0043 – Life is theatre, writing for self

Life is theatre. All the world’s a stage. Everything we do is a part of the show, where we like it or not.

We are all animals. We say it like it’s a bad thing, as if animals are somehow terrible creatures and we’re so much better than them.

Sure, we have more complex behavior. We’re capable of cruelty and kindness. No animal is kind towards its perceived enemies. Hyenas will rip out the guts of their living prey. See- temple grandis.

Dogs and cats are kind to us in large part because they’re domesticated creatures.

Reddit zoo accident- gorilla attacked another and raped it. Animals aren’t better creatures than humans. We will find acts of kindness and altruism. Cats grooming each other, animals morning each other. That’s a part of the social reality of things. But any animal that is kind in one setting can be gruesome in another.

Life is at once beautiful and horrible. Red in tooth and claw.

We’re all seeking chemical effects in the brain. That’s why we like lolcats so much. That’s why we masturbate. That’s why we go clubbing. As a writer, I am not immune. Writing is one way I get my chemical fix.

The interesting thing about humans is that we have the illusion of choice. We have the ability to do what oddyseus did- to prepare ourselves.

We click on youtube links that have boobs on them, or titles like “banned advertisement” though we know it probably wasn’t. We didn’t have much choice in the matter. We get into arguments where we get more concerned with winning than with understanding each other. We’re animals. We have the  circuitry.

Today was not a great day at work. My colleagues are amazing, wonderful people and I have a fantastic work environment. I just haven’t fully learnt to work yet. And so I’m walking with cement in my shoes, in my Disneyland.

I need to learn the habit of practice and focus. I am repeating myself so thst this gets wired in my brain. My sleeping habits have improved. I no longer stay up all night for no reason. That’s progress.

I started a fitness routine. 20 pushups and 20 jump squats every morning, and every night. Everytime I do this, I write it down on my kitchen wall. This has worked out well for me. This is proving to do good things to my mental well being.

Incorporating fitness into my routine has made me more free. The challenge is to keep incorporating new routines into my life that further improve my freedom. I know what I must do, I just need to do it.

Damn, this is a crowded train.

I understand that I need to make the most of the littlw moments. The stars will never all align perfectly. The lights will never all turn green. That’s why I’m writing this on the commute home. I have to squeeze out whatever’s in me at every opportunity I get.  need to surround myself with people that inspire and motivate me.

I need to get all these little niggling tasks out of the way. I’m passing a t-shirt to a guy- I’ve held onto it for months! I need to do a book review that I promised months ago, too. These thoughts perpetually weigh me down. I need to ship, ship, ship!

Tomorrow morning I should go to work early. When I get home tonight I’m going to do my fitness routine. Publish 1 and schedule 1. Get plastic bags from downstairs? I need to meditate regularly and I need a clearer roadmap.

I’m going to read another chapter of thinking fast and slow. A chapter a day, a word vomit, fitness routine. These were the dailies I determined for myself a long time ago. I ended up starting with fitness. Now I’m moving to vomits and reading. If I maintain this for a week I’ll earn me some rewards.

Today at work I made tiny bits of progress on large tasks. This will not do. I need to implement strict pomodoro, for I am an animal that’s not to be trusted.

When in doubt, meditate and refocus on your purpose. I think bookends will save me- routines that bookend my day. Because now I just have a routine of disorganized chaos and the value that comes out of that is a mere trickle.

Look to your fitness routine, visa. See how it is strengthening you. And apply it to other areas. We will rewire your brain for the better.

I just want to continue this so I can post it up- I’m really thinking about writing about some of my army memories, because I woke up early in the morning and was reminded of my early morning army memories. I’m really not sure anymore of what I should be doing, but was I ever, really?

When I first started out, I just blindly did whatever I felt ought to be done. I wrote about whatever I felt ought to be written about. As I progressed and got more public attention, the whole operation started to feel more “legitimate”, so I started feeling like I ought to be putting some thought into what I’m writing. It makes sense, right? When people start looking at what you’re doing, you should give them what they want to see or hear. We naturally have that tendency- we sit straighter and stand taller when we believe we’re being observed.

But I think there’s a certain crippling/chilling effect, too. I start thinking about what my audience needs, rather than what I personally feel like putting out. Sure, there’s a balance between the two. But it can’t begin from a place of “what does the audience need”, because then I neglect what is bursting from my heart, from my mind. And if I’m not in the right mood, if I’m not in a situation where I’m enjoying what I’m writing, then the audience won’t be feeling it either.

So this is ultimately why I’m doing what I’m doing- in this context, these word vomits- they aren’t for you, they’re for me- but me doing this for me will ultimately be good for you, too. That’s what I believe. It may not be immediately apparent. But that’s how I got here and I think that’s how I’m going to be moving forward.


0042 – let’s talk dreams

Let’s talk lifelong dreams. I just saw a picture of a guy at harvard looking out at the campus, and he said, “When things get competitive I try to sit back,  play some guitar and remind myself it was my lifelong dream to be here.”

That got me thinking. What’s MY lifelong dream? As a really young kid as I was enamored with space. I had a set of Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia- it had about 15 books in it with nice pictures and beautiful text. (I think those books helped to inform my fundamental design principles quite a bit.)

