Around the end of every year I always start thinking about goals and reflecting on the past. I suppose that’s good. This essay started as a couple notes to myself but I decided publish it to share with a couple folks. To those of you who got a link to this page, it’s way better than the card my wife would have whipped up and I signed. Or maybe just a cathartic exercise in reflection and self importance. Regardless, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter solstice1, and Saturnalia2. We only did a few cards this year. I’ll try to make this note a bit personal so that we might feel connected. I’d sincerely ask how you’re doing if I had seen you in person this year. You’re welcome to send me a response anyway to let me know. Regardless, I hope you and your’s are doing well and would like to wish y’all a happy new year.
Well. My year? Let’s see… the first quarter was made up of a bunch of home renovation projects, summer was pretty much slacking on work to play tennis, and the last quarter has been mostly me ratcheting up work to catch up on the cost of said improvements from the first quarter. I think we spent twice what we had budgeted. I had always heard that would be the case. Oh well, It was well worth it. Our abode is where we spend our time and we’ve put our some sweat equity into it. Literally… we found ourselves mid summer rebuilding our deck in the South Carolina heat. My development work has shifted a bit in the last six months. Although I’ve been enjoying the challenge of being immersed in learning new tools, I’ve also been struggling with the fact that my pace isn’t as quick as it once was. Ginny has been doing double time as well taking on new responsibilities in her work world. It’s paid off though and we’re about caught up on the renovation costs. Otherwise, I’m very happy to say that our concerns are relatively few. Our dog Zeke turned 17 this year. He’s slowed way down and we just want him to pass peacefully in his sleep even though we’ve been telling ourselves that he has a couple more in him. We have 93 and a 97 year old grandmothers who we wish the same. I’ve got a younger brother who’s health issues with Crohn’s disease are concerning. My eyesight. I’m getting closer to 50 and I’m pretty sure these computer screens are taking a toll on my eyes. I’ve got three pairs of reading glasses lying around the house, but I don’t carry a pair around and haven’t seen an optometrist yet. I’ve gotten to where I just ask Ginny to read me menus and other print when we’re out. It just kinda snuck up on me to where I was starting to get headaches from eye strain when working. It’s been my second real wake up about my own age.
Health and aging would be one of my 2019 themes. Several years ago… 2014. Six years now. Time flies. I really made a hard turn on my health. The reason being is that I thought I was having a heart attack one night. After a bunch of test, it turned out to be a panic attack and heartburn. You make a lot of promises to yourself when you think you’re dying. I quit smoking finally… and I say finally because I had been on and off, mostly on, for the previous ten years. I used to get up and drink an entire pot of coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes while sitting at my desk. I’m pretty sure that cut into a couple years of my life. In the last six years, I exercising regularly and I eat healthy. Aside from my own mortality, both of my parents are starting to get up there in years. I’m sure that, not unlike everyone who proclaims their new years resolutions to be about health and diet, aging might sound like a dull year end theme. Alright. It Is… Let’s talk about figuring out how to live healthily until at least 2070. Now that’s better. Makes it look like time is a long stretch of road ahead. It’s much more fun to be future focused. After having done the renovations here, we’ve been putting some serious thought into custom designing and building a new house. A sustainable net-zero house with some land for a small farm. That’ll be another chapter though for a different year end summary.
