Existential Daynotes: Hardcore Hope Navigation

("Day notes" is a misnomer in some ways. You don’t have to write notes every day, but the act of writing for the day can be useful in itself. A temporary space to pause, to gather thoughts and weave them into something new. There doesn’t need to be rhythm of cadence to this, other than the rhythms of your own practice.)

Going through an old notebook yesterday, I found a slip of paper that I’d written the following words on in capital letters: "HARDCORE HOPE NAVIGATION."

They had rung out at me at the time, enough to give them their own space. And after a busy month leading to another busy, and somewhat uncertain month, Hope is something fully, delicately on the radar currently.

A lot of people seem to be are having rough times at the moment. There’s a faintly British legacy psyche of putting up with it I think, but a lot of it seems more existential than just getting through a bad patch. Omnishambles is turning into Permashambles. Demographically, we have yet to acknowledge the true cost of a retired population. Democratically, individuals are becoming more powerful than nations. Economically, global capitalism is running out of road in a lot of places. Systemically, there is a big question mark over the state of our combined health – of people, places, and the planet.

Like a lot of people, I’m caught up in the effects of all that too. I worry about how best to apply myself, but have trouble committing to a single direction when everything is so interconnected. I feel caught between the experience I’ve accrued, and the challenge of new innovation as well as new problems that we face – and in my mind, new solutions (oh hello AI) do nothing to fix either the existing issues, or embed critical thinking about new ones that they create, or amplify.

I feel pretty trapped, to be honest. I want to tread a path of simplicity and natural acceptance, but the more we rely on consumerist, middle class identities combined with increasing costs and systemic risks, the more we’re going to panic as a society, and the more we’re going to fragment and fight.

So this is where Hardcore Hope Navigation comes in, and why I’m finding it hard to position my own self right now. There are ways through this, but it’ll take a lot of collective willpower to see things differently. Some amazing people are already working in this space, but the forces against them are inexplicably massive. Maybe I should just write about it more? Maybe there’s scope to open up and Do The Weaving more than I currently do.

Open questions seem like a good place to end a day note.

Daynotes 2023-07-05: “Mind” as brain gardener

Feeling different this week as I continue to read "The Middle Path of Life" (see previous post); it seems to trigger some latent meditative states of mind in me, back from when I actually used to practice sitting. In particular, I am detaching from stresses slightly more, being more comfortable with my own tiredness, and – particularly of note – discovering a perspective that is akin to a mental "gardener" than the brain itself.

Ie. If we treat the brain as a processing machine – or something more organic, such as the ecosystem of a tree – then the mind (the reflective surface, rather than the conscious and rational brain or the emotional ego) the mind can be detached as a kind of mechanic, gardener or host role. It can create the conditions for activity to happen, without getting involved in the activity itself. It can act as a scrum master, a distant but loving parent, the scrubber in front of a curling stone. This pattern is everywhere in life, yet we ignore it for ourselves.

The brain may be stressed due to too much work, for example. The forceful mind drives the brain to work harder, but the reflective and supportive mind asks what might help identify and relieve that stress. That might take the form of external actions (speaking to someone to rearrange spec, or deadline) or it might be internal (reassessing priorities, doing something distracting, or so on).

That’s just one example – I’m wary of equating mindfulness with productivity and used that just because I’m heading to my place of work today, but it equally applies to all relationships with the world and the people in it.

The bus has unexpectedly halted before my intended destination. I may be late. Never mind. The growl of the bus engine has gone. Out in the distance, I see scaffolding the fluffy clouds of morning.

Daynotes 2023-06-29: Meditative everyday work

Woke up at 5.20, went back to sleep. Woken up at 6.20, went back to sleep. Dreamed the world was ending but nobody really knew how to react, so everyone carried on as normal. I was worried that people didn’t realise they had to say goodbye to their kids properly when they sent them off to school, as they wouldn’t see them again.

Dreams don’t do punctuation.

A large, rectangular white and yellow building-like structure is obscured by close up detail of raindrops on a window.

Nearly June end. At the start of the month, I took a day out to think a little about where I’m at with freelancing and life in general. I haven’t got round to a better write-up yet, but the big cha(lle)nge I took away from it was a need to work more "mindfully" – that is, to move from a productive-but-mundane approach of following a list of tasks, to a process and routine that "bakes in" the longer term values that are important to me.

It’s one thing working in the field of what I’m calling "long term tech", but it’s another to stick to it in the detail of everyday life. So figure out ways to bring it all together.

Tangentially, this week’s new book is "The Middle Path of Life" by Dhiravamsa. The first few chapters have dug into why meditation is important, and how it requires a shift from an "unconscious" form of behaviour (modern everyday life, the ego, etc) to an approach grounded in "curious awareness" (or maybe "aware curiosity?").

I think this can act as a pivot point for working differently and more mindfully. I started trying to plan out not just what I was doing for the day when it started, but also the things I wanted to be conscious of when doing the work – for long term tech, this often means a lot of good practice, such as decent documentation, clean code, keeping people informed, and so on. (Separate blog post/book/etc…)

Like meditation, this proactive planning is hard to keep up in busy periods, but it’s really all about the practice, not the ritual. If I’m aware that I’m not doing something, this is sometimes more important than making the time to actually do it.

The rain has come and everything smells of overwhelmingly of tarmac.

