need to get it out. I don’t like that you really can’t just skim it, that typed entries lack some of the…I don’t know, humanness of pen on paper. But then again, my handwriting is bad enough that I wouldn’t be able to read it if I were writing it down anyway.
Journal entries are tagged (surprise) “journal”.
The Monthly Review
The other day, I did a monthly review for the first time. Just like I review each week’s daily logs to spot trends, I figure it’s a good idea to review the weekly logs to get a sense for the full month. At this point, I don’t have any template for this (though again, I’ve only done it once): I just look back on the month and jot down some general feelings about how it all went.
Monthly review entries are tagged “monthlyreview”.
Though I have my gripes with Day One (the way search results are displayed is a big one), I’m really happy with it overall, and as time goes on, I use it for more and more.
I’ve found it interesting to read about how other people use it, too. On the Day One blog, they often interview people about how they journal, and they also have a Uses category where they post about the non-journal-y ways that people are using the app.
I’ve been listening to the Mental Illness Happy Hour a lot lately, and a lot of times, it’s uplifting: it’s comforting to hear from other people who have dealt with depression and such, and between the guests and the surveys that Paul reads, I see that I don’t have it so bad. Admittedly, at other times, it’s super depressing. Because my god, some of these poor people have had it so bad.
I’ve posted a lot lately about depression and anxiety and mental health in general, and I know there are people who think it’s some drama-queen attention seeking or some such bullshit; and that’s fine, because those people can fuck right off. I post things like this because I know that it can be helpful for other people to see it sometimes, in the same way that it can be helpful to hear other people’s stories on a podcast. Most of the time, social media (Facebook in particular) is all puppies and rainbows, because everyone puts their best foot forward and only shares the good stuff. But that’s not real life; people are secretive about their demons, and it can be easy to forget that others are dealing with the same kind of problems.
In part because I have tweeted about this stuff a bit, I’ve wound up talking to other people about it. Along the way, I’ve learned that I know several people who have attempted suicide, and it just fucking guts me to think about how much these people must have been hurting to get to that point. It kills me to know there are almost certainly other people I know, who haven’t talked to anyone about it, but have been in the same place, suffering alone.
Please don’t suffer alone. Please call the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255), call me (202-374-5348), call a friend, call someone. Please, please call someone.
Please talk to a therapist. If you don’t like the first person you see (it happens), please try someone else, and find a therapist who’s a good fit for you. Here’s a list of organizations that can provide referrals. If you’re in Chicago, I can give you the number for the guy I’ve been seeing for over a year. Your insurance probably covers it, and you know what, I’m willing to help pay your copay if you can’t, because that’s worth more than any of the shit I spend money on.
Depression lies. Depression will tell you that things won’t get better. Depression will tell you that you’re not worth it. Depression will make you forget how good life can be, because depression is a motherfucker.
If you haven’t dealt with depression, or you have in the past: go ahead and put that number in your phone, in case someone you love needs it later on (1-800-273-8255), or consider donating to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve moved quite a bit, and a while back I wrote up some guidelines to moving efficiently—guidelines that I’ve since consulted myself, twice. And before you can move, of course, you need to find a place to move to.
Picking an apartment can be tough, and frankly, it gets harder when you’ve got more time to think about it: the easiest moves I’ve done where the ones where I had to find a new place within a very short window, because it forced me to just act. And you know what: it always worked out pretty OK. The reality is that every apartment is going to disappoint or irritate you, one way or another: the people above you will spend their days marching in high heels, or the communal washers will be completely broken on weekends, or the landlord will be utterly unreachable. In apartment hunting, I’ve always found myself fighting the last battle, to find an apartment that didn’t suffer the deficiencies that defined the one I was already living in.
Inevitably, though, each new apartment just comes with its own new problems. So, set your expectations a little lower, and consider the following:
- Timing sucks. Several places I’ve lived have required 60-day notice before moving out, even if it was just the end of the current lease. But, very few available apartments are listed that far out (probably because the landlords are waiting for the 60-day notice from their own tenants. It’s a Catch-22). There’s really no good way around this: you just need to give notice that you’ll be moving out of your current place, and trust that you’ll find a new one. Start looking for a place as soon as you know you want to move, but don’t be discouraged if there doesn’t seem to be much available.
