0153 – I highly recommend watching Boyhood, the Richard Linklater movie

I was crushed when I first heard about the existence of Before Sunrise, the movie. It was what I thought nobody had done properly before. I had always had long, meandering conversations with my closest friends and they were my favorite things about life. And I always thought that if I ever made a movie, it would be about long conversations. [1] It seemed like something nobody had done before, at least to my ignorant non-movie-watching self.

And then I discovered that there was this guy Richard Linklater, and that he basically made the perfect movie that I always fantasized about making. And then he did it again, 9 years later, and 9 years again after that, and he did AGAIN with the same kid over a decade, year after year after year. What a cinematic treat. What a work of art. This is one for the ages, one that I think is worth watching and rewatching and rewatching over and over again. This is one that’s condensed with so much experience and so much insight and perspective, it’s like reading 20-30 good books all together.

Spoilers ahead, read this after watching.

I enjoyed the darkroom chat that Mason had with his photography teacher. (That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I look back on the film. The second would be the supervisor he had at work.) You never see the guy ever again after that, but he’s such a full character. You don’t know very much about the rest of his life, but you know he cares. And you know that one of the most beautiful things about life is encountering strangers who give a damn, beyond what they’re obligated to. [2]

I like how Linklater included many such moments. All the different people in Mason’s life trying to tell him how it is, how things are, what you ought to worry about, what you ought to look out for, what you ought to do, etc. And how there are so many different perspectives and you can’t quite make all of them completely synchronous, but that’s okay. That’s just the way it is.

I enjoyed (uncomfortably) all the conflict, the breakdowns, the breakups. I feel like we never address those things enough in daily life. We pretend that families are somehow perfect and pretty when they’re not. They’re messy, ugly and things can go horribly wrong. People who are supposed to take care of you can be abusive and damaging. I like that Mason’s mum got all messed up and had to yell at her kids a couple of times.

I liked that there were people in the background, like that guy talking to himself about celestial bodies and 14,000 years, and that there were adults in the kitchen talking about housing and tax and the like, and bills.

I love all the little characters. I love that the septic pipe kid went on to get educated and do well in life, it’s a reminder that little things can go a long, long way. And make all the difference to somebody. I love that Ethan Hawke’s character grew up, matured and became a responsible good guy- while the psychology professor degenerated into an openly drinking waste of space. I wonder what happened to his kids.

I liked that sometimes I found Mason childish and annoying, like when he was upset about the car, and I liked that he interacted with other flawed, broken people. I cringed when the boys in the abandoned house were being blatantly sexist and spouting patriarchal bullshit. I liked that Mason was relatively decent to the girls in his life despite it. I like that all the characters were so beautiful and broken and human all at once. In this regard, it reminds of reading Balzac’s Lost Illusions, which is my favorite book so far. Even the good guys seem like the overdo things, everybody has their little odd quirks, you root for everyone and you find them annoying at some point… just like real life. It takes a lot of skill to capture all of this, and I admire Linklater a lot for that.

What a gift to give to the world. I think I’ll be making it a point to watch this movie again every other year or so. I’ve been doing that with Before Sunrise and it’s been enriching for me. [3]

Final note- anybody who enjoys Boyhood will almost definitely enjoy the Before Sunrise trilogy as well as the The Fosters, th

Notes:

[1] I’ve always been curious about at least three things- people’s sex lives, what they do when they’re alone, and what people’s extended conversations are like. And I don’t mean that in like a creepy pervert way, I think creepy perverts ruin curiosity for the rest of us by taking it to a really unhealthy, damaging extreme. What do Aragorn and Gandalf chat about when they’re taking a long horseride together?

[2] Jane Jacobs talked about this in The Death And Life Of Great American Cities. Public figures are very important in the education of a child, or of anybody, really. You know your parents care because they’re your parents, and your teachers care because it’s their job to, but it’s the caring from that people who don’t need to bother that really sticks with you for the rest of your life.

[3] I realize that I need/want/ought to watch stuff regularly, rather than partition it off to some distant future. I can’t do “bulk batches of work” without breaks to drink up all this art. My brain needs watering with stories and perspectives on a nearly daily basis, and I think I get rather messed up and dry when I’ve been deprived of it for some time. I think I should be reading and writing and consuming quality content like this on a very regular basis. I think that will make me a healthier, happier person and that will help me create better, do better, and just get more out of life.

