0181 – Writing Wet And Dry

The following is a post that I wrote on Aug 6 2014. It had only 750+ words, which wasn’t enough for my arbitrary standards. I’m adding more to it and hitting publish just to get it out.

I think there’s a tempo to writing word vomits that I wasn’t completely aware of before.

In any given instance, I may be in one of two broadly defined states: let’s temporarily call them wet and dry. There are almost definitely many other sub-states within these two states, but wet vs dry will do for what I’m talking about.

When ‘wet’, I have almost fully-formed thoughts that I’m eager and ready to express. Everything is well lubricated. If I need to look for an idea, I simply need to reach out to grab it. Sometimes, I get a little too slippery and everything just slips and slides around without really going anywhere.

When dry, I have nothing. I may have tonnes of raw material at the back of my mind, but it’s too vast, too solid, too vague, too cluttered and messy for me to make any meaning of. Things are painful. There’s a lot of friction, and the stuff that comes out usually isn’t that great either. There’s no soul.

The processing of raw idea-materals

Yes, that’s it. Writing is like trying to express thoughts through a nozzle. The problem is that thoughts come in many different forms, most of which are too bulky, solid or viscous to go through a nozzle. The thinker’s job is to break down these raw idea-materials into thoughts that are manageable, digestible, communicable.

Some of this happens naturally, subconsciously. The mind mulls over these raw idea-materials. It applies a kind of acid to them. In the early stages, it simply struggles to accommodate it. To attempt to grasp the size, scale and quantity of things. This is when you get mindblown by scale and you’re forced to upgrade your mental schemata just to take everything.

But that’s just the beginning. After that you probably want to make sense of it- What does it mean for you in the context of your Lifegame? You take things apart, put them together, flip then around, rearrange them, remix them. Eventually you figure out configurations that please and satisfy you, and you figure out a way to express it in a way that’s useful to you.

So that loosely describes most creative work, I think, and at the very least it describes my struggle to do word vomits. The interesting thing about the word vomits is that I don’t have a specific agenda- I just want to play with thoughts and ideas and express it all through a million words. This has led to some strange situations- sometimes I run out of things to say.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things

Ah, I’m addressing writer’s block. It’s an oversimplistic term that implies that writers either write or they do not. It focuses on just the final stage of the process. Are you writing? If you are, good. If you’re not, why? You must be blocked. Why are you blocked? What can you do to get unblocked?

So anyway. Sometimes I have working material to put through the nozzle. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I run out of the raw material. I used to think that the solution to that is to just keep practicing, to keep writing even when you’re dry. Eventually you’ll squeeze something out, and maybe you’ll get renergised by the process and find that you actually had an entire unused stash of reserve energy and raw material. Sometimes this works- when you know you haven’t been writing.

A workout analogy- if you come home from work and you don’t feel like running or hitting the gym, often you’ll find that showing up at the gym anyway is enough to give you enough energy to work out- and in fact the workout will energise you overall and you’ll feel better. But this advice doesn’t work if you’ve been working out really hard every day already. Pushing yourself harder when you’re already spent doesn’t yield very much. In fact it can damage or injure you in some way, or at least leave a really bad taste in your mouth. Maybe you need a healthier diet, maybe you need more sleep, maybe you need to rest while your muscle tissues heal and regenerate.

Perfect form is good to have, but it isn’t always the critical factor. Similarly, if you get stuck when writing, the problem might be that you’re “not warmed up”, sure. But you might also be overheated. You might also be empty, dry, spent.

I spent quite a bit of my time trying to force myself to do word vomits every day. Sometimes it yielded good stuff, but sometimes it really didn’t, and I would feel guilty and bad for not having written. On hindsight though, I had just said everything that I had to say at that point in time. I should put down the nozzle and go and sit by the glacier. And if I sit and listen- or maybe walk around it, inspect it, even bring a friend around it- I may find that a huge chunk of it breaks right off. And there we have our new material.

All of this is recursive

This is going to get a little meta: I couldn’t finish this vomit while I was writing it. It was tentative. I was just trying on the lens, trying to wrap my head around the idea to see if it worked. I think it does. I think writing is just the final stage of a much larger process of making sense of reality. You need to make observations. You need to pay attention. You need to have hypotheses and ideas about how things work. Paul Graham recently tweeted that you can’t just be an expert in X to be a great teacher of X. You need to also be an expert in all the ways people fail at X. I think that’s really important and useful to meditate on. That there’s two parts to meaningful, skillful expertise. Being good at writing when everything is going great doesn’t mean you’ll be a great writer. You might write one or two great pieces but they might be flukes. The real challenge I think is to have and maintain a process over an extended period of time, ideally your whole life. How do you write in the bad times?

