"To me, this is the real challenge of post-social reality. To live in this post-social future, one has to embrace ideas that are the antithesis of self-importance. After two decades of being trained by micro-dosing on dopamine, I am not sure we can!"
That will technically be four books I'm reading at the same time (along with the Daily Stoic and Daily Thoreau) — maybe five if you include the audiobook of Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks.
I've never really been one for having multiple books on the go but the nature of these means that I can dip in and out as required. I'm also looking for those serendipitous moments when things align across multiple texts and create connections that wouldn't normally appear.
# A couple of days ago, I finally finished Oliver Burkeman 's Four Thousand Weeks having started it back in August.
More like it finished rather than me completing it.
I "read" it through a combination of Kindle and Audible, listening whilst walking Jac or when running on the treadmill. It didn't always sink in. At one stage I backtracked in the Kindle app to make some notes, forgot, then (some time later) continued to listen in Audible only to realise ten minutes in that I'd heard that part before. Heard but not really remembered. So I continued, hoping it would sink in this time.
It's quite ironic that Burkeman writes about the modern frustration of reading a book, that people experience "a revulsion at the fact that the act of reading takes longer than they’d like." I, however, got more from the times when I did read as opposed to those where I listened. Why? Because I could actually take more time over it. It is easier to re-read a paragraph, passage or even a page than to muck about with your phone rewinding in the Audible app, trying to guess at how far back you should go to repeat the part you wanted to hear again.
I will also watch movies in Netflix while running, breaking them down into episodic chunks. There's something refreshing about watching something 20 to 30 minutes at a time. It gives you pause for thought, allows you to consider what's happening more deeply.
The past couple of runs have found me watching In Time, a 2011 offering which I thought looked interesting when suggested by the app. It's a typically dystopian vision of the future where time is the ultimate currency. At one point, 1 the lead character (played by Justin Timberlake) is told "you do everything too fast." The obvious sexual innuendo retort aside, it's a comment that fit perfectly with Burkeman's whole point: we race through life doing everything too fast, trying to organise our way to perfection to get everything done. But we can't, it's impossible — we're just too afraid to admit it.
We have time for what we have time for. Not a second more, not a second less. It reminds me of a scene in The Sandman graphic novel by Neil Gaiman: Death goes to collect a child who complains that his time was too short. Death replies: "You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime. No more. No less."
We can't do it all so we should enjoy what we have, savour it. Only then will it be truly time we'll spent.
after coming into some time, doesn't quite sound the same as coming into money ↩
# It's been over a year of procrastination and faffing so I thought I'd finally put my "book" project to bed.
I was going to properly self-publish It's Only Words but that would involve getting permission to reprint sections from other people's works and I don't think I want to put myself through that process and incur even further delays.
Instead, I'm just going to make it available here via the blog for anyone who wants to read it. I'll create a separate page for it over the next couple of days but, for now, you can use the below links:
The EPUB version won't open in Apple Books (it just doesn't like it) but seems fine in any other ebook reader.
For anyone unfamiliar, It's Only Words is me putting to rest the thoughts, ideas, angst and anguish that came with my #write365 project back in 2014. I vowed to write something, anything every day for a year of around 300 words. The subtitle is "Lessons learnt from a year of writing" and that is how this is presented.
That project became intensely personal and surfaced a number of issues for me (triggering extended mental health problems) so "Words" is a way of putting that all behind me.
There may still be typos or grammatical errors. It may not make perfect sense. You might enjoy it or hate it, agree with some points but vehemently disagree with others. That's fine — it's a starting point, a conversation starter and, more importantly, therapy.
I'm happy to finally share it with the world. Even if no one reads it at least I can say "I did that. Me!"
# It rolls around every year, the third Monday of January (Blue Monday) is supposed to be the most depressing day on the calendar - in the Northern hemisphere at least.
It is based on a formula calculating the impact of weather, time since Christmas, time since those failed new year's resolutions, and debt.
But it's nonsense and has been debunked and derided so many times but keeps reappearing.
