Photo taken by Sylvain Guiheneuc
Life, Personal, Philosophy

A Ruler to Measure Life

Perhaps it’s settling into a routine. Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s a less chaotic life. Perhaps it’s watching too many episodes of NCIS on Netflix recently (Gibbs’ Rules and all). Whatever the reasons, I’ve been thinking about rules a lot lately. Rules in the sense of guidelines for how to live my life. It’s one thing to say I am a person of ethics, a person of beliefs, a person that lives up to their higher self. How can I know if my actions are true if I do not have the ruler by which to measure them?

I give you my tentative ruler. It’s still being molded but I think the underlying concepts are solid.

Rule #1: Practice patience.

There’s a reason patience is a virtue. Practicing patience makes us more mindful and empathic. Whether we are waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for a client’s copy for their website, we can become impatient. Impatience breeds anger and frustration. If we are able to sit with this moment, practicing patience, the byproduct is a more mindful approach to life.

Rule #2: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

Rule #2 is directly taken from Gandhi. I think it’s human nature, or at least my nature, to speak quickly. We want to be heard. But, most of the time, what comes out of our mouths are opinion and noise. There isn’t much benefit to adding to the cacophony. Rather, I’m trying to keep my mouth shut, observe, and only add to the noise if the cost of my silence is worse than the cost of speaking. This is one of the rules I have the hardest time with.

Rule #3: When you do speak, speak the truth; do not be afraid of your own or others’ truth.

When you do speak, make sure it is the truth. By truth, I mean your truth. It may not be verifiable fact (how can emotions and feelings be fact-checked?). But make sure it is the truth as you know it. Related to that is not to be afraid of truth. Truth may be uncomfortable, truth may even be painful, but we should never be afraid of it. With truth comes the ability to make rational and sound decisions.

Rule #4: When you commit to something, commit wholly.

Whether it is your job, a volunteer position or writing every day, commit to doing that act wholly. Give yourself over to it 100%. Never half-ass something. Always be present for the commitment. A funny thing happens when you do commit wholly; you are more discerning in what you commit to.

Rule #5: Only concern yourself with things that you need to be concerned with.

This is an odd one but it basically boils down to stop worrying about things you don’t need to worry about. In some ways, this could be viewed as callous. Can you do anything about the Syrian refugees? No? Then stop worrying about it. Give a donation or volunteer somewhere if it really bothers you. Some gossip at work that has nothing to do with your job? Don’t worry about it. Concern yourself with only things that you can change and that affect you directly.

Rule #6: Make decisions.

I hem and haw all the time. My inability to make decisions are sometimes my greatest fault. So, make a decision. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll find out soon enough. It’s important to move forward. Have faith in your abilities to make course corrections throughout the journey. Even though the decision may be incorrect, it’s forward movement. And that’s more important than making the right decision.

Rule #7: Smile and practice kindness.

Pretty self-explanatory. Very useful when driving in traffic and in life. Do you ever notice how your guard is suddenly disarmed with a genuine smile? Do you feel a kinship when someone is kind to you? Smile often, smile easy and always lend a helping hand.

Rule #8: Take responsibility.

Another self-explanatory rule. When I was a less-experienced programmer, I didn’t always take responsibility for my mistakes in the code. It was a way to save face, I suppose. All it ever did was make me feel horrible about the mistake and have to keep up the lie. Instead, own your actions, whether they are a mistake or not. By taking responsibility, you let others know they can trust you and your word. This goes hand-in-hand with Rule #3; do not be afraid of the truth.

Rule #9: Assume everyone is being their best self.

This is something my mother taught me. Assume the best in people. Assume they are just as smart as you, if not smarter. Assume they have the best intentions. Assume their stories are true to them. I’ve known people who only assume the worst and their relationships are contentious at best, even with the people they like. Assuming the best isn’t the same as trusting blindly though; you are not naive. I assume the best in everyone and trust them but I also verify.

Rule #10: Trust yourself.

For most of my life, I’ve looked for external validation. Was I talented enough? Was I pretty enough? Was I smart enough? Family, friends, co-workers…I would look to them for my worth. As I move through life, I have less need for this. I’m learning to trust myself, trust my skills, trust that any situation I find myself in, I can find a way through it. I trust that I have the knowledge to move through this life and be successful, however I define that success. If things go ass end up, I trust I can figure a way to right the ship, metaphorically speaking.

