#34: Easygoing

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Careful, you’re up pretty high; the sky is looking down on you, the world is above you, the ground is below you, everything is as it needs to be. Be still, be like water. Wait your turn, walk in, introduce yourself, sit down, and talk briefly about yourself. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to fear here.

Living an easygoing lifestyle is difficult. A bit ironic that a word with “easy” in it happens to be the exact opposite. Achieving “easy” living is about as easy as racing up Mount Everest, something I’ll likely never ever be able to do in my life. It’s easier to write about living an easygoing life than it is to actually achieve it, which is partially why I haven’t made as much progress in doing so since becoming a regular blogger and writer on here. The progress I have made, which has been wonderful, hasn’t exactly lifted my body from the depths of depression, if you catch my drift; it’s helped in some small ways, while leaving me bereft of help in others. It cannot be overstated how difficult it is for an anxious mind to let go of their anxieties, even when faced with the consequences of them head-on.

Easygoing. Going easy. Life is most worth living when it’s easy, when it’s care-free, when it’s free. Liberate your life by making it easier on yourself. Break free from self-imposed anxious chains. Make something meaningful of what’s within you, what’s so powerful about you.

There’s a lot to appreciate about everyone, regardless of who they are (except fascists). I’d like to take more time appreciating those small things, and then maybe more people will learn to live life more easily in the future. It is within our reach, if we let it come to us.

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#31: The Animal

I, and likely many of my millennial peers, are disillusioned by zoos. Going to the zoo feels like setting an alarm in the morning to go to the local animal prison. Groundbreaking and revelatory documentaries like “Blackwater” have shed important light on the ways wildlife are mistreated in captivity, and although the documentary focused solely on Seaworld, there are elements of it that are reflected in other places, like local zoos. The lack of entertainment, the boredom and tiredness of captivity, the stale and repetitive food, the need to please an alien race. I pity them more than anything as I walk by, as they must be so confused by everything going on every day outside their cages. Just think how confused they must be by average human behavior. Just think how confused you might be by average human behavior.

Even if the animals are mostly treated well and taken care of, I would vastly prefer going to a nature preserve rather than a zoo. Seeing authentic nature, as found on a hike or trek, just appeals to me more than a performative recreation of nature. This is all not to discredit or devalue zoos as an institution for others to enjoy; I just wanted to share my personal preferences so as to introduce a new blog topic.

A more idealistic and humanitarian utopia of animal and human interaction can be found in “Animal Crossing,” a video game series developed and published by Nintendo, appearing on all of their most recent video game consoles. Although the games have certain elements exclusive to each entry, the core formula has stayed the same: enter a new town, befriend the local animal population, curry their favor through gifts and conversation, and take part in local events and festivals such as fishing and bug-catching tournaments, holiday celebrations, and museum viewings. The animals interact just like humans, adopting unique personalities to their speech that shape their decorative and gift preferences. They also have their own houses where all their favorite, hand-selected items and furniture exist. You can find these animals wandering around the town, and sometimes they have optional requests for you to fulfill or random musings they want to share with you. Very rarely do events take place that originate from outside the town; there are no competing cultural influences, just one culture of all animals coexisting with each other. Essentially, Nintendo has gameified having neighbors and a steady, local collective.

What you might notice about this description is how sophisticated Nintendo treats the idea of animal-human community, not as a zoo with humans in complete authority, but as a coexisting world in which regular social norms apply. It is treated as a completely normal and usual thing. In the games, no one ever comments directly on the differences between species, there is no predator versus prey dichotomy, survival of the fittest does not exist, and when animals misbehave or act out, it is in a way that feels more human than anything else. The fact that animals do not need to acknowledge their differences in order to stay alive, like in movies like “Zootopia,” but instead focus silently on being consistently cordial and polite to each other, showcases deep social maturity. It is a benchmark of society’s potential for us, even if that sounds silly.

It also helps that the game moves at a slow, steady, go-with-the-flow pace, incentivizing consistent visits to your town but not without sincere cheer waiting for you when you arrive. Weeds grow on the soil and animals miss your regular visits to their houses, but there are no major consequences for taking it easy in this game. Sometimes an anxious mind needs reassurance that the world can be just as quiet, kind, and thoughtful as needed, and “Animal Crossing” specializes in providing that.

