Don’t Let It Define You

Bad things will happen to you.

They happen to everyone.

Terrible things, even. Senseless tragedies that you will never understand. I know this from experience.

But when something like this happens to you, don’t let it define you.

Don’t let it become an excuse for not improving yourself or for not giving something back to the world. An excuse for being a taker, and not a giver, when it comes to how you engage people around you.

Learn from your your tragedy. Talk about it. Embrace it, even. But put it in context, and let it become a part of YOU without you becoming a part of IT.

You may never understand why it happened, but it’s YOUR CHOICE whether those unanswered questions upend your every plan and steal your life’s potential or become a catalyst for bold, powerful action.

As Jordan Peterson says, “Be the person people rely on at your father’s funeral.”

This isn’t easy to do, but it’s important to never stop trying.

Remember: You are bigger than anything that happens to you.

How I Customized Twenty Nineteen Theme

I’ve updated my blog theme.

I’d been using Konstantin Kovshenin’s Publish for a few years. I like the minimalist design and distraction-free reading.

But the theme is retired by WordPress now, and I don’t fully understand what that means in regard to Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0—whether the theme would still update appropriately. And apart from that, Publish is definitely not optimized for blocks, and I’m learning to love blocks.

So after doing some research, I decided to switch to Twenty Nineteen, which is brand new and optimized for WordPress 5.0 and the new block interface. It’s another minimalist design, but more reader-friendly, I think. And it’s really designed for longer-form content, which is something I think blogs need these days. Twitter and social media, generally, has really removed the need to post quick quotes or single-paragraph post to personal blogs. But then what’s a blog for? I think longer-form, “anchor” content from which your social media posts should emanate—that should form the foundation of whatever story your telling across your online profiles.

But I’m not a fan of some of the theme’s out-of-the-box features. White space is good, but not that much white space. Narrow columns are nice for reading, but not for informational, multi-column pages.

That said, here are some CSS customizations I made to my site—ones I think other users might be looking for, given the comments and questions I’ve seen on WordPress forums about this theme. I’m sharing here because I haven’t found many answers, or other resources, on customizing this theme.

Moving the Cover Image Up

First, I reduced the padding on the bottom of the site header. The stock theme just has too much white space between the header and the content—on a smaller screen (like my Dell XPS13), it’s too much scrolling. I think the theme’s creators agree, too, as they both did the same thing on their blogs.

Here’s the code to reduce the site header bottom padding:

.site-header {
padding-bottom: 0;
}

Increasing Page Width

As I mentioned above, the narrower columns in this theme are nice for reading. But they aren’t ideal for informational pages that include more than one column. I like multi-column pages, so I needed to increase the width of pages (not blog posts).

Here’s the code to do that:

body.page .entry .entry-content > *,
.entry .entry-summary > * {
max-width: none;
}

Removing Those Annoying Lines

Twenty Nineteen is a truly minimalist theme, but for whatever reason, the authors added these small divider lines above every blog post title and page title (see above Welcome in the screenshot to the right). I’m not sure why, as the huge, bold headers are more than sufficient to provide natural, intuitive-looking breaks in the content.

Here’s the code to remove those lines across all of your page titles and blog post titles (but not from the bottom of posts/above the author name, where I think the lines serve a bit more of a purpose):

.entry .entry-title:before {display:none;}

Changing the Font (i.e. what I couldn’t do)

I don’t like the theme’s font. It’s too serif. I want something a little more blocky. Like Minion or Georgia.

I tried to do this with the built-in theme customizer options, but the problem is that lots of this theme’s elements don’t answer to those commands. For example, none of my bulleted list were updating along with the paragraph text. Nor does (as expected) the site sub-title (which I’m not using now, but may want to use in the future). I suppose I can edit each individual block to match whatever font I choose, but that’s a pain.

Any thoughts on how to do this?

Uber-for-X: A different kind of “disruptive?”

A thought-provoking piece in The Atlantic.

