2022 Assorted Thoughts Archive

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Thoughts on "Just Do Yoga"

Yoga probably won't cure your mental illness, but the suggestion does get at a deeper truth that is helpful.

I resent these people as much as anyone else. It's downright cruel to look at someone who's suffering and tell them that this incredibly simple thing will make all of their pain go away (like they've never thought to try it themselves!). It doesn't work like that. Drinking tea doesn't erase suffering. Spoonfuls of cinnamon won't make someone less depressed. I still think it's a jerk move to tell someone that essential oils will cure their mental illness- all it does is rub salt (or oil) into a wound by blaming the person for their own suffering. If they just try harder, they'll be happy. Seriously?

At the same time, these people do have a point. It's not about the suggestions they make. It's about taking baby steps in the right direction. It's about doing things. Yoga doesn't inherently cure anxiety, but the mindfulness practices it teaches can help, as can getting out of the house and exposing yourself to new situations. Tea won't make you less depressed, but getting out of bed to brew it can get you moving, and it offers a chance to appreciate the little things like "wow, this tea is warm. That's kind of nice". Essential oils definitely won't cure you, but finding a scrap of joy in how nice your room smells can make a difference when life feels flat and dead. Finding a hobby, focusing on the little things in life, journaling about your emotions, changing your sheets- it all helps. It won't cure you, but it's a step in the right direction. Recovery is all about taking little steps forwards.

I doubt these people intend to say this, but at least there's a kernel of truth in the new age bullshit.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Mail

I've never really thought about how cool the postal system is. I can put something in a box or envelope, tell a total stranger where I want that thing to go, and it reliably makes it there unopened. That's incredible. The amount of people and effort that takes is mind-boggling, and it's all so I can mail someone a letter or gift. The fact that it's so well-executed gives me a little hope for humanity. If we can coordinate efforts across different countries in order to send a box to the exact right house on the other side of the planet, then we can do anything.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Online Community

It bothers me how much social media runs on social approval. People are expected to be what other people expect, and woe be you if you don't match those expectations or match them incorrectly.

I've noticed this pattern getting more extreme in community spaces, and it's not hard to see why. Online communities revolve around common experiences, labels, and identities rather than chance meetings. Everyone is looking for other people like them. That's not inherently a problem. Offline friend groups often form because people are similar to each other, and there's nothing wrong with that. The trouble is that the pool of experiences in a group can become much narrower online, creating serious social problems due to lack of exposure to different perspectives.

People rely on their communities for support and social contact. We're social creatures, and in an increasingly digital world, the internet is a hub of connection and interaction. Once in a community, folks are encouraged to make membership a part of their identity, making it deeply personal to them. You're not in a knitter's club; you're a knitter. That community is who you are. Losing one's community therefore becomes an identity threat. That doesn't even get into the tendency of many communities to harass outsiders- many people have already experienced that harassment at the hands of people they thought were safe, and that's not something most people want to go through again.

If you want to stick around, then it becomes essential that you're liked by your online community. If people like you, then they won't hurt you or drive you away, and you'll receive support from community members. Given that many online communities are interest or identity-based rather than friendship-based, staying in the community often means that you're expected to fit its norms. You have to like what they like and hate what they hate to belong. It's what the community is built on. If you don't match those norms, you're expected to go somewhere else. Communities often begin to informally police their members as a result, and that can further narrow the range of experiences in that group- crocheters stop showing up to the knitter's club.

Lack of exposure to differing opinions and experiences starts to become a problem. When no one challenges your beliefs, it's easy to think you're right. The tribal nature of many digital communities encourages harassment of anyone that's "wrong". This can create a lot of fear. Folks don't want to lose their communities, but an increasingly common climate of "drive out the outsiders" means that it becomes more and more difficult to fit your own community's norms. People with differing experiences and opinions leave, hide, or force themselves to change to avoid ridicule and social isolation. Spaces then become more extreme as diversity drops, which feeds into further policing, which drives more people away... Eventually, what's left is a very narrow pool of people who are determined to drive away anyone not like them. There's no tolerance for diversity at that point. Approval has created an echo chamber.

While this doesn't always happen, I've seen variants of this happen enough times to be deeply concerned about where a lot of social media is heading. Communities seem to be getting more and more insular, and harassment is getting more common. As much as I hate the phrase, "go outside and touch some grass", it's increasingly relevant. Folks are getting caught up in hyper-specific issues that aren't a concern offline.

Thoughts from .

More Thoughts on Recovery

I've written a little about recovery as a concept before, but I've got more to add.

