0166 – Pullups at the playground

These posts were written on the 11th and 12th of July.

Don’t really feel like writing but I’m going to do it anyway. Otherwise this project is going to take way too long, and that’s depressing. Also it always feels good to have-written.

Elegant solutions

I’ve discovered that I can do pullups at the playground downstairs from my house, which is an incredibly elegant (partial) solution to my workout problem. I used to be able to do more than 10 pullups when I was in secondary school (8 years ago, holy crap), but I’ve gained 10kg since then and haven’t had a lot of practice. I was down to 2-3 shitty pullups. Now I’m up to 4 decent ones. I’m going to do more when I get home.

Book burning

I’ve been very annoyed by what the National Library Board of Singapore has been doing- they’re pulping (ecological burning) a bunch of children’s books because some right-wing folks wrote in to protest it. I think it’s a really silly thing to do. I think the war has been largely won and these are just last-ditch retaliatory attempts. 30 or 40 years from now, anti-LGBT sentiments are going to look like racist sentiments did 30 years ago. It’s depressing that Singapore is still so backwards. I think it’s sad that ‘conservatives’ don’t seem to realise how they’re damaging real people with their rhetoric and their continued sustenance of structural discrimination and bigotry. We live in some of the most exciting times in human history and yet we’re still so backwards in so many respects. The Israel/Palestine thing going on is so ugly. As it’s always been. Sigh. Deep breaths.

Is writing really the best solution for me?

I was talking to my wife about design and I wondered if writing is really the best medium for me. I picked it largely because it’s familiar, convenient and cheap. But there are also limitations to what writing can achieve. What I really want is to be really good at thinking- at using the mind to solve problems. Sometimes mapping or describing a problem in words can be overly tedious and complex. Visuals can help. Computers can help. There are all sorts of ways to make a point more effectively than writing… could there be a global optima in my landscape of tools for self-expression that ISN’T writing? I know that I have pretty good aesthetic taste, although I rarely do very much about it. Where do I start? How do I help? What sort of context should I explore?

I guess the obvious answers are- my work, and the writing that I already have. I should use that as scaffolding and figure out the points I want to be making. I need to define my objectives more clearly so that I can identify the tools and methods that I ought to use. This is something best done in the concrete rather than in the abstract.

I was going to say “what’s the greatest meaningful difference I can make”, but I’m wondering if a more honest and actionable question might be- What single thing can I do that will energise me the most? Again it would probably be to see accelerating returns on what I’m doing at work… Should I not even be writing this then? I think that’s a bit extreme. While I’m here in this writing process, I should figure out how to tidy up my internal and personal processes so I can focus on work things when it’s time to think about work things. For the time being (in the next 30 mins or so) I’m going to pretend that work doesn’t exist.

The weekend is coming up and I’d like to get the most out of it. Have to figure out a sticky routine to go through.

Rah. What else. I guess I really want to clean out my Evernote as quickly as possible.  Then clear out all my random work tasks as quickly as possible. While also setting aside chunks of time for good stuff. I guess the first thing I should do when I get home is vacuum and clean as much as possible so the weekend feels fresh, clean, tidy. It’s so silly that I’m still figuring this stuff out after a full year (and a half?) of home ownership. But better now than never.

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Living in the past

Yesterday I was writing about living in the past. I think I need to reread A Sideways Look At Time. This morning I recalled that I wrote a status update on my second day of work, about how much I loved going to work- and two people posted on my wall speculating how long it would be until I hated it. So I went back to dig it up (Facebook has made this a little easier then before) and shared it again. In digging it up I saw everything that I had posted a year ago, and I find myself mentally recreating the state I was in then. I was more of an exhibitionist then than I am now. I was more brazen, naive, an oversharer. I understand now how I must have annoyed so many people over the years with my blunt, coarse ways.

Facebook self-reflection

I honestly believe that Facebook, while potentially a huge time sink in the present, is an asset for self-reflection. It’s a massive distributed journal that’s interactive. It’s a map of social interactions that you can navigate. I think everyone should spend some time- maybe a day every year- just going through their Facebook archives to see how they’ve changed as a person, how their interactions with others changed. I think it’s a very sobering, wistful process. It makes you feel more alive because it reminds you of how much (and how little) you’ve lived. You get to see what got you excited, what got you angry, and you get to see on hindsight whether it was justified.

Oversimplified Personal Narratives 

Our brains are always working to construct consistent narratives, eliminating unnecessary “noise”. We need simple, understandable narratives to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. But of course, the world isn’t that simple. Life isn’t that simple. It’s full of mistakes and false starts.

I’m reading Obama’s first book now (Dreams from my Father) and he talked about how he worked in a consulting house for a year or so, first as a research assistant then as a financial writer. He was receiving some signals that he ought to make it a career. He wanted to be a community organiser, but he wasn’t getting any responses- all the leads he was chasing were dead ends. Until he got a phone call from a guy in Chicago.

Downplaying Randomness

Consider that phone call! The guy happened to be in NY for a while, which was where Barack was working. If he hadn’t been there he wouldn’t have called, and Barack would never have become Senator of Chicago, and subsequently, President. It’s crazy! And this is also the story of pretty much every human being not suffering from abject poverty. (The lives of the poor and starving are hideously predictable.) For the rest of us privileged ones, life is driven by tremendous amounts of serendipity. You can optimize for it by setting yourself up in a way that makes you more receptive to it, but you can’t predict it specifically.

I think Facebook helps to reveal some of that. You see who you used to obsess about and realize you don’t care about them anymore. You see friends that you lost. Gained.

The value of something like Facebook lies in its fixedness- it isn’t subject to the constant revision that our memories undergo. If you posted something regrettable 6 years ago, it remains there, unchanged. You could delete it, of course, but the point is that it doesn’t change unless you purposefully take action.  Memories fade and morph even if you do nothing, or try to stop it. So there’s something uniquely useful about record-keeping. With all the Quantified Self stuff going on, I wonder if we’ll one day keep records of our mental states, heart rate, conversations,  everything. (And then you wonder, of course, what spy organizations will do when they steal all that data).

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