Recurse Center, Day 4

I’ve been doing the Stanford iOS development in Swift course for the past few days (as well as attending talks and doing a bit of C pairing (I apparently remember C! Huzzah!)) and I’m feeling a bit… static. Lots of other people are already writing code and I’m just doing tutorials. I do want to write a couple of iOS apps, so I want to get through that course, but I think that I might be using it as a procrastination tool. So I’m going to mix that up a bit today.

Here is a list of things that, as a programmer, I basically nopetopus away from:

nopetopus gif
Nope to ALL of these:
  • UTF-8, Unicode, any of that sort of thing
  • Cryptography
  • Bash/shell scripting
  • Audio, video, general media formats/manipulation

I’m sure that list will grow, but in the spirit of diving deeper into understanding and moving closer to things that make me uncomfortable rather than avoiding them, I’m going to spend today (and possibly tomorrow) working on the Matasano crypto challenges. And I’m going to try to do them in  Rust (learning that language as I go). Wish me luck!

Placeholder for things to come

I’m in NYC for the next 3 months; I arrived at Newark on Friday at 5pm local time and have been pretty slammed since. I’m here for a few reasons, but specifically the reason for NYC is that I’m attending The Recurse Center (Fall 2 batch) to reboot my software development skills. After I left Amazon, I spent about 8 months supposedly doing that, but mostly what I was doing was purchasing online courses about how to be a web developer/etc and not completing them because they always started at way too basic a level. I also realized that I work better with others and that I was unlikely to ever make progress on my own. The Recurse Center is not a software developer bootcamp, but more of a programming ‘retreat’ where people go to become better programmers (and boy, did that stump the border guard). So I think the odds of me actually making progress here are much greater.

But that’s not the only reason I’m here. I’ve fallen into a lot of bad patterns and habits at home, health & well-being wise and the plan is for this to be a bit more of a traditional ‘retreat’ as well as a programming one. I have goals to meditate daily, eat vegetarian, exercise 5 times/week, stretch and roll out my bad muscles daily, and not drink any alcohol. I also plan to write and reflect a lot more. To that end, I’m spinning up two new sites (one is a relaunch of a sadly abandoned venture but I actually had it printed on business cards this time, so you KNOW it’ll happen ;)

I’ll be launching and next Monday.

LWK will be a journal and writeup of all the stuff I’m doing at the Recurse Center as well as a writeup of that site’s creation overall (unlike this & the other, I’ll be using a static site generator at first and then gradually migrating that to hand-coded). It’ll also include host any projects I actually manage to complete that are web-demoable.

The Beupstry will be, as originally intended, a place where I reflect on becoming a happier, better person and talk about the things I am learning about how to think differently, how to react differently, and listing the resources I have found helpful in doing that. It’ll probably be pretty heavy on lay-buddhism and self-awareness and self-compassion.

But right now, it’s 9:51 EDT and because I have to get up early and exercise before going to the RC, I am going to sign off now (as noted in this Beupstry v0.1 post, sleep is critical to mental and physical well-being). Have a fantastic day!

Mouthbreather – Part 1

I have a confession to make: I am a mouthbreather. I always have been.

It’s not terribly obvious. If I’m not exerting myself at all, I can keep my mouth closed and get enough air through my nose to keep me functional, but if I’m moving around, or talking, or have even the slightest bit of congestion, my mouth is open. (It may not be open much, and as I have quite a small mouth, you may not notice it, but I assure you, it is).

That something is a bit goofy about my nose has always been obvious. My brother, my aunt, and I all have one visibly blocked nostril (the same one) and we’ve been known to jokingly push the tips of our noses over to the left to align with where the tips should be, relative to the cartilage.

(Ignore the hair - I have surgery today & am not focused on making myself purty)
Where the tip of my nose is actually pointed

I never thought too much about it until grade 5, when they started making us run in gym. All of a sudden, it was a problem.

The thing is, I didn’t know what the problem was. I knew that I couldn’t run without breathing through my mouth, and I knew that that meant that if I ran more than about 100m, my throat was going to dry out and I was going to start coughing. The teacher’s focus on running actually had a pretty long-term effect on my interest in physical activity, which had been quite high before grade 5. So I didn’t run, and I embarked on what would become a pretty damned impressive career of getting out of gym class.