I loved the Internet and I loved video games. I also enjoyed playing around with html: I saw it as means to an end, allowing me to create my own website in this collection of websites on the internet. I spent a lot of time accumulating images of video game characters. I’d print out entire game FAQs. I set out to write some myself- I wrote 2. Google “The 0rochi Slayer” to see the ridiculous amount of effort I put into that. (What I didnt know then was that nobody really cares about perfect character alignment- I didn’t flip the highest order bit- but I learned a lot and I had fun. )

My favourite sites on the internet might’ve been IncREDible Alert and sc3ku- websites that were guides to video games I enjoyed playing. I enjoyed the sandbox nature of simcity, and GTA. I loved exploring these realms and building something. I used to read certain books over and over. I’d read about egyptian civilization and how pyramids were built and how earthquakes and volcanos worked.

My persistence with video games was always something remarkable. I’d do the same thing over and over. I’d play the first act of Darkstone over and over, dying badly. I did not grasp the proper way to pay. Same for GTA2. Same for simcity. I got really good at metak slug x and streets of rage- but in both cases I’m not at the top achievable standard.

That’s the kicker isn’t it- I get good but never amazing, not yet. I’d play a flight simulator without ever getting off the runway. I’d spend vast amounts of time terraforming a landscape to make it flaw free, then build toi many roads and lose money because of maintenance costs. I’d play championship manager and do massive amounts of pre-season prep, then quit and start over when I inevitably lost a match. I’d create multiple new characters on vagabonds quest and bring them through the same old dungeon. Same for netropolis (which I still think is a fantastic idea in principle- probably represented by Eve online).

I’d play all these games, read all the strategy guides, but remain stuck at some sort of plateau. Why? I think it’s because a part of me enjoys the familiarity of it- it becomes a pleasant task cognitively, and there’s a state of flow you get from doing the same thing over and over.

I think there  are some painful parallels between the way I play games and the way I live my life. I develop a certain affinity for discomfort avoidance. I remain stressed because I find the idea of committing to a stress reduction system too stressful. Why? I intellectually know that behind this little burst of stress is a reduced-strength existence. I know it intellectually. But I have never executed. Why?

To me it now seems clear that the problem is a lack of focus. Busting ruts requires focused persistence. It requires a certain activation energy. And we have somewhat limited energy.  And I spread myself too thin.(I talked to my boss about this, and this is what he said: This is something you can try that might help you gather up enough activation energy. Envision the event that is not being effected by your lack of focus. Imagine how the world will be changed by the effects of the causal event you’re avoiding. If you feel strong enough emotions about what is being forsaken, that might work.)

I systematically underestimate my problems and I overestimate myself. I assume problems will be solved just my presence- which is necessary but insufficient. (Or to go mindful-meditation about it- my problems WILL be solved by my presence- but I’m rarely present.)

My presence is scattered. I’m everywhere but here or there. And I need to be here. I need to focus. I am here as I write this. It feels good. I have to stop seeking distractions to minimize discomfort- which I think is a practice I developed in school. (If this is true, then you shouldn’t expect the process of correcting this to be quick, easy or painless. It might help to acknowledge that it’ll be a difficult process and be prepared for it – by coming up with strategies for dealing with the times you stray. Maybe summarise all this into a sentence or two that you read each morning as a mantra to steady your mind. Or something else to that effect.)

Minimizing discomfort is not an optimal strategy- it’s just the easy and convenient way out. But nobody ever got amazing at something just by minimizing discomfort. No. They maximize pleasure instead. The pleasure of learning. Of growing. Of contributing beyond the self.

Minimize discomfort by walking away from toxic people and toxic spaces, yes. But not through distractions. You already know what needs to be done but the challenge is gathering the resources (which are ALREADY THERE,  just scattered) and executing what is most important. Right now, for me, that means ending this here, eating breakfast and getting to work.

Vale. (Oh yeah I guess I didn’t bother with space because I’m in Singapore, no clear path to being an astronaut. My subsequent dream was to build spaces, communities and resources online- and offline, eventually,  for people like myself. And when there’s enough of us gathered we WILL go to space.)

Funny note- this word vomit ended at 992 words, so I’m just adding words to make up the numbers. There have been vomits in the past that crossed 1200, 1300 words. But I just want every single vomit to cross 1,000 words, even though it’s a kind of silly metric. Something I’m learning is- sometimes kind-of-silly ideas can be helpful in execution. So heh. Now we’re at 1050+.



0041- Procrastination, and inability to focus

I picked up smoking when I was 16 and smoked regularly until I was 22.5. I’d smoke in the morning when I woke up, I’d smoke after meals, smoke when stressed, smoke when relaxed.

For 6 years, I was clearly a smoker. It was a part of my identity. I have since shed it- I cut my smoke-stained skin open and ripped myself out of it, bloody, breathless, shivering.

You might think that this is going to be about my journey into and out of smoking. It isn’t. It would’ve been, if it didn’t reveal to me that I have a far greater addiction.

I’m not sure if I’ve slain the smoking demon yet, but I’ve definitely made a significant dent in it. I see it for what it is. It isn’t a part of me. I don’t need it.

