Category Archives: life

Learning from a diversity of ways to live a significant life

I have plenty of role models in terms of people who’ve done wonderful things as part of regular careers and entrepreneurs who’ve created products or services. I even have a few role models who’ve explored alternative paths: simple living, writing, arts, crafts, trades… I love having such a diversity of life paths illuminated for me, with so many examples of people doing well.

I’ve been thinking about the path that I might take. The path of growing outwards – self, household, close relationships, and beyond – seems unusual, or at least harder to find information on. It feels a little feminine, I think, skewed towards domesticity. I think that’s part of the appeal for me. I want to take the skills I’ve learned in the mostly-male world of the technologies I’ve learned, and apply those skills in areas that might not be gender-balanced for a long time. This way I can maximize learning and difference-making.

2015-04-10b Reflecting on paths for living a meaningful life -- index card #experiment #evil-plans

2015-04-10b Reflecting on paths for living a meaningful life – index card #experiment #evil-plans

The impression I sometimes get from stories of startup founders is that they jump so quickly to imagining and building a service or product instead of developing deep understanding of needs, people, systems, opportunities… I know that doing things is a great way to learn things – fail fast and fail often – but I’m also curious about developing my understanding by other ways. I imagine that if I do this well, I’ll gradually develop the relationships and insights that would help me make a good difference. In the meantime, I can focus on improving myself, helping and connecting with people, and taking and sharing my notes.

2015-04-20e At peace with a small life -- index card #experiment

2015-04-20e At peace with a small life – index card #experiment

It’s getting easier and easier to not be tempted to shortcut this process. At a recent party, I was talking to a serial entrepreneur who was looking for a successor he could mentor. He seemed to derive a great deal of pride from having created a wonderful product, and it was well-deserved.

He asked me if I had created any products that could be identified with me, and if I wanted to. Reflecting on the conversation, I realized that no, I don’t particularly need to work toward that kind of significance right now. I’m happy to continue my experiment to at least the 5-year mark that I had initially set for myself, and possibly longer.

2015-04-19c 5-year plan vs 5-year experiment -- index card #experiment

2015-04-19c 5-year plan vs 5-year experiment – index card #experiment

The 5-year experiment thing boggled him too. I think he was thinking of it more as a 5-year plan: have a certain goal, get there with actions and the occasional workaround. I think of this 5-year experiment as creating a safe space for me to explore and learn, and the timeframe is there to prevent me from running back into my comfort zone too early.

I guess I could describe my aims this way: I work towards cultivating happiness/equanimity and producing understanding as my first two priorities. At this point, I’m not working towards wide impact, fame, influence, or money. I might get to that someday, but I’d like those first two things well-covered first.

2015-04-20f Experiment timeline -- index card #experiment

2015-04-20f Experiment timeline – index card #experiment

When might I move on from this phase? It’s not that I don’t think I’m ready, that I’m waiting for the stars to line up, or that I feel constrained to do this right now. I’m stacking the deck, and I’m collecting people and ideas.

2015-04-20h Conditions for considering a startup -- index card #experiment #startup

2015-04-20h Conditions for considering a startup – index card #experiment #startup

What will likely happen is that, after I figure out a little more about life, I’ll have these relationships with people I strongly want to help as a business partner or as a provider (preferably both). For example, if W- wants to start a business, or if I resonate strongly with a friend’s idea, I might dig into it more deeply. But I’d still want to see if we could build a company without making the personal health or relationship sacrifices that you often hear about in entrepreneurship circles. I’d want people to still get good sleep and spend time with other people who are important to them.

So that’s how my Evil Plans might unfold…

Cultivating coping mechanisms

2015-04-20b Cultivating coping mechanisms -- index card #self-care #coping

2015-04-20b Cultivating coping mechanisms – index card #self-care #coping

I’m not sure if other people do this, but I figured I’d write about how I deliberately cultivate certain coping or self-soothing behaviour, in case it resonates with anyone.

Whenever I come across a mildly stressful situation, I use that as an opportunity to practice and reinforce ways to deal with it. For example, I like getting hugs, so I’ve learned to create that feeling for myself and I’ve learned to ask people for hugs when I need it. I associate hot chocolate with comfort and self-care instead of having it as a regular luxury, so it’s there as a treat when I really need it. I tell myself that it’s impossible for me to stay sad when I’m eating ice cream, and that becomes the case. I practise elucidating what I’m feeling, accept it, and experiment with ways to improve the situation. I give myself permission to stop trying to do things that require a lot of thinking and energy, and to instead focus on cooking and other easy ways to create value for myself and others. I figure out good walks and relaxing forms of exercise. I guiltlessly spend time cuddling the cats.

