Monthly, (09|10|11|12)/23

TL;DR: I have been slacking when it came to my monthly summaries since the end of Summer. If you’re interested in why that is, continue on - if not, your time is probably spent a lot better if you don’t. No hard feelings.

If you have been checking out this site from time to time, I’m sure that you have noticed that there hasn’t been a monthly post since the end of summer - which is true, but not because I have been in hibernation for the past couple of months. Quite the opposite.

The last quarter has been more turbulent than I expected or anticipated. A drawn out, somewhat complicated move. Things at work that demanded more of my attention, for a longer amount of time, than I had originally planned for. Some health issues and unforeseen personal events sprinkled on top.

All of this contributed to me rather spending my spare time binge-watching documentaries (I “know” a lot about space now ..), playing BattleBit and occasionally slogging through my miniature backlog instead of working on projects, researching things, or honing new skills.

Originally, my intention was to turn this post into a short summary of what I did the past couple of months. I wanted, to some extent, follow the model I had previously used for the monthly post, talking about the books I read and the music I listened to. And that would have worked, because despite all of the things I mentioned above, I managed to read a surprising number of books - some of them very good, which would have warranted a public recommendation for others to read them as well. I had even begun writing paragraphs that did just that.

But the further I progressed I realised that this felt like a shallow attempt at catching up. And as much as I enjoyed reading the things I read, and listening to the things I listened to, neither of those were the important parts of the time since I last published a monthly summary. So I kept rewriting different paragraphs over and over, trying to determine what I actually felt like talking about.

(I have to say this though: If you are even remotely interested in tabletop games, I highly recommend you get your hands on “Talking Miniatures”.

It is a set of books, consisting of two volumes. Written by Robin Dews and John Stallard - who, if you are interested in the history of Games Workshop, probably ring a bell or two - it “draws together entertaining and occasionally surprising recollections from the eclectic cast of designers, sculptors, artists, rebels and non-conformists who gravitated towards the early Games Workshop and Citadel Miniatures”.

This official description I directly quoted here fits perfectly. It’s a collection of interviews with a wide range of people who have influenced what is now Games Workshop and the universes of Warhammer. Even if you’re not particularly interesting in learning about the history of a company, most of the interviews are hilarious as well.)

During the process of continuous rewriting and successfully turning this post into a Frankenstein-ian mess, something between a consolidated report about my past couple of months and an entirely different personal post, I reminisced about how this last year went, and what I’m expecting or hoping for the coming one - and ultimately realized that those are the things I wanted to write about, the things that I wanted to jolt down in order to allow myself to sort the chaos that’s (probably) going on in my thoughts.

In hindsight, large parts of this year felt like a perpetual state of “being in transit”, in almost any area of my life, personal and professional.

While I was, at times, quite busy at work, I rarely felt like I was actually doing anything meaningful. Despite completing projects that have been a pain for everyone for a long time I didn’t feel like I actually accomplished anything.

Which is kind of painful, given that I’m in the extremely lucky position to be employed by an organisation that’s not driven by profit, but is instead (for the most part) able to focus on providing services and performing duties that are beneficial to a large, general audience.

I think it was the fact that even in the face of this prevailing sense of “doing good”, I felt that there was more that could be accomplished. That there was a more positive impact that could be made, if only x, y or z would be done, begun with or changed.

There were quite a few moments where I was convinced that there were some external circumstances that needed changing, and that they could be changed if only I (or others) fought hard enough for them to change. And despite, at times very obvious, signs that things weren’t going to change, or not going to change because of what I did, I kept pushing. Which, in turn, resulted in recurrent frustrations that slowly, steadily ate away at my energy reserves.

It wasn’t necessarily that things were bad, but I felt they could be better. Me constantly pondering about work definitely didn’t help with stress in my personal life. For reasons that I won’t further elaborate - not because I feel a need to be secretive, but because the reasons really aren’t all that entertaining - I spent the period from around the end of September until the end of November living between two flats, neither here nor there.

I suspect that this very specific type of stress contributed majorly to the struggles with my personal health that I had to deal with this fall. Never being able to fully relax and completely calm down for a moment or two is probably something that the human body can deal with for a short while, but not when it becomes the norm.

Eventually, this lead to what began as a regular bout of the common cold to becoming something different. I’m neither a doctor nor a someone with professional knowledge of psychology or psychiatry, but in hindsight I feel like the cold acted as a catalyst for something akin to “burnout”. With my body being exhausted my mind finally gave in to all the load, burden and stress of the past few months, which in turn lead to me spending almost the entirety of my sick leave in a, for lack of a better word, ‘vegetative mental state’.

Which sounds horrible at first, and it wasn’t exactly a comfortable few days. But there definitely was a positive to take away from it. These few days acted as a stark reminder that it’s truly not worth it. As much as it’s one of the better jobs in the ‘capitalist hamster wheel’, it’s still a job. There’s no point in wearing oneself out, quite to the contrary. That’s helping nobody, least of all myself.

Returning to work afterwards, I took a couple of steps back. Which is not to say that I quietly, internally quit my job and browsed Reddit for most of my workday. But I re-shifted my focus, ensuring that the tasks I was given and problems I had to solve where done as good as possible. Wherever I saw an opportunity to help, or to improve things, I did do so. But I stopped hitting my metaphorical head against a metaphorical wall for no gain.

