The pulse of Team

New message alerts, an email thread that renews itself from hour to hour. Increasing comment counts, timestamps that are less than 3 hours old. Like the subtle but unmistakable indicators we passively–subconsciously even– observe when walking into a room where someone is sleeping, so are the indications that a team is thriving, working together, and moving towards something in harmonious rhythm. it can’t be faked, and it’s all to obvious when it’s not there. You just know.

 

Photo by Sam Rupsa on Unsplash

When the sun rises earlier

There is some kind of optimism in the air. I know it’s because the sun is rising earlier. But it will still be weeks before anyone attributes a good mood to that. Waking up to light coming up in the horizon is a symbiotic state. Perhaps lifeforms always had it this way, and that’s why it’s the best type of morning there is.

There really isn’t anything that gives hope like the sunrise. The ultimate symbol of reliability. The one thing we can count on. When nothing else is completely sure aside from death, a sunrise is the backbone of trust, faith, truth.

Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash

The cold part of the year

In the cold part of the year people sit in the house most of the day, saving energy to stay warm. Grownups and children huddle near heaters, and seek out places with extra sources of artificial light. The darkness at this time is an overwhelming element. While most people don’t talk about it, everyone is affected by it. The sun can be gone for 2-3 weeks at a time. Which considering its importance, it’s strange this isn’t a bigger deal.  Conversations about going home in the dark, and leaving for work in the dark are common. A break in the clouds during mid-day before the sunsets can feel like a spiritual moment.

While some experience the least harmful side effects in passive methods, like needing to sleep longer. Others struggle with depression. Suicide is not uncommon. Verbal contact becomes a remedy for illness, people seldom speak to each other. All become extra sensitive to stimulation.

It is a time when things are dead or dying, or becoming frail. Some creatures use it wisely, going into complete hibernation, sleeping through the coldest darkest parts as staying awake and using energy to move around is a life-threatening risk if you don’t have shelter and a source of food. With everything so brittle, there is an ever-lingering sense of fear, of being on the edge. Sometimes it’s almost like being about to cry. In other times it’s like a short circuiting electronic device, sparking and failing.

Friendship Framework

friendship framework - two guys sitting at the water edge

I’ve thought a lot about friends lately. Planning for my wedding last year required consideration about relationships in general. Both in who it was appropriate to invite from our families and in who from my friends it made sense to invite.

One result of moving from Palo Alto, to Boston, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York, and finally Berlin where I live now, is that I have a lot of friends in a lot of cities. Keep in mind some of them have moved elsewhere since I left our mutual stomping ground.

Looking through that list of potential invites the friends at the end of the tail in Boston or New York are very distant. Friends from Palo Alto who didn’t maintain direct contact with me since high school are automatically passive friends. We look at each others family vacation photos. Occasionally share or disagree with points made on social media. We like each others instagram posts. But as time passes, the bonds between lose strength.

People who promised to stay in touch when I moved away, are also the people who stopped showing any indication that I’ve crossed their thoughts since I left.

Not an easy thing to realize. But it makes me more steady in momentum too as we’ll see ahead.

I made a lot of investments in keeping those distant friends by visiting my former residences. This was especially true of New York, and Los Angeles. I didn’t want to let those connections go cold over time. I’ve intentionally avoided this by making trips back to each of my haunts and making an appearance with as many old friends as possible. But as the lists of former places lived gets longer, and the lists of friends gets longer, it becomes less and less realistic to make enough rounds to see everyone. One can’t visit new places if one keeps visiting the same ones over and over.

The other side of this is some people have come to Berlin and visited, others come to europe and don’t tell me, ignoring the fact that it’s relatively easy for me to grab a flight to most cities in the E.U. for the weekend. It hurts to see friends coming, and not even get a note, text, or call. Nothing makes me feel forgotten more than this.

Introducing the Friend Framework

And so when the guest lists were made for our wedding I had to create a framework to help filter out all the names. I thought about not just who I’d seen, but who had made an effort to see me. The ones who somehow communicated before the wedding that they were making an investment in our friendship – thus establishing a two way investment.

Friends who maintained contact exclusively on Facebook didn’t count. I decided that an Internet friendship held very little weight for me. If there weren’t emails, text messages, postcards, or face to face time between us outside of those likes and comments on FB, it just wasn’t a real thing. Even one phone call a year counts for something. If I couldn’t remember the last time someone reached out to me, it was fairly easy to take em off the list. It also elevated my affection for the people who were invited.

Choosing friends who reinvest

The framework made some sense, especially in the context of a wedding invite because it was a two way street, for the wedding and for life. If someone didn’t want to come to the wedding, it showed they didn’t care about seeing what was arguably the most important moment in my life. And afterwards, when choosing which branches of this family/friend tree to continue supporting through investments of time (and money to see them), it only made sense to choose the ones that bear fruit.

