Observations on “A Christmas Carol”

Our bookclub tackled A Christmas Carol as one of the last reads for the year. It was a wonderful chat about what the holidays means to us, how things have changed over time, and what the moral lessons are from the short story.

This was my second time reading the story, so in addition to my knowledge of it from cinema (thanks largely to the Muppets), I was able to pay closer attention to the themes threaded through the story.

I noticed, for instance, that while the story is largely about redeeming one’s soul and the spirit of giving during the holidays, knowledge kept popping in. For instance, when Scrooge is haunted by Jacob Marley, Marley notes that he walks the earth as a result of not letting his spirit roam while alive. This unfinished business suggests that experiencing the world (cultivating awareness of those beyond yourself) was an important element of living a fulfilling live (after all, why would a spirit need to roam if they had a fulfilling life?).

The chains worn by Marley were a symbolic reminder of the knowledge he now possessed of his life’s actions. Each link forged by his life’s misdeeds are discrete representations of his lack of personal knowledge of his actions while alive.

Scrooge is unable to be receptive to the ghosts’ messages of redemption until he gains personal knowledge of himself by traveling to the past and understanding the choices that lead him to this point.

The Ghost of Christmas Present beckons Scrooge with “Come in man, and know me better!” Becoming acquainted with the present requires one to be present in the moment.

Scrooge’s redemption is only realized because he confronts the Spirit of Christmas-Yet-To-Come, pleading to know whether the shadows he sees are set. Why would you show these images to me if my knowledge of them won’t change what’s to come! he cries to the ghost.

I couldn’t help but draw a connection to our own problems with empathy in our charged political moment. We often lament our failures to connect with folks “on the other side.” We lack the empathy to understand their position to see how our similarities vastly outweigh our differences.

Dickens’s solution to the problem of empathy is rooted in knowledge. Yes, Scrooge is motivated initially by the desire to redeem his immortal soul and to avoid the fate of Marley. But his change of heart comes by letting his soul out to walk around and to know others. He connects with them, which in turn creates empathy and a desire to help.

It’s a delightful story that I was more than happy to revisit at this time of year.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

The Value of Coziness

Our dog, Gus, sleeping in front of the (artificial) fire.

I learned a valuable lesson this Christmas about being intentional with how one goes about building their space. With all the decorations up – the tree, the lights, and arranging the room to nurture a sense of closeness and conversation – my wife and I were creating a feeling of a cozy home. As we packed up the decorations this past weekend to reflect the end of the holiday season, I felt a twinge of sadness. I will both miss the excitement that comes with the holiday break (yay time off work!), but also the feeling of coziness that comes from Christmas decorations. The green from the tree, the red from the decorations, and the warm yellow hue of the lights. More than time off, I am going to miss relaxing in the living room with the main lights off, basking in the glow of the tree and candles we had burning.

Surprising, candles played an important role of this. I first noticed it back in October during our honeymoon. We had a short stop in Germany to visit family, and it was customary for us to enjoy dinner together by candle light. It gave things an intimate, personal feeling, where time stood still as we enjoyed each other’s company.

I learned that there is a word to describe this feeling. I was listening to the Art of Manliness podcast where they discussed the Danish concept of hygge, which can be translated to represent something like the art of getting cozy. It encompasses a number of sensory feelings you get, such as when you come in after being out in the snow, and you warm up in fresh clothes and a hot beverage. Light, smells, decorations, comfort, and warmth all help one feel cozy, which is attributed in part to explain how the Danes endure long, harsh winters.

This is something I want to carry forward throughout the year. Until now, I’ve largely viewed where I live from a utilitarian perspective – it’s a place to store my stuff. However, now that my basic needs are met, I feel a call to build my space into something that brings me happiness for itself and what it represents, instead of for what it can give or do for me. I want to pay closer attention to all the flourishes that make a house into a home, such as decorations and having things in their place. It’s not just orderliness or tidiness, but instead giving us a place that makes us happy regardless of the harshness beyond our door.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What I’ve Been Reading (As of July 2nd)

Happy long weekend!

I haven’t posted a reading update since back in February, and since I’m away on vacation for the weekend (with my nose hopefully buried in a book), I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the books I have on the go.

HVAC Handbook by Robert Rosaler

This is undoubtedly an odd one on the list.  A few weeks back, our AC unit froze and we decided to replace both of our 30+ year old AC unit and slightly newer furnace in the house.  I am not a handy guy by any stretch of the imagination, but I wanted to learn more about how a house’s HVAC system helps to control the indoor environment.  I renewed my library card and checked this book out.  I have no illusions that I can or should be performing my own repairs, but at least I can appreciate the engineering and design (or sometimes lack of) goes into my house’s climate control.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

This list wouldn’t be complete without a Terry Pratchett book.  This book finally brings us back in touch with the Wizzard Rincewind, whom we last saw in Sourcery and was blown away to another dimension.  Set in the Counterweight Continent and the Agetean Empire, Rincewind, The Luggage, Twoflower, and Cohen reunite and get thrown in the middle of a peasant rebellion against the oppressive rule of the elite and a plot to murder the Emperor.  These are interesting times!

