Lunch walk on the Springwater.
Holy cow the urge to get out on a board hit hard today, so I just watched my slide video and stared at the quiver trying to decide which one I’m going out on first when the coast is clear. Pretty sure it’ll be the Subsonic or the Pantheon. The Comet calls but baby steps.
- I send ❤️ emojis more readily
Some things from this period I am appreciating:
I started an early rise routine a few months ago, mostly to make the commutes for the occasional 7 a.m. meeting feel less onerous. I have mostly kept the routine but without the 45-minute commute. I have so much time in the morning before work, now.
That time often goes to making good breakfasts for Ben. Play a podcast, make the pancakes or biscuits and gravy, drink tea.
I love my office. I’m surrounded by my pictures, I have the lighting dialed in. It’s bright and welcoming. There’s decent sound. My mood improves when I walk in first thing. At the end of the day, I sit in the lounge chair in the corner with the lights low and think about nothing.
We have a lot of discrete spaces now that the weather is turning: bedroom balcony/porch, front porch, little back patio with sun sail, our offices, and the living room. It’s great to just go out and sit on the balcony in between meetings and get a little sun and breeze.
Our patterns throughout the day take us in and out of offices/rooms. Sometimes we all end up in the living room; Ben sewing or playing a game, Alison and me working. It’s companionable. After a while a phone call or whatever breaks up the moment and we drift away.
It is easier to consider what’s next during the day. At first home is a distraction, but after a while it’s back to deeply familiar and comfortable. Grab a glass of water, sit on the porch for ten minutes and think about what’s important for that next meeting or work sprint.
It’s so quiet now. You can see more stars at night.
People are masked and all skirting wide, but the friendly little wave–a sort of manual curtsy–is back in vogue. I was a friendly little waver when we moved here 20 years ago, but the move to the sorta WASPy, chilly northeast Portland beat it out of me, and Lents people are more about the uptilted “sup?” chin, which is less a greeting and more a fleeting nonaggression pact.
I see more of Ben and he wants to talk more.
In the quiet and relative calm I’ve carved out around me, I have space to remember people are not at their best. Sometimes people aren’t at their best sort of at me, and it has become easier over the past few weeks to return to center afterward. We’re all sort of alone with our egos right now. People succumb. They need understanding and patience, and a sincere belief on my part that there is nothing to forgive.
No commute home at night. Just that last email or Slack, a quick check for invoices or purchase orders or expense reports, then gather up the mug or glass, lights out, and head downstairs.
People reaching out and being closer in the isolation.
Space to sit in the dark and grieve, or feel shitty, or cry, or worry.
Writing more feels like an adaptive behavior, at the slight cost of coming to believe meetings are best for the truly novel, but not being sure how to address that.
I have finally found the sweet spot between keeping handwritten notes and capturing actions reliably. It’s simple: Take notes, annotate actions with “!!!” and then sweep that into Things at the end of the meeting, which is easier when you’re not rushing down a floor and across the building to get to the next thing.
Ben’s room is a marvel to me. He understands comfort and coziness in a way I was incapable of at his age. Throw pillows, big blankets, fairy lights, candles. I poke my head in and my heart melts. He learned how to figure out what he loves and he surrounds himself with it. It took me forever–well into my forties– to stop being angry and hard on myself, and to learn how to find things that brought joy or comfort. I’m really proud that he just has that.
This is a hard time. Sometimes I think it could swallow me. I worry for people I care about, and people I don’t even know. I sense inside me a resistance to listening to angry people because they are a demand on my reserves, so I worry that I might starve my own pet anger and begin to forget important things.
So this wasn’t an act of “it’s all fine!” It was an enumeration of things that are good because of so much that is bad. It is a reminder of how much I have. I’m grateful for it.
Somebody made a giant mock-up of a Claymore mine. As I stood there explaining Claymore mines to Al a lady across the street yelled “what is that?”
“It’s an anti-personnel mine, kind of!” I shouted back. She looked confused and Al shouted “a military thing!”
“Oh. Thought so!”
… it’s a meaningless term for understanding our politics, with almost no remaining descriptive power.
There is still a narrow slice of the political spectrum that has relegated itself, with its strict readings and narrow legalism, to the role of useful idiot for nihilists of assorted stripes. Those people espouse “conservative” ideological beliefs and adhere to rigid “conservative” principles, and they are being gamed by people do not, themselves, have a particularly conservative world view.
