Trying New Things, Changing Interests
It's interesting how new things sometimes sneak up on us. I'm 36 years old, which means I'm past my exploratory twenties. It fascinates me how I'll be perfectly content in one way of life and then suddenly find another.
My wife, Shannon, seems to follow the same path as well at times. About six months ago, she discovered yoga. Shannon has never been so fully engaged in any activity like this (other than reading, which she'll do all night). Now she goes to yoga about three to four times a week. At her encouragement, I tried yoga -- in our living room following a DVD, mostly because I wanted to do some stretching. I learned that yoga is much more than stretching. It involves difficult poses and movements -- more than I had the energy for.
Like Shannon and her discovery of yoga, I too have discovered new things. Since I started biking to work, I've gotten into cycling more. Last week I biked 97 miles. My commute is 11 miles each way, if I go the regular route. If there's a headwind, it takes about an hour. If there's a tailwind, it takes about 40 minutes. Winds are strong in Utah, so they aren't something to underestimate.
I've made quite a few additions to my bike since I first brought it home from my dad's house in Florida: new pedals and toe clips, a pump, pannier bags, and new tires. I've supplemented the gear with cycling clothes as well -- padded bike shorts, bike gloves, sports shirts and pants, wind breakers, and so on. I'm now on the lookout for a helmet mirror and a screaming yellow cycling jacket.
While searching for cycling tips, I came across a really interesting guy on the Internet: Durianrider. At first, I just thought he was just a cyclist, and I listened to his tips for riding, which include techniques like hydrating, using clipless pedals, sleeping longer at night, and so on. But it turns out Duranrider is much more than a cyclist. He's a major health activist and has more than 400 videos online, many of them very blunt, like this one.
Durianrider is a strong proponent of the raw, high-carb vegan diet, and so he eats something like 30 bananas a day (mostly in smoothies, I think). His philosophy is that you need to eat carbs to have energy. Despite the fact that other diets, such as the Paleo diet, dismiss carbs, Durianrider says you have to eat carbs to have energy to lead an active lifestyle. He says you must eat, but you must eat the right foods -- plants, fruits, and other real food. Anyway, I am more and more fascinated by the way diet affects life. Mentally I align with everything Durianrider says, but food is a lifestyle choice, and it's sometimes hard to change that lifestyle to change the food.
Biking to work has another side effect: audio books. I have about an hour and a half each day to listen to audio books, and I really enjoy listening to fiction. I just finished The Eye of the World, a fantasy book by Robert Jordan that has a cult following so much than JordanCon is a conference dedicated to his books.
After The Eye of the World, I needed a break from the fantasy genre, so I'm currently listening to State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. It's about a scientist who goes down to the Amazon to study a tribe of people where women bear children throughout their life (until they die in old age). The scientist who goes to study this tribe -- ultimately to create a fertility drug for post-menopausal women -- doesn't communicate her research for more than two years, so another employee is sent down to persuade her to return. That employee dies of a fever. Another employee is sent down, this one a former student of the scientist. When she tracks down the scientist in the Amazon, the scientist turns out to be nearly mythic in her dominating character -- and her research takes an interesting, ethical turn.
I enjoy fiction. It's the story element I like. I could probably make better use of my time by listening to recorded sessions from the previous STC Conference and similar conferences, but I would rather listen to a good story than be in learning mode while I'm commuting.
One effect of listening to fiction rather than industry-related podcasts is that I have fewer technical-writing-related posts. In fact, I fear that I have cooled off a bit with my blog. I seemed to have more energy to write about a year ago, and now it seems like a struggle to get more than two posts out in a week. I am still learning, always learning, but maybe I've fallen into a mode of knowing enough to get by. I've got a life outside of my work, and I'm content to not be so visible. I am still driven to write, but maybe I'm just getting older, and once I put the kids to bed, I'm ready to move into escape mode.
A couple of months ago, I went through a cooking phase. I've never been one to cook, but I started cooking about two meals a week. I made all kinds of soups -- split pea soup, celery soup, chili, ten-bean soup, and more. I learned to steam vegetables. I ate spinach every way it could be cooked and consumed. I once cooked tamales. It turns out that I kind of like to cook. And I like having some autonomy in the kitchen. One has to be allowed to make mistakes.
Although yesterday I made a variation of a three bean salad, and added the vinaigrette (whatever it's called) from memory, I sort of phased out of cooking. My wife is a much better cook, and she agreed that she would rather have me do handyman tasks (if I preferred that) instead of cooking. Well, I am not much of a handyman, but I did make a sandbox for the kids this weekend (with my wife's help). The kids absolutely love it.
I've wandered around in this post, but my point is this: interests change. Who knows what may strike me in a year. Maybe I'll suddenly take an interest in kite flying, or oil painting. I prefer to keep an open position about life. My blog sometimes reflects this variety. Recently I've been in a wiki phase. Previously I've been in WordPress phase. And in a podcasting phase. I also went through a fiction writing phase, and a family journal phase. (I am still in a grapefruit phase.)
How does one stay open to accept new experiences? How do you keep from cutting yourself off from new ideas? Does a constantly changing set of interests lead to a shallow character and amateur skill set? I'm not sure. All of the interests I've mentioned in this post -- biking, audio books, healthy eating, cooking, and so on just sort of emerged, without my seeking them out. Certainly we change. Sometimes it's subtle, and other times not so much.
Right now I'm watching soccer, the famous Ronaldo at Real Madrid. I'm not a soccer player, and I barely understand the rules. I would like to see them score more. But overall, I am intrigued by this sport, which is not so popular in the U.S. but wildly popular nearly everywhere else. Perhaps one day you will see me at a park practicing my goal shot.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.