I’ve started paying more attention recently to what gives me more energy: evaluating experiences, places, even objects on that criterion instead of other criteria. Not necessarily physical energy—I’m as capable of falling asleep in post-lunch meetings as ever—but mental energy, a feeling that I’m building up my reserves for thinking instead of chipping away at them.
Driving, for example, is an energy sink for me, while walking and taking public transit is an energy source. I enjoyed Agile Open California last month, but I wish I hadn’t had to spend so much time in the car getting there and back; AndXP was the next day, and I decided that I’d rather leave home early and even potentially miss the beginning of the conference in order to get there via walking / Caltrain / SFMTA instead of driving. (Totally the right choice; and, as a bonus, I didn’t even miss the start after all, the program was a little misleading as to when things really began.)
This last Thursday and Friday was an offsite at work; I was annoyed at its location requiring me to drive, but actually that part wasn’t so bad. The drive was pretty short, especially in the morning, and when I got to the hotel, I realized that it had a beautiful view: of the water, of SF and the east bay mountains in the distance, of planes descending into SFO. And the shorter time from driving meant that I had time to enjoy the view, and also to do fifteen minutes of wuji meditation. The atrium in the middle of the hotel was quite nice, too; unfortunately, the conference room where I had to spend most of my time those days was soul-sucking.
On a more regular basis: my single favorite non-family weekly ritual these days is the one morning a week when I spend 15 minutes eating breakfast at Pamplemousse. It’s a very straightforward breakfast—a third of a toasted baguette, butter, jam, and coffee—but it’s straightforward in a good way, the chairs and tables are just right to suit my mood, and that extra 15 minutes where I’m sitting, eating, and reading a book makes a difference. (The other mornings, where I get a pastry from Pamplemousse that I eat while walking, also make a difference! Just a little less of one.)
And, continuing with the food theme: more and more, I default to wanting to go out for Japanese food. Most of that is because it turns out that I like Japanese food, and that we’ve been getting some good Japanese restaurants in Mountain View over the last few years, but part of it is pleasure with the experience as a whole. The food, the presentation and details of the food, the seating, the experience: a new restaurant called Kumino opened in a strip mall near us maybe four months ago, and it’s an amazing combination of a small menu that nonetheless manages to have a wide range of options, dishes where the details of the ingredients and their arrangement are done very thoughtfully (and deliciously!), quite pleasant presentation in terms of the plates and bowls that it’s served in, a physical setting that is still within a strip mall but manages to make a quite pleasant space (in a happy, bustling way) within that context, a menu that changes with the seasons (as I discovered the last time we went there) and all of this for an entirely reasonable price. I think I’d honestly be happy going there once every couple weeks pretty much indefinitely, still feeling that I was actively recharging every time I go there.
From a conceptual point of view, the main thing that kicked this off was reading The Nature of Order. Though, of course, there are earlier Alexander books, The Timeless Way of Building in particular; and, now that I think about it, I’m wondering how much The Arcades Project changed my thinking; it’s probably time to reread that.
At any rate, rereading The Nature of Order a year or two back had a big impact on me; and then I read Marie Kondo not too long after that. Those both ask questions that, to me, do a good job of bypassing my intellect and getting at something more fundamental: does this have life, does this bring joy? The Essence of Shinto reinforced and gave another lens on the question of what it means for a space to be alive: what spaces are sacred, are inhabited by the divine?
And I suspect that it’s not a coincidence that I’ve talked about Japanese matters twice here so far. (Or, for that matter, that our favorite discovery when we went to Paris over the summer was a Japanese patisserie! Though Paris itself is full of sources of energy for me; c.f. my Pamplemousse discussion above.) We went to Japan for the first time a few years back, and it seems to be the case that my brain had decided that we should go back there on our next overseas vacation. And, I think, next time I’ll want to spend rather less time in large cities than I normally do; though, actually, we did seem some rather nice shrines in Tokyo itself, and, in the right context, lively bustling can work even for me. We’ll see; with Miranda heading off to college soon, we won’t do any foreign trip next year, and Liesl may want to go somewhere else on our next trip.
That’s last paragraph is all hypothetical, though: for now, it’s my day-by-day life that matters. In particular, I spend a lot of time at work; what would I find energizing there? My best guess at an answer is focusing on the minutiae of code: I feel like I have a lot to learn there, and that, if I were to really commit to that, it would turn into a more meditative experience, and one that would give me a path towards grappling with the questions that Alexander and Kondo raise. I’m not sure that much of that is in my near-term future, though: I’m currently being useful in different ways at work, and that has its own benefits. (And deep debugging/analysis sessions are their own form of meditation.)
And, at some point, I’m going to change jobs; what should I look for then? An important question when the time comes, but it’s a question that can wait.
This post has not been revised since publication.