Does this mean we’re not friends anymore? No. It just means that I’ve finally given up on using my personal time to see people who as far as I can tell don’t think about me or care fo know me anymore.

Some rules of the framework

Skipping past the wedding itself, I now have a mechanism not only for deciding who to reach out to when I’m making the rounds, I also have a filter for who to follow in social media, who to send cards to when traveling, or for the holidays. Last year I removed 200-300 friends from my facebook account, it wasn’t hard, if I hadn’t communicated with a fb-friend in two years, I unfriended. Facebook’s algorithm had probably already long-ago stopped sharing our posts across boards, recognizing much earlier than I, that these people don’t seem to care for each others content.

Now that I live in europe, I usually have less than two weeks in the US to visit friends each year. After removing any family events, and mandatory things to do in the US (i.e. renewing drivers license) I usually have about 8 days to socialize. I try to give the folks in the places I’m visiting lots of warning when I’m coming so we can plan ahead, but there is admittedly very little time. Making use of my methods in the past I like to try and string together 2-3 friend hangs in a day, if I’m in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, that’s pretty easy to do and a good way to see several people over a short period of time without zipping around too much. But if the schedule doesn’t work, I expect people to come my way, whether I’m in Venice Beach, Williamsburg, or Palo Alto, I just can’t waste my trip driving on freeways because someone doesn’t fully understand the gravity of it being the only chance of the year to see each other. This more than anything else has forcibly reduced the number of people I see with any regularity now.

At first employing these methods felt harsh, but when I looked at it from the reverse, how others had handled their friendship with me, it only seemed fair.

It’s depressing, at first

Only a year or so into this way of choosing who to focus time with, I often get sad. I miss a lot of my friends. I know how easy it would be to just make an effort to reach out to them, but when the opposite of that is the absence of any friendship at all, I feel empowered to focus on the people who are making an effort to be in my life. It’s working too. We’ve made new friends here, and some of our friends from the US and Poland visit, make skype/facetime calls, send postcards, etc. So we have a shorter list, but a stronger purer group.

And so now?

I still intend to reach out to the outer ring of friends who don’t make an active presence in my life. I still let them know when I’m coming to the US. But I know where my focus is, and who I’m planning to see first, most likely we’ve already talked about it a lot before I even got on the plane.

If you’re my friend and your reading this and you feel like you unrightly fell into the wrong side of this equation, I hope you send me a note soon. Or if luck has it, we’ll connect again down the road in one way or another when the time is right.

Your Smile Is Your Currency

A Young Girl Smiling Your Smile Is Your Currency

As people become more divided by technology – less willing or comfortable to make direct contact, the smile is given even more power. The unspoken action of goodwill, good intention, does not come so easily to many. And when two strangers meet, if only for a moment, it is the smile that extends intention, feeling, the initial moment of faith building. Even if that moment is fleeting and assumed to be gone just as fast as it came. This exchange builds warmth in the most distant and unlikely connections.

Dealing With Self Doubt, Internet Shame, Mockery, and Loving Kindness

For the last 18 months I’ve been meditating intentionally and unintentionally. I actually started meditating much further back in life finding a quiet place and just trying to shut off my thoughts. That’s what my parents told me Zen monks did. In the summer of 2016 my meditation practice became very deliberate. I installed a meditation app and began going through various exercises to focus, and move my thoughts beyond the noise and distractions that unknowingly were all around my mind.

Until now the YouTube videos I started making in December last year had nothing to do with meditation. Today I realized that when I’m deciding what I should and should not publish on the Internet, the way I’m putting myself out there has a lot to do with the feelings I work through in my meditation practice.

A very common activity in meditation is loving kindness, one starts by focusing on themself, finding kindness and love to feel inward, then focuses on someone else towards whom one can also feel and direct feelings of loving kindness toward, then one thinks of someone with who there is difficulty, negative feelings for. This process discovers and builds the strength of love and sincere kindness, develops it, then projects it. Finally using it to overcome negative feelings surrounding others. The activity sheds light on the tooling needed to overcome moments of frustration, anger, anxiety and even fear.

Sometimes while I am making videos the back of my head is a sea of these dark feelings. I have judgements and doubt towards myself, and concern about being shamed. Putting so much of ones self out into the Internet is just asking for those kinds of reactions, and indeed it’s happened in the past. But I make the videos out of love, out of hope to connect with my family and friends who are so far away. To perhaps give ideas to a couple strangers for new things to try, or that it’s ok to be silly and explore ideas that could be mocked.