Those nihilists are not “conservative,” because they are hostile not only to how institutions are run when in the hands of Democrats or “progressives” or “liberals,” but are hostile to the institutions themselves. They’ve spent the past few decades chipping away at our faith in public education, and in the current circumstances are busy going after the Postal Service partially because of a mania for privatization, and partially because it could be a vehicle for enhanced voter participation and they don’t like that.
If you want, you can recurse even further into that nihilist tendency and unearth a number of camps: “watch the world burn” nihilists, “liberal democracy is a failed experiment” nihilists, and “we could probably just privatize police and military and be safe on our compounds” nihilists. These are not “conservative” positions.
We need better words than what we are using now, because the nihilists have captured people who are not, themselves, nihilists. They’ve done that partially by hijacking conservative institutions, and partially because our outmoded language and failed categories are blinding us to potential allies.
In this country, the conservative program won decades ago. That happened with Reagan and then Clinton. Democrats do not, with the exception of what passes for a “far left” in that party, talk in terms that are hostile to basic main street/Chamber of Commerce conservatism. The fundamental program of the Clinton-era Democratic party (I’d argue that’s the current era given this year’s nominee) is to triangulate enough to peel off what we refer to as “independent” voters and eke out wins.
That doesn’t all mean the “no material difference” people in the fever swamps are right. They’re wrong. It’s just that the difference between the two parties isn’t “liberal” or “progressive” vs. “conservative,” because the Republican Party isn’t a conservative institution. It is a nihilist institution that will burn any tradition or norm to the ground in order to eradicate any law that impedes the accumulation of wealth at the expense of all other concerns. In the taxonomy I put out above, that’d be the “we could probably just privatize police and military and be safe on our compounds” wing of the nihilist faction. When the Republican Party was still a conservative institution, it resisted that outlook: It saw some institutions as good things that guaranteed, if nothing else, the reinforcement of certain ideological constants.
Because that nihilist faction has to coalition with social conservatives, there are also some differences in terms of social agenda, and the Democratic Party is a more reliable ally in that regard. That’s why I’m not arguing that we need to destroy the Democratic Party, or sit out elections, or whatever left-nihilist formulations we could recount here.
I think instead I’m arguing that our politics have shifted and evolved to a point where there are people committed to what we widely understand as “civilization,” and people who are trying to destroy any of its trappings either because they have decided it is a failed project, or because it is keeping them from making as much money as they could without large parts of it.
I don’t know what language I would propose instead of “conservative” vs. “liberal,” but I do think the puck is pretty close to being where it is headed and we’re using language from a bygone era to categorize people and their beliefs in a way that is causing us to miss a huge political realignment.
See also this one, which is along the same lines of thinking:
Not a historian, but I imagine every time a society or system has undergone radical, shocking change, there have surely been people who were sitting around thinking that the radicals clamoring for change had no chance because they simply weren’t being realistic. I’m sure the radicals who ultimately upended those societies were glad they didn’t stop to listen to the “realists” as they set about defining the new reality, grateful they understood the truths of the old one well enough to destroy it.
One thing I forgot in my media pruning post: I set my RSS client to “mark as read on scroll.” If I don’t stop and read something or save it to Pocket, it’s marked as read as soon as I go past it.
I’ve written about having ADHD before. I recently tried to link back to an Ask Metafilter I wrote a while back, but an URL shortener killed the anchor link and that was sort of a drag, so I’m expanding that and making it a blog post.
At the time I first wrote all this down, I’d been working from home for close to 10 years, and I’d taken the time to get an ADHD diagnosis and medication. Having had to move back to working from home to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve found myself thinking back to strategies that have helped in the past, and figuring out ways to adapt them to the kind of technology and tools I have now.
This may also be useful for neurotypical people who are struggling to focus on work in an environment they’re not used to “being at work” in, while keeping up with everything going on out there.
As I’ve noted in the past, I’m one of the “primarily inattentive” types, so I don’t have much insight into what it’s like for people with the more physical symptoms: You won’t see me jiggling my legs (but I may be rolling a pen, wrench socket, or something else between my fingers). I’m not so much at risk for doing something counterproductive as I am to get distracted, or fall into a state of deep focus on the wrong thing.
Journals have been very helpful for me when it comes to keeping focus:
Morning entries are for the day’s game plan: I write a rough todo list that helps me get a sense of what it was important to accomplish above all else, and include notes about things that represent bad attentional triggers and how I plan to deal with them. For instance:
I used to edit web publications, so one of my triggers proved to be Ruby hacking. I’d come across some odd piece of idiosyncratic HTML from one of my authors, or I’d stumble upon some task that would benefit from automation, and I’d get lost in hacking up something to make it all better. Three hours later, the morning was gone and I knew a ton more about some HTML scraping library or how to code up a quick Twitter bot, but nothing actually got done. So I’d note in my journal that no matter how badly something cried out for a bit of scripting, I’d aim to not succumb to the temptation to do that until a given point in the day. I came to look forward to hack time, and it eventually blossomed into an actual programming competency.
