The word optimization seems to be dominating my life lately. Optimize your omnichannel strategy to see the greatest ROI. Optimize your supplement and protein intake to repair muscles faster. Optimize your peanut butter to jelly ratio for the perfect sandwich. You get the idea. For a while, I used this buzzword frequently, thinking I sounded knowledgeable when I did so. Now, I find the whole concept dizzying. While optimization isn’t perfection, it is striving for it, in a sense — and that’s why it feels unattainable at times.
I’ve been accumulating a lot of thoughts over the past month, fluctuating between waves of feeling so compelled to write and feeling like writing is the last thing I want to do. I’ve always thought that writing was the way I was meant to express myself — that it would express my feelings better than anything else could. I still believe this, fundamentally, but I lately feel at a loss for expressing myself, period. It’s good and bad. Good, in the sense that I truly do feel like I’m living in the present. I’m taking one day at a time, not looking too far ahead, not dwelling on the past. At the same time, my head and my heart seem to be all out of whack.
I lately have felt like all of my thoughts are just recycled. It’s probably because I do the same dang things all the time and am stuck with myself 100% of the time; when there’s little variability in your life, why would your thoughts radically change?
Something inside me wants to believe that I’m thinking the same things because these thoughts are truly important to mull over. However, I proofread the following snippets multiple times, and all I can confirm is that I’m just getting more self-absorbed. And so I’ve named this post “Know Thyself” simply because that’s all these snippets are indicative of — that I know myself, maybe to a fault.
I was home a couple weeks ago when I noticed a book by Jerry Seinfeld on my dad’s bedside table. I’m very fond of Seinfeld despite not having watched his show nor stand-up very much. The book is titled, “Is This Anything?” and my dad explained that it’s about Seinfeld’s thought process. When he’s coming up with a bit, he brings up the idea with friends and asks, “Is this anything?” e.g., “What about a bit on how useless cotton balls are to men? Is there anything there?” and the friends will either confirm that there’s something or reject it outright.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that moving always sucks; it just can suck a little less sometimes.”
That was my career counselor and dear friend, John “Chief” Mann. I just finished moving a couple of days ago, and we were catching up over beers. I had to agree; I’ve moved countless times over the past six years, usually by myself, and it’s never been fun. The times I have been given help, I’ve actually gotten tearful out of gratitude. I can’t help but getting emotional over a move, between “this is the end of an era” and “oh my God, why do I own so much crap?”
I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately, or perhaps, comfort in the familiar.
For instance, I saw a fox while I was out running about a month ago. Looking at it, it brought me back to the outdoor trip I led with my current roommate several years ago, a freshman orientation trip doing trail work on Mount Yale. This trip would solidify our friendship and also reveal to me that the fox is my spirit animal. Ever since that trip, I have seen foxes pretty regularly, and it usually happens while running. There’s a strange connection I feel when I see them. We seem to lock eyes, and it’s almost as if I am Mr. Fox, gazing in awe at the wolf at the end of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the movie. The spell always breaks when we start to run separate ways.
Millie always brought you a gift when you got home. It could be an old shoe, a book, even someone’s homework.
She loved to ride in the car, though anything above her cruising speed, 35 miles per hour, was too fast for her. With her long eyelashes and eyebrows, I suspected that riding was the only time she could fully see.
Millie was messy, with a constantly slimy beard, burs in her fur, and muddy feet. But she was beautiful. And when you told her she was beautiful, she’d look at you with eyes that said, “I know it.”
It’s more about the quest for the donut than the donut itself.
I’m fairly certain that my coworkers all think I’m obsessed with donuts. Much of this is owed to my affinity for Dunkin’, which I talk about incessantly. I can’t help it that I run on Dunkin’ and that I get major points and deals through Dunkin’s app and that I am very serious about getting sponsored as a trail runner by Dunkin’. In Colorado, where the ubiquity of Dunkin’ is abysmal compared to the East Coast, I have developed a Dunkin’ radar. Wherever I am, I know where the closest Dunkin’ is. (There are 4 in the Springs; one in Montrose and north Boulder; several in south Denver, including off exit 196 and also south Broadway … I could continue.) This obsession is undeniable, but it causes confusion. Certainly, when I get my iced caramel macchiato with skim milk at Dunkin’, I am inclined to purchase an accompanying donut, but that’s not always the case. Why? Because I pursue donuts as a quest, not an afterthought.
