Ramadan

Ramadan Retrospective 2015

I know some of you are just waiting for one of my edgier or “NSFW” posts, and I’ve been keeping ideas that come to me written down, but timing and proximity are important so you’ll have to stay tuned a bit longer.

Ramadan this year was a whole different animal… specifically a nocturnal one.  It’s a bit ironic that during the longest days of the year possible (we crossed the summer solstice) my schedule took place primarily at night.   Prior to Ramadan beginning this year I was discussing it with a friend of mine and she suggested I swap day and night (Fast at night instead.)  Though I gave it consideration, I decided that it undermined the definition of Ramadan if I wasn’t doing it in unison with the billions of participants worldwide – meaning if I took it upon myself to swap the time-frames, I was no longer practicing anything that resembled “Ramadan” fasting and was instead simply observing a personal fast with similar rules.  It did occur to me that my original purpose – to support one of my best friends in her fast – might be better served if I swapped my fast because we’re in opposite time zones, but in the end I decided I should stick to the structure that everyone else followed regardless of advantageous personal circumstances.

Oh sweet face-stuffing...

Oh sweet face-stuffing…

Though it was almost definitely much easier than those with a day job, this year provided some unique challenges and taught me a few things.  The days were right about sixteen hours long, meaning I was only really sleeping through between one-third and half of the fast.  The first part (just after a hyper hydrating and face-stuffing breakfast) was the easy part, but I noticed that as time went on I would get hungrier, faster.  It got to the point that ninety minutes after stuffing myself I would be hungry again and over fourteen hours would remain before I had the chance to address that.  For whatever reason that hadn’t happened as much for me in previous years, so I can only theorize that my body schedule had something to do with it.

The one downside to sleeping the latter third of the fast, is how you feel when you wake up at hour sixteen.  If you think getting out of bed in the morning is rough now, try doing that when your body is in emergency conservation mode due to lack of food or water.  The first issue is that actually regaining consciousness is harder… I slept past my “end fast” alarm on several occasions, causing me to continue fasting even longer, which then continues to amply the effects of the fast (as specified in my previous post when I went nearly twenty hours.  It did not go well.)  The second issue is that even when you wake up, you pretty much feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.  It’s actually pretty similar to moderate hangover as both of these states are caused by your brain being dehydrated.  Waking up is hard, staying awake is harder.  Fighting that desire to fall back over and not feel like crap any more is tough, especially when even sitting up takes a monumental amount of effort.  You’re weak, you have no energy and you’re trying to tell your body to wake up when all it wants to do is shut down to conserve your energy.  But eventually the promise of cool, refreshing water will give you the strength to fight the amplified gravity and draw you out to the kitchen where you can chug your bodyweight in the clear, clean nectar of the clouds.  Except you can’t, because if you do you’ll be sick.  You have to go slow, very slow, and work your way up to food, coffee or whatever else you need.  But once you get past that barrier, you’re newly-nourished body will feel great, right?  Well…

This is not a motivated face.

This is not a motivated face.

This is another part that was new to me this year.  You see, normally you go to work just after beginning your fast.  This means you start strong and deteriorate throughout the day.  Then you break your fast at night, and usually go to bed pretty early to recover and wake up early to eat before you resume your fast.  But this year my opposite schedule meant I went to work after breaking my fast.  In theory this would work well since I can eat/drink while I’m at work (the fact I’m driving actually kinda made it essential.)  But in reality I encountered a new issue: post-fast lethargy.  You see, after sixteen or more hours without food or water, your body doesn’t simply wake up and return to peak condition because you finally gave in to it’s demands.  It needs time to recover and rebuild with the resources you provided.  Normally you break your fast and head to bed so it can make you ready for the next day, but now I broke my fast and tried to work while my body was trying to rebuild.  The result was a constant battle to escape weariness, sluggishness and a mental fog.  Only a considerable amount of coffee allowed me to eventually pull free of it, but my prep time before work increased dramatically and sometimes included additional short naps (voluntary or otherwise.)

This is by no means harder than dealing with your slowly-deteriorating condition throughout a normal workday, but it is an interesting byproduct that I’d never encountered before (bedtimes had to be pretty structured to wake up in time for the brutally early breakfast.)

