The Last Day

2012 Tulip Festival @ Agassiz, BC
Photo by GoToVan / CC BY

Today, I have lived as many days on this planet as my mother ever did.

[That is, assuming Excel’s date math handles leap years properly. Yes, I made a spreadsheet.]

There are many things I could write about my mother’s life, and our family’s life together, but I don’t feel comfortable writing about people I love without their knowledge and permission. The only thing I will say about that is that I don’t think she spent very much of her life doing what she wanted to do.

I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry. Reactive, hurt, feeling powerless and wild inside.

Last spring I realized that my next birthday would make me the same age as my mother was when she died and I began to really think about death – MY death. How it was a certainty. How I didn’t know when it will happen. Not just for me, but for everyone. And a while after that, I actually started to understand it. Not just rationally (of course we’re all going to die, everyone knows that) but emotionally.

Last spring, I was working in an office at a company I didn’t respect very much and becoming increasingly miserable (and this for a person with a pretty damn high baseline miserableness). I saw friends withdrawing from my constant perspective of disgust and complaint. I heard that someone I used to work with said he wouldn’t want to work with me again because I complained too much (at that time, he wasn’t wrong). The feeling I had at all times is “EVERYTHING IS WRONG, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP BEING WRONG.” I changed roles at the company I didn’t respect very much – hoping that maybe it was just the aspects of the job I was doing that were the problem.

It wasn’t. And when I realized that, I knew I was never going to be happy there. So last spring, I quit my job.

Let me just step out of this story for a minute to note a few things – I know that not everyone has that option. I’m well educated and have a marketable set of skills, I have a very supportive partner. I don’t have children that I need to support. I am financially secure. Not everyone could do what I did and I am grateful for the things that gave me that option, although I wasn’t particularly grateful for them at the time. I didn’t really understand that I was doing much better than a LOT of people are because I was so wrapped up in pain and anger and self-hatred. I only began to recognize how lucky I am to have those supports when I relaxed and let myself use them.

That’s part of why I quit: I felt like I was trapped, like I HAD to stay in the career that I was in. That’s the rule, right? If you’re what other people would describe as successful, even if you don’t feel it yourself, then it would be ungrateful to not value and cling onto those things that ‘they’ all want. [A contrasting perspective is that means you’re ‘taking up’ a job that someone else might actually want & be happy with, so as a conservation of resources dimension, quitting is a net happiness gain]. Although I had made some choices in my life that had led me to where I was, there were a lot more situations where I just went along with whatever the next easiest step was. I certainly wouldn’t say I was where I was because I planned to be there.

Three realizations are what got me moving. Like I said above, I really understood that I am going to die. Not (necessarily) imminently, but at a time most likely not of my knowing or choosing. Secondly, I realized didn’t need to be making as much money as I was. That based on my own situation, I have a lot of freedom to explore new alternatives and still be ok. And finally, I realized that I didn’t want the company I was working for to be successful. That I had enough concerns about its values and business practices, and the impact it was having on society, humanity, and the planet that I wasn’t rooting for it.

[The day you realize that you don’t want the company paying you to be successful is the day you think to yourself “If I keep accepting money from them, how is that different from stealing?” Or it was for me, anyway.]

So I quit.

I’ve spent the last 9 months working on changing my perspective and attitude towards this short life of mine. I have been trying new things, learning, discarding, keeping, adapting. Often I meditate. Sometimes I exercise. I meet new people. I reconnect with people I’ve lost touch with. I’m gradually learning what is good for me and what I need to avoid. Sometimes I make mistakes and do the things that make me feel angry or hopeless, but increasingly I’m recognizing when that happens and more importantly, I’m starting to react with a sense of humour and compassion towards myself when that happens. It’s not just an immediate descent into self-loathing and shame anymore. That change in myself is more than enough to pay for this past year of not working.

So today I am going to a meet-up to learn how to come up with a talk to give at conferences. I’m going to a friend’s place for a birthday dinner. I’m going to meditate and, weather co-operating, I’m going to go for two 45 minute walks. I’m also going to think about the last day my mom was alive and remember that I’m going to die and know that that’s ok. I have a lot of choice in how I live in the meantime.

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Where’s Kara Been (So Far)?

I don’t travel as much as I’d like (given that I’d like to always be travelling) but I have done a decent amount of it. Bill & I sat down a few weekends ago and dug through our travel folders full of tickets, maps, journals, receipts, and non-digital photos to catalogue where we’ve been (so far).

I do plan to flesh out posts for each of these trips, with photos and stories (and hoo-boy, do some of them have stories!) but this list is a great start for me – it serves as an outline for what I need to write and backfill as well as reminding me of how lucky I am to have had these opportunities and acting as a ‘gratitude’ prompt.

Here’s a list of the places (other than regular trips to cities within Canada*) that I’ve been (mostly with Bill, a few without), since 1996.

