The State of the Balise in times of The Virusโ„ข

This is going to be a very personal post – and I’m not sure it’s going to be of much interest to people essentially going through the same things as I am or, most probably, worse – on the other hand, this is the kind of things I’d like to read from the people I care about, so… let’s work with that assumption.

I was tempted to go for a “what’s good, what’s bad, what’s super bad” (or the other way around) structure, but instead I’ll talk around themes – seems easier to organize my thoughts this way.

The situation around here

In Switzerland, we do not have a strict lock-down: it’s strongly advised to stay home as much as possible, but nothing is legally enforced there. Restaurants, non-essential shops and leisure facilities (sports and culture) are closed (some shops are starting to reopen); gatherings of more than 5 people are forbidden. Working from home is encouraged if at all possible. Standard recommendations about keeping your distances and washing your hands are obviously repeated at every occasion. The Swiss Federal Council holds a press conference once to twice a week, they talk about the evolution of the situation and the measures in place.

We’ve been following the recommendations pretty strictly: we’re both working from home, and we stay home. We’re going out once a week for grocery shopping; we wear (homemade) masks when we do. Pierre has been to the dentist this week, but other than that… we have basically only seen each other for the past month and a half.

Work

Work is mostly good. We’re lucky that a/ we can both work from home without large hassle b/ we have enough space in our apartment that we’re able to have two separate home office spaces. This is one of the things I’m most grateful for, because it allows me to keep some sense of normality… and sanity.

I normally work 60%; I started tracking my time because I had a feeling I was working way more than that, and even with tracking, I… do work more than that. Granted, it’s a period of the cycle at work where we’d all tend to work more, so it’s hard to tell if I’m working more because of that or because of working from home and not being constrained by “shit, I need to leave now if I want to catch my train”. In any case, I think it helps with feeling useful and with having something to do that doesn’t leave much space for significant worry. It’s sometimes a source of stress too, but it’s “normal stress” (as opposed to “Virusโ„ข-related stress”).

We have daily calls with a few colleagues – some status report, and one explicitly “social” call where we try to re-create the mood of our office kitchen during coffee breaks. This helps a lot in not feeling isolated, and keeping in touch with lighter topics.

Still, it starts to weigh on me. I miss seeing my colleagues. The other day I got all teary-eyed at hearing the laugh of a colleague during the weekly status meeting – good thing I didn’t actually have to talk during that meeting… From a professional standpoint, I also miss being able to clear misunderstanding quickly, and to be able to call out to someone as they’re passing when I have a question or something they can help me with. We make do, but it’s definitely less comfortable (and it typically takes more time too).

Keeping busy on my own

I’m lucky there as well: I’m definitely on the “introvert” end of the spectrum, and my usual ways of keeping busy haven’t been impacted much by the current situation. I read, I play video games, I watch TV, I code, I practice calligraphy… all these are definitely on. I miss going out with my camera, but I’ve still been able to make a few images around the apartment. I’ve been keeping up with 52Frames, and there’s a Scavenger Hunt running – so I have some creative prompts to get stuff done.

I had started going on walks around Zรผrich at the end of winter – I miss doing that. I have a strong inkling that one of the first places I’ll go back to when I feel comfortable doing that is the lake – go see “my” tree, probably sit on a bench nearby with a book. I’m probably going to miss the full flower season of Seleger Moor – they MIGHT be able to re-open earlier than expected, but I don’t expect to be able to go there by then, because it’s pretty far away by bus.

I continue playing Slay the Spire and World of Warcraft, as well as Wizards Unite (who did a kick-ass job at making things work without going out); I started playing Deponia, Cook Serve Delicious 3, Islanders. I’m resisting the urge of re-joining EVE Online. And I reaaaally want a Switch to play Animal Crossing, but that’s probably not coming back in stock anytime soon.

The issue there may be general apathy: I do have a ton of things I can do, but there is a distinct lack of energy and motivation to do everything I could do. I’m not exactly bored, more… numb, I guess. This is not pleasant, but it’s not exactly unpleasant either. I’m sometimes annoyed by it, but it doesn’t last long – it is what it is.