 

0152 – Letter To A Young Songwriter

When I was a teenager, I’d play bass in bands, sing horribly and toy with the idea of being a songwriter. This is a letter I wish somebody had written to me when I was 17.

Strive to be prolific.

Notice I didn’t say ‘aim to be great,’ or ‘just have fun’. Both of those are stupid directives, because they’re overly vague. And trust me, the two most frustrating things you can get caught up in are “Will I be great? Am I good enough?” and “Am I having fun?” You have a far greater shot at tasting greatness and fun if you simply write as much as you possibly can, and then some.

You might think that you ought to try to write the best song that you possibly can, but you’d be wrong. That’s actually a trap that you should try your hardest to avoid, especially when you’re just starting out.

Why? Because your concept of ‘best’ is a work-in-progress and a moving target. Why spend a year working on writing the best song you can, when you could instead spend a year improving your idea of what makes a song great?

You don’t actually know what makes a good song, you don’t actually know what matters to you, you don’t actually know what you ought to be writing about. (Some veterans will tell you that they don’t know either, but at least they know that they don’t know, and songwriting is their way of figuring that stuff out.)

So don’t worry about any of that.

Write the worst song you can.

Just write a song. Make it as stupid and silly as you can. Finish it. Allow it to be a little strange, weird and rough around the edges. In fact, go especially out of your way to try and write the worst song ever. Then try and top that with something even worse, if possible. It’s hard to find good ideas when you’re looking for good ideas, but you can sometimes find them just next door when you’re looking for bad ideas.

When you’ve written a hundred songs, you’ll look back and realize that you’ve learnt things that you couldn’t possibly have anticipated when you were starting out. I haven’t written a hundred songs, but this is my experience with writing blogposts, and I imagine songs are no different. Quantity has a quality all of its own.

Avoid trying to be original; learn other people’s songs instead.

Trying to be original is exhausting, and it is impossible. Give up the pursuit altogether. There’s no such thing as original, everything is derivative. Everything is a remix. The artists who are held up as ‘original’ are simply much better at remixing than everybody else. They make familiar remixes with elements people don’t quite expect, or they make unfamiliar mixes with familiar elements.

All great artists start out producing derivative work. There’s no other way to learn! You learned walking and talking through imitation, and you’ll learn to write by doing the same. ‘Originality’ or ‘personal style’ are things that emerge not from you trying to be creative or original, but from you trying to make things as well as you possibly can.

“At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.” – Paul Graham, Taste for Makers

The Beatles and Bob Dylan and many, many others all started out by imitating the work of others. Even Mozart, I believe. You’re no better than them, and you’re no different, either. So just make stuff. Make and make and make and make.

Smartness is overrated, think less and write more.

When I look back on my life and my work, I find that I greatly overvalued ‘smartness’. On hindsight, I would happily trade quite a chunk of ‘intelligence’ for ‘more data points’. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have interesting things to say about this. Let me quickly paraphrase both of them:

Gates: Intelligence is the ability to enter a new field and to ask thoughtful questions- Well, what about this? What about that? What if we reversed it? To get good at this, you just need to turn things around and over in your head as much as you can. Take things apart, put them back together. Over time you’ll notice that things aren’t as opaque as they seem. Really, everything is made up of other things, and it’s not too difficult to start seeing patterns in the way they work.

Jobs: Creativity is just connecting things, and to connect things you need two things- a bunch of dots to connect, and the habit of attempting connections. You won’t get them right all the time right from the beginning. Nobody does, and there’s reason to believe that you’ll never quite improve your batting average. You can only just step up to the plate more often. So collect as many dots as you can, and mess around with connections as much as you can. Tinker. Make a mess. Clean it up and start over.

Play scales. It’s like walking through the ‘underlying fundamental code’ of music itself.

I never bothered with these early on. They both bored and intimidated me. Why would anybody learn to play scales, when they’re both boring and difficult? The guy in the video above gives a GREAT explanation that I wish I had when I was a kid. (YouTube is such an INCREDIBLE resource.) I finally picked them up out of boredom and curiosity when I had a guitar and a lot of free time during my mandatory military conscription. I practiced the major and minor scales up and down the fretboard. I did it because I was curious about the differences between the major and minor scales, and I vaguely sort-of wanted to explore the differences.

