Category Archives: life

Thinking about changing interests

I’ve gone through quite a lot of interests. Sometimes they combine in useful ways, like the way coding and writing are imbued into practically all the other interests I have. Sometimes they last for years, and sometimes they’re over in months. From other people’s stories, I get the sense that this will likely continue throughout my life. =)

I want to do this better – the cultivation of interests, and the occasional letting go. Why do I want to do it better? I want to minimize the risk of being in the following situations:

  • When I overcommit to an interest:
    • Spending more money, time, or space than an interest needs
    • Making long-term promises (ex: speaking, organizing) that I might feel weird about
  • When I find myself in a lull because I haven’t cultivated my interests enough:
    • Recognizing temporary interest distance and accepting or working around it
    • Accepting the feeling of being a beginner and getting to the point of enjoyment
    • Letting go at the apppropriate point

In addition to those downsides, I want to make better use of the upsides:

  • During the initial period of fascination, I want to take unselfconscious notes
  • As my interest matures, I want to get better at seeking and organizing information, and then coming up with my own thoughts
  • I want to get better at drawing connections between interests and taking advantage of the combinations

So I’d like to learn more about how I think and learn. What kinds of things am I interested in? Why do my interests change? What stages do I go through? How can I make just the right level of commitment, feeding fledgling interests without adding too much weight to them, building on mature interests without stretching them too far, and taking breaks or letting go gracefully without flaking out? Should I focus on developing interest persistence, or get better at going with the flow?

Here’s an example of an interest I’m thinking through: I like Emacs and its community. I seem to get into Emacs cyclically. For a few months each year, I spend a lot of time looking closely at how I use Emacs and learning from what other people do. I hang out in Emacs communities, pay attention to mailing lists, tweak my config, write blog posts, sometimes create resources. (My Emacs geekery really is quite oddly rhythmic. Here’s the data by month since Nov 2011.)

Then other things take my attention, and I drift off. I haven’t tweaked my configuration or written an Emacs-related blog post in a while. I’ll get back to it at some point, I know – the oddest thing will bring me back: some idea or question – but in the meantime, I’m fine with letting it be for now.

But I’ve set up monthly Emacs Hangouts on my calendar and in Google+ events, because precommitting to those means that they happen. And there’s some kind of an Emacs Conference that I think would be an excellent idea, but I haven’t been able to muster the energy to do the kind of social outreach that I think would be needed in order to get the schedule sorted out. And there are the occasional requests for help that come in, even though I don’t feel I can contribute even a fraction of what http://emacs.stackexchange.com/ or the relevant mailing lists could.

I feel like it would be good for me to be closer to that interest, but there are other things on my mind at the moment, so I leave things hanging. I’ll be there for the Emacs Hangouts I’ve set up, but I haven’t felt like doing anything else lately: lining up people for Emacs Chat podcasts, writing or drawing a review of Mastering Emacs, exploring the awesome new packages that are out there…

On the other hand, I know that sometimes all it takes is a little time immersing myself in it: checking out StackExchange questions or IRC conversations, reading source code, going through my long TODO list of Emacs things to learn. Likely that will kickstart my interest.

In the meantime, this lull itself is curious and interesting, because I rarely get to pay attention to feelings like this. It feels odd to be a little bit distant from Emacs and reading books, two of my long-term interests. Writing, drawing, coding, and data analysis continue to be interesting. My sewing is on hold; I think keeping myself to one type of garment a year seems like a good way to avoid burnout. Gardening has been slowed to the pace that nature keeps. I notice a fledgling interest in cognitive research and psychology.

I’m taking it easy, fanning interest when I can and relaxing when I feel like doing that instead. A mix of routine and freedom helps, I think. I like writing and coding in the morning. Sometimes it takes a little effort to get started, especially with writing, but then I get going. In the afternoon, it’s okay to relax.

I don’t think that my values and the things that tickle my brain have changed, so I’ll probably return to my long-term interests once my new interests settle down and get integrated. They’ll be richer for it too, like the way coding got better when I added writing, and writing got better when I added drawing. In the meantime, I’m curious about charting the shifts in my focus and making the most of them.