A lot of folks seem to think of recovery as a steady upwards slope towards being happy. In practice, it's messier than that. It's a long, zigzagging trail that loops back on itself in ways that frustrate map-makers, and it's not a nicely-paved road in the slightest. You're going to twist your ankle on tree roots. Someone misplaced half the trail markers and led you in circles. Part of the path is blocked off by rocks that you have to haul out of the way, and you'll wrench your ankle again doing that. The hill is covered in loose pebbles that send you tumbling back to the beginning. You'll lose the progress you gained, then have to pick yourself back up and push forwards again.

It's a nasty mess of a trail at first, but it's your trail. When it loops back on itself, you recognize the trees and remember where their roots are. You fixed the trail markers on your second pass through here. You knocked out the rocks that were blocking your path; now you can breeze past what used to be a major barrier. Over time, you stop tripping over your own feet. It gets easier to hike the trail. Each time the trail doubles back on itself, you can make it a little farther.

Eventually, you look back at miles of pristine trail and see just how far you've come. It seems so obvious in retrospect. You wonder how you missed all that progress when you were stumbling around in the woods.

It's normal to lose progress and struggle. Sliding backwards is frustrating when you've worked so hard to improve yourself, but it's a fairly normal part of the process. You're not a failure if it happens. That progress isn't lost forever, either. When you get back to work, it's easier to get back to where you were before that slide. Each time, the good periods get a little better. The bad periods get less bad. It's slow, but things do improve in the long run. You just have to find ways to pick up the pieces and keep pushing forwards. Keep trying. You can do this.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Social Media

Most social media sites aren't designed to make friends. They're designed to make money. Free sites have to pay for server fees somehow, and advertising and data harvesting often pay the bills. There's a phrase out there that sums it up well: "if you're not paying, then you're the product".

In theory, this might be fine. Sites do have to make money, and advertising is a legitimate way to do that (even if it wrecks the user experience in the process). Data harvesting is creepy, but people are posting that information out there for anyone to use. It shouldn't be an issue as long as everyone consents.

In practice, it's a different story. Most users don't want to look at ads, so sites have to find ways to force you to see them. The longer you're on the site, the more ads you see and the more money they make. Consent to data harvesting is buried in the Terms of Service, and those terms are often too long to read properly. Even if you do read the entire TOS, sites need you to keep posting to get data on you, and the more you post, the more data they get. More data means more money.

How does one push people to spend hours of their time on one site? You create a place where someone is as invested as possible in near-strangers. You give them social rewards and punishments that cost nothing to hand out. You offer relentless stimulation and lead people to depend on it. You find ways to make your site addictive, and then you run with it as far as your users will let you go. And what happens to those users when they spend hours of time on your site?

You're a content machine that's been trained into shape by harsh criticism and overwhelming praise. Tell a bunch of strangers about an idealized version of your personal life. Photoshop your face and body to perfection, then make fun of other people doing the exact same thing. Harp on about how much you're suffering so other people know you're in enough pain to be treated with respect. Prove you fit in with your crowd so they won't reject or ridicule you. Show the world that your beliefs are the most dogmatic of them all. Reject the out-crowd so people like you. Be right so people like you. Be funny so people like you. Be relatable, be eccentric, be the perfect person for a mob of strangers who don't know anything about you in hopes that they'll add one to an arbitrary number. Hope that number will make you famous. Check every few hours to see if there's something new and exciting. Check every time you wake up, every time you go to sleep, every time you use the bathroom. Get stuck scrolling for an hour or two. You hate it, but you'll never leave.

Can social media be good? Absolutely, but that's a rare occurence compared to the sea of depersonalized sites already out there. Social media isn't designed to build connections. If you make a real friend, then it's usually not by design. Administrators don't care if you make friends. They care if you make them money.

Some newer sites and frameworks are trying to change that. Mastodon puts the power back in the hands of the users, and smaller instances often encourage strong interpersonal connections. Dreamwidth looks back to blogs and long-form writing, dropping the idea of likes altogether. Tildes drop the paradigm of social media altogether in favor of creating a true online community. Various sites turn to donations to pay server fees instead of cramming advertising onto their pages or harvesting people's data.

There's hope for a friendlier internet. All we can do is push the digital world in the direction we want it to go.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Recovery

Recovery is bullshit. Let me explain- I promise it's not as bad as it sounds.

A lot of people think that recovery is about becoming normal. The more you can blend in with everyone else, the healthier you are. In reality, recovery is a lot more nuanced and personal than that.

People want different things out of life. One person's main values are another's worst nightmares, and that's perfectly alright. Everyone's ideas of what it means to function and be happy are specific to them. It's part of what makes you who you are.