Awaken to the world you already inhibit.

I didn’t know what to expect, but here’s what happened. I developed a bit of a sense of it, and it felt like a whole new world in the space I already inhabited. Each note has a certain flavor, and the different notes have different relationships with each other, just as words do. After a while you develop a certain “rhythm” or “prosody” for notes. It gives you the vocabulary and ability you sort of need to better process what you hear.

Playing scales trains and improves your ear, and I personally found them very transformative as a musician. This is coming from a person who absolutely hated music theory when I first encountered it, and hates practicing. It also gave me a sense of possibility– I started to understand how professional musicians are just more in tune with their ears and their instruments than I am, rather than mystical alien creatures.

Deliberate practice is the smart, lazy thing to do. It requires the least effort for the greatest output in the long run. It’s the fastest way to get better. It just requires you to pay careful attention, and to focus on your weaknesses. That can be a little counter-intuitive, but it’s so incredibly powerful I wish somebody taught it to me when I was younger.

Play slow. Don’t rush the music, immerse yourself in it.

Man, it took me years to do this. When I was starting out, I was so edgy, anxious and excitable that I tried to go as loud and as fast as I could with everything I played. That was the only way I knew how to be intense. But that gets old and tiring really, really fast. It wears you down.

The joy of music is in timing, in placement, in tastefulness. You need to be relaxed and learn to feel the groove, feel the beat. Lots of practice will help with this. And lots of listening. Listen to yourself when you play. Listen to the rest of the band that you’re playing it. Music isn’t about proving yourself, it isn’t about showing off, it’s about appreciation. Kind of like sex.

Consume content extensively and thoughtfully.

This goes back to connecting the dots. Watch lots of movies. Read lots of books. And this is maybe the most important part- write down your thoughts about them. Try to capture them in song, if you like.

Have some records of what you thought about things at a certain time in your life. The main reason for this is so that you can look back at them years later and see how much you’ve grown and changed as a person. I think that’s very fundamental to appreciating life, and music, and expression of any kind. A blog is a great way to do this. Notebooks and recordings are fine, if you’re shy. (Nothing beats publishing stuff in the public domain, though, because you get real feedback from real people.)

I especially recommend reading biographies, and reading about how your favorite artists talk about their creative processes, but always make sure you spend more time creating than reading about creating.

If all else fails, remember this: Always Be Creating (…or listening).

If you’re not creating, you’re decaying, you’re dying, and you’re going to start feeling sorry for yourself. You’re going to start being miserable, you’re going to start getting into boring conversations and arguments with other people who’re procrastinating and distracting themselves from their work.

If you feel like you have nothing to say, then take a long walk. Listen to some strange and unfamiliar music. Or listen to some really familiar music from your childhood. Think of it as a pilgrimage, or a declutter, whatever you like. Your cup is empty, so go fill it.

A quick recap/rewrite of this post:

  1. Aim to be prolific, rather than “to be great” or “to have fun”. We can have much more interesting conversations once you have a body of work.
  2. Screw ‘best’. Avoid trying to write the best possible song. Your definition of ‘best’ will be a moving target.
  3. Write badly. Deliberately try to write bad songs, rough songs, strange and awkward songs. They’ll teach you more than you’ll learn from writing what you think is “okay”.
  4. Screw originality. Forsake the quest for originality, it’s a mirage. Learn other people’s songs as much as you can. Learn songs from genres you don’t really care for.
  5. Think less, write more. Don’t try to be smarter by thinking harder. Be smarter by processing more, recursively. Write new songs. Learn songs you didn’t know. Learn new chord progressions. Take long walks through unfamiliar territories.
  6. Play scales. It’s like learning to play with the underlying code of music itself. It’ll improve your appreciation of music that you listen to, and it’ll improve your ability to navigate the music you play.
  7. Play slow. Don’t rush after music. Immerse yourself in it. Imagine really bad sex, and then imagine really good sex. What’s the difference? Good music is like good sex.
  8. Always Be Creating (Or Listening). If you’re not doing one of the two, you’re probably procrastinating. Ask yourself which of the two states you’re closer to, and dive into that.
 