I’ve had a revelation recently, though it’s not really a rule, per se, but I find it important. Every day is a choice. Every day I get up, take a shower, and go into work is a choice. As most people do, I complain about work. Today is a Monday and I hate the fact that I can’t stay here and write all day. However, I can! I can email my boss, tell him I quit, and spend the rest of the day writing. Or, I could take a personal day. Or, I can get another job. Or, I can get up, take a shower, and go into work. It’s all a choice. I choose to go into work. For some reason, realizing that was extremely liberating. I always knew I had choices but when it hit me, when the truth that I design my life slammed into my thick skull, it was an epiphany.

When I find myself complaining about something, whether it’s my job, my car, or more broadly, my life, I try to stop the thought. I remember that whatever it is that has me angry, upset, uncomfortable, sad, I can change it. I don’t have to continue to feel that way. I have the choice to alter my life to make it more in line with what I want. Usually though, I recognize it as petty complaining, drop that line of thought, and get on with my day. All of the choices I’m making now are moving me toward the life I have planned.

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Life, Personal, Philosophy

Internal Lives

I have a rich inner life. I spend a lot of time by myself. Hopes, dreams, criticisms, wishes, dislikes about my life, about myself, about my body, are constantly swirling in my head. I think, What if I tweak this? or Should I stay or should I go? or I hate the weight or Debt sucks. I agonize over choices on a daily basis. Probably more of an hourly basis. I read and lose myself in characters, I plan out my budget for the coming month, I play with the pugger and watch NCIS religiously on Netflix. I have an entire world going on between these 2 small ears on my head.

But no-one else sees these things. No one else understands my thoughts, my world. I bring this up because after reading through a friend’s blog, reading what her internal life is like, it occurred to me I hadn’t the faintest idea of what she was going through. Our external lives hardly ever match our internal lives. We see things that others pay no attention to or critique things about ourselves that others never knew existed.

When I was younger—well, not that much younger—I would act upon my thoughts. Thoughts were a reaction to a situation, most often elicited by an emotion. I lived in my emotions. My moods dictated what I did throughout the day. When I would become angry or morose during high school, you could either find me skipping classes in one of the school’s big bay windows, looking out with headphones on or smoking a cigarette driving up to Boston to get coffee. I went backpacking/hitchhiking through California because of an emotional response. This is adolescent to admit to but I believed that a life lived authentically was to sit in those emotions and do what I felt I needed to do at that moment (plus, it made for some great writing—when I wasn’t too happy to write).

Living that way, living with my internal life on the outside, wasn’t fair to myself or others. I could start the day off feeling great and then one comment from one person would send me spiraling into the abyss. My friends would never know if I was the happy, gregarious personality or the disengaged, depressed personality. I didn’t just have my heart on my sleeve, I wore everything on the outside. If you knew me in those years, you always knew how I felt.

Meditation has taught me that we are not our thoughts and emotions are just another form of thought. Thoughts are fleeting little gnats that flit away just as fast as they appear. There is no reason to chase after them like fireflies in the dusky sky, bouncing around with a glass jar and holes punched in the lid. Eventually, you let those fireflies go so why even attempt to capture them in the first place? Meditation gives me the safe space to watch the fireflies, acknowledge them, and go back to watching the sun set.

I don’t know if it’s the meditation or growing older or becoming more comfortable with myself that has given me my even keel. Maybe it’s all 3 that’s smoothed out the high highs and low lows. I still experience all the same thoughts I always have but they no longer affect me as they once did. My internal life is still rich and volatile and I know those thoughts don’t define my worth or my abilities. I now live my life based on what I want out of this life. It is deliberate and measured. It is guided by a set of principles. I used to believe that life would be sad and miserable without responding to emotions, to thoughts. Now I just marvel at their multitudes and cast my gaze to the sunset.

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Career, Coding, Life, Philosophy

On Building

One of the most satisfying things with being a software engineer (or a coder, developer—whatever you want to call the act of slinging code for a living) is, at the end of the day, I’ve usually built something that other people can use, interact with. Most times, it’s a way to share content through an API. Or maybe it’s going through a checkout process to donate to candidates you believe in. Or maybe it’s just a little snippet of code that automatically connects you to Google’s servers (I call it goog).

This act of building, of writing code, still makes me smile. It’s still a rush when I get things working. But, it is still code; it’s an ephemeral object. It’s not something you can hold. It’s not something that smells when you sand it. I have missed working with my hands, of holding physical objects and putting them together to create something new.

Since moving out to Lincoln, I’ve built about half the furniture in my little cottage. First was my platform bed. Then a standing desk. Both were rustic. Looking at them, you’d know they were made by a novice woodworker. Then I build a little side table and lightly stained it. It was still rough and not very finished. But I learned a few new tricks. I saw where I could have done things better.

build3August came around and I was tired of my rustic, shoddy standing desk. So, one Sunday morning, I took apart the standing desk and spent 9 hours building my new farm-style, 6′ long desk. There is something immensely satisfying letting your hands make the decisions rather than your mind. Feeling things out; the vibration of the orbital sander reverberating up my arms; methodically cutting, drilling, screwing, sanding, staining my way to a desk that has supported my daily writing and coding for the past 2 months.