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

I quite enjoyed Jocko’s later book, Discipline Equals Freedom, so I thought I’d go back to check out his earlier book  that is largely the reason why he’s known now.  He and Babin are retired Navy SEALS who started a leadership consulting company after they retired from the forces.  The book is a distillation of their experiences and the lessons they learned about leadership that they have brought with them to their civilian careers.  It’s written, in part, as a no nonsense memoir, and I don’t get the impression that they are trying to waive any patriotic flags about being pro-military or pro-combat.

Madison’s Gift by David O. Stewart

Here’s another audiobook I grabbed from the library thanks to the Hoopla service.  While I should probably start reading biographies about figures other than American presidents, this one intrigued me since it’s about James Madison’s partnerships with key people who helped him with his achievements.  Rather than celebrating him as a visionary genius, it plays up the fact that he was fairly ordinary and unimpressive (the book’s description of him is “short, plain, balding, neither soldier nor orator, low on charisma and high on intelligence.”  Something about the description spoke to me, and I thought I’d check it out.

The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester

I blame the fact that I work in the School of Engineering that I decided to check this book out.  The Perfectionists covers the history of precision engineering after the industrial revolution.  While the book covers things relatively chronologically, it’s thematically grouped into various stories related to tolerance in measurements.  I’m only midway through the book, but the history of engineering design is incredible.  The creativity and patience shown by the various craftsmen in areas such as machining by hand, horology, and even lock-picking, is fascinating to learn about, and gives me a greater appreciation for good design (see HVAC above…)

If this was a long weekend for you, I hope you had a great and safe weekend!

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

On Indulgence and Order

This past Christmas break, I learned an insight about myself.  In order to feel truly rested during a break, I need two days to myself.  This insight came as a result of the frantic pace that comes with Christmas – cramming to finish as much work as you can before shut-down, travelling all over to visit family, tending to personal projects and end-of-year business, etc.

Two days probably sounds like an overblown indulgence to you, but I realized that in order for me to feel a sense of rest and recharge, I need two consecutive days for my own uses.  With one day, I get a chance to catch up on things – sleep, bills, messages, work, etc.  But two days gives me more freedom to do what I usually need to do – binge.  If I only have one day to myself, I can’t “binge” on whatever it is I want to binge on.  If I were to binge during that one day, I would feel like I’ve just put off doing work for a day, and now everything is piled up further.

But if I have two consecutive days, I get one day to binge, guilt-free, on whatever it is that I want to do (sleep, food, video games, Netflix, YouTube, etc).  I get a chance to get it out of my system, guilt-free.

The second day, then, is my chance to put my life back together.  I can plan out my tasks.  I can take care of personal maintenance tasks.  I clean and de-clutter.  I get a chance to breathe and focus.  It puts life back into order after the mess that comes from indulgence.

It has also made me realize that I’m not balancing things out well in my life if I have to wait for extended vacation breaks to get two consecutive days to myself.  I really should be more mindful of what I schedule for my weekends.

I can only follow this model of binge/purge and order because I am privileged to have a good job and stability in my life.  I recognize that this is not available to everyone, and I appreciate that I’m at a point in my life where it’s something available to me.  For that, I’m thankful.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Quarterly Sleep Review: July-Sept

Back in May, I thought I’d give a sleep update for that quarter to see what kinds of trends would shake out when taking a longer view of my sleeping habits.  I missed the opportunity to give an update for the April through June span, so instead I’ll skip it and give the update for July, August, and September.

In the first quarterly sleep review, I was showing some pretty terrible numbers, with an overall success rate of 25/120 days, or 20.8%.  Let’s see where we are now.

Jul-Sep sleep

Here, we see a much better hit-ratio.  Between the months of July and September, I hit my target two out of three months, for 31 out of 92 days, or 33.7%, a more than 10% jump in sleep.

Some of my success in this quarter is because I’ve tried being more conscious of my sleeping habits, though I will admit that I still don’t do a good job of maintaining a night-time routine to get myself into bed at a decent time.

The sleep results for each of the days of the week are somewhat consistent from the last quarterly update, with the most sleep occurring Sundays, where I’m usually not up late and I can sleep in the next day.  Thursday continues to be a bad day for sleep since I’m still working at the bar Wednesday night’s.

The biggest improvement that was unexpected was my Saturday sleeping.  As I noted in the last quarterly update, Saturday’s typically suffer because I work at the bar, and so being up late usually means I won’t get a full 7-hours in.  In this quarter, I have fixed that issue somewhat, though admittedly not intentionally.  My best reason to account for this change is that I often take early cuts at the bar when we have lower patron turnout, so I’m able to go to sleep earlier than I otherwise would have.

A final caveat on my sleep results is that my July and August results are good because of the vacation I took from work.  The two weeks off between July and August meant I was able to keep a regular sleeping schedule, go to the gym twice per week, and have time with my partner, all while still being able to get work done from my to-do list.  That two-ish week period is a little bit of a deviation from the norm, which resulted in a higher sleep ratio for the month.

All in all, I’m happy with the results, and am looking forward to the next quarterly sleep review to close out 2017’s sleep tracking.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan