People, After All

People, After All

SUMMARY: A reflection on what started out as a bad weekend, but ended up being relentlessly uplifting despite my grim determination to be cranky about the lack of my personal progress on big life goals.

Ah, Monday. I just dropped my sis off at the Boston Express bus station early this morning after a one-day visit to help her shop for a replacement car, and I’m sitting in Starbucks at 6AM for the first time perhaps in a year. I used to come here all the time around this time of day before “going to work”, hanging out for about an hour with my good friend Erin, who had to work at around 730AM at another nearby company. It was like waiting for the school bus together, and this was one of the times that I was feeling strongly-connected to the local community.

Yesterday, someone in the supermarket tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I used to go to one of the area board game meetups some five years ago, which coincides with the time that I used to do my pseudo school bus waiting routine. We caught up briefly; he’d married one of the other women there, and the meetup had moved to a few places after Borders, the bookstore where the meetup had long been held, had closed. I made a mental note to look it up again.

This past weekend had been unexpectedly rough, as I have been feeling under-the-gun for a lot of projects. Foremost on my mind was my own projects, but the end of the previous week had been taken-up by a variety of other responsibilities. I had been so preoccupied with them that I didn’t even have time to blog or even cook. By Friday evening, I was drained and entered a self-preserving anti-social funk. There were still many things to do, a house to clean-up for my sister’s visit, and I’d just committed to another two-year project. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone.

Or so I thought.

Saturday morning I woke up around noon, having gone to sleep way too late after playing a video game for hours after being unable to fall asleep. My sister, confirming her visit on Sunday to look at cars, had texted me some cheery notes about cats and a “ukulele picnic” that was going on in the area. I had thought about going to see this picnic, since I was likely to know some people there, but had decided to stew in my own anti-social cocoon for as much as possible because I was in a funk. Still, it was a beautiful day, and as this was the FIRST ukulele picnic ever in the area, I felt that if I missed it I would regret it later. “Get in, get out” suggested my sister via text. When I read about a food truck serving tacos that would also be at the park, that convinced me to get into the car and head out to see what was going on. I was still hugely reluctant, but I grimly committed to the act for the sheer duty of seeing a Ukulele Picnic, the first-ever, as something that I should do.

Arriving at the park, I was surprised to see so many people. It was a gorgeous day, after all, which accounted for about half the people there. The other half, though, were clustered all over the hill facing the outdoor stage under portable umbrellas and chairs. There were groups of ukulele players of all ages in groups, taking lessons. Hot dog, ice cream, and taco trucks were doing light business with the park-goers, while the plucky strumming of amplified ukulele music from professional and amateur groups on-stage filled the air. It occurred to me that the Ukulule Picnic had drawn just about every happy person in Nashua out in the open, free to share their slightly-odd joy with others like them. Out of the hundreds of people there, about half of them were carrying ukuleles and enjoying a spectacular mild late summer Saturday. I ran into a few people I knew, some of the filming the event, and others just there to hang out and enjoy the vibe of live music performed with other people. There was, I learned, going to be an attempt to beat the New Hampshire record for “most people simultaneously strumming the ukulele”. Over 150 people got on stage and strummed their way through This Land is Your Land for several minutes, which was a sight to behold as dozens and dozens of people arose from their picnic chairs and joined in. Record set, the event formally closed (as formally as a Ukulele Picnic would be, anyway) and people broke away in groups smiling broadly as they started to pack-up. I said goodbye to the people just a few months ago I didn’t know, and left feeling better than expected. I was glad I had gotten out of the house, and I was glad to have run into people though I didn’t think I wanted it. I still was pre-occupied with the ton of stuff I had to do, but the burden had lessened slightly.

Afterwards, I went to Starbucks and wrote for about four hours, working on a blog post that I’ll release later this week once I get some clearances from people to use their names. Afterwards, I went home and ate dinner, then played more of the same video game. There is something therapeutic about playing a video game, since achievement is designed to be doled-out in frequent and predictable chunks as you play. The particular game I’ve been playing, Firefall, is in open Beta, which means that it’s a game that’s still being developed as people are starting to play it; we have a chance to help shape the direction of the game, and help out the small group of developers in California with testing. I know several of the developers quite well, so playing this game is something of an act of kinship. This weekend, though, I was playing it because I was too tired to work on my own stuff, but not so tired that I wanted to feel like I was doing something. Usually I think I’m much better at avoiding this behavior, but I was in a low state. Mindless video game playing is like smoking or binge eating, a momentary distraction from the realities of my personal responsibilities. As I was building new resources in the game, which takes hours of waiting in real life, I was able to be somewhat productive by starting a build process then switching to housework. I got the kitchen cleaned up a bit, cooked some dinner, and started laundry. Not a great evening, by any stretch, but it held back what I was starting to recognize as a growing cloud of depression. I went to sleep and slept poorly, after checking my calendar to see when I had to pick up my sister at the bus station.

