Birthday Inventory 2020

I’ve been doing an annual birthday inventory for the last few years (2017, 2018, 2019) and since my birthday is this week, I thought it would make sense to write one for 2020, too. I’m not checking back too much, on purpose, so I don’t compare now to then, but suffice it to say that I have a lot on my mind, and a lot of things to talk about.

  • Family. This year, because there was a global pandemic of COVID-19, my family spent a lot of time together. We were isolated at home, away from offices, schools or stores, for months at a time. And it was great. Teens and pre-teens withdraw from their parents just at the time parents realise how fleeting their time with kids is. I feel lucky to get so much time with my adolescent kids, watching movies, playing video games, reading, taking walks, learning new things. I know it’s been hard on everyone, but I feel lucky to have that time with them.
    • My marriage feels good. Maj and I get along together well, and though we still squabble every once in a while, I feel like we agree more often than we don’t. The lockdown time has been good for tolerating each other’s self-care. I think we’ve also reached some equilibrium points in home management and finances that make us both less stressed. We haven’t gotten to go out much this year, but we’ve been able to spend time together, and we’ve been each other’s comfort when the world feels overwhelming.
    • My daughter Amita is growing into a young woman, but we still have time together. I’m really proud of her, the work she does for the climate (which is slowing down), and the life she’s making. She’s very kind to humor me when I try to stay up-to-date with new trends and memes. We get time 1-on-1 pretty often, which I really enjoy.
    • Stavro, 12 in a few weeks, is also turning into someone I like to spend time with. We’ve had some time exercising together this year, which is a first. He’s still obsessed with YouTube, but I worry less about that. He’s got a strong heart, good intentions, and I think he’s on the right path.
    • For my parents and brothers and their families, this pandemic time has brought us closer than I remember in my adult life. We do large Zoom calls every 1-2 weeks, and check in often too. I don’t think I’m going to see them in person this year, but I’m glad I get so much time with them virtually.
  • Finances. I feel more stable than I have in 15 years. Both Maj and I have good, steady income. We re-financed our house earlier this year, which let us have some breathing room on costs. We’ve been more than aware how lucky we are, and donated more than I’d have imagined on relief funds, shelters, bail funds, and political donations. Even so, with the savings in costs from travel, restaurants, etc., we feel stable.
    • This fall, we signed papers on a country house in the Eastern Townships. It’s been my personal goal for over a decade, and I’m really glad we managed to afford it while the kids are still young enough to build some memories there. It feels like Enough.
  • Work. This birthday catches me at a time of transition. I’ve been at Wikimedia Foundation for almost two years, and we’re about to ship the new developer platform that my team has been working on. I’m wondering if this is the time for me to move on to new challenges, or build on this success. I am still challenged by working in an organisation of over 400 people, which still feels big to me. I do a lot of meetings — 6 to 10 per day. And I admit, the number of people who have to approve anything I do chafes a little. But the work is important and meaningful, and the organisation is hugely supportive. The pay and benefits are reasonable and steady. And my time, although full, is flexible. It’s hard to know which way things will break.
  • Health. Confinement hasn’t been great for my fitness overall. I still exercise, lifting weights or running every day, but I don’t go to the gym, so lifting is on my home set. Lockdown means big meal projects made at home, or homemade bread, or frequent takeout. And I’ve gone from drinking a glass of wine once every week or so to almost every night. Suffice it to say, my BMI is up from 26-27 to 28-29. I can tell the difference, and I’m trying to get back to where I was before.
    • I had two COVID-19 tests this summer. My son had one after school started. We have yet to have the disease in our house; I hope we never do.
    • I had a superficial venous thrombosis (blood clot) in my left leg about a month ago. It was painful, and I had to go to the ER for blood tests and ultrasounds, but it turned out to be the least harmless blood clot you can get. The causes are sitting down too much, so I’ve been trying to do my 6-10 meetings standing up at my desk. Hopefully that helps
    • My mental health has been pretty good, all things considering. I’ve been anxious since the pandemic started, but I’ve got pretty healthy habits to begin with — exercise and meditation — and I’ve tried to be as self-indulgent as possible (see leisure, below). I’ve felt immense gratitude at my privilege to be relatively privileged and relatively safe while this pandemic goes down. It helps keep me sane and stable.