Being social

See what I was saying in the previous point about being an introvert? Weeeell, turns out, I may be less of an introvert than I thought I was. Because fuck, I miss everyone – I miss everyone so much it hurts. I do manage to stay in touch with some people – but not nearly as much as I’d like to. And at the same time, I’m actually “socially tired” at the end of the week, and I do realize that I need to pace myself, and I hate that.

I miss game night, I miss casual gathering with friends around a meal and/or a drink, I miss… people. I miss hugs. And I feel terrible for the fact that my keeping in touch with people sucks as much as it always did – a mix of “not having enough energy” and “being afraid to be a bother” and “being afraid of being clingy”. I’m even hesitant to say here “if you feel like reaching out, please do” – because I don’t want to put that kind of expectation/pressure on anyone either. Constant second-guessing of social interactions is exhausting.

Fitness

Anyone who knows me may be very surprised to see that title in this blog post ๐Ÿ˜‰ One of the first things I ordered when we started staying at home was a pair of 2 kg dumbbells. I felt terrible ordering them, because it felt like the epitome of superficial non-essential buys.

I am, in short, SUPER HAPPY I bought these weights. Before all this, I’ve been going back to Jazzercise at least semi-regularly; and right now, I’m relying heavily on the Zoom classes from my studio and on Jazzercise-on-Demand. I intend to write a longer post about that – stay tuned.

Generally speaking: it’s been a life line. Since I’m not even walking outside, I actually get an itch to move – so I do that. It helps. I might end up doing more exercise now than I used to. In parallel, sticking to “regular food plan” with little to no extra (no “oooh, this cake looks delicious” in the office kitchen ๐Ÿ˜‰ )…. well, I seem to be one of these people who actually lose weight during these times. Well, I’m definitely not complaining about that.

Mood

Now… this whole blog post was much more upbeat than I am feeling. I am profoundly grateful that I’ve seen a therapist for a while now, because it would be so much worse otherwise, but it’s still tough.

On a day-to-day basis, I am much closer to tears, all the time, than I usually am. Which says something, because I already tend to cry more than many people (I… think.) Anything has the potential of setting me off, which is exhausting (because… emotions are exhausting).

There’s also far more full meltdowns. I haven’t kept count, but there’s been more than a few in the past 6 weeks, which would have been the norm at some points in the past, but hadn’t been the norm lately. It’s a bit disheartening to find myself sobbing uncontrollably again – but then, well… I guess emotions have to get out somehow, and right now… there’s a lot of emotions going on.

I was concerned about anxiety, but that one has been surprisingly quiet. It’s not absent, but it’s mostly okay. It does spike from time to time. The major circumstances where it spikes is when going out. Grocery shopping is hit and miss, and generally a large source of stress – panic triggering either because of “I fucked up the social distancing and I’m a terrible person” or because of “I’m in the way and I shouldn’t be where I am and I’m a terrible person”. Fun times. I’ve had more than a few very shitty nights because of anxiety, and it IS keeping me awake around 4AM way more than I’d like. Still, I was expecting it to be much worse than it is, so… not great, but could be much worse.

Worry is another beast though. I always felt like I had a strong disconnect between worry (the things that are crawling ’round my brain) and anxiety (the thing that make my stomach and gut twist and wring). In “regular” times I tended to have strong anxiety, but low worry; these days I have low-to-moderate anxiety, but high worry. I worry both about the situation and how “going back to a less isolated situation” is going to look like. At the very beginning, there was definitely a worry of “collapse of the civilization” and “we do not have enough food in the apartment to last for any extended stay”. These worries did subside, thankfully – the food one comes back again from time to time, but more on a “global” basis. Other than that, I worry for myself (“getting sick”, “getting sick to the point of needing ICU care”, “dying”) and for my loved ones (same worries). I worry about seeing friends again and not knowing how to interact with them again. I worry about not being able to set boundaries that match what I’m comfortable with. I worry about not knowing what I’m comfortable with. I worry about going back to work by train and the logistics involved (handling of masks in particular). I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people currently are. I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people may end up. I worry about how long it’s going to take before things feel normal again – whatever “normal” may mean by then. I worry about the fact that things may never feel “normal” again. I worry for my mental health, too. I worry about the numbness and the tears – and I worry that when things feel “normal” again for most people, it won’t for me – or that my new “normal” may be significantly worse than my pre-Virusโ„ข normal. I worry for other people’s mental health – I worry that this whole situation is going to end up literally traumatic for a large number of people.

