liz writes stuff down
30Dec/16Off

20 things for 2017

I don't know how much I believe in New Year's resolutions, but I will happily use the buzz around them as inspiration to write down things I have started trying to do and things I recently decided I want to do. Given my philosophy that New Year's is a good excuse rather than motivation in and of itself, my list is likely to be updated throughout the year.

  1. Get up at 7 everyday. I'm nearly there. (I'd really rather it be 6:30, but I've often found that goal bad for getting enough sleep since I have many friends who prefer to do social things into the night.)
  2. Matt and I just bought an elliptical. My basement is incredibly convenient, so I'd like to use that in my soon-to-be reclaimed early mornings before work everyday.
  3. Become able to do the splits again. Maybe even oversplits like in middle school and high school.
  4. Sit down at the dining table for dinner when eating at home. Ideally I'd like to eat without being on my laptop. Fortunately, I think if I am on a laptop only occasionally, my brain will successfully form the habit around eating at the table without also forming one around eating while on my laptop.
  5. Drink more water. A year or so ago, I was on medication that caused me to be dehydrated more easily, and each day, I tallied how many pints of water I drank until I reached five pints. Coffee and tea could count towards only one pint. I hit that goal around the time I'd leave work and drank an amount of liquid without thinking after work that physically felt good. I also have suspicions that increased water consumption correlates to increased happiness for me.
  6. Don't buy coffee out unless it's for social or networking reasons. I don't do this a lot (haven't in a couple months, I think), but when I do, I always end up really unhappy with myself since I enjoy the process of making coffee and am lucky to not really need the caffeine to operate normally.
  7. Take photos of everything I buy that isn't a necessity. I'm not sure what exactly counts as a necessity yet! TBD, but so far, I think that there's no need to take photos of groceries and usual staple toiletries (helps that my routine conveniently isn't spendy), but photos will be required for things like takeout, meals out, and splurgy fancy soap. Replacing "bigger", longer-term-use household things like bath towels should be photographed, even if they're basically necessities, so that I can get a better feel for whether or not I'm properly balancing quality and price. I imagine what does and does not need to be photographed will make more sense as the year progresses. I don't think this will turn into a forever project, but I should stick to it for a whole year for the data mining.
  8. Do my various general finances maintenance more frequently. I basically have a good system, but I'd like to be doing the full set of things in that system once a month instead of when I happen to remember to.
  9. Try not to feel bad saying "no" to things. I don't know if I can hold myself accountable to this goal without spiraling downward if I spend lots of time reflecting on how well I'm doing. Maybe writing in a little (private) journal when I do say no and following up with notes about how it turned out okay would be reasonable?
  10. Put everything in the house away. Preferably this would have been done yesterday, but over all of 2017 is probably a goal that won't stress me out. Step one will be to figure out how to do this in increments that I can calendar well instead of freaking out that I will never have big enough blocks of time to make enough progress - and then punting because of that.
  11. Figure out a sustainable, meaningful way to engage with our government and do it. We are heading into dark times, and I am more privileged than most and need to leverage that to help those with less privilege. I already bother my representatives a bunch over the phone and email, but would like to spend more time crafting what I say to be concise and more effective. Living in New York City means my representatives generally agree with my views though, so probably some of the time I call to thank them can be better spent elsewhere. Unfortunately, protests, something I think I'd find rewarding as well as useful, are really risky for me. (A slight aside: Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark is a comforting read right now.)
  12. Do the post-it goal planning Rachel Binx discussed in her XOXO talk.
  13. Practice singing at least three hours a week, preferably 30 minutes every day I don't have a lesson. Obviously this doesn't apply when I'm sick.
  14. Reformat the outline of that novel I want to write into a collection of shorter stories because this seems to be just as reasonable a way to say what I want to say. It's almost certainly more achievable to fit in with my unrelated full time job.
  15. Set up the LED lights for the digital piano already. The materials for this were birthday gifts all the way back in 2014.
  16. Tuesdays will be scheduled as project nights, for writing, drawing, composing, experimenting in the kitchen, or that LED piano situation I keep putting off. Routines are the sorts of things that give me the energy for optional things, which are often the things in my control that bring me the most joy. Don't schedule other things unless it's completely unavoidable, and definitely don't do that more than once a month. I've poked through my calendar for 2017, and I have only two things on Tuesdays! One is a book talk, and the other is traveling back from a wedding. This seems totally doable!
  17. Leave one weeknight a week unscheduled for friend emergencies. ("Emergencies" is definitely the wrong word, but I haven't been able to think of the right one today. Emergencies undoubtedly fall into the set of things I'd use this for, but probably I would drop other things, too.) Maybe can be used for friends who don't plan at least a week out like I do. Likely this will mostly be Mondays, but it doesn't need to be on the same day every week like scheduled project night. Maybe I will aim for Mondays because I have only two Mondays with things scheduled: D&D this Monday and a wedding in July. Downside is that if I want to use this for friends who don't plan in advance, Monday is a bad day because people I know don't seem to be geared up to do same day things then, which is even worse for the original goal of wanting to have time for friends in need. Hmm. Also, the failure mode of this is more time at home, which is always excellent.
  18. Finally finish the lizdenys.com overhaul: switch the blogs to a static site generator that also contains the rest of my site. Draw that line drawing self-portrait for the front page.
  19. Blog at least twice a month, preferably every week. I have so many things I've written the first draft for, but haven't polished or haven't uploaded because they're not in a great format out of the box (like my zine about riding the subway with anxiety and PTSD). Maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself for not getting to that in the past couple months given my travel schedule and how much time I've spent sick, but twice a month should be a sustainable default.
  20. Hold myself accountable on these things. I think I'm going to start by making a chart to mark off some metric of progress for the bigger things, but instead of having a cell for every week, I'll have it be 52 cells wide and the top row will be for surviving that week. In theory, this will be enough to track progress, and choosing not to link specific milestones directly to specific weeks will allow me to look at it without get immediately stressed out by getting "behind" for not doing something for every category each week. I also want to summarize my progress in (monthly?) blog posts. Unclear if those would always count towards the goal to blog twice a month, especially if it's just progress without introspection. The ideal accountability post probably would count because I'd like to focus in how a couple changes have affected me in these posts. Also, posting vague posts is something I've wanted to get more comfortable with for a while, and this type of vague posting even comes with the additional tangible benefits of being held accountable!

