Category: Personal

Lately

All has been quiet here lately, and for good reason.

I miss writing. I miss working through abstract problems via language to try and figure out what they might mean to me, or might mean universally.

But the fact is, I’m just enjoying life right now. That’s not to say there haven’t been difficulties, setbacks, frustrations, and tears. My work, however, has consisted of so many disparate things that it’s hard to sit down with intention and write.

So this post is nothing more than to remind myself that I want to write. And even though I don’t necessarily have the time for that right now, it’s ok. Lately, instead, I’ve been doing the following:

  • Listening to a ton of good hip-hop and podcasts.
    • Be by Common
    • The evergreen To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
    • The newest season of Dissect on DAMN by Kendrick Lamar
    • Slow Burn, season 3 — which covers the Biggie/Tupac story in a 10-episode season
  • Working at Life in Deep Ellum, which I love more than I could express.
    • I preached on my January 26 while Joel was out of town. A lot can be said about this, but it was a meaningful moment to me.
    • Learning what it means to be “in the trenches” of faith community and cultural work. Some of it is mundane. Some of it is sweaty. But all of it is good, because I can see and feel a purpose to my work. To be frank, this was something missing from my work at SAGU, because I simply lost faith in the mission of what the university was doing.
  • Working with Elaine’s photography business, and supporting her as much as I can, including building out a new website that is almost done.
  • Homeschooling the kids, which is both delightful and maddening. Some days, it’s great, and I can appreciate the beauty of getting so much time with the kiddos. Other days, it’s incredibly frustrating as only raising children can be.
  • Reading a ton! I finished five books in January, and my goal is 60 for the year. Elaine’s gift to me for my thirtieth birthday was thirty books from my closest friends. A beautiful surprise that I still am getting so much joy from.

Maybe soon I’ll come back to writing here. I certainly feel like I have a lot to say. But now is just, quite simply, not the time.

The Cult of Productivity

Being home has been a really interesting experience and experiment for me, personally. Of course, it has been interesting for my whole family. But I’m trying to process how it has changed my view of my purpose and what I should be doing every day.

The reality is, what I should be doing isn’t all that clear every day. It’s different all the time. There are some standards, of course. The kids are either going to school or being homeschooled every day. I’m trying to write at least two blog posts per week for Lane B Photography. I’m also writing two articles per month for Thinker Sensitive. And then there’s cleaning, cooking, and general house things.

In the midst of all that, it’s really easy to let the day sort of get away. Get through the morning with teaching the kids, fix and eat lunch, take a break, do some writing, then it’s time for dinner, family time, bed time, the next episode of Better Call Saul, and bed. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to have a better structure. Maybe I should wake up earlier? Maybe I should do morning pages, or meditation? Maybe I should do a better job about consistently exercising in the mornings? Maybe I should make a reading plan and set aside a specific time to read every day?

And then I’ve oscillated the other direction — Am I thinking about this all wrong? Why do I feel this drive to heavily schedule and routinize my life? The answer is that I highly value productivity, because I have been told to value productivity by society. If I am not producing something, then I feel worthless, useless. As if my life only contains value if I do stuff — in other words, it is not inherently valuable. That’s a problem.

There’s no clear answer to this binary. I don’t want my life to be controlled by the needs of the day; I don’t want to get to the end of the day and wonder what it is I have to show for my time and work that day. I also don’t want to be the kind of person that just accepts the status quo when I know I have potential to do good work. On the other hand, I don’t want to over-analyze my days, questioning my own value and worth. If I’m taking care of my daughters, teaching them, feeding them, caring for them — can that be enough some days?

I honestly don’t know. Because I’m working in a lot of different ways, I feel my attention being stretched in multiple directions, it’s easy to feel like I’m not getting really good at something. Maybe I need to sit back, choose a couple of things outside of the necessary things every day that I want to be better at, and dedicate intentional time to those things.

Or maybe I just need to stop thinking about it so hard.

Don’t Be Ashamed of the Elementary

I have always thought that I couldn’t draw. The reality is, my drawing abilities have never really extended far past stick figures and smiley faces.