Now, you can do stuff that you could already do before, but you can do it with your phone. What it takes to make that work is incredible—venture capitalists have poured $672 million combined into Wag and Rover!—but the consumer impact is small. Instead of taking a number off a bulletin board in a coffee shop and calling Eric to walk Rufus, you hit a few buttons on your phone and Eric comes over. Very successful companies, the Ubers and Lyfts, do begin to shift urban systems—but only once they’ve been operating for long enough. Even figuring whether ride-hailing is taking cars off or adding them to the road is complicated.

It’s not hard to look around the world and see all those zeroes of capital going into dog-walking companies and wonder: Is this really the best and highest use of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem? In the ten years since Uber launched, the phones haven’t changed all that much. The world’s most dominant social network became Facebook in 2009, and in 2019, it is still Facebook. The phones look the same. Google is still Google, even if it is called Alphabet.

Alexis C. Madrigal

But does this characterization sell Uber-for-X services short? The it’s-nothing-new-just-now-on-your-phone angle?

I’m not convinced it does. I’ve used lots of Uber-for-X services just a few times—ones that are designed, really, to replace activities that I’m used to doing. Grubhub, for example. I used it once. I have an account. But I don’t use it several times a week when I probably could. I guess the value added is just too small relative to the hassle (which, I guess, means it doesn’t add value, on net). That hassle being like—30 seconds of button-pressing on my phone? That’s a very small value-added, indeed.

Another issue with these apps is the following (and I mention this a lot):

There’s only so much room on your phone. Apps like Grubhub and even Uber/Lyft can be quite useful, but not for most people most of the time. Airbnb is a great example—I’ve used it, and I downloaded the app. But after a few months of not using, I deleted it. It was just clutter.

I’m guessing most Airbnb users are like me. They use it, and they like it. But they don’t use it that often, because they don’t travel that often. Every few months, maybe.

So what about services (like Grubhub) you might use once or twice a month? Is that often enough to use up space on your phone? And if it’s not, are you going to remember that the service exists next time you order takeout?

Maybe you’ll remember if you reeeeally hate walking/driving 10 minutes to pick up your food. And then, of course, the restaurant (or, generally, product) you chose needs to be integrated with that app. And I don’t think most people like restricting themselves to just one app’s options when picking their food, or most other products (but especially food).

(This doesn’t necessarily have to be about actual hard drive space. I think many people just don’t like their screens cluttered with a bunch of apps they rarely use.)

You get my point.

The question, then: How much has Uber-for-X changed things, fundamentally?

Diminishing “intellectual specialization”

Here’s a quote from this article at The Chronicle Review. I recommend the entire piece. Consider how the ideas here apply outside the world of higher education (they apply everywhere).

As the economist Peter G. Sassone observed in the early 1990s, personal computers made administrative tasks just easy enough to eliminate the need for dedicated support staff — you could now type your own memos using a word processor or file expenses directly through an intranet portal. In the short term, these changes seemed to save money. But as Sassone documents, shifting administrative tasks to high-skilled employees led to a decrease in their productivity, which reduced revenue — creating losses that often surpassed the amount of money saved by cuts to support staff. He describes this effect as a diminishment of “intellectual specialization,” and it’s a dynamic that’s not spared higher education, where professors spend an increasing amount of time dealing with the administrative substrate of their institutions through electronic interfaces. 

We must also acknowledge that the real costs of administrative work are currently hidden in ways that don’t immediately show up on a [company’s] balance sheet. Distracted and interrupted [employees] produce less … and spend less time innovating [in the workplace]. That reality doesn’t directly impact revenue and is hard to measure as a concrete cost and therefore easy to ignore. 

Grief is tough because death is confusing

I used to like watching movies about kids whose moms died.

That’s odd, maybe, but it’s true. My mom died when I was eight. I liked seeing how kids in movies reacted — how they might be like me.

They never were like me.