But something terrifying happened- I realized that smoking is just one thing. It’s just one false idol to be broken and trampled on. Surely there are others.

And then I saw it. Far deeper. Much closer. Far more familiar. Smoking was a demon that I had flirted with, been seduced by, I adopted- and he would bring my attention to one within me.

Procrastination. The saboteur. Anxiety. Fear. Incompetence. This demon was playing the long game. Cigarettes were, for me, like Sirens out at sea. I thought I could handle them. I went searching for them. The saboteur? he was on my ship all along. One of my crew- my right hand. A parasite of the highest order, corrupting me in the most insidious manner.

Is it a habit? It’s almost a way of being. I chatted with my boss about it and he pointed out that I ought to be really pissed off that I’m being held back by the most trivial of things- the simplest of things.

So I need to learn and practice the art of focus. I need to stop allowing my mind to wander off on tangents when I need it to stick to the matter at hand.

It’s incredibly frustrating for me because it makes me realise that I’ve been limiting myself my whole life. I make these grand overtures about wanting to change the world, but how can I do that if I can’t even change myself? What right do I have to tell the world or should change? The most I can do is to be the change I want to see.

These days I can’t help but feel like I’m in disneyland, but with lead in my shoes. The only thing holding me back is me. And in this realm there is no compromise, no draws, you win or you lose. Delaying the point of confrontation is a losing preposition.

The number one problem in my life right now- and it’s a really old problem, possibly the oldest- is my inability to focus. My lack of personal responsibility and discipline. This has been a source of pain, fear, anxiety and stress in my life for way too long- ever since I was in primary school. It’s very deep rooted- I often have dreams in which guilt is the dominant emotion- I did something I wasn’t supposed to do, or I didn’t do something that I was. This had been a huge problem for me and it has crippled and limited me for a ridiculously long time.

A part of me used to rationalize that it’s not worth doing anything if you can anticipate the outcome. There’s no point going into the lift and pressing all the buttons just so you can experience what that might feel like. That’s boring. You can infer what that experience might be like. All you need is a little imagination.

But I realize that I started using this to rationalize inaction and inability in things far more complex than lift-button pressing. I started thinking- if you study hard you’ll get good grades, and you can kinda imagine what that’s like- so studies are boring and not worth your time.

That made sense before, but it has a fundamental flaw- it gives too much credit to the imagination. It assumes that all you see- and all you can imagine- is all there is. That’s the fatal flaw. Because I don’t know what I don’t know. While I can infer something about the experience of going up the elevator, I can’t infer very much about the view from the top while I’m still on the ground.

That’s the mistake I made. I threw the baby out with the bathwater. I experienced cognitive dissonance as follows:

As a member of the human species, I am “above average”. I am literate, educated, I can make sense of things that some other people struggle with. I seem to be in a good place- it’s tolerable, comfortable. I am in reasonably good health. I have a great command of the English language. I have good friends, god conversations. I have a blog that people read and share. I’m a public figure, you know. Invited to meet the PM at the Istana. Quora Top Writer. Big fuck lah.

At the same time- I am irresponsible. Incompetent. Irresponsible. I have been a huge source of frustration for all my teachers and workmates over the years. I never did my homework. Confession time- you know that asshole in school who was never contactable and never did his share of the work? That was me. The only reason I still have friends might be because… I try to be nice to people, and the quality of my last minute work isn’t too bad. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said you only need 2 out of 3- be nice, be punctual, be good. I’m reasonably nice and almost always late. Good is debatable.

And you know what, I’m fucking tired of this shit. I’m tired of having to apologize for the fucked up saboteur in my head.

Almost every single teacher I’ve had has scolded me or thrown me out of class. A maths teacher ripped my sheets in half. My favourite English teacher yelled at me so loud, the fellas 3 classrooms away heard it. I’ve beeb reprimanded and sent for detention and made to write lines.

I might be colouring this with rose-tinted glasses but I think I was always civil about it. I was always sorry that I had spoilt my teacher’s mood- but being sorry was not enough for me to change my behaviour.

In primary 4 and 5, my classmates carried me on most team projects. I’d do the final writing. I’d go for tuition and not do my homework at all- I went to a pretty expensive place and my parents were essentially paying me to socialize. (On hindsight, still worth it- I made great friends). I fabricated survey results. I would go uncontactable. I had a D&T project in sec 2 that I contributed almost nothing to. My groupmate was really, really pissed off. I skived. I once skived from an IT club competition- some quiz- and pretended to be my own sister to say I wasn’t home. That might’ve been my all time low.

Time and time again my life is littered with instances where I’m diminished to a pathetic, grovelling wisp of a person. When I was a student councillor in JC, I shirked my duties and spent all my time sleeping. Even as a musician- something I was passionate about- I’d often turn up to gigs unrehearsed, unprepared.

I have been a minnow of a man, whose word has been worthless.

It has to stop. I can’t go on living a life that is characterized by the overdue.

A friend asked me- what intrinsic weaknesses do you have and what did you do to overcome them? I haven’t overcome them. But the answer seems to be… baby steps.