That’s the rub.

 

0180 – Hold me back, else I’ll… do something!

This post was written maybe a week ago, and I had stopped at around 900+ words. Hopefully once I cross 0200 I’ll stop publishing vomits in non-chronological order. We’ll see.

There’s a cute comic somewhere of a dog that’s being all aggressively posturing at a bigger dog (“Let me at ’em! Let me at ’em!”), but is being held back by a leash. The human then drops the leash, unrestraining the dog and giving him what he wants. The dog is startled, and quickly returns the leash to the human before it continues with the bravado. Here we go:

hold-me-back

I think I’m largely guilty of the same thing. I think a lot of us are. We claim that our limitations keep us from doing more, from taking action. But we don’t do very much about removing those limitations, do we? And sometimes, in brief moments when the limitations might momentarily disappear, we quietly pretend not to notice. Or better still, we avoid noticing altogether. We don’t pay attention to the actual presence of the limitations- we just assume that they’re always there.

If only I studied I would do well. If only I worked hard I would be successful. I used the approval of people around me as a barometer for my life, and the dangerous or scary thing is that the easiest way to score highly on that barometer is to surround yourself with people who are easily impressed. I think I wasted quite a few years of my life on that. At least I learned from it. I’d like to think that something about it still bothered me. I think it was the disconnect with external reality, with the rest of reality. If we’re really as smart and clever and impressive as we convince ourselves we are, why aren’t we running the world? Why aren’t we making great strides, why aren’t we all major writers and thinkers? Could it be that we’re all bullshitting ourselves?

I have friends who depend on me as an enabler

I had a scary realisation recently- that some of my friends used me as validation for their own procrastination. I think a lot of high-volume Facebook users do this. We’re all complicit in it together. The intellectual arguments and point accumulation. It’s probably the 2nd most compelling game in existence, and it’s much easier to start. Much easier to get comfortable with.

Every smoker has a network of smoker friends that keeps her smoking. Every late night Facebook user feels less bad about wasting his time at 3 am in the morning because he sees those green lights in the sidebar. He’s not alone. There are others. (Some of them are on the other side of the globe, but still.)

I have old friends whom I love dearly but struggle to hold a conversation with. Our ships were in the same harbour briefly, but we have sailed our separate ways. Modern communication systems- Facebook, Twitter etc means that you never really lose contact with anybody. (Unless one of you blocks the other, but even then you can infer a lot from your mutual friends.)

Acquaintances come and go- old classmates, neighbours, etc. Losing those people isn’t a big deal, you never really ‘had’ them in the first place. You coexisted but you were never really a part of each other’s inner lives, you never invited each other into your private mental, emotional, psychological spaces. You didn’t share your dreams and fears and neuroses with them, nor they with you. You are passers-by.

With old friends though, it is different. You have some awareness of each other’s interiority. You know that A’s ex-girlfriend was incredibly clingy, and the one before that was into some really kinky stuff. You’ve had dinner with B’s parents, and they are some really sweet old folks. Though a little weird. C & D were there for you when you were going through a really rough time. E secretly holds some really bigoted opinions. And so on. You know things about each other that the rest of the world might not.

And yet you are no longer a part of each other’s lives. You are no longer helpful to each other. You may even have become toxic and damaging to each other- and only to each other! Even though the good times were better than with anybody else, there’s simply too much bad blood. Too much flakiness, too many broken promises and rough times and lost tempers. It’s hard to rebuild that sort of thing with all that mess. Life is short and there are 7 billion people out there. It might be rational and optimal to both seek out lives amongst others that you have a greater inclination for.

Repaying old debts

I think it’s important to repay old debts. I know what it’s like to feel deeply guilty in a way that goes beyond the conscious. It’s hard to cut and run from past obligations. They’ll haunt you- they haunt me. I’m only recently beginning to realize how unhealthy and damaging this has been for me. It’s like living a distance away from a war zone, or living with incredible noise and light pollution. It just holds the brain down and grates on it. I want to be free from it just as I am now free from smoking.