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 build6
 build1build7
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 There are a lot of similarities between writing code and building. At the end of the day, you’ve built something of substance. There’s a sense of pride in the act of building. And a sense of self-determinedness. Now I want my own workshop.
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via the wonderful, fine folks over at Feministing

Just came across this singer/songwriter, Christopher Paul Stelling. Reminds me a little of The Tallest Man on Earth. Love this music and love how involved he is with it.

Career, Coding, Life, Personal

Minimizing My Online Footprint (it’s not a conspiracy, I promise)

When I was visiting friends and family in Denver a few weeks back, I happened upon Mr. Robot, the new USA television series. I don’t have cable so I ended up binge-watching the first 4 episodes, much to my dismay and delight (my inherent capability to binge watch is the primary reason I don’t have cable or TV; I would never get anything done. As it stands now, Netflix is a hard enough beast for me to defeat each evening I get home from work). I liked the show immediately; crazy protagonist and kick-ass supporting characters. Watching it, it reminded me just how easy it is to give your information away to anyone that offers something shiny or a service that everyone else is using. The little imp inside me started picking at my brain threads.

When I got back home, I deleted my Twitter account. I had already deleted my LinkedIn account earlier in the year and never got involved with Facebook. At the same time, I deleted my Spotify and Soundcloud accounts. I culled my Pocket list, removed that account, and installed Wallabag on my personal server. Tiny Tiny RSS has been installed on my server and I’m slowly going through all my code repositories, transferring them to my own Gitlab Phabricator installation self-hosted git repositories on my server*.

A bit extreme, to be sure, but hear me out. I’ve got quite a few reasons to minimize my online footprint, limit communication with people, and take the time to deal with the frustration of installing services that are easier done by just clicking “Sign Up.”

Let’s take Twitter. I’ve loved Twitter. It’s how I used to get my news from news sources that I cultivated. It’s how I kept in touch with some of my Aereo colleagues. It allowed me to interact with a larger group. But, in reality, it fostered shallow relationships and anyone could find out a lot about me based on my tweets and who I followed. It’s natural to make assumptions about people but when those assumptions are based off of 140 characters and a list of feminist, LGBT accounts that I had followed, that’s a one-sided view of my multifaceted life. And those feminist, LGBT accounts tweeted about topics I was interested in but in not following opposing viewpoints, I had created my own filter bubble. I failed to see the larger picture. The proverbial nail in the coffin was when I bought an iPod Touch; each morning I’d open up the Twitter app, scroll through the tweets from the night before, before drinking coffee or even getting out from under the sheets, getting into a tizzy before understanding the whole story behind a tweet.

Granted, I’ve given up being able to easily reach out to former coworkers. A few times they helped me through a coding issue in my new job through tweets. But, deleting my Twitter account doesn’t prevent me from reaching out through email, which I know leads to a better conversation and a wonderful by-product are stronger friendships.

Giving up Spotify and Soundcloud doesn’t prevent me from listening to music. I still pop on Soundcloud but an account isn’t required to listen. I’ve rediscovered the glory of radio, often piping the WGBH Classical station through my headphones while I code at work or on my stereo at home while typing out this blog post (A Celtic Sojourn, on the WGBH news station, is a favorite of mine on Saturdays between 3pm and 6pm; can’t recommend it enough). Not having the ability to cultivate my own playlist allows me to practice tolerance and patience when a song I don’t like comes on the radio. It may be minor but that is what life is made up of—all the minor things. The $10 a month cost is also something I don’t want to be paying for (again, small things add up).

As for Github, I’m not too sure about that yet. I need to keep my account for some work projects but all of my personal repos are slowly being moved to my Phabricator installation. I’ve been worried about what happens when it’s time to find a new job but I can just point to my Phabricator repos rather than Github. Git, by its very nature, is a decentralized system; I shouldn’t be worried that I’m hosting my own repos (in fact, it may improve my chances at getting a job).

I took the time to install Gitlab and the various other services because I wanted to learn how to do it. I wanted the knowledge. It’s the same reason why I know how to change my oil, build a desk, or wire up new lighting in a house; I’m not dependent on other people to do things for me. I’m self-sufficient, self-reliant and, if I don’t know how to do something, the power that comes from knowing that I can learn it is greater than the ease I get from using Github or Twitter or Spotify.