But a few months ago, my mother in law left a kids’ sketchbook at our house. It’s called Drawing Animals Shape by Shape, and it’s literally for ages 4+. Out of sheer curiosity, I found myself flipping through the book and thinking I might be able to draw some of these characters, despite my literally non-existent sketching skills.

Surprisingly, I found that with a little help, I can draw!

That’s a pup, drawn by yours truly. The book wanted to call him Sparky. I like Chester better.

This all made me think of a recent post by Austin Kleon: “Want Quick Knowledge? Visit the Children’s Section.” Sometimes, we take ourselves too seriously. We want to jump in the master’s level class because we think that we’re too old or too mature for learning the basics. But if we never mastered the basics in the first place, it might just be better to start at the beginning.

 

What’s Worth Doing Every Day?

I really dig Austin Kleon‘s attitude regarding creativity, writing, and productivity. His advice is usually simple, easy to follow, and ultimately probably for everyone (even if you aren’t creative).

Recently, he was interviewed about his routine (which seems to be a recurring theme in his work) on Extraordinary Routines. A few gems:

I think routine is so important, especially when you’re getting started creatively, but for me right now, I almost need checkboxes and rituals more than I need routine…

Whether in the form of checkboxes or a routine, this process makes the morning hours crucial to his creativity. “The most important thing for me to do is to write my diary and to write a blog post. If I have done that, then the day in some ways is a success.”…

Instead of aspiring to perfection, we can learn to accept and nurture our imperfect tendencies. We don’t need to sand off our edges, as Austin puts it. “We’re so obsessed with life hacking and with becoming these productive, shining examples of ourselves, but so much of good creative work comes from being a person that has tensions in their life.”

That’s helpful advice, especially considering my post yesterday. By becoming obsessed with good quality productivity, life-hacking, and perfection, I’m forcing myself into inaction on the things that I want to be doing. Checkbox-thinking and routine-thinking forces us to take action, regardless of our perceived faults.

And that makes me wonder, what’s worth doing every day? What’s “checkbox worthy” in my own life? Theoretically, I’d want them to be as simple as possible:

  • exercising for at least five minutes a day
  • praying or meditating for at least five minutes a day
  • reading at least one chapter of a book
  • writing something on the blog, even if it’s just a few words

That’s probably not the whole list, but perhaps it would be beneficial to me to start thinking through to help me overcome my desire for control and perfection when attempting something new.

I Take Myself Too Seriously

I’m not super into things like the Enneagram, but I kinda get it. I’ve taken the test multiple times, and I usually fall somewhere in the Enneagram Five range. That type is usually labelled as “The Observer,” “The Investigator,” or something along those lines. Honestly, I actually think the type matches my personality pretty well — better than any other personality test I’ve taken (except for the scientifically-validated “Big Five” test, which is generally accurate over the course of someone’s lifetime, and does a good job of predicting success in certain areas).

Assuming we take my Enneagram type as valid — or at least as a true story that I tell myself about myself — I think it accurately captures something about my personality that frustrates me. You see, as far as I can tell, fives are generally the kinds of people who are planners. In order to protect ourselves from the chaos of life, we research, attain as much knowledge as possible, and plan as much as possible before taking action (especially long-term action). I would think that’s probably associated with risk-aversion, meaning I’m not likely to simply make a big life change without attempting to understand the potential impacts of the decision as much as possible ahead of time.

To be fair, there is some good here. I have a family, and risk-aversion has probably helped us to be relatively steady financially. It has helped maintain my family’s feelings of security, and we’ve been (mostly) free of any real challenges that we couldn’t manage up to this point.

The problem, however, is in my daily life. My risk aversion only allows me to take action on decisions about which I feel like I completely understand. I’m not likely to simply jump in on a project, work on a new idea, or start a new venture without an excessive amount of forethought. I’ll spend weeks or months turning an idea over in my head and researching before I decide to just “go for it” (and even then, it still feels like “going for it,” instead of a long, drawn out process to me; it never, ever feels like I know enough when I finally do come to a decision).