Hmm, I wonder if this is related to my hesitation around the Quantified Self talk we’re planning for November: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to give the enthusiastic performance that I imagine newcomers would find helpful…

Aha! I think that might explain it. By myself, I’m okay with the shifts in my interests. I just try to take good notes and share them along the way. Social commitments add friction to interest-changing because I don’t want to flake out and I don’t want to fake things, which is why I’m reluctant to make plans even if I miss out on opportunities because I don’t want to do so. However, it would probably be good for me to know how to work with this, because social commitments are a good way to help make things that are bigger than yourself. If I remind myself that (a) at the core, I’m still likely to enjoy the things that drew me to that interest in the first place, and (b) it’s not the end of the world even if I mess up, that might help me reduce the anxiety around essentially making a promise that future me will still have the same passions that people are drawn to in the present. So I’m likely to still avoid making big commitments (say, no convincing people to quit their jobs and start a company with me), but I can practise with the small ones I have.

At the moment, I think I’ll still want someone else to take point on organizing the Emacs Conference speaker schedule, but I can re-evaluate that in two weeks, and we can always move it further out if needed. I should be able to handle the Quantified Self talk – worst-case scenario is I don’t manage to inspire and connect with people, but I don’t expect a small 1-hour talk to change people’s lives that much anyway. So it’s okay even if I don’t feel 100% there in terms of the interests right now. I have enough good memories to know I’ll probably feel that way about those interests again soon, so I can plan accordingly.

It’s a little odd teasing apart temporary factors and long-term factors in my mind, but I’m glad I can sit and write my way through it. In the meantime, I’ll focus on keeping my experiences of those interests pleasant, tickling my brain whenever I can. There’s so much depth to each interest that I don’t really need to add more. But on the other hand, the combinations can be quite interesting, so I’ll explore away. =)

Various cooking-related notes

Posting them since I want to be able to find them again someday, and because it’s good to bring scattered ideas together once in a while.

2015-03-08c Getting better at cooking -- index card #cooking

2015-03-08c Getting better at cooking – index card #cooking

In terms of organization: we now have an index-cards-and-magnets kanban on the fridge door, tracking three states: “Get groceries for”, “Cook”, and “Eat”. Seems okay so far, but time will tell if we stick with it. =) Still have to work through more of the raw ingredients in the freezer. Lots of new recipes and food types, though!

2015-05-27c Getting better at cooking -- index card #kaizen #cooking #learning

2015-05-27c Getting better at cooking – index card #kaizen #cooking #learning

It’s fun to break skills down into smaller aspects I can work on. I’m working on knowing what kinds of tastes I like, which involves both trying out new recipes and tweaking the ones that we have.

2015-05-05d Flexible cooking -- index card #cooking

2015-05-05d Flexible cooking – index card #cooking

Speaking of waste reduction and flexibility, it’s nice to slowly accumulate a stock of recipes that can accommodate odds and ends. =)

2015-05-04d Chicken chicken chicken -- index card #cooking

2015-05-04d Chicken chicken chicken – index card #cooking

Our rotisserie is getting lots of use. Yum!

2015-04-28d Japanese curry combination -- index card #variety #meal-planning #cooking #japanese

2015-04-28d Japanese curry combination – index card #variety #meal-planning #cooking #japanese

I sometimes plan using the five-colours, five-ways method from Japanese cooking. Curry is surprisingly colourful (brown beef, green peas, yellow potatoes, red carrots, white rice). Omu-rice is colourful too. Nice to have these dishes!

2015-01-26 Shepherd's pie -- index card #cooking

2015-01-26 Shepherd’s pie – index card #cooking

Also nice and colourful.

2015-02-05 Biscotti -- index card #cooking #baking

2015-02-05 Biscotti – index card #cooking #baking

I’m pretty comfortable making biscotti now. Eventually I’ll work my way through the supermarket snacks aisle. ;)

2015-05-25b Japanese cheesecake -- index card #cooking

2015-05-25b Japanese cheesecake – index card #cooking

Yummy! So nice and fluffy. Uses much less cream cheese compared to the classic Philadelphia cheesecake recipe on the box of cream cheese. I like both types.

2015-03-16e Decision - Slow cooker -- index card #decision #cooking

2015-03-16e Decision – Slow cooker – index card #decision #cooking

Still no slow cooker, since simmering things on the stove works out fine for us and we don’t need its timing capabilities.

