On the passing of 2008

Leif Johnson — 04 Feb 2009, 12:02

Time feels like it passes so quickly when life is filled with repetition. For years—who knows how long, really—I would wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch a movie or something, go to sleep. The days bled into each other. Time flew. Ideas and inspirations went unrealized, and weeks and months passed in a flash. Until 2008. In 2008 things changed just enough to clue me in to the possibility of change, and now here I am, for the first time reflecting on the passage of a year in thought and writing.


The correct perspective for my experience in 2008 really starts in 2007, on a Friday evening in late November, as I was riding my bike home from work. A delivery truck in front of me made an illegal right turn at the light to get onto northbound 101 from southbound Rengstorff Avenue. As the truck crossed over the bike lane, its gigantic fender briefly loomed large in my world and knocked me from my bicycle to the pavement. Luckily, I survived without any broken bones or apparent injuries other than some road rash, but when my knee swelled up painfully over the weekend I went to an orthopedist and discovered that I'd torn my posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). After moving the knee joint in several directions that I previously hadn't imagined possible, the doctor recommended physical therapy.

So 2008 began as I worked on my quads with an amazingly helpful therapist, and I made the first New Year's resolution I think I've made in a decade : I resolved to strengthen my body by gaining twenty pounds. When I told my then-girlfriend that night over the phone, she just laughed. A lot. Her cachinnation wasn't really unjustified, though : For perhaps ten years I'd weighed about 145 pounds with no significant changes, despite living in three countries under various work, diet, and exercise schedules. But there's something about tearing one's ligaments that provides a little extra kick to these sorts of resolutions. I set about going to the gym regularly, and with help from friends I'd worked my way up to about 157 pounds by the end of the year.

Although I didn't meet my original goal in 2008, I got more than halfway there and learned a lot about my body and about going to the gym. I am happy with my effort and the results, which forms a pleasant feedback loop. I've never managed to stick with weight training for any period of time before, but it turns out that keeping track of what you do is extremely helpful for motivation and prevents that feeling of being lost when you go to the gym. (Also it helps to have a motivation for going to the gym that doesn't involve hoping that the other people there will be impressed or even notice you.)

In 2009 I'm extending this goal : I'm going to get to 170 pounds, where I'm planning to level off. It's going to be challenging, but I'm up for it.


In 2008 I changed jobs—twice ! In the spring I moved from a several-year stint at a large software shop to a several-month stint as the lead (and only) developer at a tiny and awesome startup. In the fall I moved again, from the sharp, friendly uncertainty of the San Francisco startup scene to the elaborately viscous laboratory world of academic computer science. The move to academia had been bubbling in my mind for several years—including taking the GRE and submitting applications in 2007—but it just happened to come to fruition in 2008.

I'm happy that I've been able to experience these three working worlds, and that I've settled for now in the academic realm. The software industry can be a great place, but, like any institution, it's also dispassionate with respect to its constituents, so you really have to watch out and take care of yourself to make the most of it. I suppose that might be a more generally useful life lesson than I imagine it to be right now.

Impelled by my changes of employment, I also moved twice in 2008. The first time I moved from Mountain View—an incredibly uninspiring place for me—back to my beloved San Francisco. The second time the Sutros folks helped me drive my stuff through 2000 miles of desert to Austin. Moving is fun inasmuch as one does not have very much stuff to cart around, but as I started packing, my imagined lifestyle of minimalist eastern aesthetics dissolved in a flash. I found myself face to face with the metric shit ton of books, bookshelves, furniture, kitchen implements, electronics, and so on that I do actually own, which Tim somehow (amazingly, to my reckoning) got packed into two cars. The only thing I don't have much of, it turns out, is clothing—especially pants.

There's nothing like moving to force one to confront the realities of the lifestyle that has really been in place in one's life. In 2009, thanks partly to the time afforded to scholars for reading, I have started actually reading those books from my bookshelves, placing each in a pile for the Goodwill as I finish it. I can't really pretend to be getting rid of much of my other stuff, but at least I am slowly moving away from the mental minimalist ideal that I'd thought I'd been exemplifying.


In 2008 my most significant relationship came to a sudden and unexpected close. I've never gone through a big breakup, so suddenly I had all these unexpected opportunities to see life through new glasses. When I came home from her house for the last time, the words in love songs came through so much more clearly—thank goodness I live in the same universe as The Magnetic Fields—and books seemed so much funnier and more profound all of a sudden.

Probably more details on this are boring for people who aren't me. Even though I do love me some sea salt, I probably wouldn't truly be a white person without going through a difficult breakup. It's taken some time, and it's going to take even more time, but I'm pretty happy with the changes that I've realized in my life as a result. Breakups, like everything, really, are a force for change more than anything else. See comments on ligaments, above.


In 2008 I was able to arrange my free time more effectively, thanks largely to having more of it, or at least to having some deep motivation to see it in my life. So blessed, I finally started reviving several avenues for creativity that I've been curious about. I signed up for beginner piano lessons and an excellent intro music theory course at the Community Music Center. I started baking pies at the rate of about one a week, and I sewed several tote bags over the course of the year. I went to my first ever Maker Faire, and the timing worked out so that I got to attend both the San Francisco and the Austin events in 2008.

In 2009 I'm happy to be continuing this trend. I'm practicing my piano pieces as much as I can spare time for, and I might seek out another private tutor in the fall. I've started taking photos of my life again, and I've even started learning to draw ! (It turns out I could draw this whole time ; it's just a question of letting it happen without judgment.)

I'm also using some of my time to work on programming projects that I'd always dreamed of getting done, like this web site. I'm happy that this post will inaugurate my new site, because I've been working hard on it, and I'm pleased with where it's gone so far. It's looking like my studies at school and my work on the site will overlap somewhat as well. (Of course, this is my personal web site, and therefore does not imply any link with my current, past, or future employers or social contacts. Yada yada.) There should be exciting things happening here with respect to tagging and organization. Assuming you're into that sort of thing.

Happy 2009 everyone !