Another thing that has persistently stayed on my mind 2019 is something I’ve been trying really hard to work on in the last five months trying to complete a couple projects. It’s a bit abstract so bear with me. It’s mostly about focus and anxiety. I think the idea of retiring and more specifically investing money is what started me down this trail. The idea that I could make money off of money without working has been sounding oh so nice especially since I knew the bulls would make a run. The reality is that I also started reading the news again daily. I had stopped for the previous five years or so. I feel like it’s stolen my time and energy. I’m not sure it’s all worth it. I’m a pretty anxious person to begin with, but I’d say that anxiety could be part of the general zeitgeist in the last several years. I had been trying desperately to purposefully disengage from connective-ness as a means to simplify and make my life more rewarding. You know the ‘be here now’3 mantra. As I moved past my understanding that the anxiety of constant connection is mostly manufactured tool designed to take your attention, personal information, and sell you shit. The addictive apps, the infinite content streams, the apocalyptic headlines, the political postering, and the exploitation of our psychological weaknesses. These are all very much manufactured anxiety which some have dubbed the attention economy. The closest explanation to this trend that I’ve come up with is that we have essentially invented a new communications medium of which we are unequipped to use in the most appropriate means. I’ve started to frame that same sort of information age ‘era’ thinking to other events as well. I read a long paper on peak oil this year from a series of energy companies and soon thereafter was able to quickly frame the whole of current climate debate and regional political struggles into a framework. Using that sort of long range thinking has helped me frame any discussion about the current headlines and relegate them into more digestible bits that make sense in context. My point here is this… being consciously aware that the the world around you is dizzyingly complex and the information thereof is moving at unconscionable speed. The “Turn on, Tune in, drop out”4 approach is why I think you’re seeing things like legal cannabis, the opioid epidemic, minimalism evangelists, mega-churches with rock music, organizational coaches, and everyone acting like they do yoga even though it’s mostly just wearing the pants. To me, it’s all evidence that part of our collective consciousness is trying to counteract the effects of the information age.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. FOCUS. How to avoid distraction in lieu of meaningful awareness. I’m not sure I have the answer yet. I try to set all kinds of rules for myself. I think that maybe it just might be a luxury to be unfocused. My essay on the 20 hour work week from last year might be supporting evidence. Kierkegaard writes “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself.”5 I’m certainly not in much of an existential crisis even though evidently a lot of folks are since I just saw that ‘existential’ was the word of the year for something or another. Mine is more of a “be here now” mindfulness approach to life that I’m working on. I am trying to be very mindful of the affects that all of my actions have on a daily basis. I’ve grown from dealing with issues of attention and anxiety. I often find the later to be a source of motivation6,7. I think Herman Hess’ Glass Bead Game8 nails this theme since he wrote it in anxiety prone times with the message that wisdom is only when knowledge is applied to the real world. I encourage everyone I know to take control of their attention and don’t let the systematic influence of the information age give you anxiety. Put down the endorphin driving devices and tune into the world around you. This is coming from someone who legitimately suffers from periods of hypo and hyper focus. I think the reason I took the time to write this essay today is because I told my better half this morning over coffee that sometimes when I have ‘flow’9 answers just seem come to me. I had an early morning epiphany of sorts in that I am constantly reminded that when I have the mindset of just trying to be helpful to my fellow human beings things just tend to work out and when I’m mired in the self protection and competition they don’t. Yesterday morning I mentioned to her that my driving force is curiosity and that the reason I appear to be lucky in life is because I turn over a lot of stones.
Here’s to being helpful and flipping those stones in 2020.
- Winter solstice – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice
- Saturnalia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia
- Be Here Now https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Here_Now_(book)
- Turn on, tune in, drop out – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn_on,_tune_in,_drop_out
- The Concept of Anxiety – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Anxiety
- Kierkegaard on Why Anxiety Powers Creativity Rather Than Hindering it –https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/19/kierkegaard-on-anxiety-and-creativity/
- Kierkegaard On Using Existential Anxiety to One’s Advantage – https://medium.com/@mustaphahitani/kierkegaard-on-using-existential-anxiety-to-ones-advantage-5ec266dc9b45
- The Glass Bead Game – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game
- Flow (psychology) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)
Update – 12/28/19: Ram Dass died December 22nd. That’s really weird how I was wrote this essay the days prior and had listened to two of his lectures in the previous days. Maybe the ‘be here now’ mantra has me more ‘in tune’ than I’m even aware of. As he said “The next message you need is always right where you are” and “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Dass