Sunday started much the same way as Saturday, a mild late Summer day filled with sunshine. I stripped the sheets from the bed in the guest room and threw them in the washing machine, tidied up some more, and checked on the progress of my character in the video game. I’d changed the character model completely, having seen a new head model that featured an enormous frown. In my funk, it had matched exactly how I was feeling, so I’d switched to it so I could stomp around the game world in virtual solidarity with the real one. It had made me laugh, darkly, at how silly I was being. Still, being in something of a dark mood, I was concerned that this would impact the car shopping with my sister, so I made a note to myself to hold it in. I know that when I’m visiting people, I’m very much affected by how the host is feeling, and I didn’t want that same thing to happen in this case.

I picked up my sister at the bus station, and seeing her pop out of the bus had the unexpected effect of driving away the negative feeling. While I was still feeling cranky about the amount of work I had piled onto my plate, with no one to blame but myself, it retreated in the face of my sister’s ongoing chatter and my role as the big brother. We went and looked at cars, sat in a few, and compared our thoughts on them. Afterwards we went to CostCo to see what was going on. My sister had not been to one in a long time, and kept pointing at gigantic boxes of things. The crowd was also very international, with a lot of Asians of Chinese and Indian origin saving money buying in bulk. We felt like tourists visiting NYC for the first time, gaping at the enormous skyscrapers of cereal and mayonnaise closing in on us. After a while, we had to contain ourselves from pointing at everything, which was aided by the enormous box of 200 “Fla-vor Ice” popsicles I’d gotten for $5. Then we ate tomato sandwiches made with tomatoes from my remaining plant, and they were delicious. While waiting for the popsicles to freeze, we watched reruns from Season 4 of Community and split a small watermelon right down the middle to eat with spoons. I didn’t do a lick of work for the entire day, and I didn’t feel bad about it.

This morning, I dropped my sis back off at the bus station so she could go directly to work in Boston, and stopped by Starbucks like it was old times. I’ve been writing this diary entry for about an hour, eating my sausage egg and cheese muffin sandwich and drinking the barely-tolerable coffee at 6AM. But I’m in a good mood. I said hi to a barrista I knew back in the old days, and have been watching people drive in to pick up their coffee on the way to work. After I’m done with this entry, I’m going to get to work without checking my email, and I’ll probably wrap up around 11AM. There are a ton of things I still have to do, and there are a lot of meetings scheduled this week that are going to put a cramp in my productivity. However, this weekend I learned one important thing: interacting with people is good for me even when I don’t feel like it. The stress I’m putting on myself to get stuff done can be suffered in solitude, but it doesn’t help me get anymore done any faster. And in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn’t as important. I keep thinking that it’s the MOST important because getting things done is the path to EVENTUAL FREEDOM. The ironic realization is that the reason for wanting this freedom is so I can spend more time hanging out with my friends on personal projects; I could be doing that right now! What I don’t want to happen, though, is to be caught in a cycle of complacency and not build the infrastructure that will generate ongoing revenue. I also don’t want to settle for what I can do now with what I have; I want to make MORE and be BETTER. It’s my personal ambition, and this is the kind of goal that I find difficult to share with most people. Hence, I suppose, my desire this past weekend not to talk to people, because I think that most people don’t really understand or care about what I’m doing.

It’s an interesting conflict. On the one hand, I found that interacting with people this weekend was very pleasant, and it overcame the funk I was experiencing because of lack of progress in the face of important goals leading to a loss of morale. On the other hand, I can’t talk to most people about my goals in the first place, because they are so far outside the normal job path and have such specialized creative and technical background requirements for understanding. And yet, the point of having these goals in the first place is to make more Ukulele Picnics happen in my life, perhaps as a supporter or organizer, when I have the financial freedom I crave. I think the takeaway form this weekend is that the burden is bearable if I allow more of that kind of interaction in my life, and put away the work for a bit instead of pushing constantly on it until something breaks. Today, I’m feeling renewed despite still feeling under-the-gun. I can breathe and take it a day at a time.