How Am I Not Myself?

My second favourite movie is I heart Huckabees (First is Memento). It bills itself as an existential comedy, which you know, fits my genre. It explores some of the absurdities with life, meaning and nihilism. One great line in it is when Lily Thomas’s character asks

“What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?”

I heart Huckabees

And the answer Judd Law’s character gives helped me with a big struggle I had with my mental health.

For many years I worried greatly about how my behaviour changed when taking my meds. I wasn’t as pessimistic, I didn’t ruminate as much, I didn’t spend as much time thinking about how the world is fucked. I struggled with it because there’s an easy trope to fall into and it’s of the tortured genius. It’s easy to point to great thinkers in the past who were tormented.

There’s also a bunch of folks online who think taking meds and “fighting” their mental health struggles makes them sheep. It’s easy to think this. Just think of Brave New World, 1984, and most dystopian books. The thinking is that if you move your focus away from everything that’s broken, if you don’t stay focused on the wrongs on the world, on the flaws of humanity, you can’t solve the problem.

It’s a very appealing theory. It means that all that suffering you’re doing, is not in vain. You’re not wrong to feel this way. It justifies the pain, both the past pain and the present pain. It means all that time I suffered wasn’t my fault for not changing myself, it’s everyone else who is too weak to sit with the darkness.

I’m not even sure who, but I think it was an aunt who, when I was 17-18, gave me a quote from George Bernard Shaw.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”.

George Bernard Shaw

When Judd law is asked “What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?” he answers

“How am I not myself?”

I Heart Huckabees

Both existential detectives then keep repeating and pondering “How am I not myself?”

And once it sinks in, once you realize the absurdity of saying or even asking if you’re not yourself you in a sense free yourself from all expectations.
You cannot be anything but yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be pleased with yourself. That you can’t improve yourself. Just that there is no need to worry if you’re yourself. Because you can’t be anyone but yourself.

(And yes, this means that, even given the good intentions, I’m not a huge fan of the “not myself” mental health campaign which implies that you can or should be someone different.)

On Memory

Memory is a tricky thing. What we “remember” is often shaped and malleable. And most people recognize or understand this in the abstract. They’ve seen a TED talk about it or something.

But in the moment, in each specific moment, people I talk to are almost always certain that this current memory is accurate, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Maybe it’s an adaptation. I mean, questioning everything you think and believe all the time is a quick path to stress and mental health issues. I should know since that’s a bit how my generalized anxiety manifests itself. But should we not try to be less certain? Should we not always keep the possibility of being wrong (in terms of memory and in general)?

What I need to improve at (Please give me feedback)

I did an AMA and it was interesting because since I’m remote and we don’t use zoom, it was hard to see people’s facial reactions. I’m “candid” and at times contrarian and I’m not sure how things are received. It’s interesting because I have this balance where I really want to be open, candid and vulnerable and know that’s what helps organizations thrive. Even if it involves disagreements. Maybe it’s the anxiety (although I think this is probably a “normal” amount of anxiety given the circumstances), but I always really wonder what people really think.

Anyway, during the AMA there was a question asking what I would improve on. I mentioned a few things but I think I missed an opportunity to ask what I can improve on. So I’m asking you, what can I improve on?

For the record I think I mentioned:
1) Improve how I give feedback and how I share my thoughts. It sometimes comes across as rude or like I’m putting others down.
2) Better at time management (I’m terrible at forgetting I have a meeting, getting lost in time)
3) Better at focusing on the next actionable thing. Sometimes I get paralyzed by all the work in front of me and have a hard time starting somewhere.

But I feel like it’s really hard to know what you need to improve on. At Automattic there was a really strong culture of feedback and folks would regularly give each-other feedback (anonymous and direct). That’s something I feel like the Canadian Digital Service doesn’t have (yet!).

So, if you’re reading this, no matter if you’re a friend, acquaintance, former colleague, random person following me on twitter, please help me improve by filling out this form: https://forms.gle/p1BdbYFDbCUo4Qqs6

Rhianna is helping me re-pot plants

I have a bunch of hanging baskets that I brought in from outside. They, like me, don’t get enough sun in the winter so I’m trimming them, adding a few other plants that need less sun, and installing some grow lights on a timer.

I’m making a mess of the house and somehow I don’t have enough potting soil. But regardless, Rhianna is helping so it’s all good.

Ghosts of Relationships Past – Never Really Over

A fun fact some people don’t know is that me and Nicole dated twice and broke up before getting married. We just weren’t in a good place, either of us. Things just didn’t line up.

