Content from 2020-04

Heaven is a Place

posted on 2020-04-14 14:35:00


Songs of the Day:

  • Pixies - Velouria
  • The Sea and Cake - Four Corners
  • Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough
  • Soccer Mommy - Circle the Drain
  • Wild Nothing - Midnight Song

It's been a bit of a week. I'm on vacation from work, thank goodness. I had really run out of steam on my projects. It was difficult to focus and I was berating myself a lot which only makes things more exhausting.

There's so much I want to work on.

I have a really, really hard time making myself happy. In a lot of ways, I think I don't know how to play by myself. You would think as an only child that it would come naturally, but it really doesn't. I mean, I can list things I think I'd like to do: read books, play video games, write code, etc. I just struggle to do any of those things or feel good when I actually do them. I think this is why the quarantine has reminded me of what summer break felt like as a kid. There was an initial elation at this sudden freedom in your schedule ... and then a gradual despair as nothing seems to matter without someone to witness it.

I've been rewatching Halt and Catch Fire and very emotionally attached to it. I think one of the reasons is that it's about these characters who obsess and get fixated on projects but really struggle in their relationships. I feel like I'm pretty happy with my relationships but hate myself for not moving forward on the projects I fixate on. I identify with multiple characters on the show and I think I struggle emotionally because they wind up alone, both romantically and in terms of collaborators. In many ways, the show is about failure and how the characters deal with it. And after seeing them grow as people, work so hard, and love so fervently, it's heartbreaking to me to see that failure.

I've been struggling with a need for external validation my whole life. I think there are a few components to that:

  1. I don't really trust my own evaluation of myself and my contributions. This is mirrored in HCF when Joe asks Cameron "What is it that I do?". He honestly can't convince himself that his contributions make people's lives better rather than worse.
  2. Because I get very fixated on what interests me or how I think things should be done, I need to have a fair amount of autonomy or executive function to be happy and have fun. But if I'm doing anything (project or recreation) purely alone I lose steam and belief that it's worthwhile. The need for both structure and validation from collaborators while choosing not only the activity but also most of how it's carried out makes it really hard for me to find people that will come along on adventures with me.

Two different relationships in my life stand out as being unusually good for me by playing to these challenges.

  1. The Iron Yard was probably the happiest I've been at a job ever. I had a tremendous amount of freedom and responsbility in how I ran my classroom. But thanks to the other staff and the students, I never really felt like I was "on my own". I rarely got into that crazy "does it matter, is it really worth anything" headspace. I had external validation (mostly students), collaboration and friendship (staff), and autonomy in how goals were pursued. There was some tension because I sometimes wished I could change the broader educational goals or thought we weren't honest enough with our students about the challenges they would face, but this was dwarfed by the rest.

    I think this is one of the reasons teaching has often been a good job fit for me. Quoth the showrunners from Halt, "I think teaching is a way to spread your love of a thing without needing to be the victor in that particular arena." In a lot of ways, I struggle to to be an engineer instead of a teacher because I either genuinely don't think the technical problems at the company are interesting or because I think I need to be the victor to prove my worth. In teaching, the problems aren't the important thing, getting people to connect with themselves and their curiosity is most important. Tech is just the setting. That feels almost perfect to me.

  2. Ben Minor was my roommate both in college and after and is one of my dearest friends. Ben is a very easygoing guy and happy to do most whatever you want to do all the time. It helps that we have some overlapping interests (aside from code) but in 15 years of friendship, he's rarely not been open to doing whatever I feel interested in doing.

    I often have a hard time working on things on my own. Even if I'm legitimately interested in them, I struggle to make myself believe that they matter or generate forward motion pursuing them. I desperately want collaborators. But frankly, I'm pretty difficult to collaborate with because I have both pretty specific ideas about what we should do and how we should go about it. This makes me relate to Cameron from Halt and Catch Fire because she is genuinely terrible at working with others even though she would love to. She needs to be the special brilliant child a bit too much.

    But this also extends to how I relax and have fun. In an interview with the actor who plays Joe Macmillan, he said: "He wants his friends to play his game. I guess that's his flaw. He wants to be in the sandbox with his friends, but he wants his friends to be building the same sandcastle."

I don't know how to fix this, or even how to work on it really. Norma mentioned recently that when something makes me unhappy my reaction is to stare at it until I feel I understand or can move past it rather than to be avoidant. It results in a lot of unhealthy feeling "stuck time" where I feel anxious and spiral into my unhappiness. Hopefully one day I can find a little more peace, knowing that I'm valued in the world for loving people in spite of being a little hard to work with. I'm still a bit worried that I'm not a great software engineer because I'm more interested in studying, learning, and sharing, than building things. But one thing at a time.

So sure, this week I would love to:

  • Work through Crafting Interpreters
  • Rewrite the graphics layer in Clones
  • Work through more On Lisp, SICP, CS:APP, or Algorithms
  • Investigate tools for literate programming / publishing programs
  • Start using org-mode
  • Make a great mixtape

But I have to take care of myself first. And today, that might just mean doing laundry, missing dad (and wishing I could listen to music with him), cuddling the dogs, and writing. Maybe I'll spend some time in the hammock. All for now...

Unless otherwise credited all material Creative Commons License by Brit Butler