So, yeah, I have enough worries to fuel some high-quality brain-churning here ๐Ÿ˜› I am, however, grateful that there’s a number of things that I’m not worried about – including my own economical safety (as long as not EVERYTHING goes to shit, but then…) and the fact that the number of people that I know are in higher-risk groups is actually fairly small.

Meditation helps. I had been lacking some consistency in my practice lately, but I found myself going back on the cushion way more regularly – maybe not every day, but close. And again – I’m grateful that I had started working on that way before things started – I don’t think it would be nearly as useful if I didn’t have a somewhat significant number of hours of practice already.

People help too, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I have a lot of people I can count on – and I don’t think I thank them nearly enough for supporting me. Things are a bit bittersweet sometimes, because I absolutely miss seeing them in person, and sometimes it’s too much – but I’d much rather have them in my life, even by videoconference, than not. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a significant amount of guilt about “not reaching out to some friends enough”, combined with “not daring to do so and feeling clingy”. That one is annoying, and it’s probable that I’m erring too much on the “being afraid of being clingy” side of things, at the cost of my guilt… and possibly hurting people by not reaching out. And even with the people with whom I am more or less constantly in contact, I’m scared of complaining too much, of needing too much support, of being needy. Social anxiety in times of isolation, check.

Apart from all that, the “background” mood is pretty numb and apathetic. Motivation and energy levels are occasionally there, but definitely less often than not. I often lose hope, not necessarily in the fact that it’s going to be okay eventually, but in the fact that it’s going to be okay within a time frame that I can grasp.

But – to end this on a slightly positive note, still… I’m mostly okay with not being okay, and that’s HUGE progress compared to the situation where all this would happen, and on top of that I’d hate myself for feeling that way. And while I’m kind of lacking hope about the current situation, I do have hope that hope will be back. So… let’s wait until hope is back ๐Ÿ™‚

TGSMU#3, or The Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando

(Cover image by Patt Dickson)

My main reason to go to the US last month was to attend the Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando. The Scavengers are a group of photographers that I’ve been interacting with for a few years – responsible in particular for that sort of things: Scavenger Hunt 24, Scavenger Hunt 25 Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

For those who know me, it may seem wildly out of character for me to go meet a large group of people that I don’t really know. And I’d tend to agree – I would lie if I said I didn’t have any reservations before actually making the trip. But still, it went very well, better than my wildest hopes, so… let’s talk a bit about that! Beware, this may be a slightly more personal blog post than usual ๐Ÿ˜‰

Planting the seed

The Scavengers is a community I thoroughly enjoy being a part of. The group is made of people of all levels of skill (which helps not feeling too much of an imposteur) (not TOO MUCH, I said) and of general positivity and enthusiasm. Before the meet-up, I had met with two of them (and one of them twice ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), who had happened to pass through my corner of the world, and I had a brilliant time every time.

I first met Sivani – and I believe she actually planted the seed of “you know, this may not be that crazy”. She told me about the first Vegas meet-up, I remember babbling something along the lines of “oh, I could never do that, because, you know, PEOPLE” – and she pointed out that a/ most of the people in the community are introverts and I wasn’t the only one there b/ actually seeing people with familiar name tags (because I’ve interacted with them, or at least seen their names before) actually helps a lot. And I guess that it stayed with me – along with her stories and enthusiasm.

