Weekly Observations: Week 6 🗓

Empty space. I’m increasingly seeing the value these days of having the empty space in my life and calendar to act on spontaneous impulses and have last minute fun. For me, it’s extremely counterintuitive and difficult to resist filling in all the empty slots in my calendar, but there’s something exciting about slack that a fully booked dance card can’t replicate. Free time presents a sense of a tantalizing tickle of possibility, knowing that a great adventure may be waiting for you just around the corner. With a fully booked social calendar, you get the street cred that comes with being constantly busy, but I find that I easily slip into a mindset where it feels like I’m waiting out life and just going through the motions. 
 
To be fair, it’s about balance — I value my free time these days because it’s in shorter supply and it feels refreshing relative to knowing what I’m going to do most days of the week. When most of my weeknights and weekends were nothing but endless stretches of open space, more free time wasn’t necessarily the right answer. I still sometimes find it hard to believe that I’m now coming from this place of abundance (especially after so many years of wanting and wishing) to the point that I’d savor the empty gaps— fresh college grad Steph would most certainly not recognize her present day self.
 
Structured vs. unstructured. I was joking around with a friend last week that going grocery shopping together would mean taking our relationship to the next level. As much as I was being silly, I was thinking about it further later and realized there’s a lot of truth to that. There are your structured time friends — the ones where you need a set agenda of activities that you’ll go through when you spend time together. The structured friend hang-out session follows a few standard patterns: brunch at some new trendy restaurant, browsing hip artisanal markets in bougie neighborhoods, grabbing coffee at aesthetically pleasing cafes. Most of my friends post-college fell into this bucket — at times it felt like my weekends were a non-stop parade of endless meals with people. Reflecting on those experiences now, I realize that those moments often felt soulless. Yes, we’d catch up and yes, we’d have decent food, but I usually left those experiences wanting for more. 
 
And then there are the people you can just spend time with and see where the day takes you. A recent favorite day — I helped Friend A make zucchini bread, shared a burrito with Friend A and Friend B on a bench on Valencia amidst the gorgeous winter sunshine, meandered through the Mission, crashed Friend B’s brother’s Super Bowl party, watched my first episode of Planet Earth at Friend A’s apartment, and spent way too much time chatting up Sports Basement employees about what skis to buy while Friend A checked out climbing shoes. It was utter perfection. Unstructured time with someone requires intimacy — it implies that you’re comfortable going with the flow with them, but also that you implicitly know that you enjoy each other’s company and don’t need to rely on socially sanctioned activities to spend time together. It means breaking out of the common scripts we use and fall back on when interacting with most people. It can be scary, yes, to start branching out beyond the safe security of structured time, but I’ve found what lies beyond to be infinitely more satisfying.

#relevant: 15 ways to catch up with friends that aren’t grabbing coffee or a cocktail. (h/t Irene)

Social media pondering. I’ve been actually watching a few of the Facebook stories showing up in my feed recently and it’s helped me come to the realization that posturing and the general act of portraying one’s life in a flattering light has started to invade even ephemeral formats. Snapchat (and its plethora of related products) were supposed to be this last bastion of authenticity and realness, but it appears that it’s not immune to the same forces that inevitably plague any social network where people gather. These days, I don’t participate much, but I find I still experience a modicum of that natural drive to self-aggrandize even just when casually chatting with people. With social media though, I can’t imagine how much worse that compulsion gets, given that ever-present opportunity and expectation to perform for the masses all the time.