That’s because movies make death clean. Typically, the whole ordeal appears appropriately sad and involves lots of crying, like in real life. But screenwriters always make clear what’s going on and how it’s affecting everyone involved. When a kid’s not taking it well, for example, that’s made obvious — little Billy doesn’t talk for months after his mom dies, sister Sally literally runs away, big brother might even turn to drugs (so cliché).

But grief isn’t like that. It’s confusing.

When someone you love dies, there’s no telling how it might affect you, and no telling just sad or confused you might be. And if you don’t take it well, no one around you will know what’s going on inside you. They’ll worry about you, be confused about you, maybe even get frustrated with you.

If these things weren’t true, grief wouldn’t be so hard.

When someone you love dies, you might even do weird things.

I can remember trying to smile just a few seconds after my dad told me my mom died. It wasn’t hard. I felt terrible about smiling, but I did it — just for a second, and not where anyone could see me. It was easy. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. It didn’t last long because I almost immediately felt guilty for having the energy to smile after hearing that my mom was dead. I was only eight. For some reason I just had the urge to do it.

I think it was so easy to smile because most of the sadness had already come and gone. Death can be awkwardly slow — especially when brought about by a drawn-out terminal illness. I knew my mom was dying for six months. She told me herself one day at the kitchen table. I cried then. In fact, I cried more in that moment than I did when she actually died. She was barely conscious for the last two months of her life. I remember playing her favorite song on the piano a few rooms down from her hospice and running back in to see that she had slept through it all. She was so drugged up and so skinny and so, so pale. Yellowish, really — the color of the latex gloves her nurses sometimes used when they gave her shots.

So by the time she died, I think I’d cried most of my tears. Maybe I was relieved. It was hard, you can imagine, going through second grade knowing that your mom was going to die near the end of the year. But I honestly believed (and still do) that she’s “in a better place.” Isn’t that worth smiling about?

I digress a little. What I’m trying to say is that death is not clean. If it were, it wouldn’t be so hard. If we knew what was happening, why it was happening, and what it really meant, we’d handle it a lot better. It wouldn’t be so devastating.

In other words, death and grief aren’t awful because we, and those around us, know how awful it is. It’s awful because the whole thing is almost always an ugly, awkward, terrifying mess.

Something else confusing is what to do afterwards. A death happens, but that’s not the end. In some ways, it’s a beginning.

When my mom died, I remember thinking: Should I talk to Grandma and Grandpa anymore? Should I put away the little pictures of mom hanging in my room? When should I go back to school? Tomorrow? Next week? Never? How can I think about her without crying? Would it be wrong not to? Should I just quit playing piano (she was my teacher)? Should I tell everyone who talks to me assuming I have a living mother that my mom is, in fact, dead? No way! That’s the last thing I wanted to do. But then what happens when they find out months later and feel embarrassed and terrible and get overly-apologetic with me and, God-forbid, start ugly-crying in my face?

You see what I mean? It’s confusing. Death is confusing. It’s awful. And grief is unscripted.

I learned that last line in a “grief group” in college. I was depressed and hadn’t really gotten over her death even by then, so I sought counsel with peers who’d also lost a parent (or both). All of them had lost a parent within the past three years. I lost mine 12 years before. My problems were different. Was I welcome there? I didn’t ask questions. Grief group helped, though.

Death is confusing. Grief is unscripted. Read that over and over again. Let it soak in — especially if you’re facing the impending loss of a loved one to some terrible disease, or if your own death is coming up (though I don’t know much about that). Or if you know anyone who might die one day.

Maybe I’ll look back on these comments and regret ever saying them, but I figure it’s better to say something that might help than to say nothing at all. Death is more than just confusing, but it’s definitely nothing less. This is just a good starting point. God knows there’s lots more to say.

Three thoughts on Creation

I believe there is a God and that He created the universe, but that’s about all I’ll say on the matter. I won’t defend the idea that the universe was created in a certain span of time (i.e. six literal days) because I’m not even sure what that means. What’s a “literal” day in the context of nothingness? What’s a “day” if you’re not on earth?