Sometimes I’ll focus on remembering what it feels like to be comforted and happy and safe while, say, mind-mapping thorny feelings, and eventually it becomes easier and easier to do so.

When more stressful situations come, I have some idea of what works for me, and I have positive associations around those techniques. I wonder if it’s a little like clicker-training yourself… =) Anyway, I’ve been finding it easier and easier to deal with life’s little curveballs. I don’t know the magnitude at which things will start to overwhelm me again, but it’s nice to know that I can handle more and more. In the meantime, even obstacles can be fuel for greater happiness and equanimity. =)

Being extra-kind to myself

I enjoy an awesome life in general, so it feels a little indulgent to focus on making it better. But for the next few weeks, I think I’ll experiment by being even kinder to myself. It’s not just a matter of spending the entire day reading or playing video games… (On the plus side, W- and J- are avid players of the Persona RPG series too, so we get to joke about the game and swap notes.)

2015-04-17b Being extra-kind to myself -- index card #self-care

2015-04-17b Being extra-kind to myself – index card #self-care

I think it’s about paying attention to the kinds of things that give me (and other people) joy, and finding a great balance. If I read too much without writing or trying things out, I feel disconnected. If I play too much, my brain feels buzzy. I enjoy other things too: cooking, taking care of things, cuddling the cats… I derive a lot of pleasure from creating a good life for myself and for the people closest to me. Oh, and there are little splurges that aren’t actually all that expensive: strawberries while they’re sweet, seeds and starters, 100% cotton fabric. (Maybe as an extra treat, I’ll buy a yard of a Liberty print and see what all the fuss is about).

Mm. Yes, I think I’ll cultivate these as my favourite ways of self-care:

  • paying attention to and appreciating life
  • making things, imagining them, tweaking them, improving my skills

in addition to the other ways I’ve been keeping my life relaxed and open.

2015-03-25a Learning about taking care of myself -- index card #self-care

2015-03-25a Learning about taking care of myself – index card #self-care

I changed my mind about the e-mail thing, by the way. I rather like this relaxed approach to e-mail. I want to see if I can continue doing it, maybe even quiet that occasionally guilty part of me that worries about messing up other people’s plans.

2015-04-17e Slowing down e-mail -- index card #email #slow #relax #experiment #semi-retirement

2015-04-17e Slowing down e-mail – index card #email #slow #relax #experiment #semi-retirement

I figure it’s as good a time as any to get even better at self-care. Dig your well before you’re thirsty, after all. Build your skills and habits before you need them.

2015-03-25b Why have I focused on self-care -- index card #self-care

2015-03-25b Why have I focused on self-care – index card #self-care

Considering tech and the home

I came across an interesting exercise in Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anythng If I Only Knew What It Was: to pick a scenario and try fully committing to it, even just for a little while.

Let’s say that this current lifestyle is the thing that I’m going to fully explore. I’ve started thinking of it as blending technology and non-technology interests, building a little on the idea of exploring that future where tech is more integrated into the home. I’m not the only one exploring it (yay!), but there aren’t that many people with the opportunities to do so yet, so maybe I can bring some useful ideas and insights to it.

So: laser cutting and sewing, Emacs and cooking, days with the abundance of time that science fiction writers used to predict we’d enjoy.

What would this life look like, carried to its fullest extent? What steps can I take to move towards that? How would this life evolve as technology advances and my skills improve?

One direction people go with lives like this is that of homesteading: building up more independence by growing and making more things. I like being close to the library, subway, and supermarket, so maybe that lifestyle isn’t quite for me yet.

Another direction is to stay where you are, but improve the way you do things.

  • I want to make more customized things, like the way I like wearing the tops I’ve sewn. Who knows, I might even get good enough to sew things for other people. As I get better at imagining and constructing things, I might also be able to apply those skills to laser-cutting, 3D printing, and other manufacturing technologies.
  • I want to get better at repurposing things, getting more value out of stuff before we recycle or trash them.
  • I want to gradually swap out more of our consumables with reusables. For example, I can make produce bags out of mesh. Then we won’t need to use plastic bags for fruits and vegetables.
  • I want to cook a wider variety of recipes, and I want to prepare each recipe better. I also want to get better at transforming leftovers.

