Birthday Inventory 2018

Tomorrow is my 50th birthday. It’s a big one; about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through a North American man’s life. I’m at the point of the baking show where the host comes around and says, “Five minutes left!” and the bakers all try to cover up their mistakes with frosting and get something presentable for the judges.

Like, I think, a lot of people, I’ve always felt like my real life was going to start “soon”. It’s hard to accept that it started a long time ago, the clock has been running for five decades, and I am who I am going to be. What I do next with my life will likely follow closely on what I’ve done before. This is the vehicle I’m driving; I just get to decide where to go.

Last year I did a birthday inventory which was really helpful for me to write and to re-read. I’m going to try to follow a similar format here, although the same headings and bullet points might not come as quickly to mind. People change over a year; priorities change. What you want to look at changes.

  • Family. My immediate family remains the foundation of my life. We eat together, sleep under the same roof, watch TV, read, do projects, take trips together. We are about as close as I’ve ever been with anyone.
    • I continue to have a sweet partnership with my wife, tinged somewhat with guilt that she has to carry so much weight. She has travelled less frequently this year, but worked a lot. We have had to make sure to carve out time one-on-one together, like many married couples. And often our talk is about our shared project, creating a family and a household. We have been lucky to have some extra time to talk about ourselves and our lives.
    • My daughter turned 13 this year. She’s finding her place in the world, and it’s been amazing to see her do it. I have a relationship with her that’s halfway between a parent-child one and a relationship with a younger peer. She loves to talk about books and music and the world. I’m glad to have the chance to see things through her eyes.
    • My son will be 10 in a few weeks. He has had an incredible year; a change of schools last fall has helped him to blossom. He is skilled with math and spelling, loves to sing and dance, and is funny and charming. He gives hugs without hesitation. He has not yet caught the reading bug like his parents and sister. He remains stormy in his moods, but they come less often now. But he also has an almost addictive relationship with his tablet, watching YouTube gaming videos whenever he can and reluctantly putting the device down for meals or homework. It’s one of my main worries; I want him to continue to flourish and be expressive, and I don’t want him to fall into the toxic culture of online gaming without some better armour. I’m trying to engage him with some of our common interests: building models, playing video games, exercise outside, role-playing games. We’ll see how it goes.
    • My extended family remains a source of joy. My brothers and their families are all doing well, and although we’ve had a health scare or two in the last year, I feel content. But they are far away, and it continues to sting that I don’t have as much time with them as I’d like.
  • Life’s purpose. This has been a big topic of thought for me over the last year. I wrote a personal mission statement last winter, partly inspired by discussions with my friends Ben and Boris while boating in Amsterdam. I’m still behind my mission, to make the future more evenly distributed. But I feel like the statement leaves out so much about what I want out of life and what I owe to people close to me.
    I’ve been thinking a lot in the last 12 months about Stoicism versus Epicureanism. In my mind, this is the difference between dedicating your life to being valuable versus being content. I’m feeling more and more that the joys of everyday life are only here for me for a moment longer; family trips, red and orange leaves, weddings, new babies. I need to savour them while I can, and if that means not getting down to the Forum to give a speech that defeats my rivals in the Senate, well, I can live with that. I’d like to work on my (metaphorical) garden.

