Dec 29, 2016

Second half of 2016 in review: narrative

Picking up from my last review, this is a 6-month review to put my yearly reviews in sync with calendar years. See also part 2.

9:13 pm on a Tuesday in Ann Arbor. The Last Word is beginning to fill up. I'm the only one with a laptop out. That's okay.

My waitress is a little impatient with me, a slow solo drinker occupying a four-top. The open laptop probably isn't helping matters. That's okay.

I opened an old freewrite from New Years Day 2016 immediately before starting here. The experience recorded there feels very close. Was it really a whole year ago?

And yet, on reflection, much has filled up my life since then. I toyed with the idea of dating Servilia, I decided to date Servilia (all while seeing Cornelia in the Bay), I moved to Michigan with the express purpose of dating Servilia and succeeded in doing so. A few weeks of that happy thing, then Servilia decides to break up and that seems like a pretty good idea to me.

I go to Ethiopia. Marvelous. Addis: smoggy and packed together, colors and sounds and dirt. Lalibela: snug above green valleys, full of Italian food and ancient churches. A wonderfully muddy motorbike ride to a mountain monastery. An entire lifetime in a week.

Back to America, and single again. Days at work, punctuated by workouts at the Y and dinners with my parents. Cornelia, still upset from our breakup, surfaces to tear me to shreds. I don't feel it though. When you initiate the breakup, you're the villain, but you don't get hurt.

Without Servilia, there's no motivation to stay in Ann Arbor. Most of my childhood friends now live in different places, and many of those connections have faded. Days are mostly solitary. I spend time with my parents, which is nice, but there is friction there, and one's parents can't constitute the entirety of a social sphere.

And Michigan is nice, Michigan is lovely. Rides up north, admiring the freshwater sea. Trips to places I have never been before. Sand beaches, warm weather, good company. Forest roads that stretch out until converging to a point. But summer is closing, and Michigan winter is a different beast.

So back to the Bay it is. The usual rush that foreshadows a move: what to pack, what to leave, what to do with the king bed I purchased for my summer sublet and the motorcycle I acquired on a whim. Packed clothes and effects, left books with my parents. Sold the bed to a friend, winterized the motorcycle and stowed it in my parents' garage.

And I'm back. I rapidly move out of the group house where I had spent the year prior to my Michigan sojourn. I like that house, enjoy the people. But our interests are largely divergent, and another friend had offered me an open apartment in a beautiful 1920s building. ("The structure is raw redwood," the landlord assured me, "never rots, never molders. Strong.") How could I pass that up?

Two weeks after returning to Oakland, I'm moving out of my room in the group house. Another logistical rush: pack up everything I possess, pick up a U-Haul, load the U-Haul despite a light drizzle, make the short drive to the new building, unload everything with the help of a soon-to-be-former housemate. After finishing, we take the U-Haul to a gelato place (we figure we can get away with parking illegally on a residential street if we leave the emergency blinkers on).

My new place has wood floors, big bay windows, and more than one room. I've never had more than one room to myself before. It's nice. I use the walk-in closet as a motorcycle staging area, and in so doing discover that I derive an immense amount of pleasure from possessing a room entirely dedicated to a single hobby.

I rent a desk at a co-working space in Berkeley. The space is less community-focused than the one I used in Ann Arbor. This suits me, for the most part, though building management insists on piping a combination of indie rock, electro-pop, and mainstream hip-hop through the common area speaker system 24/7, which is slowly driving me insane. Nothing compares to listening to Vampire Weekend's "Mansard Roof" at 10 pm on a Friday when you're the only one in the office.

For the most part, it's good. I'm able to focus well at my desk, and when focus flags, there are a multitude of corners to which I can regroup. The internet is fast & reliable. I spend a lot of time contorted into curious postures in the co-working space's tiny call booths, speaking to my manager, vendors, and my team. At the end of each day, I leave my computer at work, which causes me to spend less time on the internet & more time reading.

In sharp contrast to the first two thirds of 2016, I begin to build a solid routine. Up at 5:30 (if I'm good), or 6 (when I'm sloppy), quick breakfast, then a 15-minute to work. Coordination and response with my team, some individual contributor work if I can carve out time for it. The gym or a run around 4 (if I'm good), then home by 7 or 8. A couple hours of quiet domesticity – cooking, eating, reading, watching episodes of BoJack Horseman on my phone, doodling on the keyboard – then bed by 9:30 (if I'm good) or 10 (when I'm sloppy).

And this repeats, every weekday. I like it. A routine has power. Large chunks of your day become totally controlled by habit, which frees up a lot of cognitive power. You don't have to think about what to make for breakfast – you have Grape-Nuts and orange juice for breakfast, just like every day. You don't have to think about how to get to work – you ride down 51st, then up Shattuck into Berkeley, just like every day. Each workday starts the same: settle in at the office, pour yourself a hot beverage, check your calendar & the metrics dashboard, then dive into the morass of correspondence awaiting reply.

This rhythm is powerful. This rhythm is liberating. It reminds me of that Flaubert quote: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

This is how life has been proceeding for the last few months, and it's how I expect it to proceed for the first few months of 2017. Beyond that, everything's foggy. (I don't think there's much value in extending one's planning horizon far into the future, and I try to limit mine to 3-4 months out.)

Goals for the next few months? I have goals; I'd prefer not to expound on them here. They can be stated simply:

  • do excellent work at my job, and grow from this.
  • date a romantic partner I'm excited about.
  • commit to a daily sitting practice, and a weekly meditation class.

[rereads: 2, edits: multitudinous phrasing tweaks, anonymized the names of ex-girlfriends]