Watch

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Watching and waiting full-time;
He used to scroll blindly through
His previous job’s inbox, with hints of
Nostalgic remembrance when
“Daily Attendance” or “Student IEP”
Appeared, knowing he no longer
Needed to pay them heed
But now his access is gone
And so goes his brief detachment
So it goes.
He should have known this would happen
Eventually

Watch this space, he says proudly,
Knowing nothing about the future
Except its dramatic, unprecedented
Uncertainty;
He sleeps all day and night,
Wasting time and energy and life,
Waiting for emails and inbox
Notifications from elsewhere,
Any messages directed
At his attention, to embrace
To celebrate, to ignore
Ultimately

#30: Almost Done

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An unfinished puzzle, missing a large piece in the center. Almost done. Almost done.

When I first started this blogging endeavor, I didn’t imagine I would talk about all the things I’ve been talking about. Writing is a consistently surprising activity. The blog about CVS pharmacy might be one of my favorites that I wrote, while the one about Overwatch might be my least favorite. To be fair, I was bored, in the middle of play-testing Ashe in quick play, and the topic came easily to my head. Not necessarily the most interesting of these posts, but I hope, if you read it, you didn’t find it a waste of time or anything like that.

I think about all the other unfinished projects I have: the short-story workshop with Hallie, the D&D guidelines for session 3, my first D&D group, all of my half-written novels and memoirs, and my other failed NaNoWriMo projects. Every attempt at restarting MyFitnessPal, every regimented daily schedule, every sleep pattern fix, nearly every long-term commitment. Unfinished, incomplete. And yet I’ve been able to pull off this commitment with majority success. Maybe I should continue this through December and then decide whether or not to make it a New Year’s Resolution, to write a 300-word blog every day? I can see some satisfaction coming from a successful long-term habit-building experience like that; it’s not something I can “cheese” quickly, as it needs to be done slowly and over time. Lots of tasks I would prefer to get over with immediately, but this one has to be slow and steady, which helps my patience grow.

You can even see traces of this at the beginning of the post; I like to look forward to “the end” of things. That eventually I won’t have to do this any more, and I can feel liberated again. It’s a bit of a childish feeling, to look forward to the end, to see the light at the end of the tunnel forever, to see the climax before the exposition, but it’s my scope of mind sometimes. I almost can’t really help it, although I’ve tried.

This is almost over, though, for now. Regardless of how much longer it goes for, there’s no counting whether it will truly continue after November. Here’s hoping whatever decision I make is the right one.

#29: The Knower

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“Knowledge is power, but using it wisely is the key.”

Learn. Know. Do.

Knowing is just as important as doing, and yet sometimes we prize action over inaction, when inaction is the appropriate course. For example, keeping one’s mouth shut at Thanksgiving dinner; it is important to recognize when someone’s behavior is inappropriate, but it is also important to be patient when faced with this behavior. Knowledge, this fundamental information, empowers us to make more patient, thoughtful decisions in our lives. And if there is one moral behind all of these blog posts for November, it’s this: thoughtfulness is paramount. Nothing can replace genuine thought for another person; empathy is what brings us together.

With that being said, in the car yesterday, Alex and I spoke about how patience can make an unexpected, new menace: overthinking. If knowledge is power, then too much knowledge can lead to corruption and self-destruction. Overthinking can make a person feel inadequate, having thought so much about something that it overshadows the thought every other person involved has given to the subject. When a situation only calls for a certain degree of thinking, but you overthink it instead, what do you do? How do you calm yourself down? How do you know what is the appropriate amount of thought to give to a particular subject? Is there such a thing as “overthinking”? Aren’t we always thinking about something?

The answer to the last question is no, surprisingly. We aren’t always thinking, and there are ways to turn off our brains from time to time, surprisingly enough. Here’s an example. As an English teacher, I’ve had my fair share of absent-minded musings during a lecture, and that’s in part because, while speaking, it’s easy to lose track of my train of thought (at least, as someone with ADD, this is how my brain works). I’ll be talking about the themes in Of Mice & Men, when suddenly my brain moves elsewhere and there’s nothing I can do to reclaim my previous train of thought. It’s disappeared from my mind, and now only lives in the students’ memories. This, of course, does not end well. But the point of this is, while speaking, we think less than we do while silent. You can talk and think at the same time, but multitasking has been proven to be less effective than just individually targeting one activity at a time. As an introvert, I don’t like to talk without having a reason to talk, perhaps because I feel more comfortable inside the safety of my own thoughts, but sometimes our thoughts (and knowledge itself) can betray us through overthinking about a subject. And then, without warning, our brains fight against our better judgement. This is the curse of the anxious mind.

If I knew more about mindfulness, I would discuss it here, as I think it’s a wonderful resource to have while talking about the nature of our thoughts. Unfortunately, I am but a mindfulness novice. Maybe some day I can bring that into one of these blogs. Mindfulness would be a quality answer to some of these problems.

