Weekly Head Voices #167: Yes, and...

(I initially posted this blog with an incorrect slug, so I had no choice but to re-publish with the correct slug and URL. It is possible that you receive the email notification twice. I am really sorry about this! P.S. Yes, it’s a dirtly little secret of the blogging industry that slugs are involved.)

photo of strand beach at macassar rheinmetal fence
I have posted similar photos before, but this one is special, because it was a crystal clear and almost wind-free Friday afternoon, hosting an almost perfect barefoot run.

Oh hi there friends, from this brand new and quite shiny Hugo blogging setup!

When the novelty wears off, as it invariably does, I expect that I will be quite content with this graduation to a more minimalist blogging experience: It’s just me, and you, and this old text editor.

I am looking forward.

At this very moment however, I am also looking back, at the week from Monday March 25 to Sunday, March 31, 2019.

Fire and Motion.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but the thought that came up most often last week was: What a silly day.

It felt like I had to put in three times the energy to get out just a little bit of focus. Every morning I returned to the grind, just to continue with this Sisyphean struggle.

On Thursday, co-worker adt (not the security company) sent me Joel Spolsky’s “Fire and Motion” essay. (I previously thought that I had read all the best of Spolsky, but apparently not!)

Spolsky starts with:

Sometimes I just can’t get anything done.

Sure, I come into the office, putter around, check my email every ten seconds, read the web, even do a few brainless tasks like paying the American Express bill. But getting back into the flow of writing code just doesn’t happen.

These bouts of unproductiveness usually last for a day or two. But there have been times in my career as a developer when I went for weeks at a time without being able to get anything done. As they say, I’m not in flow. I’m not in the zone. I’m not anywhere.

Everybody has mood swings; for some people they are mild, for others, they can be more pronounced or even dysfunctional. And the unproductive periods do seem to correlate somewhat with gloomier moods.

Suddenly I felt far less bad, and super grateful that Spolsky had the guts to publish this admission.

If someone as amazing as Joel Spolsky can experience these bouts of non-productivity, there is hope for me too.

What really struck a chord is what he writes about the unproductive periods seeming to correlate somewhat with gloomier moods.

I did have a lot on my mind last week.

Local politics are heating up before the May elections, and so various people, including acquaintances and friends, are fighting it out on social (and sometimes mainstream) media.

These fights, apart from their intrinsic violence (ad hominem seems to be in vogue), often involve race-directed utterances that can catch one quite badly, making one literally question one’s place in society.

Added to this are the regular reminders, including the previously mentioned load-shedding and numerous corruption scandals, that the current ANC government is an utterly failed mechanism.

Added to that is at least one other very much related bureaucracy-fueled personal existential issue that was both burning up mental cycles and stealing sleep cycles.

Taking stock like this, I can’t say anymore that I’m surprised that last week was not my best focus-wise.

You should really go read Spolsky’s story, but I’ll paraphrase his advice here.

Everyone has these difficult days, and that’s ok.

The important thing is to keep on moving forward a little bit, every day.

Yes, and…

The extra mental cycles were fortunately not all in vain.

Many of them were dedicated to the question of how exactly I should best act and react in the current situation.

One of the conclusions I came to is that we have to make peace with the fact that we’re all stuck with each other: You, the person you disagree with most vehemently, and everyone in between.

We’re probably not going to be able to change each other that much in the short term, and especially not if the narrative remains this aggressive.

At best, people at the fringes of the various groupings might come to new conclusions, and gravitate towards friendlier and more humanist pastures.

Whatever the case may be, attack / defend mode is the worst mode for causing positive change.

It’s also extremely tiring.

I don’t know if this is better at the political level, but I do know what my personal approach is going to be from here on out.

There’s always some similarity to be found between me and my “enemy”, for varying degrees of “enemy”. (Remember, “enemy” is just an extreme point on the friendship spectrum. :)

We’re all human. We really do have similar needs. Safety of our families, time with our friends, a place in the sun for all our fellow humans.

We might differ on how we get there, but it can make a huge difference to start with all of the needs that we share.

I have resolved to start every every discussion and every related thought-process with the things that we have in common.

By starting conversations like this, one builds on a platform of similarity, instead of trying to break down whatever you see before the conversation has even started.

“Yes, and…” is a trick used in improv theater. When it’s your turn to take the dialogue, you start with “Yes, and …” and then build on the creativity of the previous actor. The next actor in line also starts with “Yes, and…”, only further enriching the world of imagination that the previous actors are constructing on stage.

I think we should “Yes, and…” much more in real life.

I’ll start.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

The following was recently used in anger (not actual anger, just in actual application) somewhere in my network:

Our actions may be impeded by [obstacles], but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.

The impediment to action advances action.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

– Marcus Aurelius

This could be applied to the story in this post, but one could also go a little more meta: Initial embarrassment at not even knowing about Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations softly transformed into a humble button click, and hopefully soon into a studied book.

Friends, I hope you have a brilliant week. Please remember “yes, and…”!