Thoughts on undepressing food.

One of the things in the last year or three that has kind of gotten me down is depressing food.

I don’t mean depressing in the new-agey “natural foods are medicine and processed foods are poison” bullshit sense (but, umm …. no judgement, new-agey hippie organophile types?). Rather, I’m talking about the easy, boring food. The stuff it’s easy to just sort of stuff into your face-hole and be full without really taking pleasure in.

So recently I took a week of what I guess you could call a “staycation”. I basically had 3 goals for every day:

  1. Have the usual regimen (wake up, shower, wear clothes)
  2. Leave the house for some reason — maybe something as mundane as “go get a haircut”, maybe “go drive a hundred and fifty mile loop starting at 9 pm on a weeknight while listening to XM Chill, because you actually really love driving as long as it’s not at 5 miles an hour in bumper-to-bumper beltway aggro-mode”, or maybe “go for a walk in the woods until you’re so tired you don’t know if you can find the energy to walk home, and then walk home instead of pussing out and taking a bus or something, because really two more miles isn’t that far”. Maybe even just to…
  3. Eat un-depressing food.

Right, so mission accomplished all around. The first two are part of almost every day anyway, but that last one was actually a fairly big change, and I’ve decided I’m going to try to keep it going.

So what do I mean by un-depressing food, exactly?

First of all, un-depressing food doesn’t come from a drive-thru window. I’ve eaten so much Wendy’s over the last few years that it just feels like failure every time I get it. So drive-thru is probably out. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying it’s out forever, just that it’s out for now because I’ve had so much of it — to the extent that every time I pull up to a speaker and order some food, it makes me sad.

Then again, I’ve had one single Subway sandwich in the last maybe 6 months, and it was also depressing. So maybe once a place is well and truly burned, there’s no going back. Or maybe at some point I’ll get tired of variety and want something boring? It’s a good experiment anyway :p.

Second, whether it’s restaurant food or not, no more eating dinner in front of tech. That next random YouTube video can wait, I don’t really need to update twitter while I eat. The act of eating should be more of a deliberate, mindful, even ritualistic thing. Less face-hole stuffing, more tasting and savoring. This also helps with unplugging and with being more aware of what I’m eating.

Third, un-depressing food is something I haven’t eaten lately. I’m fine with my in-workplace barista recognizing that I always (always) want an iced coffee, and it’s OK that in any given week I’m probably going to order takeout from my delicious local Chinese restaurant, but it’s not OK if that takeout order is the same thing I got the last time.

I’m hoping my third requirement will drive more going to new and different places and trying a bigger variety of foods. Pretty much it’s an anti-rut measure.

Importantly, I’m not setting out to eat every meal at home — ain’t nobody got time for that! Well, maybe you do, but I don’t. Restaurants are great! Just … you know, not always the same one.

Fourth, un-depressing food is recognizably good. Like, when I was shopping for food recently, I looked at the grocery store sandwiches (thinking “hmm, quick easy so-so meal?”) and realized, I haven’t had a grocery store sandwich that failed to disappoint me in years. Really, it’s been since my local Giant discontinued their “Sweet Turkey Naan” sandwiches, honestly… when I’ve gotten sandwiches there, it’s always been because I wanted that sandwich again and was hoping they’d have re-introduced it, and then decided that the crap that’s there was passable. But no more!

Finally, un-depressing food doesn’t try to be diet-anything or really actively count calories or sodium or fat. My reasoning is that food is amazing, but food that sets out to be low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, and low-sodium will pretty much always be depressing, and depressing food means I’m going to just go and impulse-buy and eat something terrible for me afterwards that’ll way overshadow whatever benefits that depressing so-called “healthy” food conveys.

Also, because a meal being un-depressing involves more deliberate, mindful eating, it’s more likely that I’m going to stop when I’m full instead of just shoving the rest of that sad chunk of nutrients down my throat so I don’t have to think about it later.

Anyway, that’s the un-depressing food theory. I feel like … food is too big a part of our lives, and has too big a role in our health for me to keep neglecting it. It’s easy to fall into ruts, and I’ve been in one for too long now — it’s time to break out and find a newer path. So that’s the deal with the #undepressingfood instagram topic and its so-so pictures of delicious food.