    • On the other hand, my work with the W3C on social networking standards has been really fruitful. We completed the last of our standards this year and shut down the working group we had built. Now, the same community is working on promoting the standards in software like Mastodon. The process remains difficult but I am hopeful.
  • Health. I continue to keep a trim figure, although I’ve put on some muscle mass this year. I’m at a BMI of 27 and the last time I did my BFI, I was at a very healthy 11%. But my diet and exercise take up a lot of my attention and time; I still do about 1-2 hours of exercise a day, plus walking or biking around town on my personal business. I don’t know if I can keep this level of commitment up forever, but I haven’t yet figured out an easier path.
    • Mentally, I’ve continued a meditation practice, although I’ve been slacking off lately. What used to be a daily practice has become more of a 2-3x per week practice. I kind of hit a wall with meditation; it felt like more of a maintenance process. But it remains important to my sense of calm and awareness of the world.
    • I realize that I’m heading into one of the most mentally hazardous periods of a man’s life. It’s a time when depression and anxiety can overwhelm men; a time when our minds turn against us. I’m trying to keep my eyes open and my principles firmly anchored.
  • Work. It’s been a bad year. I’m in flux. There’s no other way to say it. After a number of pivots and redirections, my co-founder Matt and I have decided we can’t make work the way it needs to, and we’re going to shut down this year. That’s been a hard decision to make, not least because so much of the business has been oriented towards making AI more accessible to more developers.
    I haven’t got the will or the incentive to dive back in and start another company. In a way, I feel like that 17-year-old kid who’s still going to the same summer camp as he did at 12, with a lot of 12-year-olds. I think I need to move on to my next thing, and stop trying to fill the same role in the tech ecosystem that I have for 15 years. I need something different.
    Finding work that aligns with my purpose, that keeps me and my family in our home in Montreal, and that pays the bills has not been easy. Applying for jobs instead of making up my own has been uncomfortable.
    On the plus side, I’ve had a chance to consult with and work for a number of different amazing companies on a part-time basis this year while I figure out next steps. I’m inspired by their work, and I’m hoping to give what little help I can to help them be successful.
  • Friendships. It’s been an OK year. I have kept my cards close to my chest about work life, which has made it harder to connect with friends. It’s hard to take the limited free time I have and apply it to my friendships. I’ve tried to do more to engage; we’ll see how it goes.
    • One thing I’ve made a point of this year is reducing the number of one-way friendship relationships I have on social networking platforms. I realized that I was putting a lot of mental energy into tenuous relationships with people who I don’t matter to. I cut down my networks to people who are interested in me and who I can be myself around.
    • I’ve had some changes in my feelings about communities, too. I have long felt a congeniality with a loose group of people clustered around maybe a “social software” or “Web 2.0” concept. I’ve sought this community’s company at alphabet soup events like FOO, XOXO, YXYY, and SXSW, but I’m coming to realize that it’s an abstract concept. I need to spend less time trying to connect with a cloud of people, and more time connecting with people themselves. This year, I decided not to go to XOXO because I didn’t want to waste time with it. I hope to put that time into other trips and deeper connections.
    • Similarly, I’ve had a rough time with the Montreal tech community. I have a lot of friends who work here, and I have felt recognized and rewarded for the work and energy I’ve put into making this a place where interesting technology happens. But it’s not a cause I can dedicate myself to forever; I’m letting it go somewhat, and I hope to see it continue to flourish without me.
  • Hobbies. It has been a good year for these! Maybe because of my change in work situation; maybe because I need more areas of exploration in my life.
    • I started doing taiko drumming last year. It’s fun and challenging and involves banging the shit out of huge drums, which is immensely satisfying. I’m having a hard time getting good, and I normally put in zero hours of practice per week besides my Saturday workshops, but I’m glad to have this practice in my life.
    • I also started a regular role-playing game with a group of friends I really like and admire. We do a call once every 2-4 weeks and spend a couple of hours making maps and rolling dice and telling stories together. I’m finding it really rewarding.
    • I spent some time working on a blog about role-playing game podcasts, but it hasn’t really worked out. I don’t have the time to write reviews for the 5-10 major weekly or biweekly RPG podcasts, and I haven’t had the energy to recruit other writers. And, frankly, the feedback on the blog has been poor; fans have been displeased with my critical take on entertainment they remain unquestioningly supportive of. I might give this another try soon; or I might just shut it down.
    • I also started doing regular recordings of my voice and thoughts over the last year. I’ve got about 20 episodes, which have been great to do. I hope to continue into the next year (watch for a birthday episode), but I think I’ll need to do it on a regular day of the week rather than trying to get to it haphazardly.
    • It has been a year of incredible travel. My family spent 2 weeks in the south of France this summer, which was enriching and rewarding. We made memories; we are committed to going back. And next week I take my first trip to Jerusalem, the city where my father was born and my grandparents lived. I’m nervous and excited.
  • Politics. It’s been a year of hope and fear. I’m looking forward to a more balanced US political landscape after the mid-term elections of 2018. But our Quebec elections have put a party into a parliamentary majority who’ve been more than happy to use Islamophobia, anti-semitism and race-baiting to gain votes. And the source of a lot of our hemisphere’s stability, Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government, is headed into an election in the next year. That feels like a potential catastrophe.
    • I feel like my friends and family are politically more polarized than ever before. I try not to talk about politics with my friends, but many have disappeared from my social networks, down the rabbit hole of their own social media echo chambers, as I go down the rabbit hole of mine. I hope I can keep my lines of communication open with people I care about who want the same things as I do but who see other ways of getting there. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be.

I’m sure there’s more I should write; I’ll think more about it today. I have to get back to my house now; my friends Frank and Robyn have come up from Cleveland for my birthday, and I need to get some bread in the oven and get pancakes going. Then to taiko, a run on Mount Royal, and dinner tonight with 20-30 of my closest friends. Life is pretty good for me.

7 thoughts on “Birthday Inventory 2018

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Such a good way to pin a point in time to take the temp of your life, or at least your perception of your life. I found it inspiring, both the concept and execution and the content. Taiko drumming? Sounds fun and very physical. Thanks for sharing, I obviously need to read more of your blogs, and possibly venture into doing some writing myself. Happy Birthday!

  2. “I’m at the point of the baking show where the host comes around and says, “Five minutes left!” and the bakers all try to cover up their mistakes with frosting and get something presentable for the judges.”

    How brilliant! That’s exactly it! (I’m two years ahead of you, so my frosting is melting now.)

    This was a great read. I’m amazed at how much you get done! I tried one taiko drumming class because I had always been curious about it (love the performances). I was terrible and it was hard, so I didn’t go back. Good for you to keep at it!

    Bonne fête! Hope it’s a good one.

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