It’s starting to feel like summer, so it’s a good time to eat fruits, leafy vegetables, and salads. Looking forward to exploring more tastes and recipes!

Fuzzy brain; also Ni No Kuni

Low energy both physically and mentally today, but I managed to squeeze in a 90-minute walk that included the library and the supermarket, so my walking streak continues. I can feel the fuzziness start to encroach, so ah well. Time to indulge a little. Aside from the walk and the usual chores, in fact, I spent practically the entire day playing Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

I like playing role-playing games, particularly ones that are forgiving enough to let you restart or change your mind if a battle’s too much for you. I enjoy watching the story unfold, and I like slowly getting the hang of the battle system and character development.

I prefer turn-based games like Persona 4 Golden where you have a little time to review the situation and think about what you’re going to do. But Ni no Kuni is such a pretty game – gorgeous visuals and sound (Studio Ghibli! the Tokyo Philharmonic!) – that I’m working on getting the hang of the real-time battle system. I expect the game to take me a while, though. This is good, because I happen to have said while.

There are many things I could do with my time, and I’m sure they’ll rise higher on my list after I settle in. There’ll be time enough for other things.

Laptops and lap cats

If I sit on the couch, it doesn’t take long before one of our three cats decides my lap is a much nicer place to hang out than wherever they were before.

If I pre-empt them by keeping my laptop on my lap, they’ll try to squeeze in between my keyboard and me anyway. I could ignore them and keep typing, but it’s kinda nice when the cats decide to spend time with me (even if I suspect they’re just using me as a soft radiator).

2015-05-04f Laptops and lap cats -- index card #life #cats

2015-05-04f Laptops and lap cats – index card #life #cats

Since this occurs fairly regularly, I’ve given it some thought. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

2015-03-12b On cats and laps -- index card #life #cats

2015-03-12b On cats and laps – index card #life #cats

My effective typing speed when I’m trying to explore a thought is around 16 words per minute, so I don’t lose much by typing on my phone instead of my laptop. It would help to keep a USB charger within easy reach, though. Sometimes I switch my tablet PC to tablet mode and draw on the side, or hand-write things.

One of our cats can be tempted off a lap when someone else gets up off the couch and leaves a warm spot. This is good to know, because she’s the one who occasionally digs in with her claws if you try to prematurely shoo her off your lap. We’ve also discovered that she can be persuaded to leave your lap if you angle yourself out very slowly, but she’ll complain a lot along the way.

I’ve tried just cuddling the cats until they decide they’ve had enough. Sometimes they’ll get a little pointy while still insisting on staying in your lap. Also, one of our cats doesn’t actually have an upper limit to cuddling and will happily fall asleep on your lap, so…

Shifts in my writing

Sometimes, when I sit down to draw my five index cards of the day, I have a hard time delineating five interesting thoughts – things I want to remember or share. They often seem so inward-turned.

I was thinking about the shape of my blog, too. I feel like I’ve shifted from a lot of technical posts to a lot of reflective posts. Possibly less interesting for other people, but useful to me. It’s hard to tell. These are the kinds of posts I’ve been starting to find useful in other people’s blogs, anyway, so who knows? Maybe these things are interesting for other people too.

It’s wonderful to be able to flip back through my archive and see the patterns over time. Of the 2,800+ posts in my index as of April 2015, I’d classify around 170 as mostly reflective. (Totally quick classification, just eyeballing the titles and categories in my index.) Here’s the breakdown:

Year Reflections
2008 4
2009 9
2010 20
2011 7
2012 25
2013 20
2014 59
2015 25
Grand Total 169

While writing a recent post, I searched my archives to trace the evolution of my understanding of uncertainty over several years. I can remember not having these snapshots of my inner world. When I reviewed ten years of blog posts in preparation for compiling Stories from My Twenties in 2013, I was surprised by how many technical and tip-related blog posts I skipped in favour of keeping the memories and the questions, and the sense of things missing from my memories. Maybe that’s why I wrote almost three times the number of reflective posts in 2014 as I did in the previous year. 2014 was also the year I switched the focus of my experiment from other-work to self-work, and that might have something to do with it too. I’m glad I have those thinking-out-loud, figuring-things-out posts now.