Thanks to the fabulous Jeanna Kadlec for starting the Facebook thread that inspired this post earlier today!

16Sep/151

The “doing good” framework: a manifesto against saying “good people” and “bad people”

I remember the first time I reflected on "doing good": I was watching the final scene of a sitcom I grew up with, Boy Meets World. The main characters, who've now come of age, speak with the teacher that has been with them through every phase of their educations and lives:

Mr. Feeny: Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.
Topanga: Don't you mean "do well"?
Mr. Feeny: No, I mean "do good".

It's the kind of scene that sticks with you after years of investment in a show. I cried. (And I cried again when I rewatched the scene to write about it.)

A few lines later, Eric tells Mr. Feeny how because of him, he's going to be a "good person who cares about people". At the time, this felt like the pinnacle of personal goals. And in a way, it still is.

But when Eric says he wants to be a "good person who cares about people", I think he actually means he wants to be a person who cares for people by doing good. When Mr. Feeny says "do good", he's referring to caring about people as an action, not an idea. This distinction is important because there are many fallacies in framing people as "good people" and "bad people".

When we call someone a "good person", we tend to idolize them. The overly simplistic model of the "good person" only allows them to do good things, so when they inevitably do harm - we all make mistakes - we either need to categorize them as a "bad person" or to ignore their harmful actions so they can remain a "good person". Since we usually don't want them to turn into an unredeemable "bad person", we often give their harmful actions a free pass. It's important that they are able to address those actions, but the "good person" framework does not give them that space to do so. We need a framework that encourages owning up to their mistakes as a way to do good, especially when they try to repair the harm they caused and also do better in future related situations. Also, when we aren't able to give constructive criticism because it is automatically considered an attack on someone's character, society doesn't have the room to address harmful incidents to improve.

Additionally, deeming someone a "bad person" partially relieves them of responsibility for their actions because their "bad" nature means the only thing they can do is harm. When evaluating someone who repeatedly does harm within a framework centered on actions, we have the space to talk with that person about their harmful actions and how they can repair their negative effects. A framework centered on actions also more readily allows good actions to influence how we view them - if we see someone make changes to do good, we know we can expect them to do good and improve, instead of writing them off as a bad person.

We need a different way to frame people. Enter the "doing good" framework.

The "doing good" framework involves praising people for their actions instead of for their supposed nature as a "good person".

The "doing good" framework holds people accountable for their actions; "good intentions" don't count in this system. Having good intentions doesn't absolve someone of the harm they've done, but people who truly have good intentions are the people who admit they did harm and work to repair the harmful results of their actions. They also learn from their mistakes to align future actions with their good intentions.

The "doing good" framework allows for reform. Someone doing good who mistakenly does harm will not automatically be deemed terrible forever, and someone doing harm has the ability to start doing good and to be recognized for those good actions.

The "doing good" framework can account for circumstance because it doesn't operate in absolutes. If someone cannot do good in a particular situation, there are no actions, good or harmful, that contribute to that person’s status under the "doing good" framework. While it is very important to evaluate if acting threatens your safety, people are usually able to do good in more places than they think they can, and inaction can be harmful.

The "doing good" framework allows for society to more carefully reflect on which behaviors it should and should not tolerate. Looking at someone's actions instead of focusing on some concept of character allows us to closely examine how harmful actions negatively affect us. We can then improve by mitigating those effects and working to prevent that harm in the future.

The "doing good" framework does not erase an individual's complicity in systemic problems like racism and sexism. Recognizing an individual's contribution to fighting racism, sexism, etc. encourages others to help eliminate those injustices, and calling out someone's behavior that perpetuates inequality encourages us to take helpful actions instead of harmful ones. However, everyone lives within our racist system, our sexist system, our classist system, etc. and the "doing good" framework still allows us to talk about how some of us benefit from that system and how we can do our part to stop perpetuating them without having to label anyone who benefits as a "bad person".

The benefits of the "doing good" framework have a lot of potential to improve our discourse and our society, and I'm excited to live in a world where those improvements will help us not just "do well" at being good people and instead "do good".

Thanks to Dan Kaminsky for the discussion that inspired this post and to Geoffrey Thomas and Jacky Chang for reading my drafts.