Gods and Men

“There exists no separation between gods and men; one blends softly casual into the other.”

— Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

Psyche

Map of the Mind // Carl Jung, Introduction to Jungian Psychology: Notes of the Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given

“I have shown in the diagram] the individual in relation to the world of external objects on the one hand and to the collective unconscious images on the other. Connecting him with the first world, that is, the world of external objects, is the persona, developed by the forces from within and the forces from without in interaction with one another. We may think of the persona as the bark of a conscious personality. As we have indicated elsewhere, it is not wholly our choice what the persona shall be, for we can never control entirely the forces that are to play on our conscious personalities.

The center of this conscious personality is the ego. If we take the layer “back” of this ego, we come to the personal subconscious. This contains our incompatible wishes or fantasies, our childhood influences, repressed sexuality, in a word all those things we refuse to hold in consciousness for one reason or another, or which we lose out of it. In the center is the virtual nucleus or central government, representing the totality of the conscious and unconscious self…We can speak of the conscious ego as the subjective personality, and of the shadow self as the objective personality. This latter, made up of what is part of the collective unconscious in us, carries the things that appear in us as effects. For we do have effects on people
which we can neither predict nor adequately explain.”

— C.G. Jung, 1925 Seminar, Lecture 16, Pages 138-139

Fight Your Way Through

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

— Ira Glass (via swissmiss)

Week 01: Gently Return

The first work week of the new year has begun, but I am not beginning with it. I’m taking my time and using today to prepare instead. I’m meal prepping, gathering my notebooks, and laying down some light goals. I’m aiming for a gentle return to a regular schedule, but this time I hope to have a little more focus.

I’ve been thinking about the way the mind wanders during meditation. When you are supposed to focus on your breath but, inevitably, you start thinking about other things. You plan for the day ahead or replay mistakes from the day that passed. You daydream and ride rails of wonder all over the place!

It can be frustrating, but the key is knowing that this is normal, that this is okay. The hard part is noticing it. Once you do, you just gently return your awareness back to your breath. This is a lesson I want to bring into the new year, into every part of my life. I’m aware of my wandering. Now it’s time to find where I left off and start from there again.

Before I do, I want to take a moment to reflect on the wonderful two weeks I had away from work. I’m grateful for the opportunity to take time out for my loved ones, for myself, and for the rest and reset I so desperately needed. I’m ready to return, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m already looking forward to my next long break away again. Until then, those scant hours between shifts will have to do.

With that being said, this week I will:

Meditate. I had started the year with the intention of completing a 365-day course on Headspace, but I missed a few days over the summer and was never able to get back to it. I felt guilty. I felt like I’d failed. I want to begin again with the new year and this time I won’t let the loss of a streak get me down. This year I will practice with zero.

Get back to eating right. A little indulgence over the holidays is understandable, but I don’t want to let the habit follow me into the new year.

Make time for my notebooks. My only resolution for the coming year is to write more things down, and that takes making time to sit quietly, reflect, and write. I don’t need a lot of time. Lunch hours, while watching show episodes, and even just half an hour before bed is more than enough to make sure nothing slips away.

Finish reading The Mirror of My Heart. I’m just 62 short pages shy of the end and it’d be such a confidence boost to get my first book of the year marked off in the first week. Bonus: Finish Dune Messiah. I’m only 83 pages short of its end and eager to start book three: Children of Dune!

Make a plan for next week. I have a class of new employees scheduled to start training and my best coworker is out with an injury. That means I’m on my own not only to teach but to drive to each location. I’ve made a lot of progress in overcoming my driving anxiety, but I’ve still got a long way to go. A solid plan will take me half the distance.

Stay safe. Covid-19 numbers are on the rise and though I’ve had my booster and I am diligent about wearing a mask, I want to be extra careful in the coming weeks. Already I’ve heard we will be taking extra precautions in the workplace and I know it’s imperative that I do my part by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and keeping my hands and high touch surfaces clean.

This week I will not let politics or pandemics get me down. I will stay informed, of course, but I will not practice doomscrolling or allow rolling news reports to play.

There is bad news everywhere these days and nothing much we can do beyond what we already are. Instead of listening so much, find something to say. If you have nothing to say, try taking action. If you feel down or overwhelmed reach out and if you feel alone, help someone in need. The most important good you can do is for the people around you and the community you are in.