- Searches will vary by city. In DC, I found everything through Craigslist. In Chicago, everything is run by these apartment finding services, so you’ll see listings in Craigslist, but the actual listed apartment isn’t always available; as often as not, you’ll get a response from an apartment finder asking what you’re looking for, so they can direct you to other apartments they’re trying to fill. It might take some time and aggravation to figure out how your local market works, especially if you’re moving to a new city.
- Location, location, location. It’s a cliche for a reason, and matters more for people like me who want to live without a car. Where’s the closest public transit? How about a grocery store and pharmacy? Can you get to work easily? Speaking of which:
- Commute times matter. A lot. This is not news: it’s easy to find articles about studies showing that longer commute times make us miserable. One such article stuck with me when the writer pointed out how people think that a larger home will make them happier—so much space for activities!—but the increased commute necessary to get out to the suburbs (where such a home is affordable) fully negates any benefit of extra space. Your mileage will vary, of course, but I’ve embraced the short commute over extra space.
- Rent a condo if you can. Most of my apartments have just been one of many rental units in a large building, but a few times, I’ve rented a condo from the owner. If you find this option, take it! People who own their place care a whole lot more about the building and the other people in it, which means your neighbors will be far more considerate.
- The inside of the apartment doesn’t matter much. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen an empty apartment and been underwhelmed, but moved in anyway because it was the best option available. Know what? A few weeks later, it really didn’t matter. Once your stuff is there, and the place scrubbed down (if necessary), and you’re settled in and used to the noises it makes, it doesn’t really matter that much: the layout, the fixtures, the counter top, the closets—they’ll become the new normal in no time.
- Check the water pressure. OK, most of the inside of an apartment doesn’t matter, but taking a weak-ass shower every morning is no way to be your best self.
- Square footage is a ballpark. I’ve seen “500 square foot” apartments that were considerably smaller than “700 square foot” apartments. Apartment listings here in Chicago don’t often include the measurement anyway, but always take them with a grain of salt. As much as the inside of the apartment doesn’t matter (see above), you want to make sure it’s going to be big enough for your stuff, and potentially your pet and/or partner.
- Visit the neighborhood at night. Typically, apartment-seekers see the place during the day, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it’s like to live there. If you saw Adams Morgan (DC) or Wrigleyville (Chicago) at 4 on a Wednesday, you might think it’s a quiet little neighborhood with lots of restaurants. Unless you’re just moving to one of those cities, you would know those two examples, but make sure you know if your potential new neighborhood is swarmed with drunken college kids every weekend.
- Consider foot traffic flow. Is there a bar next door? Or maybe right around the corner? Does one have pass your place to get from the barto the train station? Then you might have a bunch of drunks wandering past your place late at night, with the singing and/or fighting that sometimes comes with it. I lucked out at a place in DC: we were right around the corner from a strip of bars, but on a side street that only went one block, uphill, before T-boning the next street over. There was no reason for anyone to leave a bar and walk down our block, because it didn’t go anywhere: we were close to all the fun without the side effects.
- Make sure you know what’s outside the windows. I keep my blinds shut almost all the time, because I don’t like the idea of people outside looking at me. If this is a concern for you, it might be good to know that the living room is right next to the front entry to the building, or facing directly into someone else’s living room across a narrow courtyard. Or, if you’re concerned about security, it would be good to know if the back window is at ground-level in a dark alley. You might also want to notice if a second-floor apartment has a street light right by the bedroom window.
- Other things I look for. These are some highlights I keep an eye out for. They’re not deal-breakers if not available, but certainly improve the appeal of a potential apartment.
- Laundry in the unit: the holy grail of renting.
- Poured concrete construction: you can’t hear the people above you walking around when there’s a few solid inches of concrete to protect you.
- Gas range: I don’t cook much, but I know what I like, and what I like ain’t electric burners.
- No Comcast: it’s not a deciding factor, but the ISP that serves a building is definitely a consideration.
- Dishwasher: obviously.
- Other things you might look for. These are things that don’t really matter to me, but might matter to you.
- Flooring: if you gotta have that hardwood.
- Closet space: or you could just get rid of stuff.
- Parking space: if you’ve got a car, make sure you’ll have somewhere to put it.
- Bike storage: some places have bike racks in the basement or parking garage, or even a separate room for them.
- Garbage disposal: you forget how convenient they are until you don’t have one any more.
- Built-in lighting: could go either way, depending.