Lately, I’ve made a page template that includes a list of things I like to get done first thing over a cup of tea:
- Check the inbox and flag things that need a response
- Review my Things Inbox and Today list
- Review the day’s calendar to make sure I can fit everything
- Fire off any early emails or Slacks and make calendar adjustments
- Record my top three priorities
And I’ve got an expanded journal template I’ve borrowed from a few approaches:
- What are you most happy about?
- What are you most nervous about?
- What is today’s biggest challenge?
In the past, my morning journals also documented any attentional aids I was trying out–egg timers and assorted digital variations on them, for instance–and how I planned to use them. From that period, I learned that the Pomodoro technique is pretty helpful for people who are living in a maker’s schedule. You can adapt it for managers, too, but I’ve found that the 30-minute slices tend to be gaps between meetings, which mainly means you’re sort of living inside a giant pomodoro.
With the morning journal done, I start working, checking things off the list as I go. I like to check in on myself at noon. Years ago, when I rated an EA, a friendly one permabooked my lunches for me. Sometimes I work through them, but having them booked reminds me to pause and reset and take some time to recharge mid-day.
My checklist pages include some end-of-day activities, too:
- Check Concur to clear invoices, purchase requests, etc.
- Tidy my inbox: If I jotted actions down in written notes, make them digital in Things.
- Review the calendar for the next day.
- Do my daily retrospective: A section of my daily journal that includes:
- What went well?
- What can you improve tomorrow?
It has helped me to keep everything in that journal form, including todo capture. The thing I noticed most during the time I was using medication to control my ADHD was that reminding myself of the condition went a long way to letting the medication help. Having the journal entry open for consultation during the day helps keep me aware of the context that makes the journal necessary.
I’ve got some more thoughts on why the journal/list format has helped:
First, it offers very little to fiddle with. I’ve set up some custom templates but they’re strictly optional and there’s enough friction involved that it’s not something I care to play around with a lot. I’ll get to those templates below.
Second, it has helped give me an insight into how I perceive time.
The journal represents an investment in a future self I’d never really considered very carefully before I started writing him notes each morning and night. The journal has helped me think about that future self. That was something of a breakthrough, when I first landed on it years ago, because as much as I’d learned over the years to control my more severe flights of impulsivity–the kinds of things where consequences arrive in the span of minutes or hours, a month at the most–I’d never really figured out why I couldn’t handle the stuff that involved consequences that arrived in a year, or five years.
The journal also connects me to a past self. I write to myself in the second person, so going back and re-reading entries has a very personal edge to it, as if to say “this is you from last night, really hoping you don’t screw this up” instead of my usual dealings with a “me” that never really managed to escape a continuously unfolding present of failure and frustration.
Had I spent my time documenting my progress in a more checklist-y way, I don’t know if I would have managed to connect something I once thought of as a problem with short-term behavior to something with much more life-altering ramifications.
Templating and Tools
I alluded to templates for my journals and lists. I’ve used a couple of approaches:
First, I like writing notes down. I think it may be a way to do something physical that looks “normal” and “productive” to the neurotypicals in the room, but I also buy the idea that writing things down helps commit them to memory. It also keeps me out of my laptop or other things that are potential distractions.
Currently, I have a Remarkable e-ink tablet, which allows (but doesn’t really support) custom templates. I made a set in Affinity Publisher (which is pretty nice for $25) and exported them to PNGs for upload into the Remarkable. I experimented with importing PDF versions into Notability on an iPad and they worked well enough. You can find the PNGs and Affinity files here.
For item capture, I seem to have settled on Things. It has a few limitations, but I love the way it flexes all the way down to “here’s an inbox you can sync across devices” and all the way up to “here’s a simple project tracker.” I appreciate the calendar integration, since it provides a way to reconcile my ambition for the day with my preexisting meeting load, and I like the quick-capture window I can invoke from any app:
ctrl-space and I’ve got a window to capture a todo into.