The world is too big for any one human. It’s enough just to take responsibility for your share alone.


2022 // Pay Attention to the Present

“Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself—what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.”

— Warsan Shire

It’s that time of year. The first day of the next 365, when we all resolve to become that better version of ourselves we wish to be. We start diets. We join gyms. We quit smoking. We challenge ourselves to work harder, create more, reach for that unachievable goal, that impossible dream somewhere, someday.

I’d love to join you all in these grand goals, but if I’ve learned nothing else these past couple of years, it’s that the best way to keep from breaking a promise to yourself is not to make one at all.

I, admittedly, have broken a lot of promises, and the disappointments have piled high. So, this year, I am making no such promises.

It’s not that I don’t trust myself. Moreso, it just feels cruel to hold the future me to present passions. I put my future self in a box when I do this. I make a servant out of her and don’t think for one second about what she might want when her time comes. If I’ve learned a second thing these past years, it’s that present needs always trump past desires.

Life never looks the way you planned it to. Most of my days go off the rails within the first few hours and by the time I can catch my breath, the to-do list, the habit trackers, and the writing are far forgotten about. All I want then is to rest, to be with my wife, to lose myself in social media, in another episode, in a good night’s sleep.

There’s never time for what I wanted in the first place. There’s never time for all those grad goals and habit changes. And slowly, slowly, the person you were when you made those plans changes. Your wants change, but you can’t give up, you can’t fail, so you force yourself to chase a fading dream.

Another pandemic lesson: New year’s resolutions inevitably lead to future feelings of entrapment or future feelings of failure because we don’t leave any room for change.

This year, I have very few resolutions. I actually have only one. Pay attention to the present.

This year I’m asking that I only notice the present and do what feels right in that moment. On the surface, this seems counterintuitive. There have been plenty of nows in which I have done exactly the wrong thing. I have wasted time. I have done the opposite of what I wanted. Looking back, the mistake wasn’t choosing wrong, it was giving up the choice entirely.

This year, I’m not looking forward, and I’m not looking back. I am not wishing nor am I regretting. I am learning and shifting. I am choosing.

I’m giving myself permission to want something different and asking only that I stay true to that. The hard part is knowing what you really want and you cannot see it with time pressing in on both sides. The present has to get bigger, but as the world tilts further and further toward chaos, it gets harder to stay in each moment.

Free will is a spectrum and our capacity to choose waxes and wanes with stress, emotion, and information. For the past two years, the world has been thrown into utter disarray. For the past two years, I have felt my stress levels rise, my energy levels decline, and misinformation has overwhelmed me. That isn’t even accounting for all the loss.

Under those conditions, how can I promise to work out, eat right, or write? Under those conditions, how can I expect to have any sense of willpower?

You cannot account for the impact that pandemics and politics will have on the personal. You cannot know when your whole world will be turned upside down or emptied of everything that gives it light. What you can do is observe. What you can do is ask. What you can do is make sure you are truly giving yourself what you need now.

Sometimes that is doing nothing, but more often, what you need is to do something.

The what of my resolution boils down to mindfulness, a practice that sounds simple but is harder than it seems. The how of my resolution might sound complex, but it comes as easy to me as breathing.

All my life I have kept a journal. Since I was a teenager, my notebooks have been a place to explore and explain myself to myself in a way I can understand. These diaries were often the closest thing I had to a friend, and I have filled many with bits of small talk, encouragement, and tough love. I would not be who I am, I might not be at all if not for those blank pages being so patient with me.

But life changed, obligations grew, I become an adult and told myself to leave childish things behind. I turned to those pages less and less and without a past self to talk with, to egg me on or offer advice, I have felt more and more untethered in time.

This year I want to return to these pages but this time with the purpose: noticing. A journal is a place to pour the present into. It’s a place to ask: How have I changed? Do I want this? What can I do right now? Social media won’t give you that. Nothing on your phone will. You have to slow down. You have to look, and it can take many ways of writing to see.

