When I’m reading non-fiction, I usually progress chapter by chapter, purposefully stopping at the end of each one so that I can have time to process what I have just read. It’s a good time to write a note with my reaction to it. Today, I ended up in a very long and dense chapter and found a different kind of stopping point.
I am reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. After a while, I got to a new section in this long chapter that would have been a good place to stop, but I just kept going. About a page into it, he made a great point that I want to remember. I was excited to keep reading. But I put the book down.
I purposefully turned back a page so I have to read that part again. I know that the passage I just read is very propulsive and will make me want to read whatever follows, so I want it to be at the very beginning of the next session. It’s also keeping an open loop (in a good way) that makes me think about what I just read.
I have a policy never to write a negative reply to an opinion on the Internet. But I still sometimes have negative reactions. At first, I try to let it go. That works a lot, but not always.
If I find myself thinking about it the next day, then I need to do something just to get it out of my head. In Reframing Anxiety, I wrote about how I’ve come to see anxiety as as asset. I see my anxiety as the flip-side to conscientiousness, which I need to be successful. There’s another way anxiety is working for me now.
Part of what’s happening when you read social media and see an opinion you disagree with is that you imagine that you are in a live debate with that person and that you are losing. You imagine that everyone can see this, so (if you are prone to anxiety) your brain will keep it in your head. You think you can solve it with the perfect remark. The problem is that both sides of the argument think this, so it quickly escalates.
What I am doing instead is using that energy to write my own post here that expresses my opinion on the subject. I write it in a positive tone. I don’t refer to the original post. I don’t post it on social media. It’s just here on my site outside of the conversation.
My inability to let it go helps me fulfill my personal commitment to write every day and I’m grateful for that.
I don’t monetize this site directly, but it’s pretty much the only way I market myself.
I didn’t set out to do any of that. I write on this blog because it’s fun and I want to be a better writer. But, even this blog—a relatively obscure one in a space crowded by very similar voices—has made a significant impact on my career.
Sometimes I sit here on a Saturday and don’t feel like posting. Right now, though, I’m committed to trying to post something every day (even weekends) because I am doing this for fun. You’re supposed to do fun things on the weekend. To me, nothing is more fun than infinite games—games, like catch, that you play to play, not to win.
I am juggling a bunch of infinite games on the weekend. Saturday is also when I do my longest runs. I do more ambitious cooking on the weekend. I publish a new episode of my podcast every Sunday.
But, I have to admit, that being in a work mode on weekdays does make it easier to write. I mostly write what I notice while working. Today, I decided to write what I noticed while not working.
This month I published four episodes of the Write While True podcast. They are all part of the third season, which is loosely structured around the basic building blocks of writing and exercises related to that.
I journal in a Recurring Journal I made last year — it splits the year into four 13- week cycles where I journal the same day in the cycle in the quadrants of a two-page spread. We’re now in the in the third cycle—today is August 23rd, which I am journaling in the upper-right. In the upper-left quadrant, I see what I journaled on February 22nd, and in the bottom left quadrant, I see May 24th. Journaling this way gives me a chance to reflect on a similar day about 3 and 6 months ago.
The design of the journal makes sure that all four days on the spread are the same day of the week, which is why I use 13-week cycles instead of calendar quarters. A random Wednesday is August is a lot like a random Wednesday in February. For example, I can see a note from a recurring meeting with a mentee that I also met with today. I can see notes on my long-term project and feel a little joy in the progress I have made.
But, just as I noted in The Second 13 Weeks, the main benefit I am getting from journaling this way is that I rarely skip a day, and if I do, I backfill it. I know that I will be revisiting that day in the future, and it will be missed if it’s not there.
I already wrote about how my typing teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was a genius for telling us (in 1983) that we needed to learn how to type to work with computers. Another thing she did was have us make pictures by typing. She’d read out of a book with instructions: “10 spaces”, “2 semi colons”, “30 periods”, “4 dollar signs”, etc, etc. It would take the whole class and then we’d get a picture of JFK.
This came to mind yesterday after I started a new meetup group for Sarasota Software Developers, and I had to come up with a banner image for the page. I was just going to use a photo of a sunrise with some palm trees, which definitely reads as “Sarasota”, but I also wanted it have some element of “Software Developer” in it. I was going to composite something together, but then I thought that someone must have made some kind of ASCII art generator. I was right.
I saw this post about eating more plants from Mike Crittenden today. One suggestion is trying to hit 30 plants per week. As a vegan, I can get near 30 plants per day, but tonight I made a 3 course dinner for my wife and a neighbor.
Vietnamese style raw spring rolls in rice paper with 2 dipping sauces (peanut and sweet & sour)
There was also vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sriracha used in the dips and glazes. I use very little oil (tofu was made in an air fryer), but there was a little bit of olive and grapeseed oil. I’m sure I got to 30 plants.
If I was going for 30 plant ingredients, I’d have just added some blueberries and allspice to the dessert, dredged the tofu in corn starch, and added a few more plants/spices to the main dish (peas, turmeric, cayenne pepper, grape tomatoes).
If you’re looking for plant variety, look for vegan recipes, but even if you eat meat, I agree with Mike that you should add more plants and varieties of plants, which is easy to do if you are going for it.
I just finished a break where I traveled for four weeks to see family and friends in places I used to live (in NYC and New England). My intention was not to completely stop working, but that all of my projects would become much lower priority.
Here are some things that worked for me.
Banking content: I didn’t want to have to write every day and podcast every week, but I did want to keep the publishing schedule going. To do that, I pre-recorded five podcasts before I left and wrote many blog posts. I still wrote quite a bit during the break and did have to edit and post the podcasts, but it was much less work than normal.
Having a generation strategy: To make it a lot easier to make five podcasts in a couple of days, I did a four part series about lessons I learned from Art & Fear.
Lowering the bar: My goal in each podcast is to share something that is helping me in my writing with a clear takeaway. If I had that, I didn’t worry about the length.
Shutting off sometimes: Part of my trip was meant to be a real vacation, and during that time, I completely shut off.
Prioritizing relationships: I never turned down a chance to see my family or friends and made sure that my wife and I had plenty of time together as well. Everything else had to fit in between that.
Having fewer obligations: I do more projects alone or in partnerships that are trying to build modest businesses that can withstand me being away from it. My client work is more advisory and easy to schedule.
As I spoke about in my podcast, I did this exact same trip in 2021 and it completely derailed me. I did not set expectations correctly with a client and had to do a lot more work than I wanted to. I had to pare back everything to just work I was obligated to do and then kept that pattern for more than a year until I could get control again.
This time, using the strategies above, I was able to have the break I wanted and also keep projects going enough so that I could easily pick them back up when I returned.