It makes me think a bit about how serendipity plays into our whole life. Chance is what predicts wealth, not intellect, that’s not to say there aren’t things that impact it. I’m a lot more likely to marry a francophone than someone who only speaks Mandarin.

That being said, with Facebook, it’s easy to stay up to date (willingly or by chance) with exes lives. Having a glimpse into the different paths that could of been.

While they were all great people, and I don’t know if it’s a psychological immune system response, but I’m happy it wasn’t really over with Nicole.

Skiing

I’m trying to do as much outdoor activity as possible this year and went skiing today for the first time in a while. I got the skis I use regularly from play again sport in like 2003 or something, so let’s just say, not the cream of the crop.

I tried a few pairs of demo skis today at the hill and the difference between all 4 of them was incredible. Turns out I hate any ski that can be described as “playful”. I think I never realized how different skis could be. I’ve always only used the rental ones or this pair that I have now.

In retrospect it should be self evident that different skis perform differently, but 2 skis made me feel in control vs the “ohh shit” that often happens with rental skis. I’m looking at the Deacon 80 and the Mantra 5. I’m going to go to another demo day next weekend to make a decision.

If you’re in the Ottawa area and want to go skiing, send me a line!

Songs, Sophomoric Thoughts and Peanut Butter

Maybe it’s a teen / young adult thing but I remember loving song lyrics. Back then it was MSN messenger days and you’d put song lyrics in your name or in your “personal message” or whatever thing. (For non-Canadians, MSN was more popular than AIM / ICQ in Canada back in the day [well, at least in rural Manitoba])

I always thought it was a bit like saying things without saying them. In that you could post some lyrics, and you’d have ascribed a deep meaning to them but just in case, you could just back out and say you just like the song or something if it turned out not to stick with others. Some form of low cost putting ideas out there.

I decided I was going to post more random stuff on my site. I think my go to when I’m not sure what to say will just be music videos. I’m wary of it being at times too sophomoric or emo, but sometimes songs and music videos express what’s on my mind.

And sometimes it leads to things like this:

Trust me, stick with it until at least 1:30

Wrapping a car!

Nicole has always wanted a lime green car. We’ve changed cars a few times and never were we able to get lime green. So for Christmas she asked for car wrap from family members (we don’t do gifts between ourselves).

Let’s just say, it’s a bit tricky to get going, but up to now, the results look promising. We’re not planning on doing the whole car, just some accents.

Obesity, free trade and the US primaries

The world is getting fatter and it appears like one big culprit (I’m not saying it’s the only one) is artificial sugar and the products it enables with low nutrient to high calorie content. (research for: 1,2,3,4 research against: 1)

The interesting thing is how this came to be a global problem. High fructose corn syrup came out from a want in the 70s-80s in the US of lowering food costs. Since corn is such a great crop in terms of how many calories it can feed for the amount of room it takes, the US started subsidizing growing corn crops. (1,2)

Now the problem is that since the US subsidizes cheap corn. That corn gets exported, not just to Canada but around the world with the help of free trade agreements.

A really good takedown of how this all happens is explained by Hasan Minhaj here:

One thing that doesn’t seem to be mentioned is how US politics plays into this. Even the most left leaning candidates in the US presidency race won’t touch this topic. Why?

One reason is explained by Al Gore (1,2,3). Basically, Iowa is the first primary. Every electoral cycle, Iowa and New Hampshire are the first to vote and having a sense of momentum is very important in the primaries. The first votes determine if you are a “real” candidate or not. There have been attempts to change this, most recently in 2012 (1).

I don’t have any real evidence to support it, but I’ve always wondered if something so seemingly unrelated such as when each state in the US votes for their presidential candidate could have an impact of global obesity. Maybe one day someone with the resources to research this will look into it.

Who are you?

I can’t even tell you if this is a real memory or not, but many years ago when I was somewhere around 18 I made some glib comment about “finding myself”. My aunt replied with a quote:

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

And yes, it’s a bit cliché and something your neighbor would have on a coffee cup or something, but, like most quotes, I think it hides a deep truth.

A short article in the Guardian, “Are you really yourself” reminded me of the lesson. Life is not about digging under some veeneer or removing layers of vinyl flooring until you find the original hardwood. It’s about accepting that our inner narative may be limiting us.

In the past I’ve often shied away from my rural past. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t like all the other rural folks who drove ski-doos and went hunting. I was a computer nerd. There was no place for both or for something else. I was in essence playing an archetype.

Perhaps the challenge in changing our minds about who we really are is not to rationally persuade ourselves into a new story about who we are, but to learn to live for periods of our life without one.

Are you really yourself“- Guardian

What preconceived notions about myself do I have left to ignore?
What about you? What are the ones you ignored and grew from? How did they happen?