It has been tempting to try out org-mode right now, because I have one machine to manage it on instead of trying to sync between a work laptop and a home system plus whatever mobile app is available for it. The way org-mode switches between task capture and prose is really compelling, and a little work with snippets or some other capture template would make for a pretty effective daily tool. I just hate my options for sync of org files: Dropbox/iCloud, with whatever they’re doing if there’s a conflict; or consistent git usage, which doesn’t fit the way I live my days.
It doesn’t really matter what you use, though. The most powerful part of all of it is to figure out what works well enough and make a habit of it, even if it’s not perfect.
Today I worked from home, and will be for the next while, same as all my Puppet teammates. Al ordered some groceries and had them arrive just after lunch. Not a full-on prepper load-out: Just some staples that we could have held off on grabbing for a week given current supply levels.
I’m still very happy about the pantry I made out of a dismal space under the stairs in the kitchen, so when I opened the pantry door and the automatic light came on I was pretty happy to have some shelf space to put the extra stuff: Some cans of beans, a jar of peanut butter, a couple of bags of rice.
Then I thought about how I’ve never really thought in “pantry for overflow” terms before. Just hasn’t been in my thinking. Stuff I had a purpose for just went in the cabinet, maybe I’d buy the big package of paper towels or toilet paper, but I never really put away even modest amounts of extra whatever. That has slowly changed with the addition of the pantry.
So I stepped back and just stared at the shelves in there. Lots of canned goods and baking supplies. Cartons of oatmeal. Pasta. Dried beans in nice storage containers. Rice.
One of the shelves is the liquor shelf, and I briefly considered the bottles of Jefferson Reserve and Woodford Reserve as material for a joke about stocking up on the staples. They were gifts from friends at work, one for helping out with a dicey retrospective and one for literally just being me. I can remember a time since Ben was born when the cost of a big bottle of Woodford would have stopped me cold, and there it was, given to me just because someone knew I liked it and wanted me to know I was loved.
So I had a moment where I had this profound sense of safety and contentment.
I’d just done my one deep read of the NYT for the day over lunch, so that sense of safety had to dislodge a feeling of unease and disquiet. One of the folks on my team has a one-month-old baby and had to deal with runs on the supermarkets up in Seattle, and the frightening experience of traffic and lines and crowding being so bad that a 10-minute trip took her over an hour. I had skimmed a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet of tech workers sharing office closure information. I had been thinking all morning about how businesses and local governments have been left to figure this out, and how there’s this palpable sense that the litany of “an abundance of caution for the foreseeable future” is just inviting us all to consider the shapeless, open-endedness of the situation, compounded by the ruinous incompetence of this terrible president and his enablers. I thought about how we’re not sure it’s a great idea to close the schools because a lot of meals and social services flow through them to kids who desperately need them. I thought about working parents who are going to be in a really bad way.
That feeling of contentment had to dislodge all that, and it couldn’t. And good. It shouldn’t. How much luck can a human have? I feel like I’m constantly testing that.
So for a moment I stood there in the pantry staring at the shelves holding both sets of feelings and thoughts in my head. So I sat down on the floor and had a cry about all of it. Relief from feeling safe and content and seeing reminders that I’m cared about and matter to people. Worry and care for people this is going to be incredibly hard on. A building full of well-off tech workers can just disperse to their home offices and ride it out, and maybe this is all just sort of an adventure. But it’s not going to be a fun adventure for a lot of people as we go into a defensive crouch in the face of so much uncertainty and fear. My kid’s set: Solid Wi-Fi in all parts of the house, a Switch with a complete library, and there’s enough flour, sugar, butter, and milk to keep him in pancakes. Other kids will be at home with stressed-out parents who won’t be sure if they can make ends meet. Senate Republicans called guaranteed sick leave a political ploy, accused the Democrats of stuffing their bills with unrelated goodies, then said they’d only approve relief packages if they included stuff about no Federal money for abortions. I wanted to grow wings, fly into the air, and breathe fire down on Washington.
Someone recently told me I was a rock for them: A calming presence who makes it all seem doable. I told a coworker today it is part of my job to be unflappable and unflapped, and so I was. She took a moment to say, “yeah, but how ARE you?” so I described the 😐 mood I have recently added to my mood tracking app that is below “good” and above “meh.” It means “I know what I need to do, am doing it, and do not feel significantly tasked doing so, even if some of what I am doing is stupid or distasteful but needful.”
Anyhow, on the first day of bunkering in the home office, explaining how stock markets and panics work to Ben, laying in an extra jar of peanut butter, and looking at a page of Italian webcams all showing empty or near-empty streets and plazas, that’s me.
I hope you’re all doing as okay as can be. It’ll be fine, but goddamn do we make this all hard on ourselves.