0150 + 0151 – Restatement of Purpose

I have often felt purposeless, for the most part. Sometimes I get caught up in something and get all excited, but it usually ends up being temporary, illusory. It goes away. It doesn’t map meaningfully onto reality, so it becomes a flight of fancy that becomes more trouble than it’s worth.

We’re all going to die. And eventually everything will become nothing. So that makes a lot of seemingly meaningful things become really pointless. The idea of becoming some authority figure for the sake of it doesn’t gel with me. I’ve tried to buy into that, but it never lasts because it ultimately strikes me as a little silly. I’ve run through a lot of that. The problem is, just coasting through life strikes me as a little silly, too. You end up getting into problems that you don’t have enough energy, resources or know-how to solve, and the whole “The Universe Will Provide” idea strikes me as myopic, privileged and powerless. I’m sure I’m interpreting that a little too narrowly, but there’s no avoiding that.

LifeGame

So. We have this LifeGame, and we ought to make the most of it. We don’t have to, but I’ve kind of played around in the “I decide not to decide” space for long enough, and I find that suboptimal. That’s Mixed Feelings Park. And I don’t want to spend life in Mixed Feelings Park, I want to spend it in Flow, and in the Good/Light Playground. I want to be happy, full of joy. No anxiety. This means developing skills, abilities. This means some degree of will-to-power, not for its own sake but so that you can navigate LifeGame with more finesse. You don’t want to get stuck here and there, you don’t want to mope and be miserable because some random small monster takes you down. I want to be strong so I can protect and help others.

Okay? So I think I’ve resolved that. LifeGame, to play or not to play? I choose play. Since you’re going to play, you have to take it seriously (while acknowledging that it’s ultimately a game). I mean serious here in the sense of “earnest” rather than “grave”. Poker can provide a useful analogy. Taking poker seriously means learning how the game works, learning the odds, learning the hands, learning to read people. It also means not getting overly attached to the outcome. You can have fun with it. You can play with it like an artist, rather than get bludgeoned by it. You know you might lose everything, but at least you did the best you could and you had fun. You played your cards right.

Choosing an overall strategy

So. I choose to acknowledge LifeGame, and I choose to play it, and I choose to play it well. Choosing to play it well means figuring out what your personal utility functions are. What gets you off, sustainably over the context of your LifeGame? So a cigarette gives me utility over 5 minutes. Heroin might do the same. I think if you have 5 minutes left to live, heroin is a great idea.

The problem is that you seldom knowingly know that you have 5 minutes to live. I can reasonably assume that I have at least 10-20 years left, and at best I might have a 100 years left. Cigarettes greatly diminish the quality of that life. So they’re a detrimental choice in LifeGame. When you start thinking in terms of such broader contexts, things like eating and living healthily, exercising, etc make more sense. Getting into petty disagreements and arguments on Facebook and the Internet make less sense. They might be fun in the short term, they might feel meaningful in the short term, but they’re really just distractions.

If you’re not building assets that compound over time, you’re wasting your time- at least, again, assuming that you have at least 10 years to live. If you have an hour left to live, shoot up all you like. Ignore me. These are thoughts for optimizing a good 40-80 years of LifeGame.

What to do?

Okay. So what do I do, then? What do I want to create? What do I want to experience? My wife was asking me about this.  What am I excited about? I did some pretty dramatic things by getting married and buying a house and getting a job. I got a couple of cats. I have a job with awesome colleagues. But things have been fairly stagnant since then. Or at least, they’ve been progressing steadily, but it feels a little “boring” in its steadiness. My daily routine is a little boring. This is my own problem, not anybody else’s. I should figure out how to get more out of my own life, I should figure out how to be at peace with myself if I die tomorrow.

Anyway, I realize that I’ve been carrying tonnes and tonnes of thoughts in my head for over a year, maybe. And it takes a bit of shaking around, a bit of colliding with other ideas, a bit of video-watching, people-talking, all of that stuff… before it starts to coalesce into something meaningful. And I feel like I’m on to something here, by taking what I’ve learnt over the past 1.5 years, by taking these new ideas and perspectives and lens and applying them to older, more fundamental pursuits.