#17: The Professional

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Looking over at my stack of business cards, my personal website, and my blog, I am amazed at what it is like to be a professional. Though I am not, by any means, a formally self-employed worker right now, a sort of successful vindication washes over me from seeing all the work I’ve put into improving this side of things. In the future, it would be smart to present my business card to potential employers, to direct them to my website and more. But whether I’ll have the courage to present myself so forwardly, well, the verdict is out on that one. I can always look back on this blog post years later with the hindsight to know what choice I ended up making.

More than anything, though, I am grateful to have spent time establishing who I am in a professional sense. While self-employed-but-not-really-employed, your personal and professional worlds can mesh together easily, if you’re not careful about separating them. You have to decide who you are while you are working and who you are while you are just enjoying life. You have to segment your schedule hour by hour, in order to not feel guilty about taking some time for yourself every once in awhile. You have to stay on top of your to-do list like it’s your closest lifeline to sanity. You have to monitor your identity, as well as your routines, habits, and proclivities. You shouldn’t separate your to-do list into personal and professional requirements, though if you really want to stress the differences, it could work.

Not knowing what I will be doing until the day of can be stressful at times, completely overwhelming at its worst. The unknown is out there, every day. It is an unpredictable world I enter in the morning and afternoon, and then evening comes, when everything returns to routine normalcy. I look forward to evenings during the week, and I look forward to mornings during the weekend. It’s important to have something to look forward to, regardless of what time it takes place.

#13: The Scientific

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As part of an AP Biology independent research project, I had the opportunity to learn more about AI technology, mechanical augmentation, and the transhumanist revolution brewing underneath us. This project gave me the chance to showcase what was inspiring me at the time, and I’m grateful for having done it. Sometimes you listen to a podcast and it changes your day’s focus, and sometimes you do a project in high school that makes you think more clearly about the world.

I never was much for math or hard science, even when I was taking an Advanced Placement course with more teacher freedom over activities in the curriculum. Chemistry, again, was my least favorite subject the year before, and I know that I wasn’t the only student feeling this way. A part of my wonderings about the future are about what life would be like had I been taught by a brilliant and creative science teacher and then pursued a science degree rather than an arts one in college. It’s a far stretch, but I wonder it sometimes. You never know what life would be like otherwise, and I think I’m old enough now to be able to ponder “What ifs?” without judgment.

Despite this, my interest in scientific studies has stayed the course. In video games like Deus Ex, the narrative reckons with deep existential questioning related to human technological advancement: the idea that all progress must be good, that the arc of the moral universe always points towards justice. This interest in these questions from a scientific perspective rather than a philosophical approach originates from video games as artistic outlets. I remember watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series, listening to talks by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and exploring heated debates on internet forums. To me, there needed to be a correct answer to the questions I had about the universe, and as I watched, listened, and explored, I was an impartial observer, emotionally invested in the state of humanity but nothing too personal.

#12: The Foodie

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“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks—on your body or on your heart—are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” — Anthony Bourdain

When Anthony Bourdain passed away this year, it struck me harder than most celebrity deaths. Not that I had watched a thousand episodes of “Parts Unknown,” or that I even owned a copy of Kitchen Confidential. I don’t know if that makes me much of a fan, but I’ve always admired Bourdain for many reasons. The quote above is one of those reasons. Travel has left marks on me, marks that I don’t know if I can ever replace or supplement. I believe my wonder for traveling owes itself to him.

I remember laying face-down on the twin bed in our Pop Century Disney World hotel room, watching “Parts Unknown.” It was an episode about El Salvador, and though I vaguely remember what happened in it, some visuals have stayed in my mind: Bourdain rummaging through a household while the family watches him, a late-night, outdoor festival with music and singing, and limitless, exotic food.

What strikes me most about Bourdain, though, is his advocacy for women’s rights (especially during the Weinstein era of #MeToo), political accountability, and his personal battle with depression. I will always admire how he exposed his viewers to people without seeking to exploit or caricature them. He approached his show’s subjects with an earnest curiosity and respect, not to erase their culture, but to present it faithfully and truthfully. He spoke out against insulation, intolerance, injustice. It was easy to feel that, in spite of his demons, he had an ideal lifestyle: traveling, eating, writing around the world. But, you cannot judge how a person thinks or feels just from how they present themselves. Mental illness is awful. Anxiety and depression’s stigmas must be fought. Reach out to the people you love. He lived a dream life, complete with traveling and food-tasting, and yet persists the myth of “having it all”; that someone can have a successful career, fame, and a family, and still feel depressed. His career blossomed late, allowing him to challenge social norms with a witty, yet wise and experienced eye.

