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.
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).
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.
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.
I’ve been a voracious coffee drinker for as long as I can remember. Some of my most fond memories are drinking a cup of black, unfiltered coffee in the morning around a fire after a night of camping. Or waking early on an October morning to catch the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean, a fresh cup of cream-and-sugared coffee in between my cold hands. But lately, I’ve been drinking those silly K-cups at work, often downing my last cup around 4 or 5 in the evening, trying to eke out one last push to finish a project. The coffee is bland and uninspiring and I felt that my consumption was becoming just a little too fanatic.
Along with my increased coffee consumption, the amount of videos I have been watching has been…well, it’s been horrendous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends 2.8 hours watching television a day. Granted, I don’t have a television but I did have an Amazon account, a Hulu account, and, at one point, a Netflix account. Not to mention the amount of YouTube videos I watched.
My average day started with the alarm at 5am, which turned into another one at 6 with me finally rising from my bed around 6:30. I’d grabbed my cup of coffee (good coffee at home), make a few eggs, shower, and head into the office where I’d have anywhere between 5 and 8 additional cups of coffee. I’d get a serious afternoon slump, which I tried to cure with more coffee, and make it home around 7-ish. The rest of the evening was watching 3 or 4 episodes of whatever show I was in the middle of while making dinner. I’d hop into bed around 10:30 with a book that I maybe spent 2 minutes reading.
What bothered me about this whole ritualistic lifestyle was that I wasn’t accomplishing anything I wanted to do in my free time. Sure, I made a few pieces of furniture (I’m sitting on my raised platform bed right now as I type this) and sure I had moved to rural Lincoln but, instead of sitting outside reading a book or taking a hike on the numerous trails around me, I stayed inside watching some meaningless moving pictures across my screen. And, I haven’t been writing. None of this sat well with me.
Back in May, I decided to run an experiment. I decided to stop drinking alcohol (it may have become a little excessive) and stop eating fast-food (McDonald’s was a welcome sight after a long day at the office and what felt like an even longer commute). Unfortunately, I made it 2 weeks until my mother’s birthday where we sat around drinking sangria on her porch. At that point, I figured I failed my little experiment and went back to drinking and eating fast-food, although not in the same quantities as before.
I wanted to retry this experiment, as well as add to it. What would happen if I stopped drinking coffee and watching videos? Would I begin writing more? Would I read more? Would I make more experiences? How would I feel letting my body go through its natural stages?
I started this little experiment on June 1st. To be honest, it’s been disorienting. For the first 5 days I had immense headaches; the pain a throbbing, pulsing pressure in the back and sides of my head. My hips and back were constantly sore; so bad one morning I could neither sit nor stand for a good hour. Lying on my chest with my butt in the air in a somewhat askew downward dog pose was the only relief I could find. I’ve been sleeping intermittently, waking around 3am having to pee since my water intake has gone through the roof. I usually go to bed around 9 and wake up around 6:30; if it wasn’t for the fretful sleep, this would be the longest night’s sleep I’ve had since I was a teenager. My mind has been unfocused and cloudy and I have been ridiculously tired the entire week.
Yesterday, the 6th day of the experiment, was the first day without a crushing headache. I also took a sleeping pill both Friday and last night, which allowed me to sleep through the entire night. I feel better today but a headache has begun creeping in (not sure if that’s because I was sitting in the sun reading for a few hours). And, this is the first time I’ve written since I’ve begun this masochistic experiment. I’ve only seen 1 video this week but it was a video my friend shot of his son, which was all of a minute—I don’t consider that cheating.
The days are starting to feel better. But, something still is off. My writing feels flat and stale. My shoulders hurt. I would love a cup of coffee in the morning. The alcohol and video isn’t really missed, nor is the pre-package crap food (although Stop & Shop vegetables aren’t that great either…the peppers I bought yesterday almost taste like flavored cardboard). Another 3 weeks to go. I’m hoping things will even out soon enough.
When I was a child, I was wonderfully well-behaved. I had a truth-telling streak in me that couldn’t be rubbed out or halted. An immense guilt washed over me when I kept the truth inside my chest. I don’t remember lying much as a child but you’d have to ask my parent’s if that is the truth. I believe most parents can see through their children’s lies. But truth-telling was only the beginning of my well-behaved childhood.
