Monday Zen: Simplification & Leaving Spaces

Cultivating a less-complicated life and living the cast iron philosophy shouldn’t need to be an active, busy pursuit towards simplification. How would that even make sense, after all?

I opened up my email inbox this morning to a corporate reminder that I had excess vacation to use up. Somewhere in a human resources database I not only have a number that represents a full year’s worth of unused vacation days but there is a second number that is reminding me of the days I neglected to spend last year.

That second number represents nearly three weeks of time off.

Combined with the first number, I could theoretically take the entire summer off.

I say “theoretically” because realistically my work schedule and project due list is not so forgiving as to let me vanish for two whole months without consequence.

I write this if only to note that as much as I evangelise here about that aforementioned less-complicated life and living the cast iron philosophy, it is a daily effort even for me to draw a clear line between the professional self that I so often am and my personal self whom I aspire to be.

Working from home has blurred that line even more, eroding the old barrier between being at work and at home, on and off.

How then does one seek to cultivate that philosophy, pushing against the momentum of a work-a-day lifestyle that comes with being a modern suburbanite and needing to pay the bills and save for retirement?

It is like attempting to stop a boulder already rolling down the hill, and instead just following the routine and letting it roll.

Apart from scheduling breaks, the existential mindset that seems to be necessitated by a carefree approach to simplification doesn’t jive with daily video chats at exactly 9am and thirty minute lunch breaks and commuting through jostling traffic.

And as much as I have nearly two months of overdue vacation hours pending some confluence of opportunity and action and approval from a higher authority (in other words my boss) even setting aside larger chunks of time to be less “at work” doesn’t really shift anyone into a permanently new mindset.

Actively thinking about it helps.

As does planning to unplan. Preparing your world and your space and your mind to be ready when a bit of clear space opens up, for when an opportunity arises.  True spontaneity is rare, and almost impossible in the type of structured life that is required to hold down a forty hour office job.

But a plan that leaves unfilled gaps is ready to help cultivate adventure.

A simple analogy might be to think about the choices made when doing something as simple as parking your car or riding the bus. 

Often we’re inclined to reduce the gap and park close or hop off transit as near as possible to our destination. Choosing a parking spot or a bus stop with a larger gap to where you need to be leaves a space, a space that might be filled by a meandering walk through a trail, neighbourhood or a park, and through where you never really planned to go.

Cultivating a less-complicated life and living the cast iron philosophy comes from the same kind of planned lack of a plan “gap” and in leaving spaces between those more structured moments.

I look at my weeks of unspent vacation and ponder how I can best make use of it.  Sure, I should travel (and I will) and sure I could take off a big chunk of time and do something useful.  

On the other hand, those hundreds of hours of unplanned time could make for dozens of meaningful gaps in my life, gaps to be filled with spontaneity and simplification.

Cooking. Campfires. Hikes. Runs. Or even just sitting somewhere and sketching a while.ย 

Who can say? And that’s the point.

ch-ch-ch-changes.

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve dropped a post here, I realize, but with the world swirling in chaos and my life sometimes feeling like a lot of the same, I now find myself needing to write yet another explanation post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my professional life these days.

I’m locked up in golden handcuffs, as they say, doing a job that pays entirely too well, can be occasionally cushy, and gives me a lot of flexibility in life. On the other hand, I have no passion for the work, I’m a cog in a bureaucracy and rarely seem to have any effect on anything, and my work life is a never-ending series of video meetings on what amounts to the same general topic day, after day, after day… after day.

It’s boring and frustrating and unremarkable all at once.

I’ve been reading about midlife career change.

I’ve been talking to people who have pulled the plug on something in their forties and reinvented themselves.

I’ve been pondering budgets and possibilities and realities of economy and family and obligation and how it all fits together into a giant jigsaw that is my career choices.

This morning I took the first tenuous step towards a massive change.

Not a plunge. Not a flying leap. Not an irreversible veer.

A step.

And it may amount to nothing. Or it may turn out to be everything.

Only time will tell.

But if and when something comes out of that first step, and it’s time to take a second… third… and on and on, then I’ll likely have a lot more stuff to say, and be able to be much less cryptic about it.

Merry Christmas

What did you want this year
โ€ฆ and get?

Too much.

As I was wrapping up my work email for the holiday break yesterday, thumbing through my last few messages, a long thank you note rolled in from the president of a company with which my team does a significant amount of business.

It concluded with a bit of an explanation:

โ€œWe had thought about sending out our usual gift baskets this year,โ€ he wrote, โ€œ but with the logistics of everyone working from home we decided not to do that.โ€

โ€Instead,โ€ he continued, โ€œwe have made a large donation to the food bank in the names of all our clients.โ€

I remember in past years when over the last week before the Christmas break a few big boxes of chocolates or candies would appear and everyone would pick away at them as the last few days wound down to vacation. As much as I know the work I do is appreciated by some, the mundane and behind-the-scenes nature of being a technology professional means a lot of it also goes unnoticed. Itโ€™s nice to be appreciated, and a bix box of treats definitely helps.

Itโ€™s a weird thing to miss, but then again there a lot of things missing these days, huh?

I hit the reply button and typed something back, thanking him and wishing him a Merry Christmas.

We miss the sweets, but most of us are doing the kind of work we do to make the world a more interesting place, not for the Christmas baskets.

I got too much of the things I thought I wanted this past year, but seeing a simple little gesture like that, as basic and seemling obvious as it is reminded me that what I really wanted this year was for the world to be a little gentler, more caring, and generous to each other.

So, I guess I got a little of that, at least.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Another Life Reset

Nearly every day for the last year this blog has given me space to think about and write about living a more simple, purposeful life.

Better food.

Longer walks.

Moments of captured creativity.

But so what’s my point?

Who or what are you
leaving behind in 2021?

I guess getting to the end of a year of being someone who works in digital technology but plays in the very analog world of cast iron, fire, wilderness, and trails has found me at a bit of a crossroads.

I turned forty-five this past month.

I’ve been working at a post-university career-type job for a little over twenty-some years.

I suppose (and if I’m lucky) I could expect to work for a little over twenty-some years until I’m supposed to retire and pack up my suitcase to see the world as an old guy.

But all this thinking and writing and pondering a different sort of life has left me with a particular notion of switching things up.

I seriously looked into finding a bakery apprenticeship (or something similar) over the summer. It didn’t work out, but it did put me in the mindset of what exactly might be encompassed in a career change, even one massively dramatic as moving from a keyboard to a cutting board.

So while I’m lucky in another way in that we didn’t lose anyone close to us this year (despite a global pandemic raging everywhere we look) I did lose a piece of me, a particular certainty of myself and who I am, and not necessarily in a bad way.

What am I leaving behind in 2021? I’m stepping away from the resolute and stubborn guy who knows exactly where he’s going to be sitting in twenty some years. I don’t think I do anymore. I think he faded away sometime over the summer and in his place is someone who wants … needs … a simpler bite of meaning in his life.

Whether that’s a result of all this writing, or just an obvious correlation, I’m not sure yet.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.