While running and sports involving running were out, there were definitely things that were easier for me because of the nose situation. Not being inclined to inhale through your nose is a real perk in swimming, diving, and scuba diving. All those things came naturally to me, and I enjoyed them a lot (still do). I was a natural chorus singer, because if your choir is sustaining a long note, you need to get a lot of air in quickly during your staggered breathing – nasal inhalation won’t cut it.

But over the years it’s become more of a problem. Other than running (which I would like to do), it’s really impacting my sleep. It’s not just the snoring, it’s that there’s only one position I can sleep in and continue breathing through the night – a position I call an ‘inverted 4’

Every night, 7-8 hrs. Same position.
Every night, 7-8 hrs
  • I’m lying on my left side, but rolled forward so that it’s sort of on my front (but propped up)
  • My left arm is straight up (which wrenches my left shoulder & twists my left side forward)
  • My right knee is bent, my left leg straight down. This tilts my left hip/pelvis forward, shortening my hip flexors and putting excess pull on my hamstrings.

Spending so much time in that position has resulted in some postural and muscular issues in day-to-day movement. Because I’ve been spending this hiatus trying to improve my well-being overall, I went to a physiotherapist & now have exercises to work on training my lazy muscles to engage, but every night I reinforce the problem.

Back in the 90s, I was a huge fan of Dilbert and read Scott Adams’ blog fairly regularly.* When he wrote about having a deviated septum and the life-transforming effect that surgery to correct it had**, these thoughts went through my mind:

  • “Gee, that kinds of sounds like what I have, not being able to breathe through my nose when I run”
  • “My case is probably not as bad as his was – surely some doctor would have told me if it were. I’m just being overdramatic/hypochondriacal”
  • “It must be nice to have enough money to be able to get that done electively. I wonder if I could become a famous cartoonist….”***

* either his views have evolved in a way that I now find unpleasant, or mine have evolved, or his were always like they are now & I just didn’t notice.
** He described the actual surgery as being like having a live weasel stuffed up one nostril & threaded back down the other, which also stuck with me.
*** of course, at the time, a cartoon of my life would have just been a clone of Dilbert, so that would probably have been a non-starter.

But last summer, someone I had worked with mentioned that he had the same surgery done and like Scott Adams, described it in transformational ways (as did this other person who read Scott Adams’ post). A few choice (paraphrased) quotes:

  • “I feel like someone reached into my head and yanked out 35 years of misery”
  • “I feel like someone gave me a super-power”
  • “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how happy I am that I did this”

Well, I thought, this is supposed to be the year of self-improvement and doing things that are good for me – I asked him what was involved in getting it done? How much did it cost? Was it covered by work insurance?


Apparently if a specialist determines that it’s necessary, it’s covered by regular healthcare. The process is to get a referral to a specialist for assessment (referrals are always covered by regular healthcare) and go from there. Since my friend was so happy with his specialist, I asked for a referral to him. I got an appointment, but as is common for non-urgent issues, there was about a 6 month lead time.

[Kicks herself for waiting so long before investigating this. Could have been breathing better DECADES ago.]

[6 months pass]

I go to see the specialist and he says that that yes, I definitely qualify as ‘sufficiently deviated’ (that one’s going on my tombstone, for SURE) for the surgery. In fact, remember that goofy nose tip thing from up above? Yeah, that’s too special for him to do. Apparently regular septoplasty is done where they kinda just stick tools up your nose, move stuff about, and then you bleed for a while and then heal. But if they did that with me, my nose tip would collapse.
Raccoons Cedric & Burt
I mean, I’m a good Canadian, I liked this show. But I didn’t consider it aesthetically aspirational.

The specialist also did a really interesting test (before sticking cameras up my nose to confirm) that completely changed what I thought was wrong with my septum.

In this picture, you can see that my left nostril is largely blocked by the bent nose tip.

Up-nose photo of blocked left nostril
I saved this image to include a bit later so that anyone skimming this post & deciding it wasn’t for them wouldn’t have to look up my nose. But you’re clearly committed at this point.