Last year I bought a planner hoping it would help me keep my focus, but that wasn’t the best way for me. Turns out I want to do the same things every day and none of it is enough for a planner. So, this year I’m trying something different. I took the lead of one of my favorite writers and artists, Austin Kleon, and bought another planner, but not to track all the things I want to do, but to track all the things I have done. A logbook.

There are other notebooks for other things too, lists and fragments of all kinds, and each carries its own part of me in it. Each is a record of where I have been and a map of where I am going, and all it takes is to record the present.

I’m also starting a sketchbook this year. There are some things in life language is too poor at capturing. Our eyes are the primary way we take in the world and our minds alter the image to highlight what is important. Memory makes its cut and its additions, reinterprets and feeds the new picture back. Each time it’s pulled up, it’s different. Each time you pull it up, you are too. I’d like to get back to capturing these iterations again.

There are also apps and of course, this blog, all of it part of an interconnected system for seeing myself, my world, and working out what my work actually is. All of it is only a way for the subconscious and the conscious to circle around, to start and save their conversations that say one thing in the moment and another in a different time.

These words are the well of my life and I don’t want to lose any more of either.

It sounds simple, just write it down, but humans are notoriously bad at noticing the present, let alone recording it with pen and paper. We’re too busy reliving the past—when we aren’t avoiding it that is—or dreaming up an impossible future neither of which I want to do here because neither has ever led to any real accomplishment.

This leads me to one last hard lesson I am bringing with me to the new year: You cannot change what you do without changing who you are.

This may be hard to hear, but the person you are right now does not want to eat right, exercise, quit smoking, start a new hobby, or write that book. The person you are right now wants to be the kind of person who wants to do those things.

I’m not saying this to shame. I’m saying it to start the year off with the right mindset. Harsh truths are needed sometimes. I am not yet the kind of person who wants to write every day, who wants to write well, who wants to write thought-provoking essays. My first ambition is simply to be her.

And I suppose this is no new revelation, only a different way of saying habit-forming.

I have poor habits right now. I have no discipline. I am often short-sighted. That’s hard to say and harder to hear, but you have to accept where you are in order to get anywhere else, right?

My hope is that, like tracking your calorie intake, the act of having to write it down will be enough to force the right choice, but I’m taking it to an extreme. I’m recording it all, thoughts I have, movies I watch, people I meet, and conversations I overhear. I want to see what simply seeing will get me.

No grand promises and no lofty goals this time around, just seeing and recording, just pen and paper. In 2022, as in any year, nothing will be for certain, but every day means something. The course can always change, but the future has to go somewhere. How we spend our days is how we spend our life and I won’t let either slip away.


Currently // December 2021: Peak Unproductivity

It is December, and nobody asked if I was ready.

― Sarah Kay

The end of December, and 2021, find me satisfied in some ways and, admittedly, deeply disappointed in others. In my work and my relationships, my home and my hopes, so much progress has been made.

I feel leaps and bounds beyond where I was this time twelve months ago, but the anxieties and uncertainties are still weighing just as heavily. That isn’t even accounting for the griefs that hurt all the same and I fear may never diminish.

Still, December is only a month, not a year, and perhaps should be counted up alone.

It’s been a strange winter so far and this December is unlike any other. Normally, I’d be well into a seasonal depression. The end of December is a time of hopelessness, a time of bitter and biting cold that feels as though it will never end. I had expected to be struggling through that usual despair and fighting pandemic fears, but this winter has been kind and this December is among the happiest of my life.

Autumn settled in months ago and simply never left. It seems, sometimes our wishes come true, and, I’ve learned, sometimes when we get what we want we find we never really wanted what we thought we did. All month we’ve been well below snowfall averages and shockingly high of average temperatures. At first, it felt good, but as the autumn warmth wears on, I become increasingly disturbed. I never thought I’d say it, but I hope for snow soon, and lots of it!

The threat of Covid and the rise in gun violence across the city have me more afraid to leave the house than ever. I’m happy I took time away from work this holiday season to be home, with people who matter and doing the things that make me feel good. It’s necessary to shut out the world every once in a while.

A year of stress and fear cumulated to burnout in December and I have been running a peak unproductivity. Not that I have been doing nothing at all. Besides the holiday festivities spent in the company of friends and family, December has been a month of relaxing, reflecting, and reevaluating. You have to know what went wrong to do it differently next time, right?