Legion Of Heroes -> The Pipeline

I went through a phase where I was very obsessed with the idea of becoming a hero. I’d use “visaisahero” (Visa Is A Hero) as a username on multiple places. It was my MSN name. I was obsessed with this idea of becoming a hero- somebody who rose above herself and her circumstances to achieve great things for others. But somehow that never really took off the way I wanted it to. It was a vague, naive, narcissistic and fantastic ideal. It wasn’t actionable enough. The fundamental dream was real inside my head, but I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do about it. I had this vague idea that I’d just write about heroism, write blogposts about how to be heroic, and that I’d fake it until I made it.

That sort of died-ish. In the meantime, I had been writing about Singaporean politics and media news and stuff, and that got me a bunch of attention. But I never quite managed to let go of my original Heroes idea. I always felt that life could be much more interesting than as determined by happenstance. There had to be other people like me out there, people who were working on interesting things, tackling interesting problems, and there had to be a way to reach out to them and help them achieve great things. I created a community on Facebook called (n_n)/ for friends to invite other thoughtful friends, so we could have nice conversations. These were really pleasant and thoughtful, but the nature of the medium made it more of a relationship/friendship building space rather than a vehicle for any serious change or construction. The only place I can actually imagine that actually happening is on an independent site or forum of some sort.

I knew that I wanted something. I knew I wanted more than what I was, what I had. But I didn’t know how to make it any more precise than I already had so far. I wanted to be more, to be better. But in what sense?

Creative Collision (synaptic stimuli!)

I was watching a couple of TED talks earlier when I was having lunch. First I re-watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk about genius and creativity. Then I watched Bill Gates talk about Innovating to Zero. And something stirred in me. As I watched these, I re-thought about other things that I’ve enjoyed watching, and how they cause certain conceptual collisions inside my head that trigger off a chain reaction. I realize that I ought to have a better formula for getting unstuck when I get stuck. I realize that I ought to share that formula with others who might be in the same boat as I was. And then things start getting clearer.

I don’t need to try and achieve something lofty. Rather, I need to try to achieve something highly specific and localized, that only I can do. And it can (even should?) start with something almost ridiculously hyper-precise, and hyper-unique to my own condition. Let me attempt to phrase it.

I personally want to see a slight shift in the world, where people celebrate scientific achievement and throw themselves at achieving the goals that improve the lot of our species. Specifically, the work of people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates come to mind, but really, anybody who’s doing basic research, anybody who’s improving science and technology, anybody who’s helping to lift people out of poverty, solve our energy problems, so on and so forth. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel there, I am willing to follow the visions of people who are smart and have put in the work already.

I am tired and underwhelmed of spectator sports and the path-of-least-resistance that “the media” often takes. I find it almost sad and ridiculous that people worry about celebrities and about sports when there are things happening at much larger scales. I suppose those things might seem more scary because they’re so consequential, but the idea of living life while caring about artificially created meaning scares me. I don’t mean to insult people who do that. I’m almost kind of jealous of people who can pick a sports team and be loyal to it for life and decide that that’s somehow a meaningful thing to do. For me it feels too artificial and constructed. And yes I know that all meaning is ultimately constructed, but shouldn’t we be working on things that have real and positive repercussions on other people?

Not necessarily. It’s all arbitrary. There is no single right way of doing things. Just ways of doing things that might be us amusing ourselves into the abyss, or us trying to build something and help people… also in the face of the abyss. I personally find that there’s something really exciting about the work that really smart people are doing, and it excites me more than sports or celebrities. If you disagree, then this isn’t the place for you. I’m still happy to share this precious planet with you, but you should probably go hang out somewhere else.

Paul Graham describes essays as cleaned-up trains of thought. My vomits aren’t cleaned up at all. They’re fully messy, fully random, fully chaotic. Everything just gets spilled out, and it probably makes little to no sense to anybody other than myself. But that’s okay, I can clean them up later. I’m just dumping out the lego bucket.

I think there must be kids out there in the world right now who are going through what I went through 10 years ago, 5 years ago. And I think back to how lost and confused I was at those points in time. I wonder what I would do if I encountered my younger self right now. What questions would I ask him? What advice would I give him? How would I help him make better decisions, without exactly telling him what to do, or asking him to do my bidding? That’s the blog that I need to have. I need to clean up the messy path that led me from there to here, so that others can skip the mistakes that I made en-route. So I need to be highly specific.

