Embracing Uncertainty

In the midst of this time of great uncertainty, I’ve stumbled upon an observation: Those who are dealing the least well with the uncertainty are those who refuse to accept it.

Those that want to know how long the schools will be closed. Those that want a hard plan for when and how to re-open businesses. Those that want to know, exactly, when things will get back to normal.

These are the people that are suffering the most during these times. These are the folks I see being frustrated and angry. These are the folks flailing about trying to figure out what to do. Because they are seeking and hoping for answers which are, at this point or any point in the foreseeable future, impossible to accurately give.

Those that have worked to become comfortable with uncertainty — the peace that can come from not knowing — are the ones that I see doing the best with the current circumstances. They are perfectly OK with accepting and working with each day as it comes. As new information about how to proceed arises, they proceed. If not, they make the best of where they are. If we accept uncertainty instead, we can take that energy and focus on what we can do. We can appreciate what opportunities we do have. We can make do.

Therefore, it has occurred to me that the problem is not the uncertainty. The problem is in working against the uncertainty. Of wishing and hoping and demanding that which is impossible to gain. By setting a date you’d like to re-open only to have your Governor move the date of the stay at home order back. Wanting school to be back in session by the end of April only to receive an announcement that they expect to be closed for the rest of the year. In fact, uncertainty only causes worry and anxiety when we wish/work/want against it.

When we accept things the way they are, when we embrace not knowing, only then can we make do with the way things are. Only then can we do the best we can with the situation we’re in. If you are stuck at home on a beautiful day, wishing you could be somewhere else will only make things worse. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can.

This is not the time for dates and plans beyond the here and now. This is the time for taking the here and now and making something of it. If you need something to look forward to, look forward to the possibility that you might, maybe, have the same opportunity tomorrow. Maybe not. You don’t know. We never do. Isn’t that amazing? I think so.

To Help and Be Helped

I’m one of those people who loves to help others. It fills me with a sense of satisfaction and usefulness. Therefore, I enjoy when people reach out and ask for my help with a problem I can solve. It feels really good to meet a real need.

Paradoxically, I’m terrible at asking for help when I need it. I feel guilty and ashamed. I feel like I’m asking for something I don’t deserve. But, when I do humbly accept and receive help I really needed, it feels so good.

I was last night years old when it occurred to me that in asking for help I’m likely opening the opportunity for those, like myself, that really are filled up by helping. It is a gift for them as much as it is a blessing for me. That by being vulnerable I’m allowing others to use their strengths. Also, I’m making it easier for them to ask of me in the future. Not because we consider a favor owed but because we have an understanding of the symbiosis between the helper and the helped. We’ve humbled ourselves and have been seen vulnerable and thus communicate to the other that it is safe to do so with us.

Expecting Uncertainty

One of the themes I notice coming to fore in this pandemic crisis is that of uncertainty. The fact that things are changing so fast… One day there are a certain number of cases and the next there are so many more. One day the restaurants are open and the next day they are shut down. One day the stock market is up, the next it is down. Gathering in groups of ten is OK, until it becomes two, until it becomes mandatory to stay at home.

We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know what “over” will really look like. Will our favorite restaurant be able to re-open? Will the kids be able to go back to school? Can we reschedule that trip we were planning to take? All unknowns.

Living with such unpredictability is difficult, for sure. But, I would argue that we live with such uncertainty every moment of every normal day and always have. We don’t know for sure if the plans we’ve made for tomorrow will come to pass or fall through. We don’t know if that restaurant we ate at today will go out of business tomorrow. We don’t know, for certain, that we will be alive in the next moment. Yet, we are able to replace such uncertainties with plans, hopes, dreams, desires. We replace uncertainty with these things. Believing that the plan we made will come to pass. Desiring that delicious meal we ate yesterday and being pretty certain we can have the same thing for lunch tomorrow. We hope we wake up tomorrow, after all, we are healthy and…

But, in truth, all of these are uncertain. The only difference is our expectations.

Before, we believed we knew what to expect. We could weigh those expectations against past occurrences and plan accordingly… I woke up today, why not tomorrow? I just ate there yesterday, it’ll be there today?

Now, we have no idea. Now, we don’t know what to expect, what to believe in, or how to plan for what comes next. We know that any of these things will be built on what has all to quickly become our new normal — plans, hopes, dreams, expectations are likely to be dashed against an ever changing reality.This leads to anxiety and worry.