Feb 2015 Cozumel, Mexico; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Apr 2014 Roatan, Honduras; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Nov 2013 Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Oct 2013 Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jun 2013 Kawartha Lakes, Ontario
May 2013 Placencia, Belize; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Feb 2013 Laguna Beach, California
Dec 2012 Laguna Beach, California
Feb 2012 Placencia, Belize; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Nov 2011 Papagayo, Costa Rica
Feb 2011 Turks & Caicos
Nov 2010 Varadero, Cuba
Feb-Mar 2010 Lembeh Strait, Indonesia; West Papua, Indonesia
Jan 2010 New York City, New York
Jul 2009 San Francisco, California
Jun 2009 Honolulu, Hawaii
Apr 2009 New York City, New York
Nov 2008 Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
Oct 2008 New York City, New York
Dec 2007 St. Lucia
Jul 2007 San Francisco, California
Mar 2007 Cozumel, Mexico
Sep 2006 Chicago, Illinois
Aug 2006 Washington, DC
Feb 2006 Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba
Nov 2005 Cozumel, Mexico
June 2005 New York City, New York
Feb 2005 Cayo Largo, Cuba
Jan-Mar 2004 Malaysia; Thailand; Burma
Apr 2003 Cozumel, Mexico
?? Missing data – will seek further. I’m sure there was a trip in here
Jan-Jul 1999 Indonesia; Malaysia Thailand; Singapore; Hong Kong
Feb 1997 Barbados

* I’ve done the North-American-centric thing of using states & provinces as the ‘qualifier’ in NA locations but countries in other ones (except Mexico). My apologies – I’m assuming that most of my readers will know that California is in the US and Ontario is in Canada, and it keeps the line lengths shorter.

They say I’ve become a… runner? That can’t be right.

In addition to picking up the FlexiPass and using the local community centre gym and Vancouver pools, I’ve started up the “Couch To 5K” running program again. I started at week 3 this time, which has the core pattern of “Run 2 min, walk 2 min, run 3 min, walk 2 min” repeated twice.

I love this pattern. The fact that it’s only repeated twice means it feels like I get to the ‘halfway’ audio cue much earlier than usual (although the first day I forgot that the second run of the loop was 3 minutes & wondered if I’d accidentally paused the app before I remembered). It’s been really easy for me to do – so much so that I’ve done it for the last 3 days in a row.

Yesterday morning I was feeling really sluggish & dim, so I thought “I should go for a walk.” Some weird new voice in my mind said “y’know, that run yesterday was pretty easy and we felt great after that – why not make it a run?”

So I did. And sure enough, I felt great afterwards and my brain was revved up.

So when I got up this morning, despite the fact that it was drizzling out, I thought “I wonder if it would work again?”

So I did. This time, my brain is happy but my shins & calves are a bit pissed off. They have some analgesic cream on them now and they’re much happier.

I’m not going to set any firm goals around this because there’s no better way to kill off a fledgling new habit than to ‘harden up’ about it; the first day you don’t do it, you’ve blown it and stop completely. But since exercising in the morning tends to suppress my appetite for a while it does have me thinking about combining this with intermittent fasting. Again, I’m not planning any firm goals here but I’ll see how it goes & let you know as I find out.

Personal sprint – week 1 – retro

As so often happens in life, things did not go according to plan. Not the actual sprint, nor the retro and subsequent plan for the next week. There was a time in my life when I would have marked this experiment down as a complete failure, deleted the posts out of shame, and never gone back to it. That’s not what I do these days – let’s roll with reality and learn from it.

Straight-up completion ratio on the first sprint was < 50%. That’s cool – this is an iterative, learning process. Let’s dig into what got finished, what didn’t, why, and what to do differently.

Let’s start by looking at the high-level categories I put the tasks into.

Home Projects (6/9 tasks completed)

By far the task which ended up being a much bigger job than expected was ‘Knit one hat’. It was also the only item that I had externally committed to someone else, so that made it higher priority than things I was doing just ‘for myself’ (there’s an interesting bit of self-inquiry to take away from this as well, about whether or not I prioritize my own goals highly enough relative to those of others).

  • slippery wool that fell off the needles a few times,
  • a pattern than ended rounds in yarn-overs which made it seem like I’d lost a stitch until I figured out what was screwing up my counts
  • ‘frogging’ and restarting no less than 7 times until I remembered to drop lifelines in the lace.

Being honest with myself here, though, I also WANTED to finish that damn hat. That’s a task with a tangible result (unlike tasks like ‘study for 4 hours’). That emotional need helped drive my actual behaviours for the week.

Learning (0/4 completed)

Why? I don’t have any real goal driving that study path, so it’s very hard to get motivated to do it (especially when there’s an unfinished Bad Hat smirking at me from the side table). In fact, if you asked me right now why I want to complete that tutorial I wouldn’t have a good answer. One future possible ‘retirement career’ for me is web development, but right now I don’t feel very strongly attached to it. I need to re-evaluate what my objectives around the whole learning category are. If it’s general self-improvement and growth, it may make more sense for me to block out sessions of time during the week but not necessarily prescribe in advance what I’ll be learning.