The doctor had me plug my right nostril & put his finger on my left cheek next to my left nostril and pulled my skin to the left.

Doctor: Does that make breathing easier?
Me: Definitely.

This wasn’t a suprise to me – I’d encountered that using BreatheRight strips (which I can only use sometimes b/c my skin is really sensitive & is too easily damaged by adhesives). He reversed to the other side – pulling my right nostril wider open, while having me plug my left.

Doctor: Does that make breathing easier?
Me: No, in fact it’s worse overall because my left nostril is blocked.

Then he brought in the cameras.

Here I’d always assumed that my nose cartilege was a “J” shape – straight at the top & hooked at the bottom. NOPE. It’s more like a dial that someone has turned 25 degrees, blocked at the bottom on the left and up inside at the top on the right! So I’ve been getting even LESS airflow than I thought I was.

Diagrams of actual septum shape and assumed septum shape

MIND-BLOWING. The left nostril is the GOOD one (despite its weird ‘gate’ at the entrance).

However. That meant that this guy couldn’t do the procedure for me and instead, I have to be referred to an extra-specialist – one of only two people in BC who perform ‘open septoplasty’.

STOP. I’m going to take a moment to warn you about something. If you have any curiousity about what the difference between regular and ‘open’ septoplasty is, for the love of god, TURN OFF GOOGLE RESULTS IMAGE PREVIEWS FIRST. Learn from my mistake, people.

OK. So. “Open” septoplasty involves them cutting the skin under your nose and then, um, kinda peeling back your nose/face so that they can get at the bits inside. They then do more significant construction. In my case they’ll apparently be widening the bridge & main part of my nose to strengthen it and building a brand new (centered) tip. Then they pull the skin back down and sew you up.

Yeah. All of a sudden I’m a bit less sure about going through with this, but I figure that I should at least meet with the extraspecialist to hear what he has to say. THAT appointment isn’t 6 months away, no. Only a few weeks.

[Google has surprisingly little information about open septoplasty and its complications. I assume that means that everyone who went through it is dead]

When I do go see the doctor, he’s extremely reassuring (not just in what he says, but in manner overall) and I feel much, much better about the prospect of starring in my own sweded version of Face/Off. I decide to go ahead with it and mentally prepare myself for an 8-12 month wait for surgery.

But. Apparently this doctor was recently granted 7 extra hospital days this year and because he just got them, they were wide open. So instead of an 8 month wait, it’s a 6 week wait.

And now those 6 weeks are up. My surgery is today. I’ll provide an update when I’m back home (assuming I’m not so miserable that I just want to go to bed), but fingers crossed for a life-changing improvement!

The Newest Member of the Spice Girls: Breakfast Spice

Green Smoothie
Photo by Joanna Slodownik / CC BY

I hate leafy green vegetables. They’re boring, largely flavourless, and my lips inadvertently purse into a weird scowl when I have to buy them at the grocery store (fun fact – this appears to be not entirely psychological, since apparently my brother & uncle have the same reflex, but they LIKES them).

I’ll eat an interesting salad (ideally ones with spices nuts & some sort of strongly flavoured cheese crumbled in) but it’s always an effort of will. Which is Bad, of course, because leafy green vegetables fall clearly in the Good category.

A couple of years ago, on a lovely hot summer day, I was walking around trying to decide what to have for lunch. I wasn’t very hungry and I definitely didn’t want anything cooked. I decided to try a green smoothie at (what is now) LeafyBox.

It passed the first test: I didn’t go blind.

It ALSO passed the second test – it was actually quite pleasant! But I have no idea what they put in it, and I wouldn’t swear that it didn’t have a lot of sweetened juice in it as well.

[two years passes]

About a month ago I was at Costco with a friend and saw some GIANT bags of spinach. Me: “I should eat more salads!”. Cut to a week later and a bunch of very limp spinach in the drawer at the bottom of the fridge. I had a LOT of ginger in the freezer from Sunrise Market and thought “well, maybe that would make it more interesting.”