To make this happen I have to focus on the actionables. I spent years writing about this sort of thing, and what it gave me was a language for thinking about it, a familiarity with the landscape and the things that happen on it. It allows me to make more informed decisions, but on hindsight I’d have gotten a lot more information from acting rather than pontificating. Oh well; what’s done is done. I can’t go back in time, but I can do better moving forward.

I think I should start with my work. I need to give 100% to my work and systematically get shit done, to a greater degree than I have previously attempted, with an attitude and conviction that I have not previously been able to sustain. I have to start without distractions and keep it that way.

What’s different? I think in the past I secretly always thought that all of it was a charade I had to maintain until people got off my back. It was like claiming to quit smoking, but smoking in secret. I used to do that in my earlier attempts. Why? Probably because I was more concerned with persuading other people than actually delivering on a promise I made to myself. Exercising to look good rather than to feel good. Doing work because it’s work worth doing, because it’s in pursuit of the interesting and compelling, not because I want to impress anybody in particular.

“I’ll achieve so much more if I wasn’t held back” is an exercise in myth-building, narrativistic bullshit performance. The real question we should be asking is, “So what’s holding me back, and what do I need to do to remove those restraints so that I can operate with more power?”

 

0179 – Why can we sometimes change our habits, and sometimes not?

Behavioral change: What separates successful attempts from unsuccessful attempts?

The answer I most hate is “you have to want it badly enough, it won’t happen until you really want it”.

  1. It’s incredibly vague. It’s no different from saying it won’t work out until it does, which is a meaningless statement. See also: no true scotsman fallacy.
  2. It’s needless ego stroking for people who happen to succeed. It’s myth-building. We’re supposed to believe that successful people are successful because they’re somehow better than the rest of us, they possess superior qualities, they’re hungrier, etc. This might be true, I concede. But I think the narrative that we establish makes them seem more superhuman than they actually are. I’m much more partial to ideas like the Mundanity of Excellence- people do well because they do the right things right and they prioritize properly and manage their time and emotions and psychology. This is hard stuff but it’s doable. It’s not magic.
  3. It makes unsuccessful people feel like shit. I think this is the greatest tragedy of all. People give up on things because they tried and failed a few times. This shouldn’t have to be the case. We should all fail forward, over and over again. It’s immoral that we don’t teach this properly. (Amongst many other things.)

Encourage people to try again

We should be encouraging people who fail. I don’t mean celebrate failure as if it were a good, pleasant thing. Failure sucks. But we should encourage people who fail to disassociate the outcome of their efforts from their identities. Failing does not make you a failure. And succeeding does not make you a success, either. Stop labelling people. It’s unhealthy shorthand that very quickly runs into issues. If you’re a success because you did great things, you then get straitjacketed into needing to succeed again and again. You may never do anything ever again. See Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDtalk on this.

But okay, back to the topic of behavioral change. Let me try and recall the VSIRP system I once sorta memorised. You need Vision, s?, incentives, r? And an action plan. (Oh, S is skills and R is resources.)

I’m not sure what the skills and resources are in this picture, but vision + incentives + plan is definitely crucial. Here’s how it played out for me, I think.

Vision

You need to believe and have a vivid mental image of what life is like without cigarettes. You need to get to a point where you really acknowledge not only that cigarettes are doing you damage (every smoker acknowledges this), but that you want to be free from it. And you must really, truly believe that it’s possible. A lot of smokers will say that they want to be free, and they mean it, but they don’t sincerely believe that it’s possible. Or at least, that it’s possible anytime soon. You might think that it’s possible a year from now, a few years from now, once you’ve got the rest of your life in order. I wasted a lot of time on this, I smoked far too many sticks unnecessarily because of this. Well- maybe there is some truth to the idea that you have to keep doing it until you’re well and truly sick of it.

Jason Mraz helped me quit smoking

For me, it was Jason Mraz that helped me believe it’s possible to quit. You see, Jason Mraz used to be a smoker. And he wasn’t just someone who smoked on the side- he was a real smoker. He loved smoking so much that he wrote a song about it. And then he quit, he read Allan Carr’s Easyway and he quit. And now he’s this health junkie dude who drinks fruit shakes and is really happy. And I decided that I could cope with becoming a little bit more like Jason Mraz. I too read Easyway (for the second time), and at the time I still had a pack of Dunhill reds and my wife had a pack of U Kretek menthol, and I smoked those cigarettes as I read the ebook. I would meet my friends the next day- all smokers- and I would smoke with them too, but the whole time I was smoking I had started to realize that it wasn’t working for me anymore. The whole thing seemed like an elaborate farce.

