August has been a bit of a whirlwind. It’s orientation season, which has involved so much contact with students. I adjusted my prayer routine a bit more and started to do morning contemplations again. I hit 100 days on Duolingo and can now say things like αγαπώ τισ γυναίκες. I keep confusing the words for puppy (κουτάβι) and crab (καβούρι). My partner and I went to the beach twice and had a great time grilling. Towards the end of the lunar and civic month, her elderly cat died.
At work, we are even more onsite (only one fixed day offsite allowed per week), which has been psychologically challenging. I asked myself some questions about what was making me so frustrated and miserable about being more onsite. Few of the things being reported in the media (apart from general workplace safety concerns and commute time/quality of life stuff) as things workers care about in the WFH conversation were actually on my list. Top of my list is that we have no WFH flexibility for menstruating women, and after two years of not having to worry if I flooded through my pants or got too dizzy to stand, it’s huge to lose what I will henceforth refer to as “period dignity.” There are a few other issues, though.
One thing that I found challenging was that several of the problems could be (partially) mitigated by throwing money at them. I am not pro-consumerism, and ideologically, this realization does bother me. I want to be able to accept things as they are and make sure that what I am investing in is actually what I want, that it isn’t driven by idolizing a company or franchise or idealized, unrealistic life. The priority behind many of my decisions is streamlining. I did throw money at some of the issues. I didn’t feel particularly disciplined while I was doing it — I still wonder if I contorted myself into justifying these purchases, that they were not actually useful for my well-being, that the money could have gone to longer-term financial goals (my main financial goal is fully funding my emergency savings, and my main spending goal is to save up for a real couch and non-round dining table). I did well financially during the pandemic because I didn’t have to travel for conferences. I had to pay several thousand out-of-pocket every year for those, and they are are a required part of my job — suddenly, I was able to pay down debt, and I had more financial flexibility. I paid something off about when inflation started going wild this year, so I haven’t noticed the inflation that much. I’m probably OK, but I still want to be cautious and prioritize saving. The part of the August “let’s make work less painful” process in which I carried a floor lamp from my home to my office was a bit absurd. The lighting is better now — less harsh, and perhaps useful for seasonal circadian issues. The footrest was marginally less awkward to carry. I bought a pile of bulk snacks so late afternoon events at work are a bit easier, as it’s hard to focus when I’m hungry and people are eating event food that I can’t eat due to my medical diet. That was probably a good idea because the one reliably gluten-free item in the vending machine is a $3 two-pack of Reeses peanut butter cups, and I am not developing that habit. I resubscribed to RescueTime.
The thing I feel weirdest about is that I finally bought the Supernote eInk tablet that’s been on my list for over a year. My mental SWOT analysis was tortuous and tortured, especially since I am saving up for two replacement furniture items. I probably watched every single comparison and features video on YouTube, especially since I’m left-handed and had to hunt for ones from lefties. Historically, I’ve used a lot of paper printing out articles, novel(la) manuscripts, and other random sheets of paper, including some things that are printer-to-use-to-shredder. It’s wasteful. It is not very portable. The three eInk tablet frontrunners on the market are the Boox Note Air, reMarkable, and Supernote. The Supernote comes out ahead in all of the reviews, as the product team is responsive, and the device is more holistic than the reMarkable while still remaining committed to distraction-free use. The weirdness is because I can’t tell if this is a good financial investment or lifestyle creep. I don’t like lifestyle creep because it doesn’t align with my values. I am really enjoying the Supernote, though, and I’m using it for both work and personal stuff.
In Your Money or Your Life, it is said that our actual take-home pay is whatever is left after the time and money we spend on everything related to our jobs, from clothes to food to sanity purchases to commute time. If this is correct, my actual August take-home pay was not much. However, my mood has improved dramatically at work after addressing factors that I decided would improve my wellbeing, and I’ve even occasionally felt … happy. Money, beyond the money necessary for a living wage, doesn’t buy happiness. My happiness is logistical. Arguably, some of what I had to buy are things my workplace should actually be providing, but it feels very empowering that small changes — and a focus on what I can control — have made such a big impact on my wellbeing. And I guess I need to have that wellbeing boost to be more energized and able to tackle my personal goals.
The “wellness purchases” included resubscribing to Audible after … years. I don’t like Amazon, but I’ve sacrificed much of my reading time to my commute. For my first month, I downloaded Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss and Lulu Miller’s Why Fish Don’t Exist. I was deciding on whether to read something more practical instead of Miller’s book. I have this expectation that my commute must be productive listening time, but isn’t it about self-care and “putting something back into the tank”? Why Fish Don’t Exist has a tantalizing story about the destruction of a specimen collection by natural disasters, and it sounds like some fun, dramatic history. I picked it primarily for the drama, but I guess I’ll also learn about the history of taxonomy.
I listened to Gathering Moss first and really enjoyed it. My big observation? I realized just how few names of plants I know. I remember the trees in the work parking lot as the fern-leaf tree or the one with the rough bark. It was disconcerting to think about it. Names are important, an invitation into one’s linguistic sensemaking space of another, whose name represents the relationship and history between them; in the Cratylus, we learn how the Gods’ names are jazzy, impressionistic watercolors that signify our natural experience of each of them, becoming a true emanation of the God as their individuality hits the messy space of cultural nature, with nature being the Platonic jargon term at that sticky space between soul and matter. Slowly, as I listened on my commute, I started to pick out the mosses that had always been living in the sidewalk cracks and in the rocky places below storm pipes. Kimmerer is excellent at weaving personal stories into science into cultural contexts, and it was a great listen during the commute.
Heavy books don’t do that well as audiobooks because note-taking features are limited, but at least I’m keeping my mind occupied and learning fun things about science. While I would love to be able to curl up with some heavy Platonism and read fast (or, more accurately, spread out at a table with it), the shift back to onsite means I’m relying on my eReader and eBook apps a bit more again. As an android user, I’m loving the Google Play Books app because it syncs books I upload between devices. Last time there was a sale on Bloomsbury, I bought the DRM-free ePubs of the Michael Griffin translation of Olympiodorus’ Alcibiades commentary, and it’s so convenient to move among my phone, computer browser, and Poke 3 ereader while keeping my place, plus the advantage of being able to look at my notes and marks in Google Drive without having to deal with clumsy manual exporting. I’ve also been using ePub uploads in Google Play to edit/proofread my creative writing because I can do that in short bursts on my phone while waiting for things. Print books are a bit easier to actually use interactively because toggling between pages takes less work — the book occupies three dimensions. They can’t beat eBooks for portability, though. You gotta do what you gotta do.
It’s an adjustment that my commute impacts how much time I have for my morning spiritual practice, but that’s been true for the past year. I notice the difference going into this season, just as I did last year, because the light is changing. The band of daylight is growing narrower. In a few months, I’ll go to work an hour after the sun rises and the sky will be lightless by the time I leave, the entire day passed below ground. In winter, I’ll also have to add commute time for dealing with bad weather. What we do at our shrines is a conversation with Gods that unfolds from season to season, year to year, lifetime to lifetime.
While I was brushing my teeth a few days ago, I had already drafted an earlier version of this end-of-month update, and I worried that I was being too upbeat and not reflective enough about this. How exactly is thinking about finances and work and the more-total return to office spiritual? This is a blog about theism, worshipping and venerating Gods. After thinking for a few minutes, I decided that it would be honest to show people this messiness. I am not a perfect person. I rewrote a few things, and the above is the result. I hope it hit the right amount of candor without oversharing.
Have a great September, everyone.