What’s that thumping?

I wanted to try writing in the new late night coffeehouse, but I got distracted. Something in the building next door was thumping.

Not Hard House Music thumping. Elephants falling downstairs while trying to move furniture thumping.

It was loud, intermittent, and confusing.

So I asked the barista what was next door.

“It’s a skate shop. They have a half pipe in there.”

As soon as I knew what the sound was, I could ignore it. Even pause and enjoy it.

I don’t do resolutions the way I used to, mostly because they didn’t stick. But I do want to think about this more in the new year:

Find out what the thumping is. Don’t just let irritations fester. Name them, accept them, and move on.

Three quotes about attention

Joy and happiness are born of concentration. When you are having a cup of tea, the value of that experience depends on your concentration. You have to drink the tea with 100 percent of your being. The true pleasure is experienced in the concentration. When you walk and you are 100 percent concentrated, the joy you get from the steps you are taking is much greater than the joy you would get without concentration. You have to invest 100 percent of your body and mind in the act of walking. Then you will experience that being alive and taking steps on this planet are miraculous things.

The Zen master Linji (also known as Rinzai) said, “The miracle is walking on the earth, not walking on water or fire. The real miracle is walking on this earth.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, You Are Here

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver, Poem 133: The Summer Day

So what is noticing?
A pinpoint of awareness,
The detail that stands out amid all the details.
It’s catching your sleeve on the thorn of the thing you notice
And paying attention as you free yourself.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing

Addressing my holiday anxiety

But Christmas? For we seekers after the perfect daily routine, Christmas and other holidays are the worst. The season of rest and good cheer merely exacerbates the drama involved in trying to find some kind of rhythm. In our house, by this point in December, we’re a good week into the period when no day is a “normal day”, thanks to school plays, school fairs, school holidays, carol services, parties, shopping trips, travel plans or family visits… and there are a couple more weeks of it to go yet. 

How’s an uptight misanthropist-perfectionist supposed to keep a daily routine going in the midst of all that? You can’t, obviously. And so the risk is that a period with the potential to be absorbingly delightful (because really, I love school plays and carol services) becomes something to “get through” instead – an obstacle one must get past before “real life” can resume, simply because it can’t be made to conform to how you think your days ought to go. 

The more general (and marginally less Grinchy) point here is that there’s often a deep tension between the desire many of us feel to exert control over our time – because we believe, if perhaps only subconsciously, that something will go very wrong if we don’t do so – and the possibility of actually being fully absorbed in that time. Trying too hard to dictate how things unfold stops them unfolding properly. So it’s not really that the Christmas holiday gets in the way of real life. That would be absurd: Christmas is part of my real life, and a part I cherish. It’s my desire to control things that causes the real trouble.

Oliver Burkeman, Because the bell rings (from The Imperfectionist)
Michael Jordan interview captioned with "...and I took that personally."

This holiday season I asked myself why the holidays make me feel anxious.

There’s definitely an aspect of it about wanting to do things the “right” way, or at the very least not feeling like the person responsible if things don’t go as planned.

But maybe the biggest issue I have is the internal battle for emotional regulation and self control.

There are things I want to do, and ways I need to work to maintain a positive (or at least functional) mental state, and a wave of holidays is inherently disruptive to that.

Looking at it from Burkeman’s perspective, maybe there’s a way going forward where I can find the things that anchor me and prioritize them, instead of thinking that reactively trying to “get through” the tasks and worries of the moment.

That I can better enjoy the moment as it happens if I make sure I’m taking that time to ground myself in the moment.

We needed to limit things this Christmas with a family member testing positive for COVID. So we focused on the essential and made sure enough Christmas happened while prioritizing taking care of each other.

Did it mean that I didn’t feel some degree of guilt about the things I wasn’t doing? Of course not. Who do you think you’re dealing with?

One step at a time.

Negative noise machine

Paul Jun loaded his post Twitter Brain with plenty of quotable moments, but this stood out to me:

Twitter, I realized, is a stationary bicycle to self-generate chaos. It is a buffet of madness. It is a marketplace for anyone who wants a desire for any desire—and most of the time what you’ll get is anger, outrage, and stupidity. No one leaves Twitter feeling better. But what’s sickening is how hooked we can get.

What I learned from my burnout—and trying to reorganize my life—made me face the reality that being comfortable in chaos can be an excuse. It can be a form of trauma response. It is easy to find identity in trauma and pain, to make that the background music of your life. When we crave chaos, and life is actually good, oddly we want things to be bad again. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a profound realization. 

When I pull up Tweetbot, it’s a filtered experience. I check in on people I know with their tweets in chronological order, check my replies, and can’t do a lot of interaction with trending topics unless the people I follow participate.

If I go to the website, though, I’m choosing chaos.

This bothers me as much about my behavior as it does about the platform itself.

It may not be true of everything, but plenty of aspects of my life are much better than they were two, four, or six years ago. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the volume on the ambient daily outrage and confusion isn’t what it used to be.

The fact that I’m even interested in talking about Twitter to talk about Twitter feels like a weird negative feedback loop. A conversational Groundhog Day.

Back in undergrad, my friend Sam and I were talking about drawing from negative memories when writing fiction, and he said “You don’t have to feel it now in order to remember it and use it.”

I understand now that part of what was going on was undiagnosed depression, but there’s also something going on with that back-asswards craving for the stability of knowing things are terrible and on fire.

That compulsion to wallow in the negative used to only have a home inside my own head. Now I can take on other people’s misery, and there’s always something wrong.

Michelle Yeoh with hot dog fingers in Everything Everywhere All at Once
Seriously, this movie deserves all the awards.

Last night I finally watched Everything Everywhere All At Once. What an explosion of joyous creativity! A heartfelt story about breaking the cycle of generational trauma, an action film, an absurd existential comedy, and a pitch perfect parody of a dozen genres at different points.

Enjoying something like that requires disconnecting. Giving yourself over to the whirlwind.

And when I think about how I feel after watching something like that versus how I feel after a check in on social media, I know the difference. I know what gives me energy and creativity and ideas, and what makes me want to roll over and have a good wallow in the muck.

But change doesn’t come from acknowledgement alone. It’s a step.