Somewhat more recently, but before I made any kind of plan (possibly even before any kind of plan was made at all), I met Dave – we walked a bit with our cameras in the city, and we went for dinner, and everything went well. It also happens that I have the deepest fascination for Dave’s work, because I’m in awe of his toy universe and imagination, and I’m amazed (and possibly slightly jealous) with what he manages to pull off.

And then, I remember a couple of coincidences, but not their order. I remember wondering if there was a meet-up at some point in the plans, and seeing that indeed things were getting into motion there. I also remember having a fairly vivid dream that I was at a meet-up, I was having a pretty bad meltdown, but that someone was actually taking care of me. Now, I don’t believe in dreams being meaningful or predictive or anything, but it made me consider the situation and deem that it was actually plausible that, if something like a meltdown happened, someone would indeed take care of me. (I remember talking about it on the Scavenger community at that time, and that people confirmed ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Making the plan

At that point, it felt like it was something I was considering, but not too sure about. One of the things that I was very hesitant about was the fact that the meet-up was in the US, which means a long flight, and more painfully… jet lag. And since my major concern was social-anxiety-related, and since fatigue (and ergo jet lag) really does not help with that, I was very hesitant. The flights to Orlando were also a fairly large pain from Zรผrich, which made me hesitate all the more.

When I talked to Pierre about that, he mentioned that the meet-up was roughly at a time where it would be good if he traveled to Boston, and so he suggested that I come with him to Boston, recover from jet lag, and fly to Orlando from there. I think that’s when things started to really click – that it was actually something that COULD happen.

Shortly afterwards, I told the Scavenger community “I’m in!”, and I booked the hotel in Orlando for the meet-up. It took us a little while to finish planning the rest of the trip (mostly because of procrastination), and at some point I said “folks, I do have plane tickets, I’m coming for sure, unless something super bad happens in the meantime.”

Uh-oh…

Well, the “something super-bad” was not that far. Two weeks before flying to Boston, I fell walking on a hiking path, and I sprained my ankle pretty badly. The following weeks were very stressful: I was in pain, I was super tired from walking with crutches, and it was generally speaking not fun. I had gone to the doctor and explained that I was hoping to fly; she gave me a prescription for blood thinners for the plane, which alleviated a very large fear of mine. I’d like to say that I didn’t waver, but it was a tough couple of weeks; just before leaving I told someone “well, see you in three weeks… assuming I’m actually making it to the flight, which I’m kind of doubting right now”. But in the end, I looked into “how do I fly with a crutch” (both in terms of security and luggage allowance), concluded it was not an issue, and off we went. I spent the first week in Boston, working a bit, getting over the jetlag, and getting slightly better every day; and when the time came to fly to Orlando, I was confident enough that I didn’t need my crutch and that I could walk enough… as long as there were not too many stairs going down on the way. Phew!

First evening in Orlando

I landed in Orlando around 3PM – Dave and Debbie had synchronized with me to pick me up at the airport (thanks again ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and the adventure started for real! Most of us were staying at the Embassy Suites on International Drive – Angela had organized a group discount, and many people were sharing rooms – I had made the choice to not get any roommate because I knew I would probably need my space at one point or another, and I didn’t regret that choice. A bit of time to get acquainted with my surroundings, and I found a group of Scavengers around the hotel bar ๐Ÿ˜‰ I admit I have a fairly fuzzy recollection of the events and of the people at this point. I was still very flustered, probably terribly awkward, and a tiny part of me was going “oh God why am I here already?”. I’m happy I was happy to keep that part reasonably quiet ๐Ÿ™‚ I found something to eat at some point, probably; but then one of the major event of my stay was happening at 10.30PM: SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 on that day. Since I was not driving, and since I was not comfortable enough trying to organize SOMETHING to get closer from the launchpad, I didn’t have a plan for that. I had, however, looked outside of the hotel, looked at a compass, looked at a map, and secured what I deemed a “reasonable” point for seeing things, if things were to be seen. I had had the impression that I had been either annoying or super repetitive with my “and tonight there’s the rocket launch!” – but… I left the table where I was talking at around 10.25, announcing “okay, rocket launch time”… and I was outside of the hotel, in the fairly warm weather, hoping to see anything.

