0685 – optimize for an interesting, emotional life

Sometimes it’s just time to sit down and write a word vomit without thinking too much about it. That’s how the project started, and it’s surely worth returning to it from time to time.

We’re reaching the end of August. Then it’ll be September, then it’ll be Q4 2017 – and we’ll be on to 2018. I got married in 2012 and started work in 2013. It’s been 5 years. I feel like I spent a bunch of time worrying about whether or not I was navigating adulthood well. Well, fuck, I’m 27 years old now. I’ll be 28 next year. I don’t particularly love the idea of using external cues to navigate life, but it’s something we all do, so here goes:

Family: I’ve been happily married for a few years. I still love my wife, and I can still see myself growing old with her. So that’s one big “life achievement” taken care of. I also feel like… if for some reason that doesn’t work out, I think I know myself well enough in that space to be able to handle it. I don’t think that’s a worry or an issue for me. Overall I am “ahead of the curve” on this one; I have lots of friends my age who are still having an unfulfilling experience in this sphere. Of course, everybody’s life is different and non-linear, and we never know in advance what is good for us or not. But I think it’s reasonably safe to say “so far so good” in this space. We’re still not sure about whether we want to have kids – it feels like we have a bunch of things we want to get done first. [1]

Career: I’m earning a decent amount of money. I’m not optimizing for it – I’m not putting myself on the path to make the most possible money in my life. I tell myself that that’s not me, that’s not what I want. What I really do want to optimize for is an interesting life.

But what does that really mean, either? I need to be more precise. I’m 27. I can no longer “wait and see”. I’ve spent a decade “waiting and seeing”. And even a decade ago, I remember writing things like “now is the time for decisive action”. But really, I still spent a lot of time waiting and seeing. Why? Phantom fears? Maybe, if I zoom out further, this is just another oscillation phase. In many ways, I was hoping “to be done by now”. But what does that even mean? What does done mean? If you’re not precise about it, if you don’t have clear goals, it’s unlikely that you’re going to reach them. People don’t happen to wander to the top of mountains – they get there because they have a deliberate plan and they execute it. So moving forward I need to get a lot more deliberate about my plans and be a lot more decisive about executing them.

Let’s talk about writing, which is my dominant interest. Earlier today I found myself thinking that these vomits have made me… uncouth. I don’t write with the reader in mind, not very much. I am definitely a better writer than I was 5 years ago, or 2 years ago. Have I become a better writer over the past year? I’d like to think so, but I don’t have a lot of evidence to prove it. That should change. I should publish much more writing in the coming weeks, and ideally for the rest of my life.

I published a couple of new things on my blog. I republished a couple of “photo essays”, if you could call them that. But still, I feel hollow. I feel hungry. I feel empty. I feel like I need to be fired up. I was thinking a couple of days ago about the sort of silly stories that people tell on LinkedIn, and how there’s a formula to how people use them. And a big part of the formula, which is actually really useful, is to talk about feelings. To talk about your fears, anxieties, worries. And the interesting thing to think about I guess is that I’m experiencing emotions and states all the time, but I haven’t really taken the trouble to describe them in much detail. So I think that should change. I’ve been thinking that I want to write my memoirs, and I approach it from a sort of… archivist point of view. Like I’m a historian. And I suppose there is some utility in that, but it’s not very compelling. It would be much more compelling to lead with the emotions, to lead with the conflict. The archiving part happens along the way. And I noticed this when I republished my “bus ride through space and time” post – feelings are everything. We are human creatures, we have feelings. Emotion is at the core of life. Rationality is just structure that we construct around emotion. But emotion is at the core of life. I really believe that. So why doesn’t my writing reflect it?

There’s probably some interesting reason for that, but I’m not too obsessed with trying to figure it out right away. I’m much more curious about all the emotions I must have buried inside me that I haven’t talked about. I’m thinking about the time I was in a Starbucks on a Saturday morning, and I was reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art of Writing, and I decided to write a story about a boy and his wolf puppies – and I started crying because of how much I was moved by the story that was coming out of me. I want more of that. I think that’s the whole point.

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[1] Here I’m reminded of something I think I tweeted not too long ago – something about how, while everything is flux, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know when the time for something has come, or has passed. It’s true that you’ll “never be truly 100% ready”, but there’s also a stage where you’re hideously unprepared and ill-equipped, and a stage where you’re as equipped as you’re ever going to be, and some transitional, liminal stages between the two. Whether you make the call or not is something that’s up to you – maybe a part of it is your personality, your conditioning, your upbringing, your decision-making system and so on. The point is to be honest with yourself. I think that’s what prayer functionally helps people do – it helps them clarify and consolidate their “true” position, relative to themselves.

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