COVID has really made me wary of interacting with others. I’m
already quite cynical, and the pandemic has only made me more so. Moreover, I’ve always been pretty OK with doing things alone. And so, I’ve been just going skiing and climbing by my lonesome — a lot.
A few weeks ago, I was at the climbing gym, you guessed it, alone. I was doing the auto-belays for the umpteenth time, air pods in, forehead creased and eyes narrowed, daring anyone to talk to me. An employee approached me. I assumed he was reproaching me for wearing both air pods while climbing, but he was trying to help me out. “You know, there are a couple of others who are also doing the auto-belays, but they’re like you — strong and sick of the repetition. You could get on top-rope together — I could introduce you?”
I was reading an article about the deteriorating mental health of young people during the pandemic. It was depressing. Psychiatrists believe the incidence of depression and anxiety is so severe among youth right now, that a mental health pandemic is occurring parallel to the virus. I can’t say I was surprised by what I read, but still, I’d like to think things are going to turn out alright in the end. But then I considered all the times in the past year that things didn’t seem like they’d turn out at all.
About a week ago, I was finishing up a run and listening to a playlist I had made a friend for Christmas. Despite being the creator of said playlist, I had forgotten that I put a song titled “I Only Say I’m Sorry When I’m Wrong Now” on it, by Cheekface. The song itself is very deadpan and cheeky (no pun intended), and it never ceases to amuse me. But as I listened to it, bearing in mind that the year was coming to a close, I couldn’t help but feel like it actually had some serious wisdom. The chorus goes as follows:
I have been tested for COVID six times now. I imagine that number will climb to a total of nine for 2020. I’ve flown to Mexico, having tested negative for the sixth time four days ago. I’ll get tested upon return. And if I go home to New York for Christmas, I suspect I’ll test before and after that trip, too. I’m getting so tired of tests that it makes me want to forfeit returning home for the holidays, which is just absurd. Of course going home is worth a couple more nasal swabs. But part of me just wants to forgo the stress of the airports and contact with so many others; to just hole myself up in one place, spending time with only a small cohort of people, and not too often. It certainly unburdens me of all the necessary COVID mitigation. But that’s just 2020 for you.
I woke up yesterday with the creeping sensation of fall drifting through the window. As much as I like fall weather, it always fills me with a feeling of dread. I get the sense that things are changing, as they did every year of school, and that it’ll be cold and I’ll be missing home in an instant. This morning, I was also bracing myself for the arrival of pest control, and with them, the hassle of emptying drawers and cabinets, rearranging, and ultimately undoing all of my meticulous organization.
Five months and five days. I had counted. That was how long I went without rock climbing—the longest stint in my life. Man, it was good to be back.
I had a realization about a month ago that I was simply existing. It wasn’t inherently a bad thing, but it was perplexing. COVID had stripped me of so many passions: concert-going, brewery visits with friends, traveling, and most of all, climbing. And yet, I was numb. Shouldn’t I be more upset, given that these activities are what form my entire identity? Shouldn’t I lament their loss? Maybe I did, back when this began in March. But at that point, I really had just gotten used to feeling uninspired by my daily routine. And that frightened me.
Everyone knows that anything in miniature form is inherently better than its normal-size counterpart. Those mini glass Coca-Cola bottles. Mini cupcakes. Mini whisks. Try to argue against me, I dare you. I had this thought (as I often do) when I recently passed by one of those mailboxes that look like a miniature house. Which reminded me of a house in Colorado Springs that has a tree house that is a miniature version of itself. People with these sorts of constructions are some of the few that I’d actually like to meet.
I haven’t posted on here in a while. It didn’t feel like it was my place.
Like the vast majority of America, I was shocked, disgusted, dismayed [insert more adjectives] by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. And as I watched my social media feeds flood with infographics, calls to action, resources to listen to, read, and watch, and all of those black squares, I felt dizzy and paralyzed. And rightfully so; as a white person, I should be humbled and made uncomfortable by my complicity in innumerable structures that systemically and systematically harm people of color. But those feelings couldn’t tell me what to do.
