Handing the Conversation Back


For reasons I do not understand, a couple months ago I started the experiment of handing conversations back to people when they offered them to me, and waiting to see how long until they handed said conversation back to me again. I would like to say I've been shocked and surprised by the data I've gathered, but I'm really not.

The experiment goes something like this:

Them: "Something really interesting! Let me talk for a bit about this interesting thing. Okay, I've talked about this interesting thing long enough. How are things with you?"

Me: "I'm good. I'm doing this thing. What do you think about this?"

Them: "Why, I think this way about this thing! As a matter of fact, I'm going to talk a long while about this thing that leads into this other thing. I'm going to continue talking for a while."

Okay, okay, the conversations don't really go like that. But they don't really not go like that. And I find the structure of my conversations with friends, strangers, acquaintances, family, coworkers, and adversaries all pretty much go this way, and all of them are fascinating in their consistency.

This isn't to say I'm bored in the conversations. Quite the contrary, I am far, far, far more fascinated and interested in conversations these last few months than I think I have been in a long, long time, possibly ever. I listen to my conversation partner, because I don't need to speak, I don't need to interrupt, I don't need to figure out how to counter an argument or top their story, I don't need to get my point across, because all I need to do is listen and wait for them to hand the conversation back to me.

I started this experiment because I noticed, and immediately hated in myself, that I interrupt. I interrupt a lot. I believe this habit has developed from working in Silicon Valley and in tech, where to be heard, I had to interrupt, because all the guys were interrupting. When the style of speaking is to be an asshole, you're an asshole to fit in. And when you stop, look at what you've become, and decide you don't like it, you change. This experiment was my way of changing, my way of watching (myself and others), my way of becoming who I want to be.

And it has been FASCINATING. I love it. The closest people to me didn't even notice I started doing it. We all like to talk about ourselves, it's hard to see when someone else isn't talking.

What do you think? Is this your experience, too? « I just handed the conversation back to you.

But Not Today


Sometimes a day is a day when you are overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation for family or friends who bring food over when you call them to tell them you lost track of time and forgot to make the dinner you invited them over to eat.

Sometimes a day is a day when you are told to be the adult in a relationship, and you're able to answer, I'm ahead of you by a month, I already extended the olive branch, he hasn't taken it, ball's in his court.

Sometimes a day is the eve of a journey that could fulfill a childhood dream, and you are overwhelmed by that realization.

And sometimes, a day is just a day.

But not today. Today, was a day.

This is My Helping Me


Travelling is a great way to test even the most patient person's patience, and I am, by far, not the most patient person.

Yet, I've been working on that detail of my personality. I can't say I'm becoming more patient, but, who knows, I might be. Or what I'm experiencing is a New Year's enthusiasm for all things new and shiny, including a new and shiny me.

In no order other than "this is how I recalled them," things I've found to be helping me:

1. Experience

For traveling, at least, experience helps a lot in being patient.

When you travel a lot, you know where the rough edges are, and you find ways to cope. Flights are always going to be late, cancelled, delayed, longer, something other than perfect. Every flight will have That One Person, the asshole, the jerk, the stinky one, the drunk one, the American™. The wifi won't work. The person in the seat next to you will take up 6" of your seat, or manspread into your space. The aisle passenger will roll her eyes when you want to use the lavatory for the fourth time on this four hour flight. The plane was changed and you are in the middle seat. The passenger in front of you drops his seat back into your computer, breaking the display off the base.

Experience provides options. Experience helps you find the quiet spots in the terminal to do pushups. Experience means you travel enough that you know where the Club is at hub airports, and have a favorite spot at many of them. Experience gives you the confidence to say no to other passenger's requests that you move forward, give up the seat you paid extra for, or take the window seat. Experience helps you smile when you want to scream, because you understand the stress that parent is in when trying to wrangle two suitcases and the three year old who is crying. Experience means you talk to the passengers next to you, if even briefly, to compliment their backpack, ask about the stickers on their passport, or offer to help place their bags.

Experience means you accept this is what travel is: rough edges and all, it is pretty damn amazing.

2. The Happiness Lab

I started listening to The Happiness Lab podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos (you have to have that whole thing, including the "with me, Dr. Laurie Santos," when you hear "the Happiness Lab"). "Our brains are constantly telling us how to be happy, but what if our brains are wrong?" The podcast is wonderful. If one is to take away only one lesson from the podcast, is that happiness, like everything else in this life worth having takes effort.

There are a lot of Stoic teachings in the podcast episodes. Many of the lessons and commentary in the series have studies I've already heard of, some I've even applied. Doesn't matter. We all need these reminders.

I very much enjoy Dr. Santos' enthusiasm. I signed up for her Yale class on Coursera The Science of Well-Being. I am doing this. It's been great.