This problem shows itself in even the smallest places in my life. I love running, for example, but struggle to maintain a consistent routine because there is so much conflicting data out there about what my weekly workouts should look like, how I should prevent injury, and how I should ultimately plan out a training regimen if I’m going to tackle, say, a marathon. The same can be said for something like blogging. I love that blogging is something simple and easy. I can just open up a browser window, throw some words on the screen, and call it good. Unfortunately, my brain wants a plan for the blog. I want to have some series of things I’m writing about. Some weekly goal that I should be meeting. Maybe the blog’s ultimate purpose should be a space for the book I’ll write some day, etc., etc. And on top of that, when I do sit down to write a blog, I feel inadequate to address whatever topic it is that I’m attempting to write about, because I almost never feel like I know enough about the topic to say anything at all. Objectively, I know that’s probably wrong. The fact is, to anyone who even takes the time to read this, I know more about Søren Kierkegaard than any of you ever will. The same can be said for certain areas of philosophy and theology.

In other words, I think I take everything I do just a little too seriously. It’s like without the affirmation that my work is going to take in all of the available context and that I’m likely to not be wrong about what I’m saying, I don’t want to pursue that action, because I don’t want to take on the risk of being wrong.

And that’s a flaw that I think I need to work on.

No Conversation Is Too Scary

As many of you know, I’m currently a high school teacher (in the fall, I taught philosophy, and this spring I’m teaching a class called “senior practicum,” which is mostly personal finance, although I’ve taken a few liberties to discuss digital habits as well). The pairing of the two classes together is interesting for two reasons.

First, the philosophy class was inherently academic, and required reading, study, and heavy critical thinking. Some of the concepts we explored were abstract, ranging from free will and determinism to how we can say that we know anything at all. Second, the senior practicum class is clearly meant to be distinct from the philosophy class. It is not abstract; in fact, it’s fairly pragmatic. In some ways, it can be seen as an outworking of the philosophy course — at least in the sense that philosophy is meant to help the students frame and understand the world, and the senior practicum class is meant to help the students navigate “daily” life.

What I didn’t expect in the course of teaching these two classes is that I would get the chance to have other, deeper conversations with the students. Because the two classes are touching on issues that are deeply personal, we sometimes end up navigating tough waters. It’s not uncommon for the students to bring up political issues (even in the form of a joke), moral issues (abortion has come up more than a handful of times), or unsolvable philosophical or theological problems. My real goal in these conversations is not really to convince the students that they ought to think the way I do on these topics. That would be far too easy, to be honest. That’s not to mention the fact that they are all Christian students, raised in Christian households, so their viewpoints are highly similar, if not outright identical, on many of these issues.

My goal, instead, has been to open their minds up a little bit to other viewpoints, and I think I’ve come up with a solution to how to do try and do this. Part of my solution is driven, I think, by my concern with social media and its effects on public discourse. We currently find ourselves in a societal moment wherein social groups are dividing and divisive — primarily along political and theological lines. This leads to two things: digital echo chambers and the inability to engage in rational, calm conversation about difficult issues. In response to this, I’m trying to teach my students two things:

  1. No conversation is too scary to have.
  2. When discussing a tough issue, our first goal should be to ask “What does this person see that I don’t?”

These are actually relatively difficult to implement in real life. It can be easy to prefer avoiding tough topics of conversation, thinking that our interlocutors might be offended or appalled at our ignorance or disagreement. It’s also easy for us to be the person that is easily enraged, morally or intellectually. (Moral outrage, in fact, is an easy emotion to latch onto — just look at how social media companies have benefited from taking advantage of that emotion). But if we come at difficult conversations with an attitude of humility rather than pride, of curiosity rather than fear, our local community and the broader society stand to benefit.

Of the second point (asking, “What does this person see?”): this is a key skill when engaging in philosophical or theological inquiry. If we don’t actively try to envision why a person sees the world a certain way, or thinks that their moral position is superior to others, we don’t have any chance of gaining conversational favor. This means we lose the chance of having a dialogue, and of having the opportunity to persuade someone of our own position. I think many of us fear taking this step, however, because it requires risk. Alan Jacobs writes about this in How to Think:

To think, to dig into the foundations of our beliefs, is a risk, and perhaps a tragic risk. There are no guarantees that it will make us happy or even give us satisfaction. (36)

I take Jacobs to mean here that too often the conversations we have are means to the end of happiness: either by way of conversing only with those who agree with us, or by seeking the satisfaction of arguing with others for the purpose of proving the superiority of our position. But to actively think, to engage in dialogue, to be willing to see from another person’s viewpoint means that we must accept discomfort and even the pain of changing our position on an issue.

