I’m having trouble with anxious thoughts when trying to get to sleep.

It took a few nights of this before I came up with a phrase I repeat to myself to try and shut things down:

Don’t try to play the game when the other team is on the bus.

If the anxiety comes from something that already happened, or something that might happen another day, there’s nothing I can do about it while lying in bed in that moment.

It’s like a team playing in an empty stadium, convinced the points they rack up matter in a real game.

It’s helping, so I thought I’d share.

When am I ever going to need this?

I returned a library book early.

Two chapters in, I kept seeing references to the last several books I checked out. The book wasn’t making new connections for me, so I stopped reading.

Some nights in college my friends and I would play a game.

We’d split into two teams at the video store. Each team picked a potentially terrible horror movie none of us had heard of. We’d rent them both, and watch a double feature.

Whichever team found the better movie got paid back for the rental by the other team.

I don’t remember many of those movies, but no matter how bad they were, we watched them from start to finish.

I remember in middle school and high school a common complaint that I’d hear (and sometimes say myself): “When am I ever going to need this?”

We’d wonder why we would need the quadratic equation, or how to properly do a flexed-arm hang, or remember some seemingly obscure Supreme Court case.

The answer we usually got was a combination of “It might be on the test,” and “You don’t know what’s going to be useful to you when you grow up.”

I don’t remember the movies, but I remember having fun with my friends.

I don’t remember everything I learned in high school, but more of it turned out to be useful than I anticipated.

That hindsight makes it hard to put something down or walk away. What if I’m wrong about this? What if it turns out to be useful later?

It’s not necessarily that I’ve honed my decision-making skills. There’s less later than there used to be.

I got older, made choices, and there are fewer possible futures I need to prepare for.

Maybe there’s some alternate world where I remember all my math because I work for NASA or Toyota. Maybe there’s another me that kept playing music regularly and retained more music theory and finger callouses.

I can still change and grow. I’m not on a single, set path. But the choices I make are the product of choices I made.

That makes it easier to see the difference between a book that I’m enjoying and a book I can put down.

I don’t know everything that’s going to be on the test, but I have a better idea of what kind of tests I’m taking now.

Don’t Apologize for Someone Else

Button hits.

Sprout never had a big issue with this. It’s another way the two of them are very different.

We’re still working on the best way to get Button to stop and take responsibility for hurting other people.

When apologizing to Sprout after hitting her, he patted her cheeks roughly. She didn’t like it.

I pulled him back. Sprout said it was okay.

“That’s just how he’s saying he’s sorry.”

We got through making sure Button tried apologizing in a gentle way. I stayed behind with Sprout.

I told her she doesn’t need to apologize for anyone else’s behavior.

I told her she doesn’t need to accept an apology if it doesn’t feel right.

I emphasized to her that she knows what feels like love to her.

She should never, ever make excuses for someone else’s behavior. Not to us, or herself.

That if it doesn’t feel like love to her, it doesn’t matter if someone else says it is.

It’s good that she wants to help us teach Milo how to behave. But while she helps, I don’t want her to think that helping her younger brother includes learning to treat herself or her feelings as less than.

Still Here Now

Back during in-person classes, I made a box to teach students about putting away their phones and holding on to their focus. I slapped a sign on it that said “Be Here Now.”

The sign came home with me when I cleaned out my university office. I put it up in my home office.

Sprout came in after waking up and thought it was funny. She didn’t get why you would need to remember to be where you are.

The night before she had a hard time falling asleep, so I used that example:

“Remember how you were worried about what would happen if you couldn’t fall asleep? If you didn’t sleep at all? That was imagining the future. That wasn’t being where you were. When you lied down in bed, and closed your eyes, and snuggled Fletcher, that was remembering where you were.”


Time is like a palimpsest. It’s easy to feel like you’re focused on the here and now, making your own mark, but the worn off impressions of the past are all around — Your memories of another time, or someone else’s thoughts.

Sometimes I think about this bleed when I’m consuming content. If I’m actively engaged, it still feels like being in the present moment. I’m interpreting what I’m seeing/hearing/reading in the present moment.

If I’m just scrolling and falling down rabbit holes, someone else’s thoughts are in the driver’s seat. I’m in their moment.

It feels like waking from a fugue state, realizing how far I’ve gotten from what I set out to do.

Part of me beats myself up for not using the tools I have to help block that kind of unthinking action. Part of me knows it’s hard to fight the wiring in my brain, and I should be gentle with myself.

And I take into account how many platforms are designed to be addictive. They have more time and people figuring out how to claim my attention than I have to counter their work.

Single-screening helps — The revolutionary idea that if I’m watching something on one screen, I should put away other devices.

There’s a long list of tools and hacks and tactics that can help when trying to use an internet connected device that can show you just about anything at any moment.

There are plenty of lists and articles about them, often designed to send you down a fiddley rabbit hole of lifehacking and perfectionism. People claiming to have a solution using the same tools as the problem they say they want to solve.

So I won’t try to do that.

I’ve got a sign in my office.

It’s low-tech assistance for what feels like a high-tech problem, but it’s just a reboot of the same story. Another layer on the parchment, rewritten over the old.

How do I do the work in front of me at this moment? How do I trust this moment is a good moment? How do I stay here, and appreciate it?

Not treating myself as a noun

It’s easy to think of identity as a fixed point. Defining yourself like you’re a basket of tangible things.

I am these desires. These things I like. My perspective. How I understand others perceive me.

A narrow definition can cut a person off from other possibilities: I am not this. That’s not something I do. It can negate the value of the present moment. 

If I see myself as a noun, everything I do either fits with that definition or doesn’t. Every action, every moment, gets judged in relationship to those set terms. X isn’t something I should be doing because I am Y.

Which is why thinking that I’m a verb feels healthier.

“In the beginning, we believe that there must be someone in order for the breathing to be possible. There must be someone in order for the walking to be possible. But in fact the walking, the breathing is enough. We don’t need a walker; we don’t need a breather. Think of the rain. We’re used to saying, “the rain is falling,” or “the wind is blowing.” But if it’s not falling, it’s not the rain. And if it’s not blowing, it’s not the wind. It is the same with breathing and walking with the Buddha. We begin to touch the reality of no-self. There is only the breathing going on; there’s only the walking going on.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, Breathe, You Are Alive!

Or, put another way:

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

– David S. Goyer’s dialogue for Batman in Batman Begins

Some pressure I feel to define myself comes from outside. To swiftly package what they want to know. Meeting new people. Applying to jobs. Being a person on the internet.

There’s self-imposed pressure to maintain ideas of my attributes. Like a hidden character sheet that shows what I’m skilled at, and where I’m lacking. As if I should refer back to this rubric to remind myself how to be myself.

I want to work at seeing myself as a verb.

To stop trying to make myself make sense but end up feeling broken, or lesser; stop justifying the present moment with a forced connection to some fossilized identity.

I hope to see meaning in the things I choose to do because I give them my full attention and effort.