What are you putting in your head?

I’ve been spending a lot of time alone in my office in the last six months. Alone except for the Internet. I’ve largely managed to get myself away from facebook and twitter since the Pandemic started, and try to cut down on how much I’m on instagram. I’ve managed to taper myself off of facebook and twitter.

The ambient awareness of other people and what they’re up to is the only enjoyable thing about Instagram or those other services. (A phrase I might or might not be borrowing from Jenny Odell‘s How to do Nothing but which I certainly read somewhere.)

I’ve finally bit the bullet and paid for a subscription to Freedom which lets you make a list of webpages to block, on which devices and for how long. I’ve got all websites disabled before 7AM and distracting websites were blocked throughout the day. Having that app serve as a guardrail helps make impossible, most of the time, to resist the urge to open a new tab. I find the moment I get presented with even the most minor of cognitive challenges, I reach for something easier: open twitter, read an article, look at the news.

I am of course trying not to read too much news: mounting death tolls, presidential polling numbers, a death-cult for a federal government do not make for relaxing reading. The week I’ve let myself look at too much news and have spiraled away from doing the work I feel I should be doing or the work I am obligated by my job to do.

I’m not necessarily looking to shift all my attention away from my computer, there’s still a lot to be gained by being here online, lots to be learned and lots of interesting work to do. I’ve been learning a lot of python the last few months.

Good things to put into my head:

  • Lots of library eBooks on my kindle (I never read fast enough but it easier to approach a large book when you can’t see how bit it is. I’ve also read more non-fiction than I might otherwise have) Reading Alexander Chee’s How to write an Autobiographical Novel was one of the reading pleasures of my year.
  • Yoga With Adriene
    I’ve been doing yoga most mornings for a while now, especially when working from home. When I make time to do this I can get focused just on the yoga I’m doing and not the things I’m worried about.
  • A number of good newsletters:
    • Craig Mod‘s Ridgeline & Ronden newsletters are a pure pleasure that I try to savor.
    • Anne Helen Peterson’s Culture Study is as much news as I typically want these days. It’s also sharp writing on the various challenges of contemporary life here in America.
  • Music
    • Lots of Jazz lately, especially Bill Evans
  • Meditation

Finally, of course, it’s not just what you put into your head but how you handle what is in there and what you do with and about it. This is often difficult, if I’m managing what’s going into my head badly, I’m less likely to be able to effectively work with the stuff I don’t want in there.

As I worked through my sabbatical, I was writing daily logs of work notes in Notion and documenting what I was learning about programming as I went in a sort of personal wiki as a github pages repository & site here. Both these things are useful, especially as a way to put a pin in what I had done and what I’ve learned during a given day. Perspective is helpful and even a few minutes spent looking backward over the past few hours was for me a great way to be appreciative of the day and how I’d used it. This is a habit worth making and getting back into as I return to a semi-normal schedule.

Endnote: Like so many things, this languished nearly-finished for a few months in the Drafts folder in WordPress, so to speak. So, while I’m publishing this in March 2021, a lot of it was written back in November.