This was, without exacerbation, one of the best professional decisions I have ever made. Not only was it doing my personal well-being loads of good, the quality of parts of my work also improved, because I was able to focus more of my energy on it, since I wasn’t busy trying to extinguish fires and juggling half a dozen responsibilities (that weren’t even mine) at the same time.

Shortly after these events, I finally completed my move, which meant that I finally had one, single place to live. A space that I could now begin to convert into a home, a living arrangement where I’ll most likely stay for a very, very long time. And while there are some things in my flat that will require effort and investment in order to fully transform it into a “perfect” state, I’m comfortable and “at home” for the first time in quite a long while.

As much as it is comfortable (in the literal sense of the word) to have an office space at home, with a desk that’s not completely filled the moment you place your laptop on it, it’s the fact that I have the possibility to retreat, to have a space - which is entirely detached from the regular living arrangements - to myself that’s relieving.

This was at the beginning of December, and ever since then I’ve busied myself with .. nothing, for the most part. Except for working on furniture, cleaning things, and general “freshly moved in”-chores, I tried to give myself as much rest as possible, in every sense of the word. And except for the ‘rona for Christmas (which I would have loved to avoid, but .. yeah), that worked out well, I’m really looking forward to what’s coming next.

While I was typing out this post, trying to put what I am hoping for next year into words, it dawned on me that I don’t actually know. Until now I was pretty wrapped up in the here and now, rather than having the mental capacity to think about what’s to come in the future.

So, to be honest with whoever is reading this: I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few months. As much as I’d like to have a clear perspective on what 2024 is going to bring with it, in any area of my life, I haven’t.

However, there are a few “smaller-ish” goals that I want to work towards. There is tons of writing (some excellent, some questionable) and videos (some excellent, most questionable) out there on how to formulate your goals in order to create conditions which are most suitable for actually achieving them.

Most of the advice includes some form of “Be precise, don’t leave room for ambiguity”, which probably makes sense, since this would make it harder for you to lie to yourself. But, in the spirit of questionable decisions, my goals are rather spongy.

I want to become a lot better at my own tools. There’s a certain set of software that I have been using for a long time now, things like vim, tmux, ansible and the whole host of binaries and built-ins that tend to accompany your typical bash.

I could probably add Git to this list as well. But while it is true that I have been using it on occasion, I really don’t feel like diving deeper into it at the moment. My developer friends might be internally screaming every time I resolve a merge conflict (or any other issue, really) by deleting the repository and cloning it again, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay for my own sanity. Contrary to my usual approach to criticism I’m not taking constructive criticism on this approach at the moment, thank you very much.

I’m used to them, I know how to complete the tasks I need or want to complete by using them. But my use of them is somewhat “half-baked”. There’s almost always the point where I need to do something with a tool that I haven’t done before, or haven’t done for so long that I forgot how to do it. For example, if I want to rearrange panes in tmux, my usual solution is to destroy and open panes for so long until I finally achieve the layout I want to.

I resort to slow and ugly workarounds instead of taking the time to read up on how to achieve what I want the way the software intends me to achieve it (ctrl+b+[ and ctrl+b+] move panes around, ctrl+b+space change the layout of the window, in case you were wondering).

This habit has annoyed me for a while now, and I’m going to attempt to break it in the future. I’m sure that initially, this is going to annoy me quite a bit, since it requires stepping out of my ugly-and-slow-but-I’m-used-to-it comfort zone. But in the long run it’s likely going to pay off, since it’s going to allow me keep my hands on the keyboard for longer (thus lessening the strain on my wrists), will probably help my focus, because I can rely on muscle memory more, and because mastering tools is always a satisfying feeling.

Speaking of “satisfying feelings”, releasing something that you wrote to the wider world is remarkably satisfying (and also terrifying at times, because the Impostor Syndrome is real). Which makes it even sadder that I have done so comparatively little throughout 2023.

My notes contain a number of drafts for blog posts, in varying states of progress, that I have started, worked on, and eventually abandoned. This includes short notes on odd bugs I encountered as well as lengthy essays and analyses on a range of topics.

There isn’t, at least as far I can tell, a unified reason for why I ended up not continuing to work on those drafts. But recurring themes are that I feel like it’s not going to be interesting for anyone except me, that I’m not competent / knowledgeable / experienced enough to talk about a specific topic, or that someone else has already talked or written about the topic I was working on that it would be a “waste of time”.

The thing with all of those is: I know that they either aren’t true, or aren’t relevant. The platform I’m publishing my writings on is a website hosted on the Internet, my personal one to be specific. I’m not writing things to submit them as an academic paper, or as a homework for school. I’m not writing as part of a commercial contract, or in a professional position. Of course I have my personal standards that I want to adhere to, but that’s it. Even though I aspire to add value to the world, it truly doesn’t matter if I don’t. Yeah, someone else has probably written about x, y or z already - so what?

I want to keep this in mind, and to keep pushing through when I am inclined to abandon a writing project. I’m not saying that I want to end up releasing everything that I write about, there might really be things that I don’t feel like publishing, or drafts that turn out to be “bad” in a way where outright abandoning might be the right choice for me. But I’m genuinely going to attempt finishing more things that I start, with regards to writing.

Maybe there are more things that I will eventually end up realizing to be “goals” for next year. If that’s the case I might edit these last few sections at a later date. But whatever happens, given that I already did my best this year, no matter what the circumstances were, I hope that I will able to continue to do my very best. (If this reference doesn’t ring a bell, I highly recommend you go and watch “Dinner for One”. It’s a blast.)

Happy 2024, you magnificent bastards.