Past lives

I saw Past Lives the other day. I don’t think it was the best of the oscar nominees, but it was the one that resonated with me the most. I too left a country to start a new life, twice. It takes a little time, but, after a while, it really does feel that the person I was in those past lives is just a completely different person. It affects the people you leave behind, but also my own life; every time I go back to one of the countries I used to live in, I can’t help but be reminded that that life is now gone forever. Depending on my state of mind, and which bits of the past I remember, that can either feel sad, or liberating.

I’m turning 40 this year. Insert cliché here. Because my past lives were all very real breakpoints in life I think turning 40 doesn’t affect me as much as it might others. If I had lived only one life, I would have a lifetime worth of things I still want to accomplish by now. Instead, I have two past lives’ worth of things that other versions of me wanted to accomplish, and I feel less emotionally attached to those things than I wish I would. I still want to cycle Japan, but it’s not a hobby that current-me would start. I still like going back to Holland, but I can definitely no longer call it my home.

I’d like to write a book. I’d like to build a computer game, from the ground up, by myself. I’d like to be at peace again, the way my past lives were. Despite having it better than ever, I’ve never worried as much as I do now. Though perhaps that’s finally starting to decrease a little. I don’t know if hitting 40, or other upcoming events in my life, will trigger a new life. For the moment at least, I want to make the most of my current life.

Posted in Thoughts

Lifestyle changes

This week has just been full of surprises. A while ago I was diagnosed with a long-term disease that affects what I’m allowed to eat and drink. Today I was diagnosed with a second long-term disease that also affects what I’m allowed to eat and drink. I’ve barely reached middle age, but the doctor was quite clear that the changes to my body are irreversible, and I won’t be able to keep the same lifestyle that I used to have when I was younger.

That came as quite a shock to me, even though I knew it shouldn’t. I know I’ve got health issues I should take better care of, but I always seem to get away with things as long as I occasionally do something healthy to counteract all the unhealthy things I’m also doing. That definitely seems over now. I’ll need to severely limit myself in what I eat and drink, otherwise I’m very likely to die. It’s as simple as that.

Initially, when I heard the diagnosis, I felt upset, because I didn’t want to lose what I had. I was happy with my life, I didn’t want to make changes. But now that I’ve thought about it, and now that it’s absolutely clear that it’s just necessary, it just seems fine to me. Just another thing I have to do to survive. I think I can adjust my mindset to accept the new reality, but only time will tell. Time never stops.

Posted in Thoughts

The meaning

When I was younger I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to be cryogenically frozen when I died, so I could eventually live again, whenever science has evolved enough to resuscitate my icy cold head. Why wouldn’t I want to live forever? At the very least I could observe the world endlessly and see what happens. I think I felt a lot more special, important and unique back then. Now that I’m hitting middle age, I’m kind of ok with just fading into obscurity after I die. My contribution to the world will end when I die. All I want to do until then, is ensure that my contribution is a positive one. Exactly what that contribution is and how it will be judged, I still have no idea.

I’m definitely resonating with the ‘middle’ in middle age lately. A lot of the goals I have are pass-me-ons from my younger self. I remember the enthusiasm I had for my goals back then, but nowadays.. it’s all just kind of faded away. I know that I have to do something with my goals before I hit old age. The reason for that is pretty simple: my family doesn’t age well. Looking at how others in my immediate family have aged, even if I do everything right, it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll have a good quality of life after 70, and personally I wouldn’t bet on my chances after 65 either. If I want to achieve things, it needs to be before then. It reminds me of the Your Life in Weeks post by Wait But Why. We should spend our time wisely.

I always considered myself an Optimistic Nihilist. The nihilist part of that is: I believe that, ultimately, there is no real meaning behind anything, and when we die, that’s it. But the optimist part of that is: if all that’s true and nothing really matters, then we might as well enjoy ourselves while we can and live life to the fullest. This was my belief when I was young, and I believe that I still believe this now, although lately my applied beliefs are more in line with that of a paperclip maximizer. I exist to provide, and I provide to exist. I try to make money so I can exist longer. I try to keep my body somewhat healthy so I can exist longer. I don’t consider any of that a great life goal in and of itself, but, despite literally decades of thinking about this, it’s still the only answer I can give myself, and I’m in a privileged enough position to not have to worry about the simpler challenges in life, like being employed, fed and healthy, for which I am very grateful. For now though, all I’m doing is buying myself more time to think.