Childhood Memories

I’ve found that I still have a lot of vivid snapshot memories from my childhood. Lots of stuff I hadn’t thought about in a very long time is still there, still swimming around in my head. Fragments of events long gone, lessons in impermanence, lessons in perspective, lessons in folly and wonder and futility and friendship and hope and love.

So I’ve been debating with myself. Do I give away the many small chapters of my life’s story, all the memorable things, all those banal snapshots, all those random images seared into my being? Or do I keep that part of myself private?

If I keep it private, I risk having what might be a wealth of instructive anecdotes from my childhood wither and fade, as I get ever farther removed from those experiences. But if I make those stories public, maybe I risk rendering my whole existence transparent and banal. Would I be better off reserving those stories for some discussion that I think they might be relevant to, even knowing that for many of them, that day will never come?

Are my formative memories fair game? Should they be as a masterwork on display for all to share? Or should they be precious gems hidden in the mattress, hoarded, known only to those we most trust, and only then in part? Would sharing that much about myself enhance or diminish my narrative?

I guess it comes down to a more fundamental question. As a person with a fairly rich intellectual life, how much of that do I want to really share with the world at large? Is there value in maintaining a certain mystique? And does that value outweigh the potential detriments of coming across as shallow by merely not exposing whatever depth is there? Is it better to be perceived as superficial, concealing the depths to which I might plunge, or to reveal both the full extent of my depths and, implicitly, the full extent of the limits of them?

I’m … still going back and forth on it.

My insatiable thirst

I think that everyone has something they can’t get enough of, to whatever end that leads. For some of us, that’s destructive impulses like alcohol or binge eating. For others it’s less destructive stuff like entertainment, or even potentially constructive stuff like exercise.

My theory, though, is that everyone has something they’re like that with. Everyone has their “thing” … that pursuit which, given the choice and the elimination of possible negative consequences, they’d do all the time.

I’ve come to begin understanding mine. It’s not any of the usual suspects … not liquor nor food nor tv nor games. Those things are, to varying degrees, things to fill the spaces between my own specific drive.

See, the thing that keeps me going is rational engagement. I don’t care where it comes from, whether it’s from an informed debate with me as a participant, or disabusing some poor victim of some insane notion of theirs, or being the victim of someone else’s lecturing, or reading books or watching things on TV. But especially watching and listening to that stuff…

So I’m trying to find things that satisfy that rationalist bent. Whether it’s watching a diatribe by some political commentator or a recording of a distinguished guest’s talk at a conference or gathering, I can’t get enough of it.

I’m looking for more of that. Lectures by engaging intellectuals who have something to say… shows that encourage you to “turn on” … in short, frank, direct and honest discussion. Now taking suggestions…

Oh shit, I’m a real person now … (or: Temporal Inevitability and Me)

I’ve been contracting for basically the last year or so. Before that, I was in class working towards graduation, and then working towards getting a job that pays well enough to pay back the student loans and … err … eat.

It’s interesting though. Now that I’m a full-time employee with a permanent position, I’ve sort of got a different mindset that I’m adjusting to.

See, when I was a student, I was working toward a specific, temporal goal. Even with setbacks, as long as I kept working at it and didn’t fail out, graduation was essentially a temporal inevitability. I always knew it was up ahead, always knew I was working towards some specific goal, some time at which things would resolve themselves if only I could hang on and keep it together until then.

Then I graduated. The temporal inevitability came and went. I survived, I made it, I crossed that line. And I looked ahead, and found another line: finding a full-time job.

I was pretty much always confident that I could get a job. I’m smart, I’m attentive, I’m friendly and generally easy to get along with, and I’ve got pretty absurdly good technical skills. I wasn’t always confident where I would get a job, but the fact of the matter never left me. Working was another temporal inevitable. It was, in my mind, an irrevocable fact that I would at some point in the indeterminate near future get a job.

And get a job I did. I accepted the CACI job in the end of July and started there in September, after really seriously starting the job hunt in September and having to basically choose between two possible places to go. And when I started there, it was as a contractor.