There was enough time between 10.30 and “something happening” that my heart sank a bit – “I should have tried harder to get closer” – but finally, a small bright dot appeared above the trees. The bright dot eventually grew a tail, making it really unmistakable, even at that distance. I was adamant I didn’t want to take any picture, so I didn’t have my camera with me, but I still had my phone – so there, I have a few pixels of rocket on a picture.

And even at that distance, it was still a profoundly emotional experience and, for what it’s worth, I’m still happy I didn’t have my camera with me. I fully intend to go and see a launch from closer up at some point in the future, and I also fully intend to not have a camera with me at that time.

I came back to the table with a very, very large grin, “I saw the rocket!” and that’s when I understood that nobody had actually understood/realized what I was talking about before ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve then been told “okay, from now on, we’re following you, because you OBVIOUSLY have awesome plans”. So all in all – despite my initial wariness and awkwardness, it felt like I was starting to warm to the people around me, and to start to include myself in the group instead of staying on its outskirts. And since this was technically happening before the start of the meet-up, let’s call it a win!

Also: I SAW A FUCKING ROCKET LAUNCH. That counts.

Friday: workshop day!

On Friday, we mostly stayed at the hotel, in one of the conference rooms, where we had a fairly packed day! But, first of all, group picture! Scavengers are easier to herd than cats, but barely – in the end, it did work out, and we have a group picture or 15.

Back in the conference room, Lauri started with the welcome speech; we were also treated with a few videos from people who couldn’t make it to Orlando but still wanted to say hi. These are people that I had never met, but I was still moved by their messages, and it was still fun to see these people whose name and sometimes profile picture I knew come to life on the screen.

Then, we had a talk by Dave, who had a talk with the subtitle “A rambling discussion of photography, toys, and toy photography”. And it was basically that, except that my own ramblings are usually far less structured ๐Ÿ˜‰ He talked about how he came to the Scavenger Hunt and to toy photography, and he explained the process around a few pictures, including his Acorn for the latest Hunt. It was quite eye-opening for me – I really (really) like what Dave does, and I kind of “knew” that there was quite a lot of effort in his images, but it’s one thing to have SOME idea, and even to read about it, and one thing to actually see it explained. It made me feel both a bit better about my own efforts (there IS a huuuge gap in our level of post-processing skill, but I have some hope that the gap is far less than I thought on the “images straight out of the camera” level), and a bit worse (thinking that maybe I don’t put enough effort in this). But all in all, an inspiring talk – made me want to try some more stuff (and to up my post-processing game ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I also learnt about PixelSquid, and I’m definitely keeping that in a corner of my mind, it might become handy if I just need a 3D model of an Atari 2600 joystick or of a Piรฑa Colada. You never know.

The second talk was Gilmar – whose work is also very recognizable, and very inspiring too – at the risk of sounding very obvious, I really like her handling of colors, that make her pictures really stand out. She first talked about creativity and getting ideas, as well as about her own journey and inspiration, with a few examples. Then she dug a bit more into the technical specificity of building composites, and I learnt a ton of stuff, even though I’m not using the same tools as she is – many things are transposable, and these were not things I was even aware of asking about (the unknown unknowns!), so this was brilliant!

We then split in groups for lunch – I ended up at the Bahama Breeze with a group that got split over two tables – I was a bit nervous during lunch, because the planned lunch break was an hour, and we for sure went over that ๐Ÿ˜‰ but since one of the presenters for the afternoon was with us, well – I tried to relax and enjoy my food still ๐Ÿ˜‰

In the afternoon, we split into groups. I first saw Mark‘s presentation about how he created his Fire entry for the Hunt – he released a speed edit video since then. This was also super interesting – I learnt about a number of tools and “but how do I do that”, and mostly, I learnt about the quantity of work that goes into that sort of things. One of the things that struck me is that I usually consider that if a given “final image” requires me to take, say, 60 shots, it’s… a lot of shots. Mark was showing his Lightroom catalog, and he literally had hundreds of shots… only for the “body” part of his picture. I also found very interesting when he was talking about his light setup and how he adjusted it and so on. Those are not processes that are even remotely on my radar, and that’s definitely something I want to explore more.

In the second part of the afternoon, I joined the toy photography part, provided by Dave again. He had setup a light box, and provided a LOT of toys and figures, as well as Lume cubes to play with, and a fair amount of advise about posing the figures and lighting them. This was a ton of fun – I did fall in love with the Lume cubes (I just ordered a couple yesterday), and I’ll probably splurge on a decent light box at some point (for now, my ad hoc tinkering with a box and a bunch of tracing paper to soften daylight is good enough for me… especially in the summer). And I do have a few shots with which I might make images at some point – we’ll see how that goes ๐Ÿ™‚ Dave wrote something about the whole experience too: A Toy Photography Workshop.

There was also a third group doing portraits with Gilmar and her awesome-looking lights, but I got hit by a case of the shys and didn’t approach that group from less than a few meters away.

In the evening, we had dinner at Olive Garden (incidentally, we had one of the best waiters I’ve ever seen) and, as we came back to the hotel, I declared that I was going to go for a walk in the direction of the Ferris wheel that was visible from the hotel, because Ferris wheels are pretty cool picture topics ๐Ÿ˜‰ We made way with a few other Scavengers, met another group on the way, and generally speaking had fun. And so, I have a first set of pictures here: Orlando – Icon Park. (Yeah, there was more than just a Ferris wheel there.)

At the end of the day, I was bubbling with ideas and motivation and all this sort of things; I believe that Friday was the day that made the most contribution to the motivation that I still have today, and gave me the most ideas of things to explore. It’s also the direct cause the my “Spiderman” image that I built a couple of weeks ago when coming home (more details in Spiderman visited Zรผrich!)

Saturday – Bok Tower Gardens

On Saturday, we went for a field trip at the Bok Tower Gardens. The garden has a very pretty tower (the Bok Tower in question):

There was a Game of Thrones event in the garden that day, with a lot of cosplayers! It took me a while to connect the dots between “wait, this guy is REALLY reminding me of someone” and “ooooh, he’s cosplaying as George R.R. Martin! Well done!” before I had seen the rest of the people. I know that many Scavengers took the opportunity for some great shots, but I was, at that moment, both too shy and too flustered to even try to interact with them ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It’s a bit sad, it would have been cool – they were really looking fantastic! It must have been quite difficult, though, because they had a lot of layers on, and it was probably around 33-35ยฐC at that time… The tower is also hosting a carillon, and it’s been playing for a long while – including, at some point, the GoT theme, which I found very cool ๐Ÿ™‚

The garden also encloses the Pinewood Estate, which I could visit. It has, in particular, fantastic tile work and light fixtures ๐Ÿ™‚ And a very cool sink.

And that yields a second album: Bok Tower Gardens. I kind of regret not having more pictures of the gardens themselves – it was very nice, but it was also very warm (limited me-compatibility) and sunny (limited photo-compatibility).

We were also very lucky to have Tatjana Andrรฉ with us, thanks to Angela and Jim – she modeled for us under the heat with a lot of patience and grace, and was generally speaking amazing ๐Ÿ™‚ It was the first time ever that I worked with a model, and it was a very interesting experience, although not necessarily one that I would repeat any time soon. I do have a hard time taking pictures of people in general, and I have an ever harder time editing/processing pictures of people in general – and that’s something that came very clear during this session and its edition. It didn’t help that I made Bad Choices with camera settings, and that my pictures were often either unfocused or annoyingly noisy, and it didn’t help that my focal length was not nearly long enough. Despite all the awkwardness, I did get a few decent shots.

And that album is here: Tatjana.

In the evening, we had pizza in the hotel lobby, and some toy photography shenanigans happened, lit with a mix of lume cubes and cellphone lamps ๐Ÿ™‚

Later, we went for drinks to Lafayette’s – there was a cool band, Ancient Sun, and I enjoyed that a lot. I don’t know much about saxophones, but I particularly enjoyed the saxophonist’s performance ๐Ÿ™‚ And I may have ended on the dance floor for a couple of songs – proof that my ankle was definitely getting better (A couple of songs was all that was reasonable, though!) And at the same time, there was more toy photography shenanigans happening ๐Ÿ˜‰

Unfortunately, I had to bail pretty fast, because for all the fun that it was, it was also very loud. But as I walked back to the hotel, I felt an amount of joy I have only rarely experienced in the past few years. I think it was a mix of “everything is going great despite my initial fears”, “I’m learning a ton of stuff and I’m super motivated right now”, “I like literally everyone I talked with” and “I’m actually glad I bailed and kept the good memories instead of pushing through and ending up in a worse mood”. I arrived at the hotel, dropped a few lines of apologies on Facebook (which has been our major communication channel during the meet-up), and spent an hour or so editing some pictures from Boston. Someone nudged me to come back down in the lobby, which was much quieter, and after asking myself whether I was okay to do that and whether I wanted to do that, I spent a bit of time in the lobby, chatting and laughing, before eventually going to bed.

Sunday – last day! And after…

My Sunday was pretty quiet. I went to breakfast quite early, because I wanted the opportunity to see everyone who’d be there and to hopefully say goodbye to everyone – I don’t think I managed, but I still saw a lot of people. It was a bit sad, of course, but I think there’s still some certainty that we’ll see each other again, at least on the Hunt, and hopefully in a future meet-up.

I had arranged a ride to the airport with Gary and Wade, who had planes around the same time as mine (thanks Gary ๐Ÿ™‚ ), which made me somewhat nervous (timing-wise) about joining other people’s activities (on top of being somewhat weary in general), so I stayed in the hotel lobby in the morning with my laptop, and continued my photo processing.

I posted my last “25th Scavenger Hunt” post from the airport in Orlando, which I thought was quite fun.

The whole thing ended three weeks ago, but there’s still pictures and memories trickling on the Facebook group, which makes the whole experience last just a little bit longer – which is amazing.

Since the meet-up, I’ve done the Spiderman thing, I started learning how to use GIMP for real (I’m watching videos and everything!), and I do have a concept for a couple of images that I want to make – and I typically don’t have images in my head before I start shooting, so I’m super curious about how this is going to turn out.

And, hopefully, for the next Scavenger meet-up, I’ll be less nervous beforehand ๐Ÿ˜‰

Another one with meditation

About a year ago, I wrote a post called “The one with the meditation“. It’s on my French blog, because at that time I had written it in French first, and thought it was worth it to translate it in English there. I considered moving it here, but decided against it – instead, I’m going to write an update ๐Ÿ™‚ And write it as Q&A again, because that worked reasonably well for the first post, even if it’s pretty contrived ๐Ÿ™‚

So, you’re still meditating every day?

I’m going to say “yes, but there are days where I don’t”. My intent is to meditate every day. Sometimes I fail at it. I started journaling at the end of November, and I do have a “Meditation” tracker on it, and that’s what it looked like for “end of November / December”:

That’s probably the worst month that I’ve had in a while – but there have definitely been more lapses in the past few months than in the first six months of my practice.

All in all, I’d say it’s most definitely a part of my “self-care” routine. I haven’t been that diligent at self-care in the past few months; hence, some slippage. My new year’s resolution, by the way, is the umbrella “be better at self-care”, so maybe that will help ๐Ÿ˜‰

Did your practice change in any way?