The only comfort I believe one can take in times like these is the solace and the comfort in knowing and seeing the truth of our existence — that there is and only ever has been the right-here and the right-now. That uncertainly is an ever present part of our existence. That, in many ways, the only certainty is uncertainty. The only way to truly get comfortable with that is to sit with it, to accept it, and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Why I’m no longer linking to Amazon for books…

For a long time now, I’ve linked to Amazon when linking to books, especially on my /reading page. The reasons:

  1. It was an easy default and I always knew that if something existed at all there would be a greater than 99% chance one could find it there.
  2. As an author, I know from direct experience that 80% or more of an author’s sales (especially small/indie ones like me) are not only through Amazon but the vast majority of those on Kindle. In my personal experience as an author, they’ve been excellent at not only selling lots of books that I otherwise would not have sold but also putting my books in front of potential readers.
  3. Affiliate program. I get a small portion of the proceeds of everything you buy when you click on a link to Amazon through this site. That provides a very small but, until now, meaningful portion of my income.

So, going forward I’ll be linking to Amazon a lot less and never for books if I can avoid it. Instead, I’ve decided to take the sage advice given to me by Dan J and have also asked a couple of my favorite local booksellers theirs. I’ll be linking to IndieBound for all books starting this year. I’ll go back and update past links on my /reading page when/if time allows.

First of all, I love independent bookstores. I’ve been trying to be more intentional with supporting them with my dollars for a while now. I’m fortunate to have several great ones only a few minutes drive away from me. I want to support these stores in whatever way I can. All of my local stores are connected to IndieBound through membership in the American Booksellers Association. When you buy a book on IndieBound it helps support all of it’s members and shows you the local bookstores in your area that carry that book so that you might consider going to pick up a copy directly.

Secondly, Dan J makes many very valid points about the inherent problems with always/only linking to Amazon. A key one being:

The problem with linking to Amazon as a “safe default” is the same as the problem with just publishing your book on Amazon and calling it a day: it entrenches Amazon as The One True Place Where Books Are, and, while convenient, that’s not good… it’s not good for society to have one big private corporation responsible for distributing such a huge proportion of the collective written work of the human race.

I agree with this and no longer wish to contribute to it. I wish to honor my values as a book lover, reader, and longtime supporter of independent booksellers and the belief that we should free ourselves of silos. I want to be a good citizen of my local community. Linking to Amazon does not align with those values.

I love email…

My email inbox is largely a delightful place filled with people I actually know, friendly strangers offering kind words, enlightening newsletters, important notices, and things worth my time and attention. It’s that way because I’ve spent years making it that way. My precision use of complex filtering rules, marking things as SPAM, and unsubscribing (often from that same SPAM) means only a small manageable amount of things I don’t want or need ever gets seen. I have a separate address (a Gmail one) that I use for signing up for things online, this ensures that advertisements, promotions, those that seek to sell my address, is best handled by the people who are in that very same marketing/advertising business. This all helps to keep my personal email box meaningful.

I love the history of it. I love that it is the earliest of two-way communication protocols on the internet. I love the way that it, mostly, works like actual mail — with senders and receivers and mail boxes and postmasters. I love that it can be used to convey a brief message or a long diatribe. That one can reply above, below, or within the previous message depending on what best fits the need. It’s flexible and ubiquitous.

I’ve never not loved email. Even when I worked in large collegiate and corporate environments where I received a far larger volume of email than I do now as a self-employed person. I’ve always found that if one does not like email, especially due to their work-related email, it’s not a problem with email. It’s a problem with the culture and the expectations of communication therein. In these circumstances, I’ve found it far more effective to teach others —tell them how you use email, set proper expectations for them, and come to some agreements with those you most interact with. Try to shape the culture as a whole or in your immediate, controllable, vicinity.

I’ve also found it very helpful to take the time to really know and use my email client of choice. For me, that is Mail.app — the built in email client on the Mac. I’ve been using it as my main email client since the very first beta versions of Mac OS X. I’ve taken the time over those years to learn every keyboard command for the tasks I use most often such that I can read, reply, process, and file away every message without removing my hands from the keyboard. Knowing your tools makes using them that much more pleasurable. Hosting my own email and using IMAP ensures that my email works the same regardless of the device. I always know what to expect and rarely have an issue with it being down.

Therefore, I’m always a bit perplexed by people who hate email or are compelled to “fix” email. I’m even a bit perplexed why folks hand over control of their email to a big corporate host (i.e. Google). Not saying it is wrong — I just don’t understand it. It doesn’t fit with my experience.

I say all this to suggest that, perhaps, email is not “broken” but the way we are using it is. Perhaps there is a solution that could make things better for you that doesn’t involve a new app or service. Perhaps, if you hate it, in changing the way you approach it you’ll find a way to love it again.

Short Takes 01.22.2020

Much like Kottke does with his Media Diet posts or Khoi Vinh’s monthly movie reviews, I plan to regularly post about recent things I’ve watched that are worth a short mention. Here we go…

Movies

The Last Black Man in San Francisco — A haunting and deeply moving film about identity and belonging in a nebulously post collapse San Francisco. Have not stopped thinking about it since I saw it.