As a contractor on a limited-term contract-to-hire setup, I knew that it was basically inevitable that I would become a full-time employee. Of course, that turned out to be wrong, CACI turned out to be a bad fit for me, and got hit by a nasty budget crunch that caused my contract to get squeezed out. But I spent 8 years in college. I’m used to setbacks. And after a day or so of being confused and disoriented, I stood up and started searching for jobs, regrowing the sense of inevitability that I’d find a job after a couple of very positive, very successful interviews. And find a job I did, as a contractor again. This time on a 3-month instead of a 6-month, but the same deal: temp to perm.

And 3 months went by like nothing. I guess if I can spend 5 months at CACI being bored to tears and have it feel like an eternity, the 3 months just evaporating in front of me was a pretty good indicator that Mitre was a better fit. And then they made me a full time offer that was slightly better than what I’d initially negotiated, and I accepted, and became a full time employee. Again, all these events, to me, had a certain inevitability to them. I knew that it would happen. There was always room for doubt, but there was also always a sense that this was definitely going to happen, at some point. If not here, then somewhere else.

So now I’ve crossed that line. I’ve got a real position without an expiration date. It’s at a company consistently rated pretty high on the “best places to work” lists. It’s got great benefits, great vacation policies, and a healthy culture that really fits me. Things are great.

But now I’m faced with a problem. The only thing I see in the future that I’m confident about, that I see as inevitable is my own death, and that’s not for a long time. I don’t have a milestone to wait for anymore.

See, the last … I dunno, 27 years or so, I’ve been waiting for things. Waiting around to get into elementary school. Waiting to get out of it. Waiting to get out of middle school. Waiting to learn to drive. Waiting to get out of high school. Waiting to finish college. Waiting to get a permanent job. It’s so easy to justify killing time, wasting it, watching it slip by, knowing that the things you want to do are essentially inevitable. But now I am starting to feel guilty about it, because I feel like my time-wasting is finally, actually wasting it.

The momentum is gone. I don’t have anything pulling me forward anymore, so if I want to do anything before I die I’m going to have to do it on my own motivation. There’s nothing else. It’s a little disconcerting.

Maybe it’s time to build my own fire.

Local water

Do you ever think to yourself something along the lines of … “I am amazed by what I’m seeing, and I will be back tomorrow to see it again and to photograph it” only to learn that tomorrow it will be gone?

So about a block away from my house, there’s a wooded area that apparently used to be called Polinger Park, but is now apparently called Anderson Park. And through this park runs a little brook. I don’t know where it comes from, but I suspect it starts at the pond at Montgomery College, which I suspect may be spring-fed.

I walked down into the valley and explored a little today, and found no clearly defined paths past a couple feed into the woods. But it was walkable, with a pretty standard-issue forest floor lined with a spongy covering of accumulated fallen leaves and decayed wood. Lots of little undergrowth plants were just starting to grow, getting buds and shoots going. The trees were pretty typical too, with some old-growth canopy trees, some younger trees fighting with the old growth for light, and trees that had fallen and decayed.

I wandered down into the stream bed, where I noticed that parts of the stream had little minnows in it. There’s also a constant little waterfall spilling over an old concrete barrier connected to an erosion-exposed manhole sarcophagus with graffiti on the side. It’s … desolate and beautiful at the same time.

You know, staying on the paved paths, I had no idea where the storm drains on my street drained to. But now I know, they all run down into that little valley, into this little rock-bottomed creek with light random litter strewn about it, and eventually that stream links up with Upper Watts Branch stream, and trickles out into the Potomac, and ultimately into the Chesapeake. The water that I watched falling down a little concrete ledge ultimately ends up flowing where it does. That’s … sort of neat, you know? A couple of gallons a minute of the water rushing down the Potomac originated a couple hundred feet from my house.

Anyway, I was thinking how nice it would be to take pictures of what I was seeing. A lot of really pretty sights down in that little streambed. Erosion makes for interesting pictures, I tell ya. So I was thinking “I’ll go back tomorrow and do that”

But tomorrow it’s going to rain, which means that (1) the light’s not going to be the same, and (2) the whole area’s going to go from a fairly firm walking surface to a giant mudslick — at least down near the stream. That’s if the runoff from the rain doesn’t upgrade it from brook to creek, at any rate. And in a week, the plants will have sprouted, and the area’s going to be more impassable, and different looking. In the meantime, I’ll have work, and thus no chance to wander down there and re-explore. By the time I get down there again, it’ll have gone from what it is to what it will be.