I am a kind soul. If there is one indisputable fact I know about myself, it is that I am kind. My kindness bubbles up from the depths of empathy that I know not where it comes from or sometimes how I can control it. The day the Boston Marathon bomber was captured, I gulped in air in between racking sobs because I could feel all the hatred directed at him; it was as palpable as being smothered with a warm, wet blanket. My emotions swim at the surface of my body. I’m able to put myself into not only another person’s shoes but their entire being. If I remember correctly, my 3rd grade teacher told my mother that I was going to have a difficult life because I felt so much.
So, being kind as an ingrained trait, I was naturally a well-behaved child. I also had a ridiculous desire to follow rules; to live inside the box. I rarely got into trouble and often had high remarks from the teachers. As I got older and became more aware of myself in this world, I was tired of being well-behaved. I started smoking cigarettes and skipping classes. I started drinking and smoking pot. I don’t remember being explicitly mean but I know I stopped being as kind or as empathetic as I once was.
The funny thing about all of this though is that my reputation as a well-behaved, kind child prevented me from really ever experiencing any consequences. When I would skip classes my senior year or get caught coming back onto campus after going to the store to buy cigarettes, nothing happened. Teachers would tell me to just get the assignments in or the security guard would give me a stern look and tell me to not let her catch me again.
I should have realized then that rules were never rules; that they were selectively applied based on who you were. But I didn’t. I just stopped caring whether there were rules or not. I found a self-destructive streak that I took comfort in; it pushed away my empathy for a while. I reveled in myself and became a narcissistic asshat. Some of it was necessary to assert myself in this world. In order to claim my identity, I needed to stop worrying about whether I was following the rules or caring about what others thought (caring about what other people think about you is a powerful force; one that can still hold sway over me).
Empathy has found me again. It isn’t always a good thing. It’s lead me to do things because other people needed it when I didn’t. But it feels good to reconnect with my well-behaved, kind, empathetic childhood self. There’s a comfort in coming home, so to say.
I’ve been a reader of Raptitude for a bit over a year now. It’s a great site with some very keen insights on being human. One of the things David—the writer—often does is month-long experiments. I find it kind of voyeuristic to read about his emotions and physical reactions to his experiments. But it’s now time to start doing my own experiments.
One of the things the Stoics practice is forced discomfort. If we coddle ourselves, surround ourselves with pleasures and a more hedonistic lifestyle, nothing hard will seem bearable. And that’s not because the situation is necessarily difficult but rather we are ridiculously soft. This can be accomplished in small doses: drive home in sweltering heat with the AC off, walk to work without a jacket. There were quite a few times this winter where I drove to work without any heat in the car when the outside temperature was hovering just above 0. I’d get into work with rosy cheeks and a runny nose.
Last Friday, on the 1st of May, I began the first experiment: no alcohol or fast food for the entire month.
There is a McDonald’s on the way home from work that’s not too far from where I live. On the long days, when I’d be arriving home after 7, I’d often grab a Big Mac to satiate my rumbling belly and quiet my disgruntled mind. And then I’d pour myself a couple of glasses of bourbon, watch something on Hulu, and fall asleep slightly inebriated in a food coma. It was ridiculously easy to fall into this pattern.
Drinking every night and eating fast food almost every night was taking a toll on my body and my wallet. I also found I accomplished nothing worthwhile when I got home at night (and by worthwhile, I mean just sitting on my front porch reading a book as the sun set). I also started getting up much later, sometimes not even until 7am. Waking up that late sets the day off on the wrong footing, like a misplaced note in a song; you can still listen to the music but it’s tainted.
It’s only been a week since I started this little experiment and I don’t have anything really to report. I was tempted to drink when I went out with a friend but decided to stick with my iced tea. Making promises to one’s self are important to keep. If one little outing sways them, that’s not much of a conviction, is it?
And this is one of the side benefits I’ve noticed in doing things like these experiments: the mental fortitude to keep your commitment, to say “No” when others say “Yes,” to stand fast to your convictions. It’s not just the act but what is required of you during the inevitable ups and downs of the experiment.