3. Having a purpose

I've been telling many people about my current project, codenamed Tiamat. When things go pear-shaped, I deal with the bottom half as best I can, then set aside the worries and stresses, and focus on Tiamat. Being able to say, "This sucks, but it doesn't matter," helps a lot when needing to be patient with crap.

4. Nonconfabulation

This one is particularly helpful for me. Don't read too much into that statement, it would be particularly helpful for anyone.

When we hear a piece of news, we create stories in our heads to match this new piece of information to what we already know. Many, many, many times, we make up a story that fits our world view, and it is completely full of shit. That process of making up shit to fit our own storylines is called "confabulation." Best not to do it. Far far far better is to accept actual reality, not the crap we just made up with incomplete data.

Best thing to do after making up a story is asking, "Is it true?" followed by, "Are you sure?"

I'd venture to guess close to 100% of the time, the answer is no for most people. The correct answer is more likely, "I don't know." So, stop assuming the worst, and go find more data / information before continuing.

5. Books

Last year was a Year of Non-Fiction for me. I managed to read about 60% non-fiction, instead of my usual 3% non-fiction for the year (a number I made up based on some evidence, but not accurately calculated). The higher non-fiction count was the result of deliberate choice. I had commented to Jonathan about a book I had read, that I was disappointed in it: it had no moral, no real character arc, no lesson to learn. Jonathan had asked me what I learned from most books I read, weren't they as mindless consuming as his watching youtube all day? The question is valid, and my response was to read non-fiction books until I had stalled and had to binge on fiction. The realization that history books are exactly what I like (as in, "a story"), definitely shaped which non-fiction books I picked up.

Reading takes me into a state a flow. Listening to audiobooks doesn't achieve that flow state, but reading does. I love that state feeling.

I just need to watch out for when books become a way to escape. Then it's back to addressing the issues at hand.

So, yeah, my patience, still not a thing of beauty. I'm working on it. I'm doing better. Let this be a note to future self, "I gotchu."

My New Four* Questions


I met up with Moazam for lunch today. He is loaning me a water-proof, at least water-resistant, backpack for my next adventure, and was willing to have lunch with me during the exchange.

I'm really grateful that he's willing to loan me the backpack. I was ready to spend money on more equipment, but not really excited about spending the money for equipment I'd use once, maybe a couple times. Borrowing infrequent use items is part of my new purchasing process, which includes four* questions I've started asking myself before purchasing anything new.

My questions are:

1a. Do I need this?
1b. Will this bring me (immense) joy?

These two questions eliminate most purchases. I didn't need many of my purchases in the last decade. I've cut back a lot in the last year, but I'm not fully mindful of my purchases yet. These two questions help a lot, because if I don't need this item, and it won't bring me joy or happiness or usefulness, why buy it? I don't need to impress someone else, I've opted out of the social signaling of wealth / youth / strength / riches / power, so purchases to keep up with the Jones are thankfully not an issue.

2. Where will I put this?

If I don't know immediately where I would put this new thing, buying it is a bad idea. Recently, when Jonathan bought a new car, he didn't have a garage to put it in during the winter. That added a lot of stress to a purchase that should have been fun and exciting. My stuff is spread across four states and two countries, how horrible is that? (Okay, admittedly more weird than horrible, but it means I've made duplicate purchases, and that's a needless waste). If I'm going to buy something and won't use it, again, what's the point? If I don't have a place for the new thing, don't buy it.

3. Can I borrow this? Rent it?

And this is the magic question. If I need it, but don't have a place for it, could I borrow someone else's, or even rent the thing for when I need it. A fancy camera isn't going to be much use for me, as I don't use them except for specific adventures. A waterproof backpack isn't likely to become an EDC (every day carry), as I value other features for a backpack (shape, security) over waterproof. Maybe I need to rent a fast car to get the need for speed out of my system. I don't need to own a tiller, I can rent one for four hours, use it, and return it, and not worry about where to store the thing or what maintenance I didn't do on the thing. Borrowing and renting are great alternatives.

4a. Is it consumable?
4b. Will this last the rest of my life?

These last two questions are definitely on the opposite ends of the same continuation. If the object is consumable, I'm more likely to say yes. I will nearly always say yes to food, and order what I want off a menu, not really looking at the price other than to establish a set point for bill expectations. I'll buy nicer toilet paper because scratchy toilet paper is unpleasant.

And I'll buy nice things that will, as far as I can tell, endure, when what I want isn't consumable and I can expect it to last a long time. Silverware is one of those long lasting items. Most pots and pans are those long lasting items. Computers can last a long, long time, longer than some people allow them to go. I'm rather stubborn with my cars and computers. I use both of mine far, far longer than many people will.

So far, with my questions, I've saved money. New year, new financial mindset. I like it so far.