I’m still at the lower end of middle age. I have time. I don’t know what to do with that time yet. But I have time. There should be more.

Posted in Thoughts

My Japan

It’s been an interesting year for me. Not-so-great things happened in the years before, but this year it really felt like things were starting to look up again. It’s been great to be able to go on holiday to Japan and spend some time away from the drudges of daily life, while also being in the right mindset to properly appreciate the time away. Today, sitting at the riverside, listening to music, it felt amazing to just take in the scenery and be in the moment. It’s something I’ve not done nearly enough lately.

I’m getting older. I’m not the same person I used to be when I lived here, already more than ten years ago. I’ve got different priorities, different hobbies. Being back here feels like I am meeting my past self, exposing all those changes I otherwise don’t really think about. There’s some things that my past self and I have differing opinions on, and being where I used to live a long time ago those differences become readily apparent. It’s a valuable and interesting experience, because it helps me appreciate how I’ve changed, for better and for worse.

Lastly, I was able to test if I could still enjoy Japan in the same way that I used to enjoy it back then. This, at least, is one part of me that hasn’t changed. I don’t think anyone I’ve met here has experienced Japan in quite the same way I did (and that’s only natural – everyone has their own story to tell). The way I intrinsically appreciate Japan is mine and mine alone, and not something I can easily put into words. But even after 17 years that feeling is still there, and I can still find those golden moments here. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Japan.

Happy new year everyone.

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged ,

Zen or Kaizen

In my early twenties I used to be pretty calm about life in general. There were definitely a few things in life that I could get hugely worked up about, but my general take on life was that I aimed to be at peace with any kind of situation (a.k.a “being zen“). But the older I get, the more I feel that this idea clashes with the idea of “striving for better” (sort of like “kaizen“, a.k.a. Continuous Improvement), and I wonder if I’m being dishonest to myself when I aim to “be zen” while also striving for better.

Some banal examples of this are creature comforts: if I’m already happy with decent headphones, why would I want to have better ones? If, ultimately, I’m content with living in a two bed apartment, do I really need a three bed house? Other examples are more fundamental: if I have enough money to take care of myself and my family, do I really need that new job with the higher salary and the fancy job title?

I find that it is difficult to go all-in on something if you’ve already convinced yourself that you don’t need it. Though, out of all these examples, I think the job example is the easiest to justify, because having more wealth will benefit you and those around you. The amount of wealth you’d need for that statement to hit diminish returns is likely beyond most of us. Fancier headphones or better quality coffee are probably a bit harder to justify.

Once you start striving for something seriously, it’s difficult to go back. A two bed apartment might feel huge when you first buy it, but if you used to live in a three bed house you’ll notice the size much more. If you’ve experienced fantastic headphones you’d absolutely notice the lack of fidelity in cheaper models. Lifestyle inflation is a real thing. If you truly want to be zen, you have to make peace with your lifestyle deflating as well.

I believe it is possible to both be content with everything and also strive for better at the same time, but I think you have to deceive yourself a little in order to accomplish that. Being truly zen about your situation means not striving for better, and striving for better means you cannot be truly zen. Doing both means turning a blind eye to that dichotomy.

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged

Change is in the air

When you’ve kept your head down for a long time you might be surprised at where you are when you finally look up again. That’s what it feels like right now.

It’s been an odd day. My life in general is pretty normal lately. As a fairly boring middle-aged person I sometimes have month after month where nothing of significance happens. Those days just fly by. But then, suddenly, something happens that jolts me from normality, and I realize fully where and when I am. Today was such a day.

First, my wife finally received her British passport. It has been a long wait for her since she first applied for citizenship, but today the last remaining worry was finally dispelled and she can travel freely again. This is amazing. One less thing to worry about.

Second, I met an old friend for dinner in London. It might be the last time I see him in a while because he’s leaving the UK, as a lot of my (software developer) friends have done in the last couple of years. Increasing costs of living in the UK make London an increasingly hard sell for a lot of people I know, so inevitably many of them are returning to their home country. The general concensus among people in my circle seems to be that London is fine for a couple of years – you earn some decent money, live the life, meet the people – but then it’s time to move on and go somewhere else so that you can have a better quality of life.