Finally, this year moreso than any previous years I was alone in my fasting.  Though it’s nobody’s fault, I did not make it to my Muslim friend’s house for Iftar (he invited me several times, just didn’t work out.)  My best friend is on another continent and there were no curious supporters trying it out this round.  This year I even lacked a workplace full of curious people to relate my experience to.  However, with all that said, where last year I questioned the process, positivity and relevance of my fasting, this year there were no questions.  I did it and when it was done, I was a little sad to let the routine go.  If anything, perhaps because of the ease of my schedule, it didn’t seem like quite enough.  I even found it easier than normal to find some local homeless folk to feed in order to make up my time at MAU.  This year, everything happened in stride on my terms, so it was much simpler to work around it.  The result was that it seemed it was over as quickly as it started.  All the normal symptoms were there, but because it was all on my terms, the invasiveness was minimal.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Perhaps on some level my convenient situation was “cheating”, and perhaps my experience wasn’t as profound as a result.  But I am reminded of what Leslie would tell me about how in the middle-east, shops change hours, employers grant earlier shifts and mid-day time off and the entire culture shifts to accommodate Ramadan… or rather the shift is built-in to their predominantly Muslim culture.  So from a certain point of view, you could say that my experience this year was closer to that sort of experience (situational support as opposed to community support but similar result.)  On the other hand, I’ve also heard of Muslim folk who place little importance on Ramadan and simply go through the motions because they feel they have to.  They cheat the fast and take the situation very lightly.  I don’t participate because I have to, but I still want to be mindful of the experience as opposed to simply fasting because I have for the past few years.  But then again, if that were the case I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.

It is safe to say that this year was highly unique.  I don’t believe next year will be anything like this one was.  There will be new situations, new challenges and I might even look back and wish the subsequent years were as simple as this one has been.  If nothing else I’m glad I did it and glad I understand as much as I do about it.

Eid Mubarak.

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Of Laziness, Fasting, Discipline and Trying to Learn From It All

The alarm shot through my instantly-forgotten dream like a blazing torch of sound; shattering my warm, comfortable darkness to reveal the last bit of daylight fading into evening outside.  Last I knew it had been mid-afternoon as the storms outside had gently drawn me off to dreamland.  My bed is entirely too comfortable,  and it was not necessarily time to wake up, but it was time to break my fast and I had learned a week prior that extending the fast beyond the long, sixteen-hour summer days was a very bad idea.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

After returning from MAU, I had passed out without resetting my alarms and had woken up at 11AM the following day.  The issue was, I hadn’t eaten anything since the airport in Atlanta the previous evening and had only had coffee and ginger ale to drink on the flight home.  So now, a little over twelve hours after my last calorie of any sort, I had roughly ten more hours to go.  In situations like this, it might be considered appropriate to break your fast.  I had just come back from traveling and I realize now that fasting for so long could actually harm me.  But at the time I didn’t know that, and I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I pressed on through the day and felt relatively good… until around hour 19.  After that my condition had rapidly declined into near-uselessness: basically zero energy, fighting nausea despite a very empty stomach and the feeling that a white-hot metal rod was being driven into my brain from the back of my head (I was really worried this was going to trigger a migraine as it was a similar feeling, but fortunately it subsided.)  Thankfully all it took was proper hydration / nourishment and a nap to get me feeling right again, but the experience taught me that after twenty-four hours or so without food and water (especially), I would be basically useless.  It also taught me the importance of my regiment – even if I wasn’t hungry or meant to sleep through breakfast (around five AM during Ramadan), waking up to drink a couple glasses of water before returning to bed was a minimum requirement.

So the other day I had awoken to my “water” alarm and for a few moments after drinking it, I considered staying awake and getting a jump-start on my driving for the evening.  I’ve found myself wasting more and more time on distractions recently before heading out to drive.  It’s silly too, because I actually enjoy myself the majority of the time I spend driving.  On a few recent days it’s taken a bad mood and improved it.  But getting to the point I’m ready to drive I’ve been so, so lazy. It’s easy to blame Ramadan and the extended effects of fasting, but I honestly feel like that’s a weak cop-out in my case.  Mind you this isn’t anything too new, I’ve always been relatively lazy by nature, especially when I’m overly comfortable.  But right now I shouldn’t be.  Needless to say, that day I went back to bed until my second alarm sounded a couple hours later.

My extended time out of a “real” job combined with my laziness has taken it’s toll on my plans.  Yes, I’ve got the freedom I wanted in spades, but as is always the case when things are out of balance, the price I pay is heavy.  My goals this year were to: 1. Sleep seven and a half hours of sleep per night more often than not.  2. Save enough money to visit my best friend in Japan.  And, 3. Save enough money to purchase a pro-level full-frame camera as to further my photography.  In all three, a little over half-way through the year, I have failed.

Delayed, but not forgotten!

Delayed, but not forgotten!

In fairness I had the savings for Japan ready for the right ticket, and had I purchased it and kept on as I was, It’s highly possible I could’ve worked out the camera before the end of the year.  But then I was put in a position to make a decision about my future and how I wanted to live my life, so I made the only choice I thought I could, and it cost me those goals.  For now.  Uber is paying the bills but I’ve been too relaxed about my diligence and thus my savings have been slowly dwindling to nothing.  Now, my efforts with Uber must be more focused if I am to maintain my life at it’s current level, meanwhile my job search should intensify so I can get myself back to the income I am used to and begin working on my goals and plans.