Curious-er and curious-er, as Alice would say.
I’ve been furloughed indefinitely. Co-workers, friends, and family are all reaching out with sympathy, but I’m honestly not too upset. My situation is not abnormal, and frankly, it’s not very tragic in the grand scheme of things. I do wonder how I’ll bide my time, hoping to return to work, and how different the organization will look when and if I do. What’s tragic to me — or perhaps disconcerting — is how much everything seems to be changing around me.
For the first time in a long time – perhaps ever – I feel it’s relatively easy to live in the present. Planning during a pandemic is nearly impossible. As much as I’d like to hold out hope that certain events will take place – concerts, sporting events, returning to work from furlough, alumni reunions, travel – I think it’d be foolishly optimistic to fantasize about them. But that’s OK. The reality is, so long as I’m happy and healthy, I don’t need anything. I’m pretty decently content with spending my days running trails, calling friends, reading books, and listening to music. I’m a bit bored at times, but really. During times like these, being bored is a luxury.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts stewing in my head lately, starting with the word “stewing” itself. When and why did I start using stewing as a substitute for something approximating “ruminating”? Stewing also has a negative connotation (or seems to), when in fact, I love stew. I love simmering a big pot of something and eating leftovers for an entire week. I suppose I think stewing as negative because I use it to describe problems I have — stressors, anxieties — that are simmering on a back burner. I know they’re there, that they’re slow cooking, but I refuse to check on them.
Quarantine is weird. March was an eternity, April sped by. What was once preposterous — going out to only essential businesses, conducting work and school online, “social distancing” — honestly feels normal now. We humans are more adaptable than we think. We’re just so goddamn resistant to change initially.
I went home to New York in the middle of March. That was the beginning of the panic, when it just seemed appropriate to get with your family and hunker down to weather this storm. The week prior, I was in a funk. My beloved dog, Millie, had just passed away. I had signed up for a marathon in June, hoping that having a goal to work towards would give me some purpose. My work trip to Tokyo and subsequent visit to friends and family in Portland had been cancelled. My next day off was months away. And I had no idea when I’d see my siblings and parents next. “Maybe Thanksgiving?” I wondered.
It took some time to gather enough “snippets” worthy of a post. Quarantine is like that sometimes, I suppose.
One day is like, “Man, all the weeks have blended together. What day is it — Monday or Saturday? Oh, it’s Thursday. And what year is it again?”
And then other days are like: “You’ll never guess what happened today: I saw a dog!”
Anyway, without further ado…
Last week started out particularly strong when I got the brilliant idea of making myself a “Blink 180 Tuesday” playlist for my Tuesday run. Blink 180 Tuesday is arguably my favorite party theme. It’s not that I was necessarily a huge Blink fan back in the day, but 14-year-old me (and current me, honestly) certainly raged to plenty of Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic! At the Disco, All-American Rejects, All Time Low, etc. Listening to that music not only is sentimental, it actually really resonates during this angsty time we’re in. After all, it’s not that strange for quarantine to leave you trapped in your room singing, “I’m just a kid and life is a nightmare,” and, “I’m in too deep and I’m trying to keep up above in my head instead of going under” … you know?
Just when I think I’ve almost — almost — gotten used to this quarantine thing, I wake up in a panic. Today was particularly brutal because not only did I wake up to terrible allergy congestion, but also had an incredible dream interrupted. I dreamed that I was marrying Nick Jonas. And it wasn’t a superficial marriage; I was marrying him with the knowledge (you know, that weird background information that you just somehow have in dreams) that our relationship had been a full romance: dating many months, years even, Nick Jonas eventually proposing to me in a sweeping chivalrous gesture. I woke up dismayed that I was not marrying Nick Jonas, but instead was struggling with a clogged nosed, crusty eyes, and a whole new day of NOTHING ahead of me.
A shocking number of tidbits collected in the past few days! Maybe we WILL survive this quarantine!
This last Friday, my department had a Zoom rock-paper-scissors battle against another department to combat “March Sadness.” It worked.