The Big Bang and story of evolution seem compatible, to me, with the existence of God. In fact, the entire framework parallels much of what Scripture teaches about the order of Creation—first light, then matter, then simple life, then complex life.

I’m not convinced Adam and Even were two actual, unique human beings who existed in time and space. To me, the story seems more allegorical than literal. It seems to be about self-consciousness, generally. I’ve heard the Hebrew words used in the Genesis account imply, more or less, that both the “days” of Creation are literal days and that Adam and Even were actual, unique persons. But is it not possible that this was (and is) the only way to communicate what is actually an unfathomably complex story?

An exhortation

It’s so important to listen to those who love you.

Especially when you think they just don’t understand how you feel.

I know this can be the hardest time to listen—when you’re 100% convinced that no one “gets” you. When you’re absolutely sure that no advice or counsel anyone is giving you will help.

But when you’re feeling this way, you’re in a downward spiral. A bad loop. And almost every time, the only thing that will get you out is somebody else.

That can’t happen if you won’t listen.

The older I get, the more I believe the the pinnacle of maturity is the ability to believe others, even with everything inside of you tells you the opposite.

Being able to recognize, in other words, when what you’re feeling inside—no matter how strong—just isn’t a healthy response to what’s going on around you.

Riva-ligion

I think one of the reasons why PC culture took off so vehemently is because it’s unbelievably horrifying for most people to accept that they are nothing more than an imperfect mound of animal flesh full of biases and prejudices.

I think this can only happen in predominantly atheist places, because there, no God loves you to absolve you from your fleshy pathos and offer you a promise of some form of forthcoming eternal perfection.

Perhaps religion was pragmatically necessary. Otherwise, you’re expecting people to come to terms with having the same fate as a biodegradable shopping bag, and spirituality is more unhealthy.

(That’s from Riva.)

You can only control the process

I copied this from this webpage.


Sports is inherently complex.

There are many variables that affect the outcome of the game. Most of these variables are not within the control of players or the coach. There are too many plays, statistics and countermoves for a person to remember them all. To try and control all of them would be sheer madness.

But after speaking with psychiatry professor Lionel Rosen, Nick Saban realised that the average play in football lasts just seven seconds.

It’s impossible to read and execute every play to perfection for the entire game. But seven seconds? Anyone can do that. Execute, rest, repeat and you eventually have a game.

Excellence is a matter of steps. Excelling at the first thing, then the second, and then the next. The process is about staying in the present and laying siege to the obstacle in front of you. It’s about not getting distracted by anything else that comes your way.

Saban’s teams have done that — and then some. They started by winning games. Now, they are winning championships.

My 2019 Goals

I wish I was better.

A better dad. A better husband. Better at praying and seeking God. A better worker, eater, reader, friend. Better helping around the house and sticking to our family budget. Better at listening and empathizing. Better at keeping my word.

I want to be a better version of myself. I think we all do, whether we admit it or not. It’s part of what makes us human.

But where does this feeling come from?

I think we know, deep down, that we’re capable of a little bit more. That we’re not leaving it all on the court, so to speak. That what we have to show for ourselves at the end of each day doesn’t tell the whole story about the passions and ambitions inside of us.

The problem is, we lack those last drops of self-discipline—that evasive “last-mile” effort needed to make any real progress. We start exercising, but give up. We eat better, but only for a few days. We reach out to friends, but quit when things get complicated.

That’s me. I’m notoriously bad at goals and New Year’s Resolutions. I didn’t make any in 2018 because I knew I’d fail.

But I’m done with that. I’m capable of so much more than my 2018. So this year, I’m starting from ground zero. I’m making 2019 about the fundamentals, because I’m still bad at those.

I have three goals for Q1 2019. Come April, I’ll evaluate my progress and decide what to do for Q2.

  1. Jog for 30 minutes every weekday.
  2. Read one book per month.
  3. Get lunch with a friend once per week.

This post is my way of keeping myself accountable. I also want to challenge others to do this with me—DM me on Twitter if you’re interested.