The term (and formula) was created back in 2005 as part of an advertising campaign for a travel company. Hey! You're blue, book a holiday and cheer yourself up.
It may be complete rubbish but it can serve as a reminder to check in with ourselves, and others, to ensure that we are taking steps to improve our mental health or to just let someone know that we're there for them.
If you are struggling don't feel ashamed to admit it and, please, speak to someone. It is not weakness to admit that you're not okay — it's the opposite, it's the strongest thing you can do.
If you're not struggling then please listen, without judgement, without preconceptions. It can be tough but it's the best thing you could do and might just save a life.
# This week (10th - 16th May) is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and the theme is nature.
It's good that the conversation about mental health has taken the position it needs and deserves over the past year but it's disappointing that it has taken a global pandemic to truly make that happen.
We are approaching the next phase of restrictions being eased in England and, as we approach normality, I fear that the focus on mental health will be reduced as though being able to go to the pub means that you're okay again. That's not how it works.
This past year has caused more people to experience issues and given a lot more still an insight into the problems faced by those who suffer from mental health problems. I can only hope that this insight changes things on a long term basis.
There should now be no reason for any kind of stigma attached to any mental health issues after what everyone has been living through (not that there should have been anyway) so there is no excuse for the conversation to recede and be a taboo subject again. We cannot afford for short-termism with people thinking that once the pandemic has passed it's no longer something they need to worry about.
With an eye to the relationship between the good and “the real which is the proper object of love, and of knowledge which is freedom,” she considers what it takes for us to purify our attention in order to take in reality on its own terms, unalloyed with our attachments and ideas.
What it takes, she suggests, is “something analogous to prayer, though it is something difficult to describe, and which the higher subtleties of the self can often falsify” — not some “quasi-religious meditative technique,” but “something which belongs to the moral life of the ordinary person.”
For a few years now, it has been a goal (or more of a dream) to build my own feed reader which integrates directly with the blog making it easy to perform indieweb actions such as likes and replies.
I started building a WordPress plugin back in 2018 but quickly abandoned it as I didn't have the coding skills necessary at the time.
Today I am officially unveiling /reader, my new indie, integrated feed reader.
Before getting to the details I wanted to say that this has been made possible thanks to this RSS & Atom parser by David Grudl, it took a lot of the grunt work out of the equation meaning I could focus on the important bits.
Down to business
Reader adopts the visual style from the blog and my notes page displaying items as 'cards' in a river of news — oldest first. It can show all items, per feed or the last 24 hours.
New feeds can be added individually or imported from an (uploaded) OPML file. When added, the posts for that feed will be automatically pulled in. A cron job polls for new items every 30 minutes checking the last time the feed was updated to see if it needs to grab new items. That date is then written to the database for the next time it checks.
I'm currently storing a rolling three months of items but may reduce this to keep the table size down. When polling for posts it compares the timestamp (e.g. pubDate or updated) against 'now minus three months' and ignores anything older. New items are pulled into the database and those older than three months are deleted.
I can trigger a manual update at any time via a 'refresh' icon which triggers an async action to poll feeds in the background. The feed list (which slides out from the left) shows which feeds have unread items.
Indie and Integrated
So, why go to all the trouble of building my own feed reader? The main reason is integration with the blog. It's also another aspect of my online life that I can bring into my own control.
In addition to 'mark as read' each 'card' has actions which allow me to post directly to the blog and send webmentions. I can like, reply to or bookmark a post and the relevant Webmention will be sent.
Tapping each of these actions brings up a form populated with the post URL and the 'content filter' to add the required markup. I can then add some comments or my reply and post that straight to the blog.
I can 'mark all as read' which does as it suggests unless viewing a single feed when only items for that feed are marked.
The /reader page is publicly available but all admin and post actions are gated behind login checks. Anyone is welcome to come and have a look at what feeds are listed — the posts visible will reflect my read/unread status.
I am considering adding the ability for anyone to download an OPML export of the feeds list should they want. I might also add an option to 'suggest a feed' where visitors can let me know of a site they think I should be subscribed to.
This is a version 1.0 feature that likely has bugs and needs tidying up or refining so it will likely change as I use it more and come up against issues or frustrations. I've already thought of one thing I want to add while typing this.
It doesn't support JSON feed but someone submitted a PR to include this in the library so I may look at implementing that in future.
"I have come to think that there is something architectural about writing a blog, or can be – but not in the sense of a typical architectural project, which is designed in advanced and built to specifications."
The idea is that building a personal site is very much like an open-ended architectural project, you add something here, redesign there and, eventually, "you get something big and with a discernible shape."
That shape cannot possibly be predetermined, this type of building and growth is totally organic, its direction unknowable in advance.
Tom Critchlow picked this up and ran with it saying "there’s something brewing here - something about building a digital homestead, building it in a way that reflects your soul."
The real lightbulb moment for me was Tom asking:
"How do you create pathways (and desire paths?) through your site? How do people start, journey, get lost and ultimately find their way through your site?"
It got me questioning how and why I do what I do here. To what end is it created and presented? Where are the pathways and journeys? Beyond going 'day-to-day' how does anyone find their way around? Do I leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow? Why not?
There has to be more to blogging than just turning up each day and doing your thing.
I've been trying to build something like a fully functional home on the web but it is largely a piecemeal undertaking. Isolated thought worms may prepare the soil but they don't grow the garden. Speaking of which, the Garden is grossly underutilised (as I've said before) and, with the new Notes feature, often duplicitous.
So, what to do?
I've always sald I wanted to create something of meaning and thought the "It's Only Words" project was that thing. Now I realise that the larger body of work, the story of a life (or at least part of one) is what I really aspire to. But stories need narrative and flow, a sense of cohesion and coherence.
How do I go from here to there? How do I set out on a meaningful journey? How do I map out the lay of the land, rebuild and restructure?
I've had some ideas.
I'm thinking about scraping the Garden completely and folding it into the blog. Not so much organising things by pages but, perhaps, utilising a version of labels as currently employed by Notes.
I want things to be a lot more fluid, less structured and more "thinking in public." Snippets that would normally live in the Garden will become posts but not in a traditional sense — it will increase the emphasis on viewing the day as a conglomerate rather than a series of individual items.
Using labels in this context will not be in the traditional vein of tags or categories, more an indication of threads, collections of thoughts or blogchains.
This is part technology change part mindset shift, something that I want to achieve with as little clutter as possible — visually and mentally. I see it as the next logical evolution of what I'm trying to build. while the day-to-day blog will be largely unaffected, the possibility for creating pathways and journeys is introduced.
It's going to be a lot of work (although some of can luckily be ported from elsewhere) and things will get broken so bear with me. But I'm hoping it will be well worth it in the long run.
" ... making a post part of a chain is an explicit action ... But what would happen, if we don’t do that explicit step? This would also allow us to not only have a single parent-child path but one involving multiple parents, just as multiple thoughts can come together to form a new one."
He writes about creating a blog-graph rather than a blog-chain. It took me back to the idea of pathways and journeys through the blog.
Some kind of visual presentation of threads, especially in a social context, has been on my mind since the Google+ days — a means of depicting the spread of a conversation and the conversation itself in a graph-like manner. Horst's thinking translates this to the ongoing conversation with yourself AKA the blog.
It's someting I was already considering in some form so as to aid with those pathways and journeys, although not quite so elegantly.
The complexity a full map would require is currently beyond me but I can implement the first steps. I wondered, "what would it look like if my 'Start Here' page showed onward links from the posts it displays?" Now, the links are all available within the full post text but would if be useful to pull them out into a simple list for quick reference? So that's what I've been working on.
It's not amazingly pretty (I'm iterating the design) but it helps to add a bit of structure to things. Is this the best place to do it? It's as good as any. Does it do what I set out to achieve? At a (very) basic level, it provides the beginnings of a path (two levels deep now) – somewhere to start exploring things in a couple of different ways.