A bracket of department members was made in advance, and the heads of the two departments moderated. For each match, everyone muted their video screens except for the two playing and the two moderators. At the count of three, you had to hold up a paper with the word rock, paper, or scissors. Some got creative — writing all the words in Spanish, printing a photo of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, holding up a physical pair of scissors. It was a nice way to spend 30 minutes and forget about all the sh*t going on.
Well, I was right. As life becomes increasingly uneventful, there really isn’t much to muse about it. It took me basically all week to scrape together the following, and it isn’t much.
At this point, my life is really only structured around running and the occasional conference call I have to be on. I know that running is something that I already do on a routine basis, but since there’s so little to talk about right now, I’ve become increasingly irritated when someone in the family asks me, “Did you run today?”
I realized the other night that when I originally created this blog five years ago, the whole intention of the “ponderings” page was precisely what I’ve just now been doing — that is, small blurbs / ideas / thoughts that come to me throughout the day. I suppose that’s what Twitter is for, though I’ve never been very good at that. But somewhere along the line, I decided that no, these posts couldn’t be so short and simplistic; they had to have a cohesive topic.
As is usually the case when I post things, I thought of some other highly entertaining things to talk about right after I clicked “publish” yesterday. Let me grace you with those things.
The first, is that in addition to blabbing on about running marathons, I meant to talk about how my supervisor Skyped me the other day, asked me how I was doing, if I was running. After I answered her questions, she just went, “Some guy ran a marathon yesterday on his 23-foot deck!” I responded, naturally, “WHY?” And she just went, “It took him over six hours!” Well, I’ll be.
Back to back days, who knew I had it in me?
I realized last night that I had missed out on a couple talking points worth noting. The first: this article. To summarize, the author basically says how walking her dog is the only thing keeping her sane, because it’s the only activity that hasn’t lost its normalcy. You still see your fellow dog walkers; you’re already usually 6 feet apart from people anyway; your dog still needs exercise and to pee/poop. Why would anything change about that? And after reading it, I can wholeheartedly agree. With the Olympics postponed yesterday and my job with the Olympic Committee now up in the air, I felt pretty committed to just wallowing. But I took the corgi for a walk and met my friend Hannah and her poodles, Ollie and Tucker, and we had a lovely time laughing and catching up and processing the pandemic together. It lifted my mood enormously, and for that, I am very grateful to have a pooch to stroll with.
As R.E.M. would say, “it’s the end of the world as we know it,” but I don’t feel fine. I am fine; I’m healthy and safe and still employed and I should just be grateful because that’s more than a heck of a lot of people can say. But I’m allowed to be thrown off a bit, just like everyone else.
People keep asking each other what they’ve been up to in order to maintain their sanity and pass the time. I personally have been cold calling people, out of curiosity: how’s your apocalypse going? While I’m mostly doing it to catch up with loved ones, I’m also doing it to really make sure this is happening, that this isn’t all a weird dream or perhaps an acid trip. Unfortunately for me, these calls have been affirming that yes, our reality is quite truly f*cked up. But fortunately for me, I at least can commiserate over the phone with the unlucky individual who decided to actually pick up and talk to me.
I deleted social media off my phone a month ago. I didn’t have much of a reason. Immediately after announcing it, there were some friends who were somewhat shocked — they reached out, commending me for my noble act, claiming I was “stronger” than they were. Honestly, I think it would be unwise to call myself “strong” for deleting the apps, but likewise, it would be arrogant to say that it meant nothing to do so. In reality, I was at home, it was the 31st, and I was eating cereal while watching the Today show — a rare luxury. Hoda must have said something that made the idea pop into my head: do away with all social media applications, but not my accounts. Just take a break from it, no deadlines. And with that, I kept munching on brown sugar Oatmeal Squares.
It’s strange how birthdays change meaning over time. Growing up, your birthday is the best day of the year — presents, cake, everyone’s attention on you. You have a party with all of your friends. You feel special and important.
But isn’t that all true when you’re grown, too? The fanfare is all the same, and yet we feel bad about our birthdays. They fill us with dread. Another year older just means we’re getting further away from our youth and closer to the tough, painful years of elderliness. And I suppose this is true, but why do we turn so pessimistic about our birthdays when we used to be so optimistic?