#9: An Attention Deficit

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I’ve lived with attention deficit disorder since as long as I can remember, and the best way I can describe it is as a persistent mental fog. A sentient haze that floats overhead and infrequently drops into my mind to torment me. But that almost sounds too cliche, as if every other writer with ADD has written the same description of their disorder: a fog or haze over the brain. It’s the metaphor that makes the most sense to me, so please pardon the lack of originality.

When I write, the fog dissipates briefly, allowing me to step in, structure my thoughts, and produce a somewhat-cohesive written piece. When finished, it becomes an achievement or accolade that I can herald to myself, as proof that my disorder is conquerable. It gives a temporary happiness.

Writing helps me stay focused on my life while writing about my life. When I write, the guard rails and guidelines appear around my thoughts, helping me focus on my objective. I was never very good at structuring my essays, but I am much better structuring my cognition on the page than I am in the lawless Wild West that is my head.

But living with ADD is difficult. I wish I could say that I’ve conquered it, in some small way, since I was young. Conquering it once is praiseworthy but ultimately easy; it is when the haze descends unexpectedly, catching you off guard, that it strikes hardest and leaves the most lasting impact.

Living with ADD is teaching an English class of teenagers when, suddenly, your focus drifts from the students you are managing to your break twenty minutes from now, while leading a conversation about Of Mice & Men. It’s reflecting on your ungratefulness in your head while asking questions about George’s characterization. It’s having to ask a student for clarification after embarrassingly losing track of time during your own lesson. It’s having to contend with laughter and mockery while recognizing that you can never take it all too personally, and yet it feels so personal to you. It’s having to contend with flashbacks to fourth, fifth, and eighth grade, when you felt your ADD most abused, during your so-called professional dream career. It’s having to watch as the classroom’s attention drifts to other anxieties or preoccupations, just like your attention has. It’s having to listen to professional development meetings where, after hearing about wellness and honesty and community-building among the faculty, you walk silently and quickly away from everyone to the safety of your classroom because someone pointed out your unusual habit of taking persistent notes during meetings; it helps you pay attention just a little bit better, but that doesn’t stop others from laughing about it. It’s having to say no to social outings with colleagues because of your medication schedule. It’s having to sit through new teacher seminars, hearing once again the information you learned in graduate school, but this time, it feels more precise and directed at you and your failings as a teacher. It’s having to contend with all these regrets months later, a decision eternally shaping your future. Your anxiety is what keeps your ears perked and your mind sharp, but it, too, betrays you from time to time.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about forcing myself to read as a kid to expand my creative horizons. I made the choice despite my ADD, just as I do when I write like this. I write despite my struggles and weaknesses. My initials are ADD, and just as my name was given to me without a choice, so also was this curse thrust upon me, without regard for how it would mold my life in the future.

#8: My Voice

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My teachers used to tell me I had a “unique voice.” A writer’s voice. My words resonated with them in some way. I wasn’t much for singing and musical theater, but I harbored an interest in creative writing since I was young, which I think is to owe for my voice developing into what it is today. I remember reading Heat by Mike Lupica and the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, the few books that held my attention enough to make it past the threshold that is the first few chapters. What I mean is, once I make it a certain way into a book, say 40-50 pages in, I have an obligation to finish it, regardless of if I like it or not, and I think that carries over from the books of my youth. I never finished the Harry Potter series, though; The Goblet of Fire is my one exception to the rule.

The point of all this is, I learned to expand my creative horizons thanks to forcing myself to read as a kid. My nerdy interests propelled me through more ambitious creative pursuits. I imagined and designed a set of trading cards with two of my sixth grade friends thanks to Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon. I created a fantasy book series, never finished, thanks to World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons. I imagined a story about nano-machines, augmented bodies, and technologies of the future thanks to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I adapted my undergrad newspaper’s origin story into an epic about civil disobedience, and I adapted my study abroad trip into an odyssey of discovering my identity while life at home as I knew it was disappearing around me. It’s thanks to these creative inspirations that I manage to call myself a writer.

This is my writer’s voice. Maybe you can hear me alright through the other side of this screen, despite us never meeting before. Maybe you’ve imagined a voice in your head for me (hopefully not too gruff). I don’t claim to have a better or worse voice than others, but I guess, according to my teachers, it’s unique enough to stand out. I owe it to so many people, and I am grateful to have been able to train my voice in this way.