I feel a little odd about a life that seems so focused on such a small area (of interests, of geography, etc.). I feel some internal resistance around that. But hey, Emacs is a pretty niche thing too. Besides, it might be interesting to take notes and see where this goes.

Related sketches:

2015-03-27b Resistance to different dreams -- index card #resistance 2015-04-16a Imagining a week of taking it easy -- index card #relaxing #life 2015-04-16b What does my Resistance sound like -- index card #resistance 2015-04-16d What if I extrapolated this rest to awesomenss -- index card #life 2015-04-16e How can I cross-pollinate interests

Laser cutting update: Marvel version

I cut the Marvel-licensed fabric that I picked up from Affordable Textiles on Queen Street (near Spadina) on the laser cutter. It worked out beautifully. I reused the SVG I tweaked after last week’s experiments. As it turns out, even with a 45″ one-way design, 1.5 yards is enough for a top, enough bias strips to bind the neckline and armholes, and two pairs of liner squares. There will be small scraps that I can use for other projects, too.

2015-04-14 21.52.43

This will be my 12th top, and I have the fabric for a 13th if I wanted to. I’m currently wearing the top that I laser-cut out of 100% Italian cotton. 100% cotton seems much more comfortably breathable than the polyester-cotton blend in the broadcloth that I practised with. Maybe I’ll do a few more tops as I come across colours and patterns that I like, and I’ll also gradually branch out to other patterns as well.

A checklist of things to try, fabric-wise:

  • Cotton
    • Fabric ordered online – maybe this cute Dr. Seuss fabric or something else from Jo-Ann (or maybe this one), to remind me to have fun
    • Something from Etsy
    • Fabric using someone else’s design, maybe off Spoonflower
    • Fabric I design
  • Stretch knit
  • Silk or other slippery fabrics

Mwahahaha. =)

2015-04-14d Laser-cutting fabric is awesome -- index card #laser #hacklab

2015-04-14d Laser-cutting fabric is awesome – index card #laser #hacklab

Thinking about my sewing next steps, particularly with the laser cutter

My laser-cutting experiment went well. I can use Hacklab’s laser to cut pieces of fabric for the plain tops I’ve been making. I sewed one up yesterday, and it was a breeze. The notches lined up, the dart lines were easy to follow, and everything came together neatly. So, what’s next?

  • I can use this new technique to sew a number of additional tops, perhaps in fabrics that are more breathable than the polyester broadcloth I developed my skills on.
  • I can look into decorative elements, maybe using fusible interfacing to stabilize the fabric (ex: http://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=1611). Appliqués? Cut-outs? Repeated patterns? I tend to prefer simple clothes, so I may just stick with cutting out the basics.
  • I can start exploring fabrics that were previously more intimidating, such as stretch fabrics (maybe a fitted cotton jersey shirt, or leggings for yoga?) and silk.

I think a few exercise tops or fitted T-shirts (self-drafting instructions) and a few leggings or pants (maybe following this tutorial) would be a good next step. I’ve seen bamboo at Designer Fabrics, so that might be good to work up to.

It’s a little hard to play around with patterns at home. Two of our cats love interfering with anything that involves concentration and flat surfaces, so sketching things on large pieces of paper sounds like an exercise in shooing them off. With the laser cutter, though, I can use Inkscape to draft and tweak the patterns, cut them precisely and reliably, and then sew them up to test the fit. If I’m lucky, I might even be able to use the sewing machine at Hacklab, further shortening the learning period.

It feels like such an odd luxury to pay attention to this instead of, say, spending the time consulting or programming or writing. But I think there might be something to the idea of infusing everyday objects with joy. I like wearing the tops I’ve sewn, as simple as they are. They remind me that:

  • I can learn things (even if I tried before and couldn’t figure things out),
  • I can make things (as simple or as neat as I want – so yes, straightforward curves, but what the heck,

let’s French seam everything), and

  • I never have to worry about things being out of style or out of stock again.

The peach one I’ve just sewn – the one from laser-cut pieces – adds even more meaning:

  • I can incorporate new tools into my interests
  • I should remember to test my assumptions. Sometimes there’s a much easier way to do things!
  • I can work on applying technology to everyday life and little luxuries, and other people are interested in this too

There’s something in here about getting more out of each moment, and I’m curious about that. =)