August 23, 2020

My weekend writing routine

Over the past few months, and especially during the semi-lockdown we've had in Hong Kong, I've tried to create a weekend routine and a little bit of structure in my downtime by doing pages every Saturday and Sunday. In this video I talk about why and when I started doing pages and how writing helps my mental health during the Covid crisis.

August 22, 2020

Tweaks: Caffeine and artificial sweetener

My caffeine and artificial sweetener intake has gotten slightly out of control over the past few weeks—especially as I'm  coping with changes in my routine and drop-off in training sessions during the semi-lockdown here in Hong Kong. I used to think I wasn't very sensitive to things like caffeine or red wine, but I recently started wearing an Oura Ring and, I don't know if it's been like this all along or if it's just because I'm in my 40s, but even the slightest adjustments in my diet and supplement intake can drastically affect the quality of my sleep. That or it's stress and anxiety.

This is my Oura Ring sleep report from last night. I didn't consume any alcohol yesterday, but I have been pushing my caffeine intake all week, so my sleep has been on a downward trajectory for the past five days. Yesterday I had 200 mg of caffeine in the morning and then a grande Starbucks coffee around 3 p.m. I was tired at 10:30 p.m. and went to bed, but woke up at 4 a.m. after a pretty poor night of REM sleep, thus the poor recovery score. I'm going to try to slowly tamp down on my morning caffeine intake, starting with today. I've only had one venti Starbucks drip coffee so far today and I didn't even finish it. That said, it's 7 p.m. and I would happily crawl into bed right now.

I've also been trying to wean myself off artificial sweeteners. Pre-lockdown, when I was training three times a week and getting on treadmills on weekends, I got hooked on artificially sweetened supplements like pre-workout and BCAAs. Maybe it was OK then because I was expending so much energy and metabolizing the sweeteners faster, I'm not sure. But lately I've been putting more Equal in my coffee than usual and drinking more Diet Cokes than is healthy (all of these things are stress coping mechanisms for me) and I think the sweeteners can't be good for my palate or for my hormone levels overall.

So those are the health-related tweaks I'm making this week. 

August 19, 2020

"Make content that makes you happy"

 Over the past few weeks I've been watching a lot of "content creator motivation"-type videos—and the common thread of advice that seems to run through all of them is: Make content that makes you happy. I've been making content professionally for 20 years—but always for brands and other people. I'm not even entirely sure what it means to make content that makes me (personally) happy—but darnit I'm going to try. So over the weekend I recorded a couple of semi-practical ideas-driven videos. Anyone who knows me or who has worked with me knows there's nothing I love more than a brainstorm that sparks a cool (or maybe wild and crazy left field) idea that is then translated into reality. I have these two sides of my brain that are in constant competition with each other—an ultra-practical, operational, problem-solving side and a really-out-there, ideating, kind-of-left-field silly side. In the rare moments that these two sides of my brain click and work in synergy is when I feel most fulfilled and productive.

Anyhoo, made these videos this weekend that are really different than other videos I've made before. I really enjoyed being more myself in these videos, even though I think maybe they're kinda weird for YouTube?

August 16, 2020

Favorite excerpt from favorite book

I read The Women's Room when I was 15—my friend Neela sent the 1977 paperback version of it to me from Chicago and wrote in the inscription: You must read this.

To this day, it's still one of my favorite books. Especially this passage, which I wanted to reread so badly I downloaded the book on my Kindle specially.

I feel terribly alone. I have enough room, but it's empty. Or maybe I don't, maybe room means more than space. Clarissa once said that isolation was insanity. She never says anything carelessly, her words come out of her mouth like fruit that is perfectly ripened. Unripe fruit she doesn't deal in: that's why she is silent so often. So I guess isolation is insanity. But what can I do? At the one or two parties a year I'm invited to, I have to listen to academic gossip, snarling retorts (never made in fact) to the president, nasty cracks about the mediocrity of the dean... In a place like this, where everyone feels a loser, the gossip is mean-minded and full of that kind of hate and contempt that is really disgust at one's own failure in life. There aren't many single people here except for a few very young male instructors. There are damned few women, none single, except for one sixty-year-old widow who does needlepoint at faculty meetings. I mean, not everything is in your head, is it? Do I have to accept total responsibility for my fate? I don't think it's all my fault that I'm lonely. People say—well, Iso wrote (she would!)—that I should drive down to Boston on weekends and go to the singles bars. You know, she could do it and she'd find something interesting. But not me. I know it. I'd meet some middle-aged swinger with a deep tan and sideburns (not quite a beard) and a mod suit (pink jacket, maroon pants) and a belly kept in by three hours a week at the gym or the tennis club, and I'd die of his emptiness even more than I'm dying of my own.

August 14, 2020

The last time we did those things

Most mornings I wake up in Hong Kong to several dozen new texts from my friends in the States—usually a mix of media industry hearsay, restaurant and chef news and topics for discussion, and general life updates. In one of our group texts today, one of my friends wrote: "I really look forward to the day when we can all be together somewhere fun eating." I wrote back: "Isn't it crazy to think that things we did in 2019 might have been the last time we did those things."

The caveat here is that I know everything I'm going to talk about is #firstworldproblems. There are so many people in the world who are grappling with real problems involving health and survival right now, and the intangible things I think about while sitting in an air-conditioned apartment in the middle of Hong Kong are, by no stretch of the imagination, anywhere close in seriousness, by comparison. This is all very personal, ideological, meaning-of-life stuff that is self-indulgent, even in the best of times.

This stretch of time, since December 2019 until now, August 2020, is the longest stretch of time I've spent in one city since June 1995, the month I graduated high school. That summer, we went on a family trip to Paris and England, and from that moment onwards, I made it a priority to "go places" as often as possible—sometimes it could be considered "traveling," other times I'd out to Boston for lunch with friends and some window-shopping at Copley Place, hop a bus to Philly to shop at Joan Shepp, jump on a quick last-minute flight out of Cairo to spend the day in Sharm, take a train to a mall in New Jersey, pop down from Oxford to London for a Friday night drink. To this day, my favorite feeling in the world is the feeling of getting ready in the morning and walking out the front door with the knowledge that I have the freedom the go anywhere and do anything I want—there's nothing I like more than arriving at an airport with a ticketed flight, but also with that tiny inkling in the back of my mind that if I really wanted to, I could get on a plane to anywhere. So I was always "going places," all the time, until this January, when going places became riskier and far more difficult.

Maybe it's my American-ness—my friend David says that, as Americans, we're used to rolling around like marbles in a big box—but I could never have imagined, not in my entire life, that the world would come to a virtual standstill, that going places would become inadvisable and dangerous, and I'd be geographically contained within a city's boundaries for this long. No neighboring cities to visit and explore, no long bus or train rides to other states, no weekend getaways a couple thousand miles away in a different climate or time zone. These days, on my weekends, I split time between my apartment (laundry takes hours here—the shortest dry cycle is 2 hours and 50 minutes long, I have no idea why), Starbucks (where I write my weekly pages), and walking between other man-made things in town—malls, bookshops, supermarkets. To capture that feeling I miss, of going places, I take boats, trains, and buses instead of taxis, but mostly I try to walk if it's not raining out.

Update: I started writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, but still can't find a way to end it. So I'll leave this video here to wrap things up. (Tl;dr I'd like to break out of this rut, and I think the way forward is to direct my energy creatively outwards)