Fitness/wellness (Week 1: 7/13 completed, week 2: 12/13 completed)

My fitness and wellness tasks are intended to repeat weekly, which is why I am ‘cheating’ on the pure week 1 retro and including the improvement in the second week. The biggest problem I was facing on the fitness front was a logistical one. The gym I belonged to was 45 minutes away by walking, or a 15 minute drive (with pay parking). If I walked to the gym, that meant I was using up about 3 hours of my day (all in, with showering). If I drove, I was spending money on parking and… driving for no really good reason (which feels very selfish and wasteful). If I took the bus, it was a blend of those two – paying and taking much longer.

I had to face that this gym wasn’t working for me.The Vancouver Parks & Recreation department is offering a New Year/New You sale on their ‘FlexiPass’ which gives you access to pools and gyms (and a few other things). Since I was already spending $5.75 twice a week for pool drop-in, it was a very easy decision to switch to that.

And it worked! I got the pass last Tuesday at swimming and used the local community centre gym twice that week! The only goal I missed on this one this past week was the run yesterday morning.

Writing (3/8 completed)

This one is tough to admit to myself. First of all, I realize that I need to make this a ‘publish’ goal rather than just a ‘writing’ one because I have about 14 posts with a decent chunk of text in them sitting in Draft form. Something is holding me back from actually publishing them. Some of that is perfectionism (it won’t be good enough, I don’t want to open myself up to criticism, people will laugh/yell/point/throw things at me) but some of it was sheer load (remember, there was A Hat that week). By setting myself up to write every day when previously I hadn’t been, I had taken the fun out of it and made it work.

Other people who are maintaining sites that they hope to turn into businesses in future seem to commit to a couple of posts per week – say, Mondays and Thursdays. I think that’s reasonable but it means I need to pick one site and focus on it. Do I want it on my eponymous site or on the one I created specifically for that purpose. Phrased that way, you’d think it would be an easy decision, but it’s actually not – I have more personal investment in karamcnair.com and it is less mental effort to write here. I’m going to set the goal for 2 posts to Beupstry per week and set no goals for karamcnair.com. If that doesn’t work, I’ll reverse them.

Meta (2/3 completed)

My three words for 2015 are:

  • Gratitude
  • Generosity
  • ‘Yes’

[there will be another post later on that topic and what I mean by selecting those words]

Aaaand I am doing my retro with this post – so it’s late according to plan but it’s getting done. While it’s important to set targets and work to meet those, when the targets are somewhat arbitrary and not necessarily supporting any clear goals, doggedly sticking to a plan that doesn’t make sense anymore can be demotivation and cause anxiety.

Sometimes it’s completely fine to step back & reassess your priorities and pay attention to what you actually want to do. This is more of the ‘easing up on myself’ I mentioned at the top – when there are no actual negative consequences to doing something later, it can be sensible to do so.

Earning opportunities are still a bit thin on the ground. I will try to do some brainstorming this week, but I think it’s probably time for me to update my resume.

[Side note – I have recently come up with an idea for an information product on how to make updating your resume fun AND motivating, so I guess I have completed 1/3 of that last task. 2.333… out of 3 it is!]

Summary

Out of this exercise, I learned:

  • The artificiality of doing a personal sprint as a solo activity feels very awkward  to me. And other than the fitness/wellness aspect, the tasks weren’t clearly tied to goals – I defined these ‘bottom-up’ instead of ‘top-down’ and that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
  • External commitments are more powerful motivators than promises to myself (this may warrant adjustment)
  • Even if I might think a reason for not doing something (going to the gym) is ‘dumb’ and that I should just ‘power through’ it, it can be MORE powerful and effective to honour that reason and find another solution that does work for me.
  • If you don’t have a good reason for putting a task in the sprint, why are you doing it? (Aside: I spent 4 hours working on that Rails tutorial today and really enjoyed the sense of accomplishment and learning. Some weeks are better for that kind of task than others)

That last one is a big deal. I did do part of a plan for 2015 in early January and I think I’m comfortable publishing it here, so I’ll work on finishing it and sharing the goal -> task breakdown here.

We need another dimension for bra sizes

I’m guessing that most people are familiar with the standard components of a bra size (at least in Canada & the US – I don’t know international sizes). There’s band size – a number, ostensibly in inches (e.g. 38) that represents the circumference of the ribs below the breasts, and there’s cup size – a letter or string of letters (AA, A, B, C, D, DD, etc*) which is based on the difference between the band size and the circumference around the broadest part of the breast (generally right over the nipples).

I needed some new bras and since it had been a long time since I had bought any, I figured I’d get sized. I went to Victoria’s Secret (since I assumed they’d know what they were doing) and they did the standard measuring. I picked out some bras I like (I prefer “T-shirt style” – no visible seams + underwire).

 

They’re torture.

 

The problem is that those two degrees of freedom, band & ‘cup’ don’t adequately cover all possible shapes, especially where there’s an underwire.
We also need ‘radius’.

Radius

Let’s say we have two people with the same circumference under the breasts & across them. Let’s also say they aren’t clones, and actually are shaped fairly differently:

Note that the underwire curve of each person is rather different.

Different underwire curves
These are not the same

So guess what happens when we don’t take that into account when building bras?

It’s 2015. We can do better.

*interestingly, some schemes stop adding new letters at D and just keep adding more Ds, (i.e. DDD=E, DDDD=F)