We’d do well, in the long run, to abandon our desire for comfort, for happiness, for satisfaction. The health of both our individual selves and society at large may rely upon this very truth.

Financial Independence/Health Only Requires One Thing

If you’ve been paying any attention to the “new” generation of financial advice, you will have already heard about the FI/RE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement, simple living, and the “shockingly simple math” behind financial independence. Not long after I discovered minimalism, the frugality/financial independence movement found its way onto my radar — primarily through the Mr. Money Mustache website. These all hold a real draw for me, and I think Mr. Money Mustache has quite a bit to teach us about money management and the realistic ability for most of us to retire if we take the right kinds of steps in spending, saving, and investing.

There are tons and tons of resources out there for anyone who wants to go down this rabbit hole. Probably the most comprehensive place to start is the Financial Independence subreddit here: https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/wiki/faq.

There are good and helpful tools here — in fact, I currently use YNAB as my budgeting tool, and I love it. But here’s the reality: the rules of financial independence, for most of us, boils down to one principle. Simply put, stop buying things you don’t need, and save your money. There are no tricks. There are no shortcuts. Retiring early, financial independence, and even (really) financial health comes down to self-discipline. Everyone has curveballs, to be sure. No one can predict medical emergencies, or uncontrollable emergencies. But everyone has those.

The trick is to work through it anyway, and to NOT BUY THINGS YOU DON’T NEED. And in this culture, that might be one of the most difficult things any of us can do.

Mediocrity is Essential to Our Humanity

The pressure of excellence within our culture (or maybe just my head?) kills that little part of humanity in each of us that’s begging to get out in a society imprisoned by the desire to be productive — and not only productive but the most productive. Often, I fail to pursue lines of inquiry or interest simply because of my awareness that I cannot and will not be excellent at that thing. I have interest in a subject and desire more knowledge about it, but I know that I’m not interested in being an expert. I desire to be the kind of person who runs, but I struggle to do so because if I’m not racing or getting faster, it’s not worth pursuing. The same can be said for guitar playing, for philosophical inquiry, for listening to and enjoying classical music, for writing poetry.

In fostering a society which obsesses over excellence and optimal productivity, we have lost the tiny little quirks that make our lives enjoyable, meaningful, and just plain fun. Why should I care whether I run a 20-minute 5K, or 1:30 half-marathon? Don’t I just enjoy the very act of running? Am I required to continue to pursue excellence there, or can I just enjoy it for its own sake? I think that’s where the breakdown is — we’ve been so formed to think that everything we spend our time doing must be “worthwhile,” in a way that always improves, always optimizes.

Maybe that’s we’ve missed something essential about what it means to be human. Malcolm Gladwell notes in this interview with Tyler Cowen that the educational system has failed in part because we don’t make space for mediocrity, in sports, academics, or otherwise. It’s not enough to just have children and adolescents that want to try and experiment and enjoy themselves — they must want to get better, and they must show natural talent. If not, they don’t belong on the team, in the class, or in the club.

Another way of saying this: maybe, to be a little more human and a little less machine-like, we need “permission to suck.”

Electronic Gems

Sometimes, I find music that fills a gap that I didn’t know existed until after I listened to it. This song, “Resonance” is one of those songs. It makes me feel like I’m seven years old again, playing Sonic the Hedgehog on an early Saturday morning while my dad is still sleeping, and the morning has that gloomy, muggy look that Lake Charles always has.

Blog Issues

If you’ve kept up with my last few posts, you’ll notice that I’ve had a few that have cut off at the end of the post. I’m not sure why this is happening, and because I schedule my posts for later in the day or week, I don’t often catch it.

This is highly annoying to me, as I’m a bit of a grammar control freak. I suspect it has something to do with the addition of Project Gutenberg to the blog UI on WordPress. I can’t say I’m a fan, as its primary purpose is related to “content” (bleh) where the primary purpose of my blog is simply writing — as I hope one can tell by the minimalist design of the theme I chose for the site.

I’ll be keeping a keener eye on my posts from now on.