I just woke up after what felt like a really good night’s sleep and I decided to start with a word vomit. I want to get meta right away and do a vomit about why I’m doing a vomit.
I bought a prequel to Ender’s Game at a book fair, along with a bunch of other books- including Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, which is a book that got under my skin more quickly and more deeply than most books do. But I’m still halfway through that book. It’s a little self-indulgent on the part of the author and/or persona. I would’ve dove right into it a few years ago, but now my interest in a book like that is more auxiliary- I’m curious about people like that, because I think I was once like that, and I still have people like that in my life.
But that pursuit is entirely secondary to my primary interest, which is making better decisions for myself and for the people in my life that I am beholden to and responsible for. Ender’s Game was like that for me- it was a book about decision-making in complex situations with ethical dilemmas. I expected Earth Unaware to be the same, and it didn’t disappoint. I read the whole book in one sitting and I bought the remaining books in the series almost the very next day. Along with those books, I bought a book called Impulse.
The joke of course is that I must have bought Impulse on impulse, but I also recognise the roots of it. If you’ve been following my vomits for a while or you’ve had the misfortune of being subject to my tirades you’d know that I am a serial, heavy procrastinator. I have textbook ADHD symptoms. I have a patient saboteur-bum in my head and I have been trying-and-failing-but-trying-again to keep him at bay. So impulsiveness is something I dearly want to understand and manipulate.
This book was on my shelf along with books that I bought prior to the latest purchase, and books that I had been reading before that (Steve Wozniak’s autobiography, The Clinton Tapes and others are all half-read on my shelf.)
When waiting for my Mac to upgrade to OSX, I looked around. I had 15 minutes to kill, I might as well make some progress on a book. And out of everything in the shelf, I grabbed Impulse.
I thought that was very interesting to me, and even more so after reading some way into the book and being confronted with the idea (again) that most of our activities are mindless rather than mindful. Unconscious rather than conscious.
While it’s definitely a good practice to try to be as conscious and mindful of everything as much as possible- and I don’t do that enough- it’s also definitely important to pay careful attention to what we do when we’re mindless.
Let me refine that: We have limited amounts of conscious attention. It makes sense to first pay attention to what we already do, before we try to direct that limited consciousness towards pursuits that our subconscious might not be interested in. To use the Heath brothers’ analogy- our subconscious is the elephant, we are the rider. And our goals are the paths before us. What should a weak mahout do? He should get stronger, yes, but the highest order bit for him is to get to know his elephant better.
Zen in the art of writing
…is a book by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury, like Dostoyevsky and Ogilvy, really gets under my skin. He feels like a dear friend that I can return to away from the absurd world I inhabit. He advised me to write fiction, to write about something that mattered to me. And the thing that matters a lot to me is my relationship with my own mind. My strange, different mind.
I started writing a story about a boy and his pack of wolf-puppies. He grew up with them. He had a lot of fun with them. But they also got him into a lot of trouble. He didn’t know how to manage or control them. Nobody gave him a manual. People told him that he wasn’t making use of them properly. He couldn’t bear the idea of chaining them, they would look so pained and sad. Yet they caused him a lot of anguish by destroying things, and dragging him down paths he didn’t really want to go. It dawned on him that he wasn’t always good to them either. He fed them lousy food because he was afraid of cooking. He’d neglect to walk them sometimes because he was “too busy”, though he knew in his heart that he could do more.
The solution, he realized, was that he would have to discipline not his dogs, but himself. He was to grow up. He was to become responsible. He would get burnt trying to cook, but he would do it. For them. He would train himself, discipline himself. And he would do more for them. He would do better for them. And he trusted that they would rise to the occasion, that they would appreciate him and love him for it.
I’ve been watching a whole bunch of these lately. And I feel like they’ve been having a real effect on me. I feel like the words have begun to seep into my own mind. Let me take a minute to try to recap everything I’ve gotten out of these videos so far.
Life is hard, tough, short, brutish. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to suck. There’s no sugarcoating any of that. The real important question is- What are you going to do about it? You’re going to get hurt, knocked down, get the shit kicked out of you. Your brain is going to get cloudy and dark, the world is going to look hopeless.
But you need to know that it’s all an illusion. It’s all in the mind. On the other side of fear is joy and beauty and everything you want to become. It might not be entirely in your control, but it is all chemicals in the brain. It’s important to know that. Chemicals can be managed. You have to believe that. Yes, depression and mental illness are real things and they will put you in the hospital, paralyse you, ruin you. The critical thing is that you have to know that you’re allowed to have a better life. And you’re allowed to have a dream, and you’re allowed to pursue it. You can live your dream. Believing in it alone is not enough, but you have to believe. And It’s easy to lose sight of that. It’s easy to let everyday life crowd out your dream. I’ve had that happen to me.
What is my dream?
Moonshots and wild hairy audacious goals are nice to have, but it’s also Important to have something to strive towards that will make you an uncommon, valuable and interesting individual in the process of striving for it. For me, I realize, it’s these vomits.
When you pick what you’re willing to suffer for, what flavor of shit you’re willing to eat day after day for no extrinsic reward. What would you want to have gotten really good at, even if nobody else will ever care? For me it’s writing. And so I need to write more. I need to write every day. It’s crystal clear to me now.
Reviewing it every day
This is something that felt silly to me in the past. Why do you need to look at your goals every day? Don’t you already know them?
But now I realize that repetition is power. The mind is flighty. It seeks whatever is immediate and convenient. Writing down your goals and putting them in your wallet, on your fridge, these are things that keep you focused. They remind you of your priorities and they force you to prioritize. This is especially necessary for me as somebody with ADHD. I tried intermediate things like using a wallpaper of Commander Shepard on my Mac.
But I think that’s insufficient. “Get inspired” is an overly vague first cut for a person who has a specific goal. Once you have a specific goal you need to be reminded to run towards it. I need to light a fire every morning when I wake up. He’ll, I need to tend to the fire after every tomato. Why do I allow large chunks of time to pass without me being hyperfocused on my goals? Arrogance and complacency, I think. I assume that I’m a smart person, and that smart people figure everything out by themselves. Critical mistake. And when the mistake gets pointed out, I think “Oh, good catch. As a smart person, now that I’ve gotten that piece of input I definitely won’t do it again.” And then I do it again.
Either I am not a smart person, or my understanding of smartness is not very useful. I need prosthetics. I need systems. I need reminders. But perhaps above all In need to recognise that I have recurring issues that are stopping me from achieving what I want.
I will have climbed my first personal Everest when I complete my 1000 vomits. And then I will pick another target. In the mean time I need to establish clearly that this is the highest goal in my mind (outside of work and family.) I need to remind myself of this on all my personal touchpoints so that I can’t get away from it. I need to review it every day for a few minutes at least. I need to eliminate nonsense activities like worrying about what other people are doing on Facebook. Completely pointless and outright damaging.
That was this morning’s vomit. Only about 800 more to go. See you again in the evening.