So the solution boils down to a word that has an undeservingly negative context: Discipline.  More specifically, self discipline.  Since we were children we’re taught to dislike this concept; discipline is what happens to you when you do something bad.  But that’s not actually what the concept is.  Discipline is an investment you are making now so that you can continue to develop and accomplish things through proper actions.  It is this accomplishment that ultimately makes us happy, wether it be professional, personal, mental or even sexual, when you feel like you’ve done something, and done it well you are naturally a happier person.  It is this very concept that allows people to maintain their balance properly and be both happy and productive (so long as you balance it out with appropriate rest.)   When you’re naturally inclined to be lazy like me, self-discipline is what keeps you from swinging too far to the rest side, thus diminishing your accomplishments as I have more recently.

"A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity."

“A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity.”

A lack of accomplishment has a major effect on your ego, and if not corrected can send you into a downward spiral of even less accomplishment and more negativity.  I’ve noticed for instance that I haven’t been nearly as social or proactive in any sort of dating recently because somewhere deep down I don’t feel like I have the means to properly “court” somebody – this is a direct result of a lack of accomplishment affecting my ego.  The answer, of course, is to be more self-disciplined, therefore increasing my productivity, reinforcing my (healthy) ego and ultimately giving me more access to the resources that allow me to operate how I’d like to.

It’s fine line, balancing this freedom to do what I want, when I want, with the structure I require to keep myself productive.  Since I’ve been paying attention to my own issues, I’ve already begun to make changes in my schedule and mentality – allowing more time for Uber at high volume times and pushing myself when I know I’m distracting myself or being overly lazy.  I’ve already began to see improvement as well and with Ramadan ending this week, whatever excuse I feel I might have will be gone.  My freedom allows me to customize my schedule, and that should make me more productive but that requires that I reprogram some of my lazier, more wasteful habits.  That’s much easier said than done, but if I can pull it off, I can probably at least still accomplish the seven and half hours of sleep goal while keeping the rest of the balance in check.
Stay tuned!

Freedom and the In-Between

“How did you expect it to feel?  You are free, and that can be lonely, and empty, and frightening… but it is also powerful.”

It’s been a while.

I did say I would return, but I’m betting some of you might’ve given up on me.  Regardless, as you can imagine, much has happened over the last nine weeks or so, and much will likely happen over the following weeks.  It is all too much to write here, in a single post, but I will attempt to recap a bit.

“Freelance”

The biggest change, and what has kept me from this and my beloved FFXIV ARR (Which I’ve been able to get back to some as well…) is that I left my position as a full time Executive Assistant.  I left on good terms and am technically still a freelance member of the team, but after the most recent show in early May, any requests for my assistance have been quiet.  This suited me fine as I had been feeling trapped and was longing for a level of freedom that I truthfully hadn’t had in some six years.

Pretty and crazy... Miami reminds me of some people I know.

Pretty and crazy… Miami reminds me of some people I know.

For a few days I allowed myself to simply stop and work on things around the house.  My stress level dropped to near nothing, I did chores, clean-up and sleeping whatever hours I wanted to.  However, I had ground rules for myself that included a legitimate job search via Indeed and LinkedIn, reaching out to whatever contacts I had and keeping my eyes open for whatever opportunities I could.  Though it has only been about a year since my last job search, as the days passed it sunk in that finding a new, promising position is not easy.  My freedom would cost me.  I was fortunate in that I had been saving for some time in order to make the trip to Japan this year, but even as I found ways to stay afloat while I sought my next opportunity, it became increasingly apparent that my trip would be delayed.

Only recently, some 8-9 weeks and many, many resumes and cover letters later did I have two promising initial interviews.  The catch is that both of them required that I relocate: one to Naples, FL and the other to Miami.  Though still in Florida, they were far enough away (in different places) to be a complete change of situation, lifestyle and routine.  Each also had their own unique benefits and potential, but even after making the trip to Miami and meeting with a two-hour gauntlet of executives, they didn’t pan out.  And so the search continues…

Uber

What has kept me afloat during this not-so-free time (along with my quickly dwindling Japan savings) is a “rideshare” aka personal taxi service called Uber.  I won’t go into heavy details about how it works because you can easily google that.  Essentially Uber makes your own personal vehicle into something similar (but better) than a taxi.  You pass a pretty thorough background/driver/VIN number check, fill out some forms and in just over a week or so you are ready to take riders.  I’ve been doing this relatively full-time and though the money is decent, it’s not something I would make a career of (watching my car mileage climb this quickly is a bit bothersome.)  That said, ninety percent of the people who get in my car are pretty great people.  I’ve got some great stories (some of which I will recount in future posts) and I’ve met one or two exceptional people that may or may not permeate outside the realm of the Uber tales.  My friends often tell me I’ve done everything, well this is another thing I’ve done to add to this list.  If I feel so inclined I might share the stories of the recent semi-orgy a group of six (not counting me… I only got to drive and witness) had in my car, or the adorable nurse that continuously apologized for her hiccups, or maybe the fifty-something drunk man that was petting me and calling me his best friend…  Or maybe I’ll tell you something newer.