A one-size-fits-all model of recovery is a sham. It doesn't recognize that people have different goals and ideals. It doesn't acknowledge that one person's happiness is another's misery. Recovery is painted as becoming "normal" again, but the idea of normalcy making everyone's lives better regardless of differences in their goals and ideals is absolute bullshit.

Recovery is about finding ways to become happier and healthier according to your priorities and ideals. Because everyone has different ideals, everyone's goals are different. For some people, recovering means embracing their weirdness and rejecting "normal" ways of doing things. For others, becoming more typical is something they value, and it might be part of their recovery process. It all comes down to the individual.

The methods people use to reach those goals vary too. Sure, yoga and meditation might work beautifully for one person, but someone else might find it pointless and irritating. Sometimes, the best methods for a person are so unconventional that other people are bewildered by them. A one-size-fits-all model of recovery doesn't account for this.

If recovery were the same for everyone, then we'd only need one method for every person that's struggling, and everyone would be struggling for the same reasons. Everyone could start meditating, get on medication, improve in the same ways, and it would magically solve the world's mental health problems. This clearly isn't the case.

If the typical notion of recovery isn't working for you, you're not alone. Say "screw it" and define it your own way. Find what works for you. What do you want out of life? What's actually helpful for you in reaching your goals? What does recovery mean for you?

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Social Images

This is a concept that I find incredibly helpful, especially online. I've told a few friends about it and they also found it helpful, so I figured it's worth flinging out there for internet strangers too.

When you meet people, they form an image of you in their mind. These images are formed out of their perceptions, emotions, and memories of you, and it's a hodgepodge that's used to understand, predict, and react to your actions. In short, it's their version of you. It's who they think you are.

These images will never be an exact representation of you. People's own biases and impressions go into them, and everyone has a different impression of you. Sometimes they'll be pretty close to reality. Other times, they'll be wildly different. Someone might have an image of you that's angry all the time, but the reality is that you just have a "resting bitch face" and are perfectly calm otherwise. Their image of you as an angry person doesn't mean you're actually angry.

You don't have to match any of these images. You're you regardless of how other people see you, and nothing they think is going to change that. Images of you are not who you are.

If everyone sees you as a friendly person, that doesn't mean you have to be nice or sociable. If someone sees you as a mentor, you're not obligated to mentor them. If they think you're evil for liking the Muppets, it doesn't mean you're implicitly horrible. All that an image tells you is that someone sees you a particular way. It's up to you to decide what to do with that information.

This is particularly relevant online, where it seems almost expected that you bare the depths of your soul in hopes of appealing to people. It's an approach that might not be the healthiest or safest idea, and it all hinges on the idea that someone's images have to be perfect replicas of them. Images will never be perfect replicas of you. It can be good to craft a more accurate image with close friends and family, but expecting strangers to get it right is absurd.

A corollary of this is that your images of others won't be perfect either. This is particularly useful in conflicts. You might think that someone hates your guts, but that image of them might not be accurate. The only way to find out is to ask them what they really think (ideally without accusing them of hating you). Check whether your impressions are accurate, and a lot of conflicts turn out to be minor misunderstandings.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Mortality

I've been biking along a trail lately, and most days I run into the people that feed the local feral cat colony. They're lovely people, the sort that would welcome you into their home for dinner on the day they met you.

I'm always struck by how they talk to me. Most of them are in the 50-70 age range, and there's the sense that they're desperate to pass on advice. One of them talks to me about how to live a good life every time he sees me; he says he wants to leave a positive impact on the world, even if it's small. He tells me to appreciate every day I have because they won't last forever. His health issues are catching up with him.

Another person is writing her autobiography. She told me today that she'd reached page 100 after 7 years of work, then lectured me on the Bible not being literal and the nature of good and evil (I'm not even Christian!). She told me that her brother had died of AIDS and had tried to push her onto a better career path at the end of his life.

A third person has family in Germany but lives here. She hasn't seen them since her father died 15 years ago and wants to go back before her mother dies too. She told me how beautiful her hometown is, and how much she misses it. She wants nothing more than to go home and visit the butcher and the baker with her siblings.

All of them have these stories. They've lost family and friends, and they're very aware that life doesn't last forever. They're pushing forwards with as much joy as they can muster and are doing their best to enjoy the moment. Every time we meet, they tell me to enjoy youth while I have it and live life one moment at a time. They tell me to appreciate my family and live authentically. And they're right.

I read an article a few years ago about what people said they regretted most at the end of life. A lot of them said they wished they'd been more present. They regretted spending too little time with the people they loved and worrying so much about things they couldn't control. They wished they'd taken that chance and worked towards that dream. People wished they'd lived. It stuck with me.

