As 2017 began, I felt fairly despondent about what the year would bring. Looking back at the way 2017 actually turned out, it looks like the despondence forced me to shift focus in a few ways that, on balance, have been major positive changes.
A case in point. For the first half of the year, I was having problems sleeping. I struggled with feverish nightmares related to the news and the state of the world. The information consumption habits I thought so enlightened last year (no news after 6pm!) were not, it turned out, enough to release me from the power of the information flow. This summer, I started reading the physical local newspaper, and in the fall, I stopped reading news and magazines online altogether. My one engagement point with news during the day is at breakfast, over coffee. When I walk away from the table, I walk away from the manufactured anxiety of constant contact. It's been marvelously therapeutic. And I actually feel *better* informed on most subjects, since I'm able to judge them at some distance rather than succumbing to the endorphin rush of "breaking news" and the "conversation" that accompanies it. I am increasingly disconnected from memes and collective-outrage-du-jour and other aspects of the zeitgeist, but I consider this too to be an improvement in my quality of life.
In place of the online world that I'm increasingly leaving behind, I've been searching out new channels for engagement that feel more authentic. An oddly underattended college reunion and some related contact with college buddies has caused me to reflect on the communities that we move in and out of through the course of our lives, and to think about how these dormant connections might serve as the organic seed for meaningful future relationships. I've been devoting more time to music and to a new-found interest in the visual arts. I've reached out to some old friends, and after stumbling across a cache of old letters from high school and college, have started building the idea of private correspondence – letter writing for its own sake! – back into my life.
Regarding work, I had a somewhat busier year than I'd hoped, and I devoted less time to free software than I have in the past few years. (See my Hard G post for more.) My relationship with WordPress and BuddyPress is something that I have struggled with in 2017, though it's become somewhat clearer in the last few months. When I first started contributing to free software, my spirit was nourished by the personal connections I made to people who were using the software. As I became busier and more "important", I justified to myself that I had bigger things to worry about than those connections, focusing instead on some vague ideas about "leadership" and "product". Beginning this fall, I started approaching my free software work with a different attitude, starting with a dose of humility about who I am and the value I bring to the projects. I started spending much more time in the support forums. I began approaching bug reports and PRs with an amount of empathy that felt forced but eventually gave way to true feelings of kindness. And I've started thinking more about the ways that I can use my years of experience in these projects to connect the humans working in disparate areas in a spirit of actual cameraderie. I'm unsure how my time committments to these projects will or won't change in 2018 (though I have a feeling I'll be spending proportionately more time on BuddyPress, where I feel like I've got the ability to make a more direct impact), but I feel strongly that any time spent on them should be purposeful and humane.
With my career more generally, I have found some solace by being explicit with myself that I will not be doing this work forever. Thinking about an off-ramp in the next few years gives a bit more urgency and purpose to the work that I do today, and I think this is a good thing no matter what happens.
One small resolution for 2018 that I've already put in place is: more enforced time off. I've already slated a couple of weeks for the first half of the year when I will be totally AFK, no screens, no internet, maybe no newspaper. Just having this on the schedule has made the everyday load feel lighter.
Happy new year to all!