From the Bunker Buddies EDC episode (fun show btw):
Travis: The other day, I think I was at improv class, and I had to open something. I had like a box or something that was taped shut, so I pulled out my pocket knife. And this girl sitting next to me acted like I had just pulled out a gun. She was like “Whoooah! Whooah.” And I’m like—ok, it’s like a folded, maybe, three inches. She’s like “Do you—do you always have that on you?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s not going to go off in my pocket. It’s totally cool”
Andie: It’s not going to spray you in the eyes.
Travis: Like, it’s not a switchblade. She looked at it like I’d pulled out a stilleto knife that was like a foot long…The number of times in my life that I find it is convenient to have some kind of small blade—I’m not talking about carrying around a machete or anything. But someone is like “Oh, I gotta open this,” or “hey, can you get this packaging open,” or—
Andie: Hey, I’m gonna eat an apple!
Travis: Yeah, where I’m just like, fwhoop fwhoop, there ya go.
Same thing happens to me on a pretty regular basis: evidently, pocketknives are scary
Dan Benjamin on Back to Work episode 204, with some cleanup of uhs, ums, and false starts:
The whole crux of the OCD thing is that you know the fears that you have are irrational, and that the things that you’re afraid of are essentially impossible, but that doesn’t change the reality of the fear. This is the way that I would explain OCD to people, is that there is a loved one on the other side of the room who needs your help desperately, but there is a large tiger loose in the room in between you and them. And, that’s very real. That sensation of like, I need to get over there, but I can’t get over there to do this thing that’s really important, because there’s this tiger in the way that’s blocking me. But, I can get rid of the tiger if I do these things.
None of this makes sense to somebody without OCD. It’s almost a memory thing, in a way. Frequently for people, it’s locking the doors, leaving an iron on, something like that. So like, let’s say you iron a shirt in the morning. And you might say to yourself, OK, I’m going to put the iron away, but before I put it away, I’m going to unplug it, I’m going to let it cool down. So I don’t start a fire, I’m going to put it up on the marble countertop. But I’m going to face it toward the wall so that, you know, a kid doesn’t come around and touch it. OK, so it’s there. And then later, you see it and you wrap it up, right? You touch it, it’s cool, you wrap it up, you put it up on the shelf. You’re like, OK, I’ve done that, it’s fine now. And maybe now—well, I just want to check that before I leave, to make sure that I did that, because even though I remember putting it on the counter top, turning it a certain way, wrapping up the cable, putting it into the thing, I’ve just got to double-check it. And then you’re in your car and you’re like, well wait a minute: did I do that or was that the last time that I ironed?
It’s like a memory thing. It’s like the thing that a normal person would be able to say, like, yeah, I did that, I checked it. For you, you’ve got to check it again. And now you’re halfway to work, and you’re like ummm…did I unplug the iron or did I leave it on? I should go back—I need to go back home and do it.
There’s this tiger in the way.
My strategy for a while was to come up with a word that I would be unlikely to use day-to-day, and assign that to some action. For example, I lock the car doors, and I think to myself: “Octothorp.” Then, three hours later, when I wake up in bed wondering if I left the car open, I can think to myself: “Nope. Octothorp.”
In short order, though, this led to the same problem: “Wait, was octothorp today or was that the last time I got out of the car?” After getting out of bed to make sure the car was locked in the middle of a couple different nights, I mostly managed to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter, and if someone is going to steal stuff out of the car, then that’s just life.
Local game nerd Benedict Fritz nailed it with this one. I was going to include a quote here, but realized I wanted to copy-paste the entire thing, so just go read it there.
Benedict dscribes exactly what my experience has been. In the Drupal community in DC and the iOS community in Chicago, I just kept coming back and eventually got to know the core group really well. In the iOS community in Denver, I went to a couple events, but felt out of place and didn’t bother going back. It’s entirely possible that I might have gotten to know the group there just as well as I have in Chicago, but I submit that the iOS folks in Chicago and the Drupal folks in DC are both friendlier and more welcoming than the iOS folks in Denver were, at least the few times I went.
I’ve also been on the other end. Now that I know a bunch of people at the Chicago iOS events, I tend to spend most of the social time catching up with people that I only see once a month, and less time getting to know new people. It’s something one has to be intentional about, and be conscious of the fact that it’s important to welcome new people who might not come back if they have an unpleasant experience or two.