I have plans for the turn of the year, much more modest and manageable expectations this time around. Politics and pandemics make it hard to focus and personal griefs have left me disoriented and directionless. This coming year I want to get back to basics and learn again who I am and what motivates me.

This year I’ll be giving more of my attention to the present rather than letting the confounding future paralyze me. I’ll let the past inform the future rather than dictate it. This year I’m giving space to the person I become day by day, hour by hour…

But before I do, here is what I am currently:

Writing all the time. I have come back to my focus by means of timers and stimulants, mindfulness, and a complete abandon of purpose. Letting go of grand goals has allowed me to feel joy in writing again. It’s easy to forget that writing is my passion and I do it for myself before anyone else.

Making entries, notes, lists, and records of my daily thoughts, discoveries, comings and goings. I have four notebooks now (a fifth if you count the new sketchbook) each with its own purpose. To aid in my memory and remind me of all the things that are important to me. These notebooks are an extension of my mind and they provide a path forward.

Planning for another self, my future self. She is often selfish. She loathes to concern herself with past wants. Still, the present must allow the future to be its own time. What does she owe me? My job is to give her all the tools and motivation I can, but she has to do what is best for her when the time comes. I am planning not to want the same things I want today.

Reading The Mirror of My Heart: A Thousand Years of Persian Poetry by Women translated by Dick Davis, Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks, and The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson. That’s a lot of books, but it works for me. When I get bored, I can move to a different read rather than quitting altogether.

Watching a lot of shows that feel like guilty pleasures: Gossip Girl, Legacies, Evil, and A Discovery of Witches. I had a small Spiderman marathon and made it to the theater for No Way Home. It was genius and I highly recommend everyone see it. Matrix: Resurrections was everything I thought it would be and Don’t Look Up was a surprising discovery.

Learning about Human Behavioral Biology, from Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, again, still. I haven’t been able to get past some of the more complicated lectures and I admit that when it got hard; I quit—a common pattern with me. I’m picking it up again today.

Anticipating a fresh start. I don’t believe the turn of the new year is any special time to start over. It’s only a time that we all start again together. Knowing you aren’t on the path alone makes the going easier. When you can’t be accountable to yourself, it helps to be accountable to others. I’m looking forward to sharing my start with you.

Reflecting on the last 12 months, of course. What else is there to think about come the last day of the year? I’m doing my best to hold on to all the good and let go of all the bad. I did some things right, that is the truth, and I like who I have become overall. That being said, I see a lot more clearly now what needs to change this time around.

Fearing what the next year will bring. We only ever plan for the best, but these past years have taught me there is as much unhappiness as there is happiness waiting just out of sight—oftentimes more. I’m afraid of the coming losses and the inevitable disappointments. I’m afraid of adding to my grief.

Hating capitalism. They say you get more conservative as I age, but the older I get, the more radical and socialist I feel. Life is just too precious for us to spend it laboring, producing, and fooling ourselves into thinking we are so individualistic. Meeting our basic needs universally makes happiness achievable for all.

Loving this feeling of contentment I have finally found. I have made a place that is truly a home. Home, I have learned, is only a place of safety. It is the safety you can make a life in. You can’t love, create, or change unless you feel safe. I wish I had known this sooner, but I am happy to know it now.

Needing more months like this. More months with more time in them. More chances to shake off expectations and obligations and get to what I truly need for myself. Other months have their days but those days are largely spent before I can even flip the calendar page. Decembers have whole weeks!

Hoping 2022 will be a little less painful than 2021, and a lot less than 2020. I’m hoping for less disappointment, less fear, less uncertainty. I’m hoping that everyone I love starts to find their footing. I’m hoping everyone in the world finds hope again, especially me.


All in all, despite the holiday stress and the end-of-year regrets, December was a good month and there was a lot of good in the year to look back on, too. I found time for my friends and family and for myself. I made time for celebrating and withdrawing, for looking back, and for looking forward.

But what about you? How did you spend the holidays? What has the weight of 2021 come to for you? What has the second year of the pandemic taken? What has it given back? Do you have someone to kiss tonight when the clock tricks 2022? Have you listed your resolutions yet?

Let me know in the comments.