Daynotes 2023-06-27

New day. New day notes. New day notes file.

Large gap. 1 month. Inner sanctum, closed off to the world. Busy, concentrating, focused, busy.

Many things. New routines. Even the physical manifest is empty last week:

Black and white photo of a double-page spread of an empty planner book, opened at a week in June.

Why is this?

Think. Reflect. Purpose of day notes.

Progress on projects. Feeling productive. Urge to deliver. P’raps it’s the solstice, early suns, fresh breeze.

Or maybe it’s remote working. Digital nomadicism, stuffed backpack. Not carrying the heavy diary, running off scraps of paper instead. Micro to-do lists, piling up in pockets like emails and browser tabs. Urge to clear out.

The perennial question – how important is reflection? Does it matter if I don’t blog? What makes me feel satisfied at the day’s end?

Deep dives into creative work are good. Balance between projects and everyday life is a necessity. Are these inherently in conflict with each other? No point in trying to achieve satisfaction?

Two endpoints, two possibles. 1) A world of North Stars and focal points, clear aims and small milestones. 2) A chaos of directions, do-what-you-can, but accept not that it must be stressful, but that multiplicity is simply an alternative state.

Either way, trust that things are bound together as one; somehow. This is the meeting point, the source of it all.

Daynotes 2023-05-26

Thinking about experimenting with daynotes a bit; Context: This blog originally started out as a way of posting weekly notes, back when I was gainfully employed as a developer-up-to-team-lead. It was a way to personally reflect on the challenges of the job, and a lot of the thoughts were me trying to figure stuff out as I went along, in a more open way.

Right now, I’m in a slightly different position – in some ways the work is still largely the same under the hood: make code run, talk to people, keep things progressing – but there’s also an opportunity to do something different. One of the main ideas, after all, of going freelance was to do my own thing, so it makes sense to apply the same mindset to the facets and side-effects that go along with that, like this blog.

From a legacy perspective, I keep finding myself wanting to take notes about the practical work I’ve done. I think that can be harder to do less interesting for me when the work is technical – although there can still be merit in writing up a particularly tricky challenge.

Instead, I’ll try making these notes a bit more about mindset and freelancing life in general, than about specific projects. This, like the job before it, is the current "life puzzle" I’m going through I guess – and perhaps these are also things that are more shared in common with others?

With that in mind…

Photo of a bench on top of a grassy hill, overlooking a small town in the distance, under blue sky with a couple of fluffy clouds.

Since last time:

  • Wednesday: Woke up absolutely exhausted. The wife suggested taking a day off to recover which was a very sensible suggestion. Been through enough exhaustion to start becoming something of a tiredness connoisseur and knew that it was mainly social and mental exhaustion: I do like interacting with people, and can jump between things quickly, but it gets very tiring after about 2 weeks without a break. I packed some snacks in a bag, caught a bus out of town, and walked down to the sea. After clearing out 100 or so emails from my phone, I walked back over the hills into town, grabbed a bite to eat, and read for an hour.

  • Thursday was slightly choppy as I was working from Brighton, but also needed to head home early to watch the kids while my wife popped out. I’m finding a small amount of time planning to work well though, and have made some decent progress on an ongoing project. For me, I’m noticing that a sense of satisfaction comes from the mixture of spending time on something, and achieving realistic milestones, as well as knowing where I’m at in the project.

  • It was good to catch up with people again, including TC and a satisfying badminton session.

  • I’m continuing to clear Things out. I feel like I need to undo a large amount of the stuff (physical and digital) that I’ve been acquiring over the last 20+ years.

Next steps:

  • I want to carry on a few of the mental trends I’ve been following above, namely 1) relaxing into things, not necessarily to do less, but to do things more elegantly (which often equates to "Better", whatever that means), and 2) spending more time clearing things out. I’ve not read the book, but the
    title "Stuffocation" is a great one which I’m coming back to.

Hey, you know what? Maybe that’s it for now. I could do a braindump of the 101 things I’d like to do, but that’s 2 really important things I’ve listed, so why not stop there? Relax and aim for elegance. Less is more. Or, to come back to one of my favourite sayings, "Simplify, then add lightness".

Perhaps there’s something about how to stop myself not doing that. But then again, maybe writing this out in the open is just the first step to being more aware of it (typing slows down as I feel myself absorbing the reflections).

Daynotes 2023-05-23

Photo of a model tortoise sitting on top of 1 of 3 logs, inside the wooden frame of a hut with greenery visible outside.

Since last time:

  • a thousand things, an infinity of moments
  • turned a year older, just like every day
  • slept badly, either I’m too warm or too tired
  • some good conversations with people I’ve never met
  • a cafe full of cats
  • cobwebs cleared from the summerhouse / second shed, evicted like a brutal landlord. two spiders were particularly well-sized, I hope they’re ok still
  • some larger household items removed, finally

Maintenance done:

  • photos stream pushed through from phone to laptop via syncthing, and older photos moved to external drive

Maintenance needed:

  • hazel, the music server, seems to have broken
  • battery still fu’d on my macbook, but I’m putting off getting quotes for a fix
  • emails getting ridiculous

In the radar:

  • lots of small actions required to keep things sensible
  • trying to stick to my new, more rigidly proscribed time block regime
  • finding time to stop, can it be done? Is it useful?
  • robins and an intense flutter of magpie wings