Part of me feels like this was a missed opportunity — one of those “F/2.8 and be there” moments, if you will… where to get the pictures you want to get you need to have the camera with you, find the moment, and shoot the moment. Neither spend your time fiddling with the camera while the moment passes, nor spend your time cameraless while the moment’s there.

A bigger part of me feels like the “be there” part was more important than the “f/2.8” part… and that I was probably more in the moment because I didn’t have a camera with me to try to frame pictures of it.

Anyway, it was a good day regardless. I think I’m going to try to do more exploration around here. The world is a really rich place, especially when you venture just a little out of the paved and mowed paths you usually walk.

colds suck, and 9 other unfinished thoughts:

Rather than try to shape the random things floating around in my head into coherent, readable whole-posts (and thus spending several hours I don’t really have to spare right now, thanks to wanting to sleep), I’m just going to give them to you in half-finished one-liner form:

1: When you lose weight (by burning fat, say), you actually exhale the lion’s share of the weight you lose in the form of CO2. This is … somewhat amazing, and slightly counterintuitive … you’d think that you pee or poo more of it out. But really, poo is just the stuff that never made it into you to begin with, and urine is excess water and filtered-out waste products that aren’t really a huge part of your energy cycles.

2: Related to 1: I wonder how much CO2 the average person in the average day actually exhales. Also, what’s the concentration of CO2 in exhaled air? And what percentage of lung capacity is actually replaced with each breath? How much of breathing is that mechanical pumping, and how much of it is essentially in-lung diffusion of new air into stale old air? How much of the O2 in the air we breathe do we use up? I’ve been unable to find answers to this … maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.

3: colds are a pain in the ass. Well, not so much the ass as the throat, sinuses, occasionally ears and head. Actually, the ass has been just fine and dandy through the cold I slept off this week. Also, it turns out sleeping a lot is actually a remarkably effective strategy against colds. 2 or 3 days of 15 hours a day asleep really knocked that virus flat!

4: Last semester was ok. I had meant to write more about it, but there’s not much more to really say. In retrospect, I can certainly live with a pair of B’s, considering the approaching 600 hours of time I put into video games last semester. Hmm, anti-pattern…

5: I spend too much time playing video games, so this semester I’m not going to. When I start watching video files, there’s natural stop points (like, when one episode ends), and they’re easy to take advantage of. I have a much smaller appetite for that stuff than gaming.

6: Regular schedules are interesting. Before getting knocked flat with a cold, I was doing a slightly early of regular schedule (like, 5-6 am awake, 9-10pm asleep). It was nice. Now I’ve got a 10:30 am class three days a week, and without the influence of gaming I think I’ll be able to maintain some semblance of a morning!

7: Scrubs is surprisingly pretty good. Got hooked on two or three random episodes I saw on tv over New Year’s. It was good times. Now I’ve got the first 5 seasons downloaded, and I tore through one season in the last week (partly because it’s good, partly because I’m not playing games and homework has just finally started to happen at all, and partly because I was sick Sunday through Tuesday or so and didn’t really feel like doing anything other than sleeping, watching videos and laughing). I figure, at the current rate, I’ll be finished with the 5 seasons that I’ve got by … umm, probably Valentine’s day, at the latest.

8: related to the whole regular schedule + not gaming thing, I’ve actually already gotten started on my first CS project. It’s … not bad, but a little tough to think about, because I don’t really want to pull in JDBC or BerkDB or anything insane to implement what amounts to two tables, a relation and four or so queries in this java app. But it’d be SOOO easy to turn this from a java app into a couple JDBC calls. In past CS classes, I’ve typically spent like 4-8 hours coding and 2 hours thinking about how to implement stuff on any given project, and then just sort of dropped it on turnin however it ended up. So far, I’ve actually done a lot of option-weighing on how to implement this project, even though it’s relatively trivial to implement a basic functional version. I want efficient, dammit! And I’m going to get it!