Experience and reflect on being in a different environment where people do things differently

I can’t talk about quitting without talking about work. Work helped me quit smoking- none of my colleagues smoke. Everybody’s fit and healthy and non-smokers. And my boss would chat with me about it, and I tried on his perspective for size- that it must be really frustrating and annoying to have something else control your mind, something make decisions on your behalf.

And that’s what cigarettes are. They initially give you a taste of freedom and control in your small world, from your shitty routines and your shitty life, but over time the cigarettes become the new routine. You don’t use them as an escape anymore, they’re everywhere around you. They ARE you. You are a smoker and you have to live your life according to the cigarettes’ rules- according to the cravings.

For some smokers, maybe for all smokers, this is actually quite a bittersweet thing. It’s a sort of surrender. You give in to it. You allow it to control you. This I think is symptomatic of broader things. And this is why I always feel a sense of cameraderie with anybody who’s a serious/heavy smoker (I define this as a person who’s smoked daily for over 5 years).

You especially need a plan for dealing with the inevitable triggers. First list out all the circumstances in which you will normally smoke. Then list out precisely what you will do in those situations. What will you do when you have a craving after a meal? After a meeting? What will you do when an old smoker buddy offers you a cigarette? When you’re having drinks and your judgement is impaired?

You need to change your self-perception entirely

But all of that is secondary I think to your central identity and belief system. If you want to change your behavior chances are that you’ll need to change your identity too, in some way, to some degree. Sometimes the change is simple, just a refinement of what’s already there. Modifying a jogging habit to a gym habit, because you decide that “I want to be fit” is better expressed through lifting weights than through cardiovascular exercise. That’s a relatively simple move. Going from being a coach potato to being a person who jogs, however, is a much more dramatic jump. To a much more precise point, too. Which makes you much likelier to fail.

It may be helpful to reduce it to something similar but simpler. Commit to say, walking the stairs for 1 floor. Commit to getting out of the house. Literally, just getting out of the door and maybe walking to the corner store for a bottle of water. Make that a habit. Get these “foot in the door” habits nailed down, and the harder habits come next. Just like in a video game.

Prepare for failure in advance

I didn’t have a full set of answers to those questions the first few times I attempted to quit. I simply thought that I’d remind myself that I want to quit, and that I’d improvise my way out of it. (One of the stupidest things I tell myself that I’ll do, with one of the highest failure rates.) Improvising is a fool’s game, especially when dealing with new and unfamiliar things that are going to be painful and uncomfortable. Quitting smoking is difficult and painful and you need all the bloody help you can get. You shouldn’t be thinking of what to do when confronted with a trigger, because giving in is the easiest thing to do. Everything you say afterwards is after-the-fact rationalization.

I got tired and stopped writing. More on this next time, maybe. As a quick recap- you need to believe that it’s possible. You need to look for other people who’ve done it before you, and follow in their lead. You need to latch on to better people. You need to get rid of your old friends, or at least stay away from them for as long as you can, for as much as you can. You need to articulate your problem, and you need to articulate a solution- meaning write that shit down and paste it on your fridge or on your wall. Write it on a piece of paper and keep it in your wallet and look at it everyday. I laughed this stuff off for a long, long time but it really works. It’s all about priming. We get primed by advertising and Facebook and all sorts of things every minute of every day of our lives anyway, so it’s not like it doesn’t work. There’s no reason why we can’t use it to improve ourselves, to prime ourselves with things that WE want to hear, that WE want to be reminded of.

You can do it

Whatever it is that you’re going through, you can overcome it. You can be rid of it. You can be free of it. You are immense, you are more than everything that you think you are. You are more than your habits, because you can discard them. You are more than your failures and your successes and all of that stuff. You can be almost anything you want to be. But the challenge is to be clear about where you want to go, and then to be even clearer about where you are, and MOST OF ALL, to be CLEAREST about what’s the single next step you should take. I believe in you, and I’m right here.

 

0178 – lean / mvp approach to developing a proper breakfast routine

Thursday 1120. Evernote on the way to work.

Morning routines

I need a morning routine. It used to be- wake up and go back to sleep repeatedly, then get on my phone and Facebook/Twitter until I cleared all my notifications and then some. Then I’d have a smoke while taking a dump in the toilet. Sometimes if I happened to wake up earlier, I’d put on some morning music (soft acoustic stuff) and smoke at the window. Then I’d shower, get dressed and head to work.