David, at Raptitude, actually writes a log of his experiments. I’m not sure that’s something I’ll do. I go back and forth on quantifying all the things. At one end, it’s good to have the raw data but on the other end, one month of a life that will hopefully continue on well into my 90s is a sliver of time. I think I’m more interested in the holistic picture (although, one could make the argument that the two are not mutually exclusive). So far though, I haven’t noticed anything really worth reporting. So I’m not drinking. So I’m not eating fast food. So what?!
I do find it a bit narcissistic throwing all this up on my website because, really, who cares what I do with my life? I mean, what does it really matter? I wrestle with putting it on my website or just writing in my journal (because, you know, back before there were blogs, that’s what we all did). But, I want this space—my blog—to stop living in stagnancy and the only way I can do that is by writing about things I normally wouldn’t write on the blog.
Next month’s experiment? I’m thinking I’m going to give up caffeine and watching videos (Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, etc.). I love the coffee ritual in the morning and have been known to binge watch episodes. I want to see what happens when I allow my body to experience the natural rhythms of the sleep/wake cycle without having caffeine wake it up and the lull of the blue light of moving pictures keep it from sleep.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. It’s been creeping around in the back of my head for quite some time now, swirling around with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of my mind. The thought—death—is like a splinter in my toe, niggling around in my skin. Death is this obscure concept, even for someone who has seen it, even caused it. Death is a specter that I just haven’t been able to pin down, to get a clear bead on. It remains as elusive as a child trying to catch a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day.
Death—the act of dying—scares me. It is the finality of it; the end of everything I know and everyone I love. I’ve gone through a crisis of belief and can no longer hold fast to the Catholic view that God is waiting for us to return to Heaven. Death is it. It is all there is. I wish…no, I crave beyond all else to have the faith I once believed in restored to me. To feel like I’ll be going home after I die and move on to see my family, my friends, my little pugger.
This is not my truth though. It is not what I believe any more. There is a certain sadness when I finally accepted this truth. We are just random, chaotic atoms banging into one another and one of those random, chaotic explosions created me. As Montaigne wrote on reading Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things”:
“Since the movements of the atoms are varied, it is not unbelievable that atoms once came together—or will come together again in the future—so that another Montaigne be born.”
That may have been a sliver of hope for Montaigne. However, the chance of me being recreated in these exact atoms is impossible in my belief. Time is only moving forward and part of what has made me the woman I am today is my journey along that continuum. For all intents and purposes, death is the period of the sentence of life. There is no comma. And there is no editing.
This is the real reason death has been on my mind lately. Since it is so final and since all these choices I make are inconsequential when viewed looking at it on a macro scale, then are they all that important? Many of the decisions I have made have been almost a default; the path of least resistance and all the clichés that go along with it. Was I ever really the architect of my own life? Or have I slid into the common definitions of what it means to be an average, mediocre, responsible human in this world?
I look back on my younger years—late teens to late twenties—and see someone not afraid of exploring, not afraid of pushing against the grain, not afraid of their own story. And yet, here I am beginning my late thirties and I am afraid of everything. I’m afraid of owning who I am. I’m afraid of the power inside of me. I’m afraid of my truth and the consequences of what that truth means. I’m afraid of being alone and penniless with no means to get back up. I’m afraid my closest relationship is with a four-legged animal that can’t speak back to me.
Again, back to death. It’s on my mind. Not in the sense that I am so unhappy that I feel I must take my life. That thought, while an almost ubiquitous companion in my late teens, is never a thought that clouds my mind now. Rather, death is on my mind because I don’t want to lay on my death-bed, at the ripe old age of 93, and feel like I squandered my life. I don’t want to feel a sense of loss when it comes to what I did with my life. I don’t want to feel like it wouldn’t have mattered if I lived or died. I think having children can help with this feeling of not mattering but I can’t have children (and, even if I could, I’m pretty sure it’s just not for me). How to make my death meaningful?
I’ve spoken with a friend about this. She tells me it’s not important to leave your mark on the world and that you only have to affect those closest to you. But you are forgotten soon. In David Eagleman‘s Sum, in his short story “Metamorphosis,” there are 3 deaths:
There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
Perhaps I am shallow for wanting my life to mean something. I don’t know. But I do know that I want my third death to come far, far into the future.