The end of April was around 33% of the way through the year, so I’m slightly ahead of last year’s reflective-post-density (expected: 20 posts, actual: 25). Comments are rare, but I’ve learned a lot from them.

I’m fascinated by the ten-year journals you can buy in bookstores. They give you ways of bumping into your old selves, noticing the differences. I like the way blogs give me a little bit more space to write, though. =) Here’s a slice of my life going through May 14:

I have shifted. I focus on different things. I like the direction I’m going in. I can imagine, years from now, getting very good at asking questions, describing and naming elusive concepts, and exploring the options. If it seems a little awkward now, that’s just the initial mediocrity I have to get through. Hmm…

From dreams to experiments

Since my childhood, my parents have always told me to follow my dreams. It wasn’t just the usual maxim passed on from books and the child-raising culture of the time. I had proof of the power of dreams in the adventures of my father.

I talked to my parents last weekend. They’re a little worried about me during this amorphous 5-year experiment with semi-retirement. Am I doing okay? Am I following my dreams?

At that moment, I realized that I’d found something that resonates with me even more than dreams do. I’m not following my dreams. I’m doing something stranger and more exciting to me. I’m experimenting.

2015-05-10e Plans, dreams, and experiments -- index card #experiment #mindset

2015-05-10e Plans, dreams, and experiments – index card #experiment #mindset

I’d reflected on the difference between plans and experiments, and dreams are like that too. A plan has a certain end. A dream is a plan with passion and maybe a long-term story: “I’ve always wanted to…”. There’s that sense of certainty when you’re following your dream. You know where you want to go, and you know what progress you’re making towards it. You can feel it in every fibre.

I want something else.

I want the experiment. Uncertainty. Learning. I seek out in myself where the vision is still uncertain, where there’s not enough data from other people’s lives.

It’s neat being able to trace my growth over time. In 2012, I became more comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” In 2013, I started letting go of the need for certainty, for clearly defined passions. In 2014, I found a metaphor that resonated with me: exploration. Now I know that I want this more than I want to check off boxes. I find myself the most curious about the things that are hardest to explain, going further away from common experience.

I could not have dreamed what I’m learning now. I’m well into territory that my younger self couldn’t have imagined. I didn’t know it was possible, then. Even now, I don’t know the full range of possibilities. I’m not entirely clear on what awesomeness would look like. But I’m curious, and exploring is its own adventure. Wherever I end up, I’m sure it will be somewhere my present self can’t picture.

I don’t dream of being happy, and it’s not something I pursue. That’s is because I am happy. I see happiness as a deliberate response to the world: a steadfast focus on what’s good about life.

If I strive for anything, it’s equanimity. But even that is in my grasp as soon as I want it. Equanimity isn’t a destination to arrive at. It’s something to practice. Only time and trial can tell.

Aside from equanimity, what else is there to want? I’m as comfortable as I could be: roof, food, resources, tools, community, access to knowledge. Even those things are not essential. People have lived greater lives with less.

I don’t dream of mansions or influence or fame. I don’t need to wait for these things. Knowing that makes me free to appreciate and make the most of my current life.

I want a mind that takes everything as fuel. I want to turn both victories and obstacles into springboards. A thought: How can I intensify this experiment? How can I get better at learning?

  • Reading and re-reading can help me identify role models, build on other people’s wisdom, find the words to describe what I’m thinking, and combine interesting ideas.
  • Developing practical skills increases my independence and enjoyment. Sewing, electronics, and woodworking might be good candidates to focus on.
  • Writing and drawing might help me find people who resonate with these ideas. If I’m lucky, we might even explore them together.
  • With self-care as a solid foundation, I can slowly grow outwards to encompass more within my circle of influence.
  • To do that, I’m learning more about playing with the world: negotiating changes, developing relationships, applying energy and enthusiasm. We’ll see how it turns out!

It’s odd – I’m still not a big fan of uncertainty when it comes to physical space. Spur-of-the-moment road trips? That would drive me up the wall. I like having autonomy and being able to manage my levels of stimulation. But there are some kinds of uncertainty in life that have a different flavour to them, and that’s what I want to explore.

Is this, then, my dream? It seems so different from the usual dreams that it’s understandably hard for other people to understand. It feels constantly novel and evolving, instead of being a fixed North Pole for my journey. It is what it is, I guess, and I’ll explore it while I have the space to do so.