Sometimes I’d do a word vomit on Evernote, but most times I’d feel like I didn’t have enough energy and so I’d just go on Facebook or Twitter. Actually that’s probably a dishonest answer. I think the truth is that I go on FB or Twitter because I had already gone online earlier in the day, and I would’ve seen something that I found interesting or compelling or annoying, and I’d want to get back to that. Social media use begets social media use, at least for me. If I want to get writing done I have to set aside time for it, or otherwise see it not-happen.

Motivational Videos (again)

I wrote yesterday about motivational videos (or the day before?). One of my favorites is Dream, and one of my favorite lines is by Les Brown. “The lights are cut off, but you’re still looking at your dream, reviewing it everyday and saying ‘It’s not over until I win!'”.

I think that’s an idea that has stuck with me. You have to articulate your dream and then you have to review it every day.

  1. Articulate your dream
  2. Review it every day

And the dream has to be something you can reasonably work towards- if it’s to build a house, then every day you must lay a brick. Or if you don’t have bricks then you must take steps towards acquiring bricks. So on and so forth. The daily review ensures that you’re working towards a dream, rather than iterating and improving your castle in the sky.

Flighty Unreliable Brain

I used to rely far too much on my flighty, unreliable brain. There were multiple mini-interventions, and the last one seems to work where the previous ones had failed. Maybe I should sit down and evaluate the distinction. I will eventually at some point. [1] In the meantime, I just need to keep running. I need to see how far this energy can take me.

Breakfast

I need better morning routines. I need to eat a hearty breakfast. There are all sorts of things in the way of that and I need to tackle them one by one. The first thing is that I simply don’t have a habit of eating breakfast- or rather that I have a habit of not eating breakfast.

This is bad for my body and bad for my brain, it means that I’m very starved of fuel in some way. Glucose or whatever, I haven’t gotten around to properly understanding the finer details. This might be the single most important thing I can do to lead a better life.

The pattern of fixing things- for me, at least- it starts with…

  1. me acknowledging that the status quo is not cool, and that it’s holding me back from doing what i want to do
  2. realizing that there exists a hypothetical, achievable alternate state that is more optimal for me. It isn’t just better in a “would be nice” way, the way it would be nice to have sixpack abs. It affects my performance as a writer and as an employee of the company that I love. It affects my relationships with other people.
  3. identifying and executing the immediate next steps.

The immediate next steps for me-, right here?

First of all I need go carve out space and time for a hearty breakfast even if I’m not physically ready to have one. (I was a picky eater as a kid, always anxious and slightly nauseous. Mealtimes troubled me, I’d avoid them as long as I could.)

So I’m starting with a glass of water, a glass of chocolate milk, a banana, a granola bar, that sort of thing.

This needs to be my new routine, and I should X effect it the way I did non-smoking.

Having a support partner

I paused at this moment (while writing this) to message my wife to ask her to help me do the X effect. We both quit smoking together, and it’s awesome when your best friend commits to a lifestyle change with you. In the optimal future, both me and my wife will wake up early and have a hearty homemade breakfast together. That’s what’s at stake here, that’s what we could have. We could have happier, healthier lives and a happier, healthier marriage.

First we have to believe that it’s possible, describe clearly an alternate state where it works, then identify baby steps towards making it happen.

Us having a happy hearty breakfast starts with me making time for a glass of water every day.

Sounds silly, but true! Far sillier actually to make grandiose plans that never come to fruition because we didn’t have the skills, the capacity, the bandwidth. We need to make cupcakes before we can make wedding cakes. And sometimes cupcake solutions are all you need!

Thinking about wedding cakes when you haven’t baked a cupcake in your life isn’t just a cute, quaint distraction, I think. I think it’s something that becomes a sort of wishful, wistful escapism. We talk about about a hypothetical future instead of what we could be doing in the present. “I want to bake wedding cakes” is all you need to know. Going into extensive details about the nature of the wedding cakes you will bake is actually counter-productive- as a beginner baker, you don’t even really know what is possible or what is important or what is good about the wedding cakes that you would bake.

Focus on the cupcakes.

focus-on-the-cupcake

Focus on the cupcakes. Focus on the cupcakes. Make as many as you can. Make them as quickly as you can. Try them. Give them to others. See what other people think. Get feedback. Make more cupcakes. Wedding cakes are a distraction, really.