Life doesn't last forever. All you can do is enjoy the moment while you have it.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Social Media Discourse

It's funny how quickly social media discourse stops mattering when you minimize your exposure to it. Online, people argue about all sorts of things. It's easy to get caught up in thinking that they all matter when you're completely surrounded by petty arguments. But if you go offline and spend time around people, it becomes clear that very little of it matters. If you start going off about whether bisexuality is transphobic (what?), you're either going to get corrected by someone in that community or wind up rambling at someone who has no idea what you're talking about. No one gives a single crap about most of it. The only things most people care about are the ones that actually make a difference for the average person: things like "trans people should have rights" and "Black lives matter". The big issues of human rights and equality matter; the niche slapfights of the internet over labels and tribal groups don't.

If you find you're getting stuck thinking about niche internet discourse all the time, it might be a good idea to step back a little. It's not a healthy dynamic to be constantly enraged at everyone online, and there are bigger issues than whether RandomPerson123 can use neopronouns or not. Let people be people and spend that energy on other things.

It's okay to filter out or block discourse. Offline life is stressful enough without adding a 24/7 stream of online crap. If it doesn't make you happy, it's okay to block it. You're not obligated to look at any of it. This is your online experience, and you make the rules.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Changing Labels

I had a conversation with someone recently about labels. Their mental health diagnosis had been changed, and they were struggling with what that meant for them. They felt like the change in diagnosis made their previous experiences fake. The only thing that had changed was their label, but they were questioning whether their experiences existed at all.

Labels, medical and otherwise, are just language. They try to describe something you experience. They might do a good job of that, or they might be totally wrong, but they're all attempts to describe you. They do not change what you are underneath. They do not control your experiences. You could call yourself an orange, but it will not magically turn you into an orange.

I think that a lot of people get caught in this trap. They think that their labels define them. If someone changes their label, that can shake up everything they thought they knew about themselves. In reality, changing a label doesn't change who you are. It can help you change who you are if you want it to, but using a different word doesn't make you instantly transform. It doesn't make your experiences go away or invalidate you. No matter what you call it, something is still going on.

Language is just a tool, and it's important to remember that. Focus on what helps you and don't worry too much about what you call it.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Social Privacy

I was thinking last night about how it's becoming more and more common to put everything about yourself on the internet. I see people publicly listing every disorder that they're diagnosed with or suspect they have, their medical histories, the ins and outs of their trauma, every little detail of their identities, and all alongside photos of themselves and personal information. It scares me. I wonder whether these people have considered that not everyone on the internet is kind, and that everything they put out there can be used as ammunition if someone gets too upset at them. Do they realize that sharing everything can be a safety hazard, especially attached to their faces? Why has it become okay to show internet strangers things you wouldn't show a stranger in the rough parts of town?

Let me put it this way. I was once posted to a forum made to mock and doxx people because of a very minor language choice. I was lucky. They only insulted me and didn't take it any further. But I've seen people mocked, harrassed, swamped in hate mail, and even doxxed over equally minor offenses. I've seen people's lives ruined over the tiniest things because enough information about them was public for someone to find where they lived, where they worked, and other sensitive information. Be very, very careful what you put in public spaces, and think before you post. If there were someone who hated your guts enough to cause real harm to you, what could they do with the information you put out there? Are you okay with that level of risk?

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on settings menus

I just spent a good two minutes looking for the specific settings menu I wanted from an application- that might not seem like long, but I was looking for the general settings menu, something that's usually important in a highly customizable program like this one. It should be painfully easy to find, right? Something you can easily track down within thirty seconds? I thought so, but apparently not. There was a "customize" menu in the Tools dropdown, which if you ask me might have made sense in the the Styles dropdown as well, but it didn't have any of the settings I needed. Customize only let me change what was on the toolbars. Properties in the Files dropdown didn't have the settings I needed either, though apparently that lets me edit document metadata (despite the name "Properties" usually being reserved for the settings). View's dropdown had a User Interface menu that was just a bullet-pointed list of preconfigured options, which was also not what I was looking for (you might have realized what application I'm talking about by now if you use it). Right-clicking turned up nothing. Finally, I found Options at the very bottom of the Tools dropdown, after which I had to go through another menu within that to find the specific settings I wanted.

The worst part is that this isn't an isolated incident. I've noticed that finding the settings in different applications is getting more and more difficult, and that the settings are increasingly fragmented into different menus to the point where finding one specific option you want to change is like trying to find one specific beetle in a jungle. Even when the settings menu isn't fragmented into three or four different places, it's inconsistently placed. It might be under the file dropdown, but it might also be in edit, tools, view, or any number of other places, sometimes buried under other options. I remember that it used to be under the files dropdown more often than not, but now it's usually somewhere else and I have to wade through every dropdown and button in the program to find what I'm looking for. Sometimes I resort to an internet search just to find the settings menu!