The Farewell — A very lovely and moving story about a Chinese family who’s matriarch is dying but they don’t want to tell her so they have a wedding instead as a way of getting the family together before she passes. Awkwafina has such a presence. A wonderfully versatile actress who I can’t help but think is just at the beginning of a long and fascinating career.

Booksmart — Every generation needs it’s own Fast Times at Ridgemont High and this is the one for now. Luckily, it’s funny and smart and has a big heart. Let’s hope it ages better than it’s predecessors.

Little Women (2019) — I’ll admit that I mainly went to this because my wife and daughter wanted to see it. I’ve seen the 1994 version with Wynona Ryder and, frankly, she is the only memorable thing about it. I’m glad I saw this one because I loved it — well acted and perfectly cast. I’ve never read the book and have never had the desire to. Now, it is on my short list to read this year.

TV

Party of Five (TV Series 2020) — I was a fan of the original series as a young adult (huge crush on Neve Campbell) and knew nothing about this Hulu reboot going into it. My wife was looking to watch something new and we too a chance to see just how bad a Party of Five reboot could be… It’s fantastic. Like, really good. It’s political and believable and takes itself and it’s repositioning of the basic story (five kids ranging from baby to young adult are orphaned and must fend for themselves) seriously.

Music

Lydia Liza — I’ve been following Lydia’s work since she was with local band Bomba De Luz and she was still in High School. She’s all grown up now and about to release her debut record, “Of Unsound Mind”. Her writing is smart, her voice haunting, her sound touching on jazz, soul, rock, and folk. An artist you may not of heard of that’s worth hearing.

On Keeping A Daily Log

Over on Micro.Blog, I wrote up a short reply about my practice of keeping a Daily Log. I’ve had people ask before about why I keep both a calendar and a daily log. Here’s why…

The calendar is for the things I intend to do (meetings, tasks, events). My daily log is where I record the things I actually did and note important things that were/are not on my calendar. I’ve been keeping a daily log in some form for years here’s a post about my plaintext based one from 10 years ago. Many thoughts/moments/events end up in the log that were not planned or things that “just happened”.

Because of this habit, I can recall the important details of any day in the past 15 years or so. I can even tell you how I slept the night before for the past five (when I began tracking that). There are too many times to count where having past information in such detail at hand has saved my bacon (”I sent that check on…”, “I called on {date} and spoke to…”)

(FWIW: I currently use a Hobonichi Techo for my Daily Log.)

A Whole Situation

“My gift requires a bit of explaining,” my sister Patrice announced as she placed the paper shopping bag on the ottoman in front of her. “I’ve got a whole situation going on in here!” she exclaimed.

Then, she removed some books from the bag and placed them in a stack. “These are my favorite books I’ve read this year.” She selected each one, gave a brief description of it, noted the ones whose authors she knew, and added personal anecdotes where appropriate with a bit of dramatic flair. “Everyone can choose whichever one speaks to them.”

It seems the simplest of gift ideas. Yet, it also seemed the most well received by all in attendance. An idea I’ll surely borrow for coming years.

How I do blog posts without titles

My friend Kevin asked me via email, “Is it difficult to get rid of titles on blog posts? I so envy what you’ve done…”

Well, part of the secret to that is found in my loose website building manifesto here:

I’m not building a custom theme or messing around with some premium framework. I build using one of the WordPress default themes and making customized modifications to that using a child theme (Additional CSS, FTW!!!)

The Theme I’m using on Rhoneisms is Twenty Sixteen. Another reason for using default themes is that, it supports all of the fancy features. The feature I’ll point out here is “post type”. because, it turns out, that one of the default WordPress post types is “Status”. Also, it turns out, that this post type does not display a title. So, I simply choose that as my post type

So, the way I put this into my “personal style guide” usage is that all of my “tweet style” posts are of the type “Status” and all of the regular essay style posts with titles are of the type “Standard”.

So, no special magic here. Just using the gifts Automattic has given me.

When You Tell Her She’s Beautiful

when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know what the word
beautiful means to you
that she’s savvy and strong
that she’s considerate and kind
that she’s gracious and gritty
that she’s honest and wise
when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know

when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know what matters
that her heart is pure
that her soul is deep
that her mind is broad
that her words are heard
when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know

when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know that you mean more
than the shape of her face
than the toss of her hair
than the sparkle of her eyes
than the flash of her smile
when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know

when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know what you mean
that you accept her wholly
that you appreciate her fully
that you see her completely
that you love her absolutely
when you tell her she’s beautiful
let her know