9: classes this semester are interesting so far. Not that we’re very far in. Databases (348) class is ok, projects and homeworks are interesting, I’m hoping the textbook is good (still waiting for it to show up in the mail). Unfortunately, the prof is … sort of scatterbrained. I’m getting a bit demotivated to go to his lectures, because he’s not really presenting a lot of information in meaningful ways. Already I’m starting to see other people falling off of that wagon too … there were about 6 fewer people in Thursday’s lecture than in the lecture before it. In a class of about 36 people, that’s fairly significant. Also, 5 more people left between 5:00 and 5:30, when class let out at 5:45 or so, and I saw at least 3 or 4 of the people who stayed napping. It’s a shame, ’cause the guy is nice and all, and knows his stuff, it’s just that he’s sort of a random scatterbrained teacher. Not that I’m one to talk about randomness :p. My other class is neat though, Environmental Ethics. I’m behind on the reading because I’m also waiting for that book, but lectures 2 and 3 we watched An Inconvenient Truth, which was sort of cool. The lecturer there also seems fairly interesting and engaging … I’d say about 55 people in that class. It’s good times though. I missed Wednesday’s class because I felt like I needed hours 7-12 of sleep still. Tomorrow, short of vomiting up an organ, there’s nothing that’ll keep me from going though :p.

10: Speaking of random … I think it’s sort of interesting that it’s possible to use a push for accessibility to push for a certain degree of freedom, or at least openness in software. Like, one of my directors at work wanted to get uber-protective and lock down some course content in insane and impractical ways, until I pointed out that it was sort of despicable and probably a violation of at least the university’s accessibility policies (because it would render the material unusable by screen readers and unprintable), while not providing any protection from anyone remotely determined to break it. She gave in, and so instead of distributing some sort of insane right-click-disabling printscreen-catching nonselectable text-image-flash-inexplicable-monstrosity application for this course content, we’re just giving people straight-up, ordinary, highlightable, selectable, printable, readable pdf files (and the streaming audio and video in the flash web interface we’ve got going to sync audio/video with slide presentations … which is sort of neat). Made me think though … setting a requirement like “has to be accessible to people with handicaps” pretty much precludes excessively exotic answers to what should be simple and generic problems. Neat!

That’s it. There’s more back here, but … umm … yeah, that’s enough randomness for one day, and sleeping is good too.

amazing

It’s really pretty amazing how easy it is to shift from optimistic enthusiasm to abject and somewhat inconsolable depression.

I think my future plans are somewhat coming to a head at this point. I’ve got until the 10th of this month to decide whether to renew my lease or not. If I don’t, I should probably plan on leaving the area. I’m not sure if I’m going to or not, yet.

My roommate is still totally useless. I don’t care about his existence at all at this point. So I’m quite sure I’m not going to renew the lease with him.

Do I want to go to grad school? Yeah, I do, but I don’t know what in, and I don’t know where. I’ve been halfassed enough about college as a whole that I am not going to be a particularly attractive grad student. Should I be pursuing the GRE’s? I probably already should have taken them, at this point.

Do I want to pursue a sysadmin job? From what the boss was saying, it sounds like it’s not very promising that I get a full-time position here, regardless. They’re asking me to try to find my replacement so they can start learning the ropes. I wonder if it’s even possible to find, especially at what they’re paying here. Can I find a similar adminny job somewhere else? Or am I going to be dragged into programming?

Could I handle a programming job? I haven’t written meaningful code (other than shellscripts) since 448. 448 was fun, but I wasn’t great at the coding part of it… could I write code in a professional environment?

You know, I woke up this morning, pretty much oblivious to these things. Here I am now, after a couple hours of thought and interaction, and I’m totally entrenched in what amounts to a major existential funk. I’m not happy with the status of my own existence, and that’s all there is to it.

… Maybe I should be happy about all of this? Maybe I really need a change in scenery, an external change could induce an internal one? Maybe I’ve just got anxiety about my poor self-assessment and uncertain future… I dunno.

Either way, I’m kinda down.