You'd think that the settings of an application would be important enough to be placed in an easy-to-find, intuitive location that doesn't force the user to ask a search engine where to find it, but apparently that's not the case anymore.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on light and dark themes

Today, I switched my computer over to a light theme (a modified version of the LuckyEyes color scheme) for the most part. I've kept my panels dark (color-tweaked Graphite Dark) because I find those easier to read and less distracting that way, and my terminal is dark because black backgrounds on terminals is such a strong association for me that a light terminal makes me think less before hitting enter on a command, but everything else is now light theme. I even reworked the colors of my browser homepage. I'm still balancing colors to minimize potential strain and getting my redshift settings comfortable, but readability has significantly improved for me.

I noticed that it's easier for me to read black text on white backgrounds than vice versa, meaning that a light theme is more usable in my case. I've had friends mention they read more easily with a light theme as well, which is a large part of why I changed the website's color scheme to dark text on a light background. For those who are newer to my site, it was previously a very dark blue background with white text. It looked nice, but people found it harder to read than a lighter color scheme, so I changed it. After all, the entire point of this website is to be read. If I can make it more readable, I will. I pass my colors through a contrast checker to be sure there's no accessiblity issues, for example. Changing to a light background and dark text is just another way to accomodate folks who can't read well with a dark theme.

Aesthetically, I love dark themes. I think they're beautiful, comfortable, and I'm generally drawn to them. I've been using the Gruvbox dark color scheme for the last year or so and have adored it, and I would have stuck with it if there wasn't a noticeable improvement in ease of reading. Usability always comes before aesthetics for me, and I'm plenty capable of getting an appealing light setup going. I am left with the issue of balancing contrast and eye strain when it comes to light themes, but that was an issue with dark themes as well and I've learned that a healthy dose of redshift or a warmed-up color scheme resolves that issue for me.

A screenshot of my desktop, showing the file manager and the settings to showcase the tweaks in the color scheme. The grays are lighter and the contrast is slightly reduced.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on 40% keyboarding

I've been using a 40% keyboard for about a week now because my laptop keyboard is progressively giving up on being a functional keyboard (looking at you, x key that won't type an x). I have a full-size, but the 40% is much more portable, so that's what I've been using most of the time. It's surprisingly usable. I do think the full-size is easier and a little faster, but then again, I have more practice on it. The 40% mostly slows me down because I'm still memorizing the layers. All numbers are on layer 2, for example, which means I need to know what number key the % symbol is on to type that. On the plus side, it'll help me out with touch typing between the numbers and having a colemak-dh layer.

Probably the weirdest part is having the enter key right next to the spacebar. I have messed up a few times, but I've pretty much got it now. It just takes me a moment to remember that the enter key is there instead of on the right side. The right shift key is also next to the spacebar, which I thought I would have issues with but actually find more comfortable since I can use my thumb instead of my pinky. I find I'm using it more than the left one!

Overall, less of an issue than I thought it would be and totally usable as a daily driver with a little practice. It's a cute little thing, too. Most of what I need to adjust to is how close together the keys are and needing to use layers for some keys.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on computer usability

Function should always come before form. It's fine and dandy having a gorgeous interface, but if the user can't figure out how to use it, then you're missing the point. Good UI design should be intuitive and follow conventions when reasonable (unless that convention causes problems). Things should be where most users in the target audience expect them to be. The same goes for customizing desktop interfaces. If you have trouble using a setup you customized, then it might be worth thinking about whether you customized it to be pretty or practical. You can have both, but I don't think it's worth making your computer harder for you to use just to make it prettier. The whole point of having a computer is to use it for things. If the sole use is as decoration or as a customization sandbox, sure, go nuts and screw usability, but most computers need to be used for other things and thus usability should take precedence.

What that means for each person will be different. The key is remembering that it should make sense to you and make your life easier, not harder. Does that 90% transparency make your windows hard to read? Do you need to squint and lean in to read your taskbar because you tried to save space? Does that color palette hurt your eyes or make it too hard to distinguish things? Do you struggle to manipulate where your windows are? Are your shortcuts easy to remember and use? Can you easily read your fonts? Notice what you have to work around or struggle with and fix it.

Thoughts from .

You've found the very first thought (you dedicated reader, you!). Your reward is a doodle of a kitten that I did with my non-dominant hand because I was bored. A close friend named him Southpaw.

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