Most of my friends have left London now, either to move to places just outside of London, or further away. I’m not quite the last holdout but on days like today it certainly feels like it. It reminds me of the time when I left Japan and I was the last foreigner in my group of friends to leave. Being the last to leave is an interesting feeling. I certainly felt that same melancholy today, and it made me remember my past self.

Third, this happened:

The queen died. As I was walking to the tube station I passed by Piccadilly Circus, which was full of tourists and other random people, just standing there in a daze, staring at and taking photos of the giant billboard that was showing the queen. They all seemed a bit bewildered, wondering about what was going to happen next.

So I look up at the billboard and I realize that the world has changed so much recently. Ukraine happened. Covid happened. My life in the UK happened. And the queen is dead. Who knows what will happen next.

This is the new world
This is your time
Down in the basement
Dancing again
Everybody get ready to sing
When the lights go out
When the lights go out

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts , UK

This is a test post

More info soon. I am working on a better way to publish blog posts. This post was published on a Raspberry Pi! Woohoo!

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged ,

The Netherlands

It's been four years since I was last back in the Netherlands. This might be the longest time that I've not been back. But covid is nearing it's end (hopefully), and circumstances allowed for it, so here I am. I didn't realise how much I missed it. A brief break from my daily life.

On a sunny spring day like this, going out for a cycle in the countryside is absolutely amazing.

Everything is green, sunny and positive. New life takes the place of old life.

Posted in Dutch , Thoughts , Travel

Twenty twenty one

Time goes by very quickly lately. I suspect it's a combination of growing older and the pandemic lifestyle of hardly ever going out. New things are less and less new, and there are less and less new things. At the beginning of last week I wanted to do a little 'end of year review' kind of post, but found it difficult to get into the mindset of writing again, so I ended up putting it off over and over again, and now it's 2022. That said, I've not felt this write-y for years, and I'd like to write a little bit about why.

Let's start with a question: why even bother writing on a public blog at all? I've been wondering this for about five years now. This blog doesn't get a lot of hits. I googled for 'colorfulwolf' the other day and found that my site had been removed from the search results entirely. Couldn't even find it on page 10. It seems to be back now though. Side note: DuckDuckGo is a lot better, I started using this more and more lately. Google search results have been terrible for a long time, but I digress.

Writing on the internet is a risk. More so than ever. Opinions are saturated and extreme, and even if you write something that you think is perfectly nuanced the internet mob could still come after you and 'cancel' you. I consider myself a pretty 'uncancellable' personality since I'm not in politics and I'm not showing my face on Youtube, but what I write here does reflect on companies that employ me or might potentially employ me, and that has kept me from writing here in the stream-of-consciousness style I used to write in back when I was living in Japan. I consider myself very moderate in everything, but you never know what could be misinterpreted in the future, "so why take the risk". The pros of writing in public need to outweigh the cons.

Though I don't write in public much any more, I do write in a private 'log book' of sorts. The same thoughts I used to shout out publicly I still write for myself, so I don't censor myself internally, though as you can see from this blog it does mean there's less content here. I don't feel particularly bad about that because that is in line with my life goals. It is not my life goal to be a contraversial opinion on anything on the internet. I just want to write about my life. But as a result I think my writing quality has gone down. It's the difference between programming something quick and dirty for internal use versus publishing something for all the world to see. It's just different quality standards. I would like to come back to all those private writings at some point and publish them here. That's definitely not going to happen any time soon though.

I write for myself and for those who know me in person, but not for strangers. I believe walled gardens like Facebook are fine for casual thought-sharing, but one should assume that all the information will eventually just disappear. Platforms like Wordpress or Medium are not bad, but I'd rather abstract away that layer and own my own domain. Walled gardens require maintenance and presence, which is why I prefer this content to be available to anyone. Certainly some people in my family would be annoyed if they had to log in to something in order to read this. Open data is good.

"Why bother writing anywhere at all, even in private"? For me there are two reasons. One: I obtain value from reading back things that I wrote years ago. My memory is far from perfect, and those log books help me remember what kind of person I was in years past, and how I used to think about things. It gives me a sense of continuity and identity. Two: it's therapeutic. Processing life events by writing about them has great value for me. Whenever I write something I feel like I'm offloading it from my brain so I don't have to think about it any more. The reverse also holds true: if I don't write about something it feels like it's something I have to remember, and it weighs me down.