I’m going to write a bunch of blogposts that detail the biggest mistakes I made. The biggest lessons I learned. The things that I wasted my time with. The things I wish I did earlier. The videos, movies and books that made the biggest difference to me.

The people I will be writing for? ENTPs. Geminis. People with ADHD. People who did well in school early on, but became underachievers afterwards. People who were told they were smart, but weren’t taught to work hard. People with horrible time management skills. People who are flighty, unreliable, untrustworthy. People who used to read books under their desks at school. People who are addicted to Facebook or Reddit instead of building things in their spare time that might have lasting value. People who have always felt like they ought to be building something, but suspect that they’re not good enough, or that they might embarrass themselves by failing, or that the world doesn’t quite need what they have to say, do, or offer.

One of the most important things I’m realizing right now as I write this is how much of this stems from all of the things that seemed so silly and foolish when I were younger. Everything great seems really naive, stupid and ignorant when it’s still a fragile, vulnerable seed. You shouldn’t shut people out or down when they start on these paths. Rather, you should help them refine their thoughts. You should ask probing questions that will clear their heads.

I was hoping that this vomit or post was going to be really simple and straightforward, really succinct and fast. But instead I meandered through the whole thing. That’s okay. I’m getting it out. I have a lot more stuff to get out. And then I will sort it all. Then I will look at the streams, and I will tidy them up. And it will be useful to at least one other person out there. And it will remind me of my own journey, and it will give me a sense of how I’m going to move forward. We ARE going to innovate to zero. We ARE going to lift billions of people out of poverty. And I’m going to try and figure out how I can participate in that, get involved. And it’ll be really fun, exciting and meaningful. And we can go out with a smile on our faces, that our LifeGames were well-played.

 

0149 – Channel your fury constructively; become stronger because of it

Defining Fury

I have been struggling for a word to describe a condition that sometimes comes over me. I sometimes want to call it Rage, and in the shower earlier I initially thought it might’ve been Lust, and perhaps I ought to put the two together and call it RageLust. But then it occurred to me- it ought to be Fury. This is at least partially influenced by the Fury condition that you get in Final Fantasy 7, which builds your Limit Break meter faster.

If none of that made sense, I’m going for the 2nd meaning of Fury you get if you Google “define fury”. That is, “extreme strength or violence in an action or a natural phenomenon”, as in “the fury of a gathering storm”.

According to Etymonline:

fury (n.) late 14c., “fierce passion,” from Old French furie (14c.), from Latin furia “violent passion, rage, madness,” related to furere “to rage, be mad.” Romans used Furiæ to translate Greek Erinyes, the collective name for the avenging deities sent from Tartarus to punish criminals (in later accounts three in number and female). Hence, figuratively, “an angry woman” (late 14c.).

Yeah, punishing criminals with avenging deities is the vibe I’m going for.

Context 

Anyway, some context. Yesterday, I was taking a long walk with my wife to go and meet my parents. Along the way, I passed by the house that I grew up in- which we sold about two years ago because we couldn’t quite afford it anymore. The person who’s bought it since has renovated it, and while it looks a lot “cleaner” because of all the fresh paint, it also looks a lot less charming. A lot colder. And I felt a certain rage in me at the desolation of my childhood home.

Now, I immediately juxtapose these visceral, from-the-gut reactions with some calm thoughts. Nobody is entitled to anything. Earth will eventually crumble, as will the rest of the universe. A house is just a thing. There are billions of humans who’ve never had the chance to live in a nice house, and perhaps never will. So my rage isn’t grounded in any sort of ethical or moral calculus. It’s purely reactionary, purely relative. I once had something that I didn’t appreciate while I had it, and it bothered me to see it being “mistreated” in my eyes.

I have felt similarly on other occasions, when I feel like something was being “mismanaged” or “misunderstood”, but I didn’t have any power or authority to do anything about it. In moments like those I feel incredibly powerless, and for a moment I regret not living a life of jealous, catty rage- because I hadn’t prepared myself. It’s like being a calm, happy-go-lucky civilian town and seeing your family and friends get bullied by a neighbouring military town. You realise that the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and that might makes right. You aren’t power-hungry, you don’t wish dominance over others. You just want to stop being pushed around. You just want to stop feeling powerless as you watch people with more power crash around clumsily and damage the things you care about, even if these things are completely arbitrary and will eventually be dust.