  • Leisure. I’ve had some pluses and minuses this year. I stopped going to my taiko class in the spring, to see if I would miss it. With COVID-19, it’s been hard to concentrate on, and I’m not even sure my class is still meeting. Besides my daily exercise, I’ve focused on cooking, canning, baking; see BMI numbers above for the proof. I’ve also been practicing Arabic with Pimsleur tapes; it’s fun as anything, and I find I can get pretty good if I keep it on a daily schedule.
    • Television has become increasingly the media of choice. There’s just so much good stuff to watch, and it’s just right there. It’s become a real ritual in our household during the pandemic; we watch TV together almost every night. We also watch in pairs; me and Maj, me and Amita, me and Stavro, Maj and Amita. Different shows we share with each other.
    • Since March, I’ve increased my videogame playing a lot. It’s a real comfort to me to play one of my favourite games — Minecraft, Red Dead Redemption 2, and now Red Dead Redemption 1.
    • Since last summer, I’ve kept a homebrew bullet journal every night before I go to bed. I write down 3+ bullet points about what happened that day, draw a picture of something I saw or something that happened, and I’m done. I’ve found it an amazing tool for gratitude; looking back over the days in the previous year and seeing the huge variety of things I do and places I go. I remember the days as a blur of similarity punctuated by occasional adventures, but looking over my journals really helps me remember all the great small adventures of each day.
    • As a family, we’ve really jumped into downhill skiing. Last winter, we skied almost every other weekend. Amita is on the ski team at her school. It’s a lot of skiing.
  • Travel. The last six months haven’t been much for travel, due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. But I had a life-changing trip across North America on Amtrak in January. I went from our home in Montreal to our Wikimedia Foundation all-hands meeting in San Francisco. It took about 3 days, but it was an amazing trip. I’d like to reduce my flights to a minimum, and use rail whenever possible, even if there’s a time cost. We’ll see how that turns out after this year.
  • Friends. This is my perennial problem; not enough time and focus on my friendships. It’s been hard to see people this year, but in some ways it’s also been helpful to my friendships. We’ve all kind of agreed that seeing each other is necessary for our mental health, so I do Zoom calls or phone calls more often. It feels artificial to set up, but the calls really feel good.
    • I have a good network of friends and family on Facebook, and some on Twitter. I feel like I get some of the conversations I need out of those media. I’m not sure it’s enough, though.
    • I also got to take our Spring Break with my friends Frank and Robyn in upstate New York; it was our last trip before lockdown, and it was a great time to deepen that relationship.
  • Purpose. Since I started working at Wikimedia, I’ve had a real drift in my feeling of purpose. My mission written a few years ago feels very technology-focused and sci-fi; it’s not quite what I want to do or be any more. I remain committed to open source and open standards for the social web, but my day job is much more about making a platform for collaborative open content.
    • I am thinking a lot about autonomy with respect to our technology. We are so dependent, and so many of us feel helpless and addicted and made worse people by our devices rather than better. I think I’d like to direct more of my attention to making people feel more in control and more improved by their technology.
    • We watched Hamilton on Disney+ when it came out this summer, and one line by George Washington really struck me. I want to sit under my own vine. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about big changes I wanted to make in the world, and not enough time appreciating the world for what it is. My family is really the most important thing to me, and I need to factor that into my sense of self. I want to be more Epicurean than Stoic in my outlook; more focused on tending my metaphorical garden. (I also plan to plant a trellis in our new backyard, and sit under the literal vines when I can.)
    • I’ve been very focused on climate change and the immense effort ahead to convert our society to zero carbon emissions by 2050. I think we’re beyond the point where everyone who cares can just say, do something. We’re now at the point where each of us has to pick a specific climate action and say, do this thing. For me, that means concentrating on replacing air travel with rail travel, which is 10x more carbon efficient. It won’t solve everything, but it will help. I’ve joined rail advocacy groups in Canada and the US, and I’m gradually feeling my way around to find out where I can put my shoulder to push forward.
    • I’d like to spend more time writing. It’s satisfying to have that creative outlet. I’m not sure what I’d like to do yet, though. Blogging is great, but I think a bigger project may make more sense.

I feel exhausted with this post; this has taken 3 days to write, with time found before and after work, around time with my family. If you’ve read to the end, please let me know. I’m glad I mean enough to someone like you to take that much time.

One thought on “Birthday Inventory 2020

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