It does! I’ve now tried them with and without LOTS of ginger and the ginger makes a big difference – it’s fun to drink instead of just a slog. So here’s my new daily breakfast. Give it a try!

Kara’s Spicy Green Smoothie
  • 4c baby spinach & kale mix (~40 cal according to the bag, ~80 cal according to MyFitnessPal)
  • 1/2c regular yoghurt (100 cal)
  • 1/4c coconut milk (~80 cal according to MyFitnessPal)
  • 1c carrots (~50 cal)
  • 2c frozen fruit (~120 cal)
  • 1/2c ginger (~50 cal – I keep it in the freezer, which will affect when it goes in the blender)
  • ~1c water

Start by  blending the yoghurt & coconut milk with the greens until they’re well mixed.

Break the carrots into thumb-sized pieces & blend them in (‘chop’ is fine – we’re not going for ‘fully liquid’ yet.) If your ginger is not frozen, add it now.

Add the frozen stuff SLOWLY. I use the ‘crush ice’ setting on my blender, but if you put it all in at once, the liquids freeze and you end up creating a cave at the bottom of the blender that nothing falls into. If you add the frozen stuff in batches, you don’t have to poke the contents down into the blades as much. Add the water in batches as well when things start freezing together.

Once it’s relatively smoothly blending, step up the levels until you get the consistency you like. Me, I like ‘liquify’ – there’s always going to be a bit of fibrousness left from the ginger, but not much.

Makes about 2.5 SOLO cups of smoothie. So, that’s… what, 40 oz? And you’ve started the day with probably all the vegetables & fruit you need. I’ve now had more leafy green vegetables in the last month than I have in probably the previous 6 months. And it doesn’t feel like ‘work’.

The Last Day

2012 Tulip Festival @ Agassiz, BC
Photo by GoToVan / CC BY

Today, I have lived as many days on this planet as my mother ever did.

[That is, assuming Excel’s date math handles leap years properly. Yes, I made a spreadsheet.]

There are many things I could write about my mother’s life, and our family’s life together, but I don’t feel comfortable writing about people I love without their knowledge and permission. The only thing I will say about that is that I don’t think she spent very much of her life doing what she wanted to do.

I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry. Reactive, hurt, feeling powerless and wild inside.

Last spring I realized that my next birthday would make me the same age as my mother was when she died and I began to really think about death – MY death. How it was a certainty. How I didn’t know when it will happen. Not just for me, but for everyone. And a while after that, I actually started to understand it. Not just rationally (of course we’re all going to die, everyone knows that) but emotionally.

Last spring, I was working in an office at a company I didn’t respect very much and becoming increasingly miserable (and this for a person with a pretty damn high baseline miserableness). I saw friends withdrawing from my constant perspective of disgust and complaint. I heard that someone I used to work with said he wouldn’t want to work with me again because I complained too much (at that time, he wasn’t wrong). The feeling I had at all times is “EVERYTHING IS WRONG, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP BEING WRONG.” I changed roles at the company I didn’t respect very much – hoping that maybe it was just the aspects of the job I was doing that were the problem.

It wasn’t. And when I realized that, I knew I was never going to be happy there. So last spring, I quit my job.

Let me just step out of this story for a minute to note a few things – I know that not everyone has that option. I’m well educated and have a marketable set of skills, I have a very supportive partner. I don’t have children that I need to support. I am financially secure. Not everyone could do what I did and I am grateful for the things that gave me that option, although I wasn’t particularly grateful for them at the time. I didn’t really understand that I was doing much better than a LOT of people are because I was so wrapped up in pain and anger and self-hatred. I only began to recognize how lucky I am to have those supports when I relaxed and let myself use them.

That’s part of why I quit: I felt like I was trapped, like I HAD to stay in the career that I was in. That’s the rule, right? If you’re what other people would describe as successful, even if you don’t feel it yourself, then it would be ungrateful to not value and cling onto those things that ‘they’ all want. [A contrasting perspective is that means you’re ‘taking up’ a job that someone else might actually want & be happy with, so as a conservation of resources dimension, quitting is a net happiness gain]. Although I had made some choices in my life that had led me to where I was, there were a lot more situations where I just went along with whatever the next easiest step was. I certainly wouldn’t say I was where I was because I planned to be there.