Other than mine being silver, that is my car.

Other than mine being silver, that is my car.

In the meantime, shameless plug:  If you’ve never used Uber before and want to give it a shot, download the app and in the promo code enter: P9W5KUE.  It will give you your first ride (up to $20 – only if you’ve never used Uber before) free, but the driver still gets paid.  Likewise if you’re considering driving for Uber use that as a referral code and you get a bonus after so many trips (as do I!)

Regardless, stay tuned, I have lots of material.

Ramadan

As of this writing, I am two days away from the halfway mark of this year’s Ramadan.  To answer your immediate questions: No, I’m not Muslim. -and- Yes, it means that from first light to sundown every day I do not eat anything, drink anything or partake in any.. debaucherous activity.  Thoughts are supposed to remain clean and peaceful too.. (fortunately that’s more of a guideline or I’ve failed consistently every year.)  For more back story as to why I participate in Ramadan, I invite you to visit the blog a few of us used to contribute to during this time: https://alegriabalancocascata.wordpress.com/

I haven’t written there this year, but if you start from the beginning (The most recent post shows in the front page, I suggest you navigate to the first post in the archives) you’ll get a good indication of the “why”.  Naturally you’re welcome to ask me questions here as well.  Rather than post to that site, I will likely write about notable aspects here and either reblog or re-post them there if I feel the need.

This looks good anyway... imagine it after sixteen hours!

This looks good anyway… imagine it after sixteen hours!

This year is interesting as I’m primarily nocturnal while driving for Uber.  At first thought one would think that Ramadan fasting would be easy because of this.  However, while I do believe I am having an easier time than my good friend Leslie (in Japan) as a result of my schedule, the very short hours of night time compared to the very long days of Summer mean that at least 50% of my awake time is during the fast if not more.  Comparatively speaking though, she has a tough teaching schedule all day that requires a great deal of focus and awareness, two things that are easily compromised by prolonged fasting.  I can’t complain in comparison to that!

But with that said, for me, a major realization this year is that sleeping the second half of your fast makes waking up, and getting out of bed much more difficult.  Keep in mind the fasting hours now are between fifteen and sixteen hours (literally the longest days of the year,) so though people normally fast for (hopefully) eight hours or so by sleeping,  I’m waking after roughly double that having had nothing.  Think extreme lethargy and zero motivation.  Then remember that as time goes on, the effect amplifies through the wear on your body.  Suffice to say much coffee was had after breaking the fast at sundown.  The other aspect I didn’t think about is when I stay up all night for work, start my fast, and continue to operate into the day as I am today.  The effects of fasting + all-nighter hours are a bit rough to say the least.  But then a large part of this is the learning experience, and I am learning a lot.  More on this and the second half of Ramadan later.

What’s Next

Like clockwork, Martial Arts University is right in the middle of Ramadan this year (aka Tomorrow.)  For those of you that don’t know, I have been involved in Martial Arts for nearly a decade now (with some breaks here and there.)  MAU (for short) is a five day long testing / seminar series that takes place at a camp in Greensboro, NC.  I spent many years serving as the assistant to the Grandmaster who presides of this event, and I’ve been asked to attend by a specific master that I look up to and owe on some levels.  Since I will be traveling, I will break my fast while I am gone and make up the days at a later date by feeding the less fortunate of fasting extra days after the Eid holiday that ends Ramadan.

Like a bos... err.. black belt.

Like a bos… err.. black belt.

When I return from MAU it will be back to Uber and back to finding the next step.  So the interviews didn’t work out, that just means I keep looking for the next ones.  I am fortunate enough to have had savings and a support structure that allows me to supplement with something like Uber and not be forced to sacrifice the quality of life that I’m used to. I have also been getting better and better at managing my time with a very irregular schedule.  That means it’s not going to be several months before the next post.  So in order to keep this at a readable length I’ll draw the line here.  There are many more adventures and “wisdom” to come.

PS:  I took a look at my readership and was pleasantly surprised to see it’s not only been consistent, but has even spiked more than a few times in my absence.  Good to know my writing has some staying power! THANK YOU to all my readers… I don’t know what you’re getting from my rants, but I appreciate the time you spend here regardless!