Ultimately, removing my external online accounts has allowed me to focus. I’m not reaching for the iPod to view the latest tweets. I’m not chasing down one interesting story to the next. I’m discovering some great music and learning to appreciate classical. I’m increasing my knowledge of Linux and servers in general. Some of my relationships are stronger. I have lost some things but what I’ve gained is much better for me. This also ties into my personal goals with learning to live with less. To decrease not just my online footprint by the footprint I leave in the physical world.


* [Edit 1]: After having quite a few issues with Ruby processes running my server’s memory off the charts, I just didn’t want to deal with that issue any more (seriously, ruby was running over 600 Mb of memory!). So, I spent a few hours today (Sunday) installing Phabricator.

[Edit 2]: Nope, after putzing around with Phabricator’s settings for too long and not being able to figure out how to set up a home page that could be viewed publicly, I just set up the repos on my box directly, not needing a front-end. I’ll be building out git.nikkisnow.com eventually to show the repos but, for now, I can just manage them through the command line like normal.

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Wow.

I can’t believe he died shortly after this.

Sometimes, I think I am always just missing out on the great things, only to find out about them after they’ve passed. Thanks to the great Maria Popova for this entry on her Brain Pickings site (she’s been on a few podcasts lately; the one from On Being was particularly wonderful).

Music, Personal

Great track to code to…

Hearts on Fire (Holy Ghost Remix)

Aside

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I went to the mountains above Georgetown, Colorado. This is the beginning of Square Top Mountain trail. I had forgotten how beautiful the mountains are. These mountains of Colorado and I speak the same language.

Personal

I went to the mountains

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Life, Random Thoughts, Verbal Vomit

On Realizing I am a Petty, Whiny Human Being

6:30. Sunday morning. Sitting outside at my little cobbled together patio area, cup of strong chicory coffee placed beside the laptop. The woods around my little cottage pulsate with early morning activity as the sound of cars on Route 2 come in waves. It’s a cool 60 degrees and the pugger just finished his breakfast so his tongue is going a mile a minute as he lays in the chair next to me. This. This right here is why I love living out in the woods (although, I do need to invest in a few citronella candles).

It’s not that I abhor cities. It’s that I missed being part of this. The smells and sounds (I could do without Route 2 though; I have to pretend that each wave of cars is the waves of the ocean surf). I missed feeling an expansiveness that is lacking in a city. When each viewpoint ends in the corner of a house or the angle of a street corner, it does something to me. Since moving out here almost 6 months ago, the tight knot of my mind has unfurled into a calmness that I didn’t know I needed.

This post is kind of hard to write. I start to write about how 4 and a half years living in a city, knowing something was wrong but not doing anything about it—whether that had to do with my job, the ex-spouse, or just my ridiculous inability to take ownership for how I felt—was a minor hell. But then I think, “Oh Nicole, don’t dramatize so much. You’re life is so goddamn simple. Get over yourself,” and I erase what I had just written. Because, honestly, who the hell wants to read about woe-is-me crap? I certainly don’t and I have less of a penchant for it than I once did. The difficulty in writing this post is knowing the whiny, oh no, petty, silly human woes is a part of me. And that it has been part of me for quite some time is even worse. The last thing I want to do is dwell upon it.

My focus now is becoming a better me, a better person. Kinder and wiser and more loving. I see this happening at work. Tasks are accepted happily, completed quickly and with good spirit. I get feedback that I’m doing a good job. I do have my weaker moments though. I verbally vomited all over a project manager this past week and felt so bad afterward. The old habits still creep up. Life and growth is never one single, continuous, forward movement but rather a stiltedly, halting, stumbling crawl up the mountain.

I look back on these past 4+ years and think how very little I have to show for it. And by have, I mean a rich, active, social life. I did not come out of those years with any lasting friendships, which is heartrending to me since I spent almost every day of my life with my coworkers during that time and the most interaction I have with them now is in 140 characters or less. This is such a departure from the rest of my life. And the glaring thing I notice about that time is that I did not like who I was; how was anyone else going to? I want to reach out to a few of them but what do you say, “Hey so-and-so, how are you? I know I was a small, ugly, petty person but how are you?” I can’t imagine they’d be receptive to hearing from someone who was so self-involved for the entirety of the time they knew me.

So I chalk these past years—The Boston years—as a learning experience. Because that’s what it was. It completely opened my eyes to how complacent I will allow myself to become. How unhappy I will let myself feel. I feel like I’m in control of myself again, in control of the decisions that are going to shape the next 4 years of my life. I don’t know exactly what city it will bring me to next, or when that will be, but I know that if I ever think that I’ll just tough out a city or situation without being fully invested in it, it will be the wrong decision. Choosing sanctity of soul over all else is what I’ve taken away from The Boston years.

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