A bit. The general gist of it – sitting with a guided meditation – didn’t change much. But I’m now typically sitting cross-legged on the couch or the bed instead of sitting on a chair; and I changed my “guided meditation” habits a bit. I used to use only Headspace – I’ve been experimenting with other apps. That’s what the colors in the tracker above are: “what app did I use that day”. I gave a try to Calm: I don’t think it’s a fit for me right now, I find it too corny for my taste. I still like Headspace for the “straightforwardness” of it. I do like 10% Happier a lot because it’s more fun and there’s an instructor there (Jeff Warren) that I particularly like.

I also started training towards unguided meditation (with the Headspace Pro packs that do… just that), and that’s something I want to explore a bit more soon. In particular, I heard about Yet Another App, Insight Timer, that allows to define timers, including a few (or a lot of) intermediary sounds as a “safety net” on the whole “getting lost in thought” and/or “falling asleep” that may be helpful. We’ll see how that goes.

Also, while Headspace is pretty “focus-oriented”, there’s a bit more variety in 10% Happier, including along the topics of loving-kindness and compassion. Those are still very new to me. I used to reject the concept as “corny” and “not for me” and so on, but after a tiny bit of practice in that area, I find myself liking it way more than I thought I would, and to find the whole concept helpful as well.

Finally, there’s a meditation studio that opened almost literally next door to where I live; I’ve been trying to gather some courage to visit it, but so far the “fear of new stuff especially when it involves me being alone with a bunch of new people” has won.

Did your perspective about what it brings you change?

Not much. I still do enjoy the “getting a break from the chatter” part of it, and the brief moment of quiet that I usually (but not always) get. I also do think that when Brain is Acting Up – getting into an anxiety attack, or a self-hate spiral, or that sort of unpleasant things – I now generally have a tiiiiiny bit of distance from it, in that I see what is happening, and there is now a tiny place in my head that’s reassuring me that yup, the spiral sucks, but it will eventually be over. That seems to helps me getting out of that kind of states slightly faster – and, more importantly, to not chew on “the fact that this happened” for hours or days afterwards. (Not sure if that one is meditation-related, therapy-related, or a bit of both, but I’ll take it either way ๐Ÿ™‚ )

The other main point is that I now do identify “meditation” as a large part of what I put into “self-care” – that also includes things like getting enough sleep, exercising, getting enough recovery time, and eating properly. And, like any other element in that category: the better I am at sticking to the routine that works, the better I feel – even if it’s sometimes super annoying that it’s necessary. So, in a way, it’s “it’s not that it brings me things that I can actually pinpoint, it’s more that if I stop doing it, Brain is usually Acting Up more”.

Any new resources to recommend?

I did mention two apps:

  • Calm – as I mentioned, I don’t think it works for me right now, but the app itself is well-made and has a fair amount of content. And there’s a lot of people who are happy with it, so you might be one of them as well.
  • Insight Timer – I have actually not used this one yet, but I’ve heard good things. They advertise that they have a lot more free content than the other meditation apps; I haven’t checked that statement but it seems plausible.

Book-wise, in the past year, I read two meditation-related books:

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. That one is a fairly heavy book about meditation and mindfulness. It’s essentially a “MBSR HowTo”, where MBSR stands for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a program developed by Kabat-Zinn that seems to be in large part used for people suffering from chronic pain. There was a lot of very interesting things and insights in this book (I do, in particular, remember about a part where he talks about the mechanics of breathing and the diaphragm and felt slightly mind-blown because I had never asked myself how it worked). At first, I was quite irritated by the amount of “Mr X. with this and that symptom came to a MBSR workshop and after 8 weeks was so much better”, but once I reframed my “okay, we get it, your thing is cool” into “let me give a lot of examples so that the reader has a chance to relate to one” it was better.
  • Altered Traits, by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. Goleman and Davidson look at academic research on meditation, and it’s fascinating. Their interest is mostly about how long meditation practice (we’re talking tens of thousands of hours over a life time, compared to my paltry 90 hours over a couple of years) have an influence on the brain itself – what they called permanent “altered traits”, as opposed (by them) to the transient “altered states” than can sometimes be experienced during meditation. The book is a bit meandering and a bit self-serving at times, but I still found it very interesting.