Three realizations are what got me moving. Like I said above, I really understood that I am going to die. Not (necessarily) imminently, but at a time most likely not of my knowing or choosing. Secondly, I realized didn’t need to be making as much money as I was. That based on my own situation, I have a lot of freedom to explore new alternatives and still be ok. And finally, I realized that I didn’t want the company I was working for to be successful. That I had enough concerns about its values and business practices, and the impact it was having on society, humanity, and the planet that I wasn’t rooting for it.

[The day you realize that you don’t want the company paying you to be successful is the day you think to yourself “If I keep accepting money from them, how is that different from stealing?” Or it was for me, anyway.]

So I quit.

I’ve spent the last 9 months working on changing my perspective and attitude towards this short life of mine. I have been trying new things, learning, discarding, keeping, adapting. Often I meditate. Sometimes I exercise. I meet new people. I reconnect with people I’ve lost touch with. I’m gradually learning what is good for me and what I need to avoid. Sometimes I make mistakes and do the things that make me feel angry or hopeless, but increasingly I’m recognizing when that happens and more importantly, I’m starting to react with a sense of humour and compassion towards myself when that happens. It’s not just an immediate descent into self-loathing and shame anymore. That change in myself is more than enough to pay for this past year of not working.

So today I am going to a meet-up to learn how to come up with a talk to give at conferences. I’m going to a friend’s place for a birthday dinner. I’m going to meditate and, weather co-operating, I’m going to go for two 45 minute walks. I’m also going to think about the last day my mom was alive and remember that I’m going to die and know that that’s ok. I have a lot of choice in how I live in the meantime.

Where’s Kara Been (So Far)?

I don’t travel as much as I’d like (given that I’d like to always be travelling) but I have done a decent amount of it. Bill & I sat down a few weekends ago and dug through our travel folders full of tickets, maps, journals, receipts, and non-digital photos to catalogue where we’ve been (so far).

I do plan to flesh out posts for each of these trips, with photos and stories (and hoo-boy, do some of them have stories!) but this list is a great start for me – it serves as an outline for what I need to write and backfill as well as reminding me of how lucky I am to have had these opportunities and acting as a ‘gratitude’ prompt.

Here’s a list of the places (other than regular trips to cities within Canada*) that I’ve been (mostly with Bill, a few without), since 1996.

Feb 2015 Cozumel, Mexico; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Apr 2014 Roatan, Honduras; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Nov 2013 Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Oct 2013 Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jun 2013 Kawartha Lakes, Ontario
May 2013 Placencia, Belize; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Feb 2013 Laguna Beach, California
Dec 2012 Laguna Beach, California
Feb 2012 Placencia, Belize; Ambergris Caye, Belize
Nov 2011 Papagayo, Costa Rica
Feb 2011 Turks & Caicos
Nov 2010 Varadero, Cuba
Feb-Mar 2010 Lembeh Strait, Indonesia; West Papua, Indonesia
Jan 2010 New York City, New York
Jul 2009 San Francisco, California
Jun 2009 Honolulu, Hawaii
Apr 2009 New York City, New York
Nov 2008 Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
Oct 2008 New York City, New York
Dec 2007 St. Lucia
Jul 2007 San Francisco, California
Mar 2007 Cozumel, Mexico
Sep 2006 Chicago, Illinois
Aug 2006 Washington, DC
Feb 2006 Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba
Nov 2005 Cozumel, Mexico
June 2005 New York City, New York
Feb 2005 Cayo Largo, Cuba
Jan-Mar 2004 Malaysia; Thailand; Burma
Apr 2003 Cozumel, Mexico
?? Missing data – will seek further. I’m sure there was a trip in here
Jan-Jul 1999 Indonesia; Malaysia Thailand; Singapore; Hong Kong
Feb 1997 Barbados

* I’ve done the North-American-centric thing of using states & provinces as the ‘qualifier’ in NA locations but countries in other ones (except Mexico). My apologies – I’m assuming that most of my readers will know that California is in the US and Ontario is in Canada, and it keeps the line lengths shorter.