It fills me with Fury to think about how families ill-treat their children. It fills me with Fury to think about all the injustice in the world, even though I know that it’s unlikely that I’ll ever do anything significant about it on a global scale. It feels me with Fury when I witness people get bullied but I can’t really do very much about it. In those moments I wish I were stronger. I wish I had put in the effort that my ChillBro inner self didn’t bother with, because all will end anyway, no point worrying so much about anything.

Choosing To Be Stronger

I feel a shift in my fundamental perspective on that. I feel like I’ve been here before. I know that it won’t last, because it never lasts, so I’m writing this in an attempt to calcify it at least a little bit. This is a recurring pattern that has recurred enough that I ought to do something about it. I’m tired of being weak when it counts. I’m tired of being powerless when it counts. People don’t appreciate kindness and mercy unless you have the strength and/or power to enforce real, credible threats. Speak softly and carry a big stick- I’ve never bothered with the big stick. This has proven over and over again to be really inefficient. I feel the same way about quitting smoking.

A series of suboptimal outcomes makes you realise there must be a superior global outcome, or the effort required for the high road is almost definitely less bad. It’s when you spend so much time in Mixed Feelings Park that you realise finally that you might as well go through the Dark Woods and get to the Happy Playground. (If none of that made sense, read How To Beat Procrastination by Wait But Why.

Eventually you realise that working out and staying fit is cheaper and happier than being an unfit slob. Doing your homework is cheaper and easier than panicking every day. Not smoking is happier and healthier than smoking. The problem with all of those things isn’t that the better path isn’t obviously better, but that the short term things seem to be too costly in the short run and don’t seem to have much clear payoff in the long run. The main problem for me when it comes to procrastination, etc might be a lack of faith. I don’t trust myself. I can’t trust myself. The data has shown that I am an untrustworthy person. Any big plans will definitely fail. So I might as well just do whatever will straightforwardly give me immediate pleasure, like cigarettes.

But I’ve done that a couple of times now. I’ve repeated that cycle a couple of times now, and each time I do it I end up pretty miserable and upset. I convince myself that misery is normal in life, and that I’m always going to be anxious and scared and unable to trust myself and dependent on stupid shitty things like cigarette and internet addiction but this really isn’t the case! Or rather, it’s so bad that it’s worth fighting against even if you don’t know whether or not you’ll make it out the other end. I’m tired of living with all these chains. But I also recognise that thrashing against the chains is useless, you have to use the Fury and direct it at a very specific link of a very specific chain and cut that. And that gives you more freedom. You have to be specific. You have to be precise. You have to be directed. I am not very good at any of those things. I am not very good at managing my own time. I’m not very good at breaking down big things into littler things. But I will have to do this now.

I’ve come to realise that cigarettes suck. They give you a very short term sense of control over your own emotional state, your own brain state. You get to excite yourself or calm yourself down in a couple of minutes, it’s very short simple and easy to complete. But ultimately the habit controls you. The highs get less high. I can see how I might fall back into smoking though. I would fall back into smoking if I lost sight of my grander vision, if I decided that fuck it, even though cigarettes suck, they’re familiar and reliable. It’s all a reliability game. It boils down to how much you can trust yourself. And trusting yourself is something you develop

Wow, this entire landscape is a lot more complex than I was hoping it was going to be when I started writing this. But that’s clearly obvious on hindsight. If it were simple I’d already have solved it a long time ago, as would billions of other people. This is a hard, challenging problem with dangerous loops and traps and illusions for you to get suckered by. Basically I need to

– keep myself motivated by reminding myself of what I’m fighting for, what I’m fighting against, who I want to be, who I don’t want to be.
– I then need to take lots of really simple, short actions that are quick and easy to do, to prove to myself that I can actually be a trustworthy person- I just have bad history but I deserve a second chance, and I need to start with the really simple things.

This word vomit is one such thing today. After this I’m going to clear out my one-tab. Then I’m going to refocus and maybe do another vomit. This Fury cannot subside too soon, not until I have done at least some of the things I know that I must do but I have lacked the energy to do for so long. Not now. Not anymore. It’s been enough.