In this way I find the ability to move beyond the darkness of what could happen, in general being myself has gotten me to the places I was happiest in life. Obfuscating my true character only caused discourse, confusion, and disappointment.

How to control your circadian rhythms during the winter

 

I moved to Boston when I started my first year of college. Until then I’d lived in Palo Alto my entire life. It was literally a move to the opposite side of the country and there were a lot of adjustments to make. Of all the things I’d read about Boston such as the heavy Massachusetts accent, the use of “pop” when ordering a soda (never actually experienced this), and of course the weather, the one I wasn’t prepared for was the shorter days in the winter. I recall stepping out of class at 5pm in early December, having been in a windowless room, and being surprised to see it was already practically nighttime.

Since then I’ve lived in other places with shorter daylight than in central California as well as Boston. Berlin, Germany however is by far the greatest stretch of this phenomenon of the late autumn and winter months. With less than 8 hours from the sunrise at 8am and the sunset before 4pm, it can get pretty dreary. Fortunately I’ve learned a number of coping mechanisms for this. Lack of daylight has some well known consequences like not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure on the skin. But it also changes our circadian rhythms, the biological clock that controls our production of adenosine and melatonin, which tells the body when it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep. Of course, with the invention electricity, and more recently of cell phones, tablets, laptops, and LED lights, humans have done their fair share of man handling the delicate system that regulates when to feel sleepy or alert.

Suffice to say I make an effort to stay on the good side of these natural influences. By trying to get as much light as possible from the sun and artificial sources in the morning and mid-day. As well as avoiding screens and bright lights in the evening when it’s time to wind down and get ready for some shut eye.

This video is a bit a peak at my days in Berlin, in early November when the shorter daylight is noticeable, and also how the daily routine looks.

How to unfollow

So often (unfortunately) in this modern internet world we live in, it seems to happen that we drift into a profile viewing mode. Inspecting another person, who are they? Why were they in my list of followers or worse, why am I following this person? The “loop” as my wife and I like to call it slips its invisible little hood over your head around this point; the zombie eyes and zombie mind take over quickly. Before you know it, you’re just scrolling, not really taking anything in. What is happening? No one really knows. But it’s around this point where the better part of my psyche kicks in, a Yosemite Sam sort of personality in my thoughts pulls a record needle scratching moment in the crowd of voices – throws up the big “WTF” sign and barks “who is in control of this moment?!?”. As all the shocked members of the interrupted sequence look around to see what will happen next the little guy in the corner peeps back “we were just wondering who that is, wooo woooeeewww – we thoughts we might unfollow it!” (this particular voice in my head has a Gollum sort of voice). It is at this moment, you can think clearly again, we were wondering if we know her, and we don’t and there is nothing interesting about her, “UNFOLLOW!”

Old Habits – Ren and Stimpy

I’ve taken to watching old episodes of Ren and Stimpy lately. I guess old habits can die hard.

In the light of the extremes in the news and my own life lately, the superfluousness of the humor in this cartoon normalizes everything again. And South Park wasn’t really cutting it any more.

 

If we could see each others thoughts

The thinking goes that our ancestors millions of years ago evolved to have an ability to think about the past and future which made it possible for us to predict dangerous situations, or remember past events which harmed our people. And that today this gift is mostly a curse as it leaves us constantly shifting our thoughts from the past to the future. And this doesn’t leave much time to think about the present. We lose our focus in this teetering of then and when, never now. Which definitely is true, finding a centered state of mind is something the vast majority of humans leave for the monks, nuns, surfers, and brain surgeons, well at least some of them. It only lasts for short moments after intense preparation, and only during the moment of execution. The rest of the time we’re all just a bunch of fog heads really. Too deep in the ideas of what may happen, what did happen, and we are only able to wipe our asses, to chew our food without biting off our tongue, to make proper sentences, (I still can’t do this) because we memorize things, we learn actions, expected responses in conversation, and we do the expected with some muscle memory and the comfort of knowing that after a moment of focusing on the now, we can get back to thinking into some other place and time.

Imagine what the world would be like if we could see a little screen above our heads, constantly flickering the images, words, scenes, and sounds that are passing through their mind as they go on about their lives semi-consciously about us. Some of us would go to jail, others would lose our jobs, certainly many awkward moments would occur – “excuse me sir maybe you should come back a little later when your thoughts have passed… And then there would be beauty. Thoughts of childhood, loved ones, wishes & hopes, the lighter more approachable side of people that would bring us closer, have a more sensitive touch with each other, and find more common bonds. It’s a world I would enjoy for a day, though perhaps too intense to be in for long periods of time, lest we all just learn to zone out each others thoughts, and to clear our minds of anything too personal until we believe ourselves to be alone.