Possibly unrelated, when you have really really spicy food, and your mouth is still burning an hour later, In-N-Out milkshakes are the perfect coolant. Recommended.

* -ish. Actually six, but two are multi-part, exploring the same idea from different directions.

Starting the Year off Right


To my great surprise, I did stay up last night until after midnight. I know, I know! For someone who has been going to bed at 8pm, midnight is crazy late!.

The late night meant "sleeping in" until 8am, at which point Chase was pacing, and breathing heavily, not quite whining, but not quite not whining, and as comfortable as the bed was, Beagle called. The walk was a brisk morning walk, around the normal morning route, but Beagle was ALL FULL OF SNIFFIES! I would have guessed this was a new route with the cataloging he was doing for every delta.

We arrived back at the house with enough time for me to figure out with Cads where I was going to meet up with him. I grabbed a couple mandarin oranges (so good!), the rest of my cashews, and dashed out.

When I arrived at the hiking spot, I was so delighted. Not only did the trailhead have a parking lot, it also had a restroom (with a composting toilet) at the end. YAY! So, of course, I went to use it. As I was walking up to the small building, a small person, a boy of maybe three, declared, "I need to go potty." He was surprised when I responded, "I do, too." He whirled around to his dad, who was laughing a bit at both my response and his kid's reaction. It was adorable.

What was less adorable was the screaming that started 10 seconds after I left the restroom. The little boy was after me, and darted around me as I started talking with his dad after leaving the restroom. The door was heavy, and swung closed as the boy was reaching for it, slamming his fingers in the closed door. I had no idea what was happening, his mother explained after rushing over and understanding what was happening. I felt so bad.

Thankfully, Cads and family arrived a few minutes later, and I experienced instead much joy as I met Emma, Soren, and Morgan. I should say, FINALLY met Emma, having heard various good stories about her for two decades. Also, wonderful hugger. Morgan was terribly shy, and Soren was delightfully charming. Picket and Scout rounded out our hiking troupe, and off we went after another reminder to never miss an opportunity and a pit stop. With the delightful reminder, I was grinning wide.

We had a wonderful time hiking up and around the bluffs. The hike itself wasn't hard, a few steep parts that slowed conversation, but most flat, making conversation easy. I heard about Cads' successful Ironman with a fantastic time, about some work adventures, and family fun. I heard about Emma's friends trying for 3 and having 4, both families gender balanced. I heard about Soren's designs, passion for normal cars and their designs, and his explorations in search of a passion project. I heard about Morgan's desire for the beach, and saw her fascination with the water. We all saw a heron, quite comfortable with people, standing on the edge of the bluff, cautious of but okay with people.

I love the idea of passion projects, not only for adults, but for everyone. Something you are interested in and work towards, something that sustains you, that you turn to in delight and need. Just love the idea. I've had many, but not necessarily so well named and defined.

I was a bit sad to leave the family mid-hike. We needed to adjust where we hiked, as the beach we were above didn't allow dogs (marine sanctuary), so the timing worked out well, and off I went to my next social delight of the day.

I arrived at Estelle and Amie's house and, as I approached the house, greeted Amie who was working in the garage, garage door open. I asked if I could take them out for lunch, to which Amie asked, "Does she know you're coming?" Happily, she did. They've been updating their house, so I was given a tour of the great changes they had made. Lots of it looked fantastic, and like a lot of effort.

When I asked, hey, where can I take you to lunch, Estelle hesitantly asked, "Is In-N-Out okay?" Oh, hell yes! Delightedly, Amie said yes when we asked, "I'm embracing surprise and uncertainty," and off we went down the hill. We arrived, ordered, and sat down.

We're number 1!Shortly after sitting down, a guy wandered over to our table and hovered. Confused, I looked up at him to see what was up, and the guy was Adam Brown! OMG I jumped up and hugged him, then introduced him to Estelle and Amie, and he reminded me of his wife's name, Natasha, and asked if I'd like to meet his daughter. More SQUEEEEE with all the cute kids today. I was sad that I couldn't spend more time with Adam, catch up and all, so excused myself and asked if we could catch up in a month or two. Love the serendipity of the moment!

I asked Estelle and Amie about their recent adventures, and heard all about their trip to Asia. Oh, the stories they told, cracking me up. Those two are delightful story tellers. I suspect we could have stayed there all afternoon telling stories, but a large man sat on the seat behind Amie, causing her seat to rock every time he moved. The rocking, coupled with the large group of people who had arrived, making the restaurant loud, prompted us to leave.

After dropping them off at home, Estelle and I chatted a bit about her back yard, before I left to pick up my mail. To my delight, Andy was over, and even more socializing today.

If 2020 continues at this pace, this will be my best year ever. I had so many laughs and moments of joy today. I am grateful for the good people in my life.

Blue Moon

Book Notes