The last thing I wanted to write about is: why have I not felt like writing in the past few years? There's an easy answer to that, but one that's difficult for me to write down here in public: I was burned out. I will not go into details here, but I consciously chose to be in a situation where I felt stressed out and miserable for a long time in order to gain in other areas of my life. It was a situation I rationally felt I should not escape from, because the pros outweighed the cons. When that situation finally came to an end this year I thought that my life would be better instantly; that I could just wake up the next day and feel good about myself again. Instead I continued to feel miserable for two weeks until I finally started to feel a little bit like myself again for the first time in years. I do not regret where I was or where it took me, and I do not blame anyone but myself for any negative feelings, but I sure am glad that's over. Issendai has a gripping article about Sick Systems that resonated very strongly with me.

I don't want to dwell on those experiences too deeply, but one thing I did find interesting was that I repeatedly thought "X is the cause of my feeling bad", and "if I do Y I will suddenly feel good again", and I repeatedly proved myself wrong. One example of this was suddenly being able to work from home when the pandemic hit. I suddenly had way more time on my hands, and I thought "life will be better now", but it quickly became the new normal again and I felt how I usually felt. It's easy to blame external causes for this, but I had made a habit out of not looking within myself for the cause. If there's one 'lesson' I learned this year, it would be to look within more. The Dokkōdō continues to be a source of inspiration for me.

This may sound weird after writing all that, but 2021 has been an amazing year for me. I am getting closer to where I want to be in life, and things are looking up for the future. My (very middle-aged) highlights of the year were:

  • We got a cat! He requires a lot of attention but he is absolutely awesome.
  • I bought a smart exercise bike. It was crazy expensive but I use it a lot.
  • Finally did a '1.0' of Legobot. It's fully functional and about the size I wanted it to be. My stretch goal was to clean up and publish all the code on GitHub, but I continue to procrastinate on that. That's probably a good thing because the code is several years old by now..
  • Built and published a UK Retirement Calculator (and unlike Legobot the code for this is on GitHub).
  • Finally had the utility room of our apartment re-tiled. For introverts like us this is a major accomplishment.
  • Enjoyed some excellent holidays: we went driving in Scotland, hiking in Wales and did scuba diving in Bonaire.
  • Bought and sold a VR headset. I previously owned the Oculus dev kit back in 2013 but was not happy with it. I thought that a higher resolution would make VR everything I ever wanted and that I would use it all the time, but instead it turned out to be just the occasional gimmick and I quickly lost interest. Beat Saber and Google Earth VR were cool though.

The new year has already begun. Let's make the most of it.

(maybe I'll finally get around to re-implementing commenting functionality on this blog... YOU NEVER KNOW)

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts , UK | Tagged ,

A little update

Hello blog, you're still here. I have lots of topics and ideas I want to write about here, but life always seems to keep getting in the way. Somewhere along the line writing on this blog has gone from one of the first things I do with my free time to somewhere near the end of my priority list. I write down short notes on thoughts in private but I don't really take the time to refine them into coherent posts any more. It's a sign of the times, I think. The generation that grew up with blogging, my generation, has gotten older. My "I'm only adulting ironically" stance on life has definitely become unironic in what seemed like an instant. Suddenly I'm old. That's what it feels like.

In my mind I always imagined myself eventually getting back to this blog many, many years later, once I am retired, to go through the list of things I wanted to write about, and actually start writing and publishing them. I still intend to do this, but I also need to recognize that this is a dream of me-in-my-thirties, much like cycling around Japan was the dream of me-in-my-twenties. It doesn't mean that I won't get around to it, but it does mean that I keep finding other interesting things to do in life, which I might consider more important. Life never stops, and that's a great thing.

I am in the middle of a journey right now. What will happen to this blog is something I will decide at the end of my current journey. For now I'll leave it as-is. From a technical point of view it's definitely a pain to maintain in its current state - I'm aware that I've still not added back commenting functionality yet since switching from Wordpress, but given how little I write here these days, I think it can wait.

My friends, here is where I am: I have recently quit one job and am about to start another. In the meantime I've had a lucky few weeks where I am in-between jobs without the job anxiety, and the wife and I took full advantage of that by going on a holiday abroad for the first time in almost two years. I feel thoroughly refreshed and ready for a new challenge. Let's see what the next few years will bring.

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts | Tagged