365 Day Photo Challenge Incomplete

I don’t update this blog as frequently because it is reserved for my more general ramblings and thoughts, which I have less frequently than I used to. 66 days ago, I decided to try out a 365 day photo challenge. I am stopping today. Here’s why:

I’ve been practicing meditation for almost six months now (which I highly recommend), and one of the main benefits I’ve experienced so far is a calmer, more lucid mind. I think that this is in part due to the intense focus that is required to meditate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no meditation expert, but noticing my thoughts rather than chasing them around in my head and trying to deal with them individually requires a great deal of focus and relaxation, two things which I overdraw constantly from my stress account.

I started the 365 day photo challenge as a companion to my meditation practice. My hope was that by documenting the world around me, I would become more attentive to the present moment, and the space that I inhabit. Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that my anxiety infiltrated the process. Rather than attentively watching the world around me, noticing what happened, I would look at my watch every day around 2pm and go “Oh shit, I need to take a photo today.” The challenge forced me to cast around and try and find something that was interesting or relevant to the day. This is bad news for two reasons. The first is that going from no awareness of the world to sudden sharp awareness seems to be to be instrumentalizing something that I don’t think should be. The whole point of the challenge is to live in a mindset where I notice the world of sensory information, find interest in something, and document it in a careful way. Instead, I was starting with the need to document, and forcing the world into that documentation. The second reason is that my noticing of the external world (which was likely already taking place) is upended by a responsibility that removes me from awareness into hyper-production mode. The images are a supposed to be a journal, not an art piece, but my mind ended up making them that way (and anyone who knows anything about photography can tell that these photos were by no means art pieces).

I love journaling. Writing things on paper and being able to peruse them in book form is very pleasurable to me. Writing is a core component of who I am, and I find great pleasure (and often frustration) in taking the time to create something worth reading. Writing is, for me, a long exercise in meditation and careful attention to the world. I believe that ego depletion is a real thing, and by stacking responsibilities on top of themselves you deplete the available will to accomplish a task well.

So the question becomes, what do I care about? What am I willing to deplete my ego for? As I’ve said, writing is one of those things (if you haven’t checked out my creative non-fiction/book review tumblr, please do). I’m also working on a business idea, finishing my MA, and a podcast. These things are fulfilling, but they also require a great deal of energy. The whole point of becoming more mindful is discovering the self, and how that self fits in with the world.

The journey is by no means over, but I have found that you get closer to the self by stripping away the things that are unimportant. The 365 day photo challenge is unimportant to me.

Making things

I love researching. Love it love it love it.

For me, there are few things more satisfying than pulling together relevant data and compiling it into some sort of final object.

And the awesome thing about research is that it has so many applications. Building a table? Better take measurements, figure out how big it should be, how it should look–there’s literally so many questions to be answered! I moved into a new house recently, and I designed a bed frame for my bed, to fit in my new room. I cheated and started with this guy’s design, which I then modified it in SketchUp to suit my particular needs. If you care about this kind of thing, you can download my design for a twin bed frame here.

I love taking designs and trying to implement them, see how my level of design skill translates to a practical product, a product that also requires its own kind of practice and skill.

I’m saying all this to get at in a roundabout way why I enjoy grad school so much. There are surprisingly few articles about why you should go to grad school, and the few that exist are dwarfed by search results filled with reasons not to.

So here’s why you should go, if you’re thinking about it: research is awesome. We live in an age that is quite literally overflowing with information–there’s so much out there that’s so easily accessible (especially if you have the internet, a luxury that I’m sure many don’t have). Information about just about anything is only a click away. Today, I found an entire online BA (unaccredited) computer science program cobbled together from a number of Ivy-League institutions. For free.

But the availability and volume of information available is completely useless without research.  From Wikipedia:

Research comprises “creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man (poop on this “man” business, -t), culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.” It is used to establish or confirm facts, reaffirm the results of previous work, solve new or existing problems, support theorems, or develop new theories.

Research is creative. First, you start with a problem, or block of some sort. From my table above, my problem is: I need a bed frame. Then, you figure out the possible ways such a problem could be solved, using a number of parameters. In my case, the parameters were: cheap, minimalist. Then, I try to find the best way to solve my problem given the information I have chosen to catalog from my research. It’s all about taking paying close attention to what you need, and ignoring or setting aside what you don’t.

Then I build the friggin’ bed frame.

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As you can see here, I screwed up a little bit on one of the slats, but it’s solid, and it doesn’t look too bad. Also, it cost like $30.

In the case of grad school, I followed a particular passion (love of books and writing) and spend time trying to think about and research problems and solutions to those problems. It’s SO MUCH FUN.

I think, if the right mental maneuver is made, this sort of thinking can be applied to many things. When I was building range fences for work out of high school, every single day required careful planning, research, and skill. Of course it was backbreakingly difficult work, but I was still required to think, plan, and design. At the time, I didn’t realize that this was what was happening (in reality, I spent quite a bit of time whining and avoiding as much work as possible), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t.

I’m working on a much more intelligible and reason loaded defense of graduate school, but but for now, I would say a huge reason to go to graduate school is to have the opportunity to research theoretical/practical things that you are interested in, and be surrounded by people who are also interested in those things as well. Otherwise, go do something else that tickles you in the right way.

Stuff that was kicking around in my head as I wrote this: