Work journal

2020-03-26 log: Unsolicited help

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Today I sit down to write with a distaste for anything quarantine or virus related. I’m reminded of Bocaccio’s Decameron in which a group of people take refuge from the plague in a countryside palace, and to pass time they indulge in story telling. None of the stories mention a thing about the plague, the point is escaping from it (in the body and in the mind).

Once you have accepted your fate, there is no point in wrestling the calamity anymore. It is best to put it in the background. This makes people nervous and they will tell you it’s a mistake, but when you boil down their argument it is reduced to an ego driven I-need-to-save-the-world complex. Since we feel useless we feel anxious, and to combat the anxiousness we seek for ways to help, but this rarely turns out as expected.

You have surely been in a rush expecting guests. The first guest arrives and asks “How do I help?” and you lose your concentration to assign a task, “can you chop some carrots?”, “of course, where’s the knife?”, you motion towards the drawer. “Oh, do you have a chopping board?”, and so on. The guest feels useful but it would have been more efficient to do it yourself.

When you remove the ego help becomes effortless. The guest might be sipping on a glass of wine while you are chopping the carrots. You cut yourself and the guest springs forward with a napkin to contain the bleed. There is no “I want to feel helpful” behind the action.

It was done because it was necessary.

Work journal

2020-03-25 quarantine log: Mom's visit

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday, four days into confinement I received my first visitor, my mother. You don’t have water, she noted. Oh it’s fine, it’s on purpose. She eyed at me suspiciously. Then she begun informing me about the latest news on the virus and family gossip. I had to stop her because this barrage of information was jarring after my four days of silence.

Later in the day she slipped out without me noticing and came back hours later in a taxi, carrying groceries and six liters of water.

—“Mom, thank you so much, but you’re disrupting my project”.
—“What do you mean, what’s your project darling?”
—“It’s difficult to explain, imagine that things were truly bad and we had to be entirely self-reliant, I want a taste of that”.
—“So you’re preparing for the worst? It’s not that bad”.
—“No, I don’t think things will get bad, but it’s surely useful to camp in remote places and it’s a spiritual exercise of sorts.

Mother was surprisingly unsurprised. We agreed that, for the duration of my quarantine, she would visit one day per week, and that I would need to make some exceptions in order to fullfil social obligations. Fair enough.

I don’t know where this leads, but the last few days have felt like a camino of sorts: I do physical labour all day long, I only check my phone twice a day, I eat copious amounts of food, and I lead a simple, secluded life. Mother’s visit served as a checkpoint of sorts, bringing a whiff of the external world. It seems the external world doesn’t need me, and I don’t need it either.

Let us continue exploring within.

Work journal

2020-03-24 log: Noon

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

As I passed the dining room I saw the shadows perfectly perpendicular to the ground, what time is it? I thought. It was 11:58, oh, the spring equinox just passed!.

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Our knowledge of the world may be heliocentric, but our perception is not even geocentric, it’s egocentric. I do not experience myself as a conscious being standing on a sphere that spins around a ball of fire, I experience a ball of fire that climbs from my horizon to the top of my head and then descends to the other side from where it came out.

Draw an imaginary L with your finger on your forehead for someone else to read. Is the lower bar pointing right, or is it pointing left? Now think, when you were in school and signaled to a classmate that they were a loser forming an L with your fingers, which hand would you use? Such is the difficulty getting past our self-centeredness.

Work journal

2020-03-23 Quarantine log: experiments

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday I dedicated the entire day to the land behind the house. I picked up all the dead branches and pull out noxious weeds. It almost looks like a garden now.

Experiment: take a picture at morning, noon and afternoon to figure out which parts receive most and least sunlight.

Landscape

In natural gardening one must remove plants that got a bad hand in the sunlight lottery, they lead pitiful lives. Best to reposition or compost them.

Experiment: can Taro grow without soil?

Taro plant

Experiment: identify where the sun comes out and comes down, and see how it changes over time

Sun dial

Experiment: Pull down a long creeping plant and encircle an area with it, wait until the rainy season

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Experiment: Thread live creeping plants among naturally bent bamboos for a tunnel in the rainy season.

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Experiment: What would be the best way to fast a long wild grapevine for access to its fruit? (I was so excited at this fortuitous discovery).

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Experiment: How do I prepare a spanish tortilla with the least amount of olive oil possible? (because we’re in quarantine and we need to ration supplies. Not because we are cheap or becauase we mind the calories, of course!)

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Failure noted, but I’m almost there.

Work journal

2020-03-22 quarantine log: Water

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday was the first day I’ve spent in confinement since coming back to Mexico four months ago. I enjoyed it, but I also see it will get old quickly. Some petty challenges have already reared their head: I ran out of drinking water and had to boil some for drinking, at least until the truck comes to deliver the 20L jugs we call garrafones.

The reader may be appalled at my lack of foresight, but Mexico’s untreated tap water is not noxious, yet it is taboo to drink it. The taboo comes, I suspect, from former times in which sanitary conditions were worse than now.

These days, tap water often is mineral-laden and not the best choice for everyday consumption (it would cause kidney stones), but the upside is that this kind of water comes from deep aquifers and not superficial sources. It may become contaminated in the transportation from the well to the household (often due to leakage sewage infrastructure) so it would be sensible to test your water, but drinking a glass out of a random house would be above 99% safe.

Yet, since we are so stringent with the quality of the water we drink, we neglect the water storage tanks in our households. It’s fine if the tank has a bit of dirt and gunk if you’re using it for showers, dishes, toilets and so on, as long as the deposits are not stirred.

Months ago, when I arrived to this house I took a peek inside the water tank on the rooftop, and it was evident my tap water was not drinkable. It is almost certain that people are pilling up on water and the reason why the truck didn’t show up yesterday at my cul-de-sac street was because it sold out early.

The next delivery is in four days. I have three options:

  1. Break my quarantine, go buy water.
  2. Boil water for drinking.
  3. Clean my infrastructure and drink tap water.

The habitual reader of the log knows that #1 is not an option, not because of quarantine commitments, but because I do not carry water as a sort of… both a game and spiritual commitment. Thirst is a great motivator, so allow us to stop doing #2 in order to make #3 effortless.

Work journal

2020-03-21 quarantine log: prelude

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Everything has become eerie and there is tension in the air. Merchants at the market wore gloomy and long faces, because people have stopped buying perishable supplies. Around half of the usual stands were open. Almost all butchers were missing, I got meat from the sole one left and the hygiene was appalling. I guess that’s why he still had meat, I’ll just cook it throughly.

The man who sell chicken was particularly combative about the situation, “they’re telling us that we should close! What are people going to eat! we can’t close!”, complained as he packed the chicken breasts. “Even if there’s a government decree, we will continue selling. We can’t afford take even one day off”. I inferred that a sizable amount of his capital was the inventory he sells, and he couldn’t afford to let it spoil.

It seems this new reality extends like a slow moving tsunami and us on the opposite side of the epicenter are the last to receive it. We are lucky to have that amount of foresight. In Mexico, it is not clear yet if closing schools and this voluntary confinement has worked so far. I sure hope so. Even if the measure works, the precautions and the scare will delay the return to normality, and we will have to learn to learn to live in confinement.

Half of people seem to think it’s an exaggerated response, the other half seems to think we are not doing enough. I think it’s just right: if we meet the outbreak with the same measures that were applied in Europe we will suffer the same fate, but at the same time the situation does not merit a lockdown.

In the morning imagination took me to fanciful scenarios: what if I quarantined myself during forty days? I’d need to stockpile on food and hole myself up. I wouldn’t want it to be very strict, I’d just not invite anyone over and not leave the house. I’d need to change my diet substantially (I normally rely on perishables) and…

The reality of the market made me notice this is not a time to engage in escapism. There are too many unknowns to commit to a game of strict self-confinement. But the opposite approach (committing to a somber war-like confinement) is not merited either. Something in between is taking form, it lacks the playfulness of a game, but it has romantic notions which are playful. It has not the gloom of war, but it will not be free of suffering.

Let’s see how this goes.

Work journal

2020-03-18 log: time to stay home

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday yoga was cancelled until further notice. Today it was the gym. Though not a law, all businesses are encouraged to close their doors. Those who can afford it do, but this is Mexico and there’s plenty of people hustling their living on the streets and in the markets. Many people live by the day, and not working can be disastrous. A stark reminder to support with whatever meager means I have myself.

On the weekend I had a meeting with René, he presented a vision for blank.page which I hadn’t considered at all, and I accepted cautiously, because I like to perceive by experience if the premise is valid. Though many perspectives were presented by René, the one that I think merited verification by experience was Writing about your quarantine is therapeutic.

The first time I wrote about the virus it felt therapeutic. But then, as I was seeing my routine being disrupted, I would complain to my blank page and then notice how much of a complainer I had become. Like an echo that amplifies, writing about an experience will make the experience more vivid, and I found myself more neurotic than if I hadn’t written at all.

For two days I was not sure the premise was correct. I wrote but didn’t publish because they were mere ramblings unworth of reading. I wrote on my notebook and it felt quite nice, yet it is spiritually more instructive to publish than to feel comfortable registering experience.

Today I finally felt the inspiration to publish again, because I understood that the premise is not that it is therapeutic to write about the quarantine, the premise is that it can be, and the process to get there is obtained through experience. I have already discovered that complaining to myself is not a useful release, and that is valuable information.

The quarantine in Mexico is not strict, restaurants, cafés, stores and bars are still open, though judging by the amount of patrons they will close voluntarily soon. Without yoga and the gym nearby, and unreliable venues to work around the city, it is best to accept one’s fate, stop complaining, and accept the reality that it is best to remain home.

Work journal

2020-03-14 log washing hands

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday I committed to washing my hands upon arriving to a new place, more as a spiritual exercise in the task of discovering how to perform unconcerned action. In the morning I couldn’t make it yoga, so I went to the gym instead. I begun my workout when I noticed they had put up posters indicating precautions to take because of the virus: say hello by waving, don’t come if you’re feeling sick, wash your hands…

I was supposed to wash my hands on arrival! “Well, it’s useless now, if I carried the virus in my hands I would have already spread it.” I thought. I continued my workout, but soon I felt bothered by my own lazy attitude, and I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. It’s only been a day, but I can already tell the habit will set in.

When I came back home I scrubbed my hands throughly7, not because of concern, but the fact that I had to wash my hands deliberately and not on autopilot made me notice the filth under my fingernails. I’ve been working the garden and if you don’t do your washing consciously, filth remains stuck. “How in the world Juanito manages to take care of two parks and at least one kilometer of tree lined sidewalks, all while wearing a tucked in white dress shirt and a sombrero”. He’s always impeccable, surely he made a deal with the devil.

As I was writing I received a message from my cousin. She asks where is my aunt, who is visiting from Canada and staying at my home. —Oh, they went to visit Tere. “Who did she go with?”, my cousin asked. She is extremely fond of my aunt, and my mother has had contact with someone who works in a place where someone who is asymptomatic turned out to have the virus, so she doesn’t want my aunt to see my mother. I feel it’s an overreaction, but she looks for the best interest of her four children. However, controlling other people is not within your reach.

You can isolate yourself, if you are well trained you can isolate your household, but how will you isolate that which is beyond your reach? You can plead and beg and get angry, but that will only incentivize that people avoid telling you that they’ve seen other people. A car just arrived. It must be my aunt. I will leave it at this for today.

Work journal

2020-03-13 log: Unconcerned action

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

This collective neurosis has reached unfathomable proportions. I do not read news, I have ten people on my Twitter timeline, I don’t check on social media, and yet in my immediate surroundings conversations about it are overheard everywhere: in yoga, in the market, in the family, in my thoughts.

Is there anything I can do about it? I’ve already informed myself enough as to know what precautions to take. Apocalyptic scenarios are the product of fantastic imaginations, it is unnecessary to over prepare.

Is everyone well informed? No, especially those who think they are most informed. Can I do anything about it? I could spread what I consider “true” information, but who am I to spread “truth” about the virus? Whatever I say about it will be repeating a fact or an opinion from another another source with higher authority. The days when I had the patience to make higher authority information more understandable to myself and to others are over. I’m sure somebody has already nailed a great infographic, and hopefully it’s all over the web.

The thing with information is that most of us consume it in undigestible quantities. A great, “true” infographic might go viral, but then the facts and the data are retained in the memory for a couple of minutes, at most. The reader then clicks on Buzzfeed’s 10 ways to spend your days at home in pandemia and at the end of the day recalls nothing of the “true” information, despite feeling well informed.

What I find most lacking is common sense, even in myself. People either wave the virus away (I was one), or give in to exaggerated reactions based on fear. It is OK not to be concerned. It is not OK to pretend nothing is happening. It is OK to be concerned. It is not OK to spread misinformed fear.

How does one change habits and actions without fear? If I want to wash my hands more, do I need to be in a state of anxiety to remember doing it? Some great souls have the capacity of transforming intention into consistent action, but us, wretched souls, tend to get lost in thought and will as soon forget a commitment as we make up new arbitrary ones.

How do we accomplish consistent action if it’s so difficult to form habit and one is unconcerned? It is said it takes 30 days for habit to settle in and become effortless/reminderless. I like the challenge. I only wash my hands when I use the washroom or I prepare food. I’ll try to remember washing my hands every time I arrive to a new place in order to understand unconcerned action.

Work journal

2020-03-11 log: Cards

Date
AuthorMark MacKay

It’s 4:11 and I’ve practically cleared my responsibilities on my trello board. But God knows I’m not done, a clear Trello board means that you’re done with your team responsibility, and it would be a mistake to think one’s work is finished just because the tool you use to track tasks tells you so.

Card driven product design and development is like taking the role of a robot in a factory: I am given instructions and dependencies and with those I assemble a piece that another robot will use to put together a larger piece that will finally fit into the product.

The role of Trello in blank.page’s development has been thankfully minimal. We’ve only used it in this last pre-launch stage when we need to keep track of all bugs and kinks, and as a repository of ideas for future development. In the past our pace was just a dozen of hours per month at most, so email was sufficient.

Two weeks into it and I feel I spend half of my time answering comments on cards and moving them from column to column. It feels like I am working, but I am not. I am manipulating a model of a project and allowing others to know my progress, but for anyone who is not a project manager this is overhead, it is not work.

What would be a satisfactory solution to team communication then? I don’t know. My naïve hope was that post-release the pace slows down so that we can go back to email, but that’s aiming low. It would be aiming for a product that limps so that I don’t have to run to catch up with it.

Just don’t make me move cards, ugh.