As always, this only applies to me. This post is shitty and messy but I don’t edit my vomits too much. I need to get to work. TTYL

Notes:

[1] “Eventually”, like tomorrow, is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. No more eventually. My next word vomit- the one that I write on the way home from work later- will be about this distinction.

 

0177 – Why bother doing your work when the universe is going to be extinguished in the end?

Immediately hot on the heels of the last post. 10x more swearing that usual.

Why bother doing your work when the universe is going to be extinguished in the end? All meaning is arbitrary, constructed, illusory, temporary. We live, we die, how we spend the time in between doesn’t really matter at all in the grand scheme of things.

My friend: fuck the grand scheme of things. The grand scheme of things does not give a fuck about you, and you really don’t have to give a fuck about the grand scheme of things.

If I may be so bold- I think you use the grand scheme of things as a crutch. You talk about the state of the world, the dismal state of international relations, about politics and economics and how education is broken and all these big ideas, but I think they’re all really a roundabout way of saying that you are broken and you don’t really know what to do about it. That you don’t feel like you’re in control of yourself and you’re life, and so you’d like to talk about other topics. It’s much easier to point at the world. It’s a convenient distraction.

Because what are you doing for the world, good sir and/or ma’am, apart from talking about it? Because interestingly, if you look around and pay attention, you might just notice that the people who are doing the most for the world (the scientists doing core research, the technologists building electric cars and interplanetary spacecraft, etc) don’t seem to waste much of their time writing commentary pieces about Ariane Grande’s ponytail, or what it means that Michelle Obama danced for a few seconds with a turnip. Those are things that we write about when we really have fuckall to say. [1]

Admit it, it’s really just an elaborate, intellectually-trumped-up way of talking about the weather, only the world seems less mundane, less arbitrary. It’s no different from worrying about “your” sports team, and how they need “your” support. The truth is that your sports team will probably go on fine without you. As will the weather. As will Ariane Grande’s ponytail.

Here’s what I think we really ought to be talking about, if we’re talking at all instead of acting. What do you care about? What makes you upset? What makes you happy? What gets you excited? What gets you anxious and nervous? You have limited resources, how do you use them in a way that you’d actually be most happy with? You’ve been given this precious gift of consciousness for the briefest of moments- what would you actually like to do with it?

Listen, do you sleep well at night? Do you go to bed going, “Ahh, today was such a nice day”?

If you do, then fuck off, I’m not writing this for you. I hate you, go to hell. If you go to bed edgy and anxious and nervous, thinking, “Man, I ought to have done more today,” and you do that over and over again, here’s a newsflash- you’re probably going to feel that way on your deathbed. And that’s going to really fucking suck, and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it then.

Life is one long lazy day if you’re lucky, and ideally you want to be able to go to bed at the end of it with a smile on your face. (Or you could off yourself right now. It’s entirely up to you. But it’s up to you to thoroughly own that decision.) How do we do that? Should we bother? Once upon a time I thought it would make sense to try and find a clever argument for it. An argument for the maximization of your personal utility, potential. But… a lot of that seems really trite now. As I’m sure this will seem in a few days, weeks, months. But right now it’s coming hot out of my brain, and so I’m spewing it here. Feel free to judge me for it because I don’t give a fuck. In moments like this, I am as alive as I’ll ever be.

What do these moments tell me? That there’s almost never a point trying to persuade or convince someone of something if they don’t first demonstrate an interest in being persuaded. I spent a fuckload of unnecessary time in my teenage days trying to impress people who didn’t fucking matter in my life. They’re still there, on my Facebook. Bless all of you, may you have beautiful, lovely lifes full of joy and happiness. I genuinely mean that, life is precious.

But like RDJ said, smile and nod and thank people when they give you their input, but ignore it and do whatever the fuck you want to do anyway. Because people don’t actually give you feedback because you need it. They give you feedback because THEY need to do it. For themselves.

And yes, that applies to me, too, and to this post. I didn’t write this for you, I wrote this for me. [2]

Notes:

[1] If you pay careful attention without getting sucked in (and that’s really hard to do for me- you might have better luck than me, but I advise against it anyway), you’ll notice that there’s a deep emptiness to most of what gets spread around. Most stuff is bullshit. We’re terrified of being honest. There’s a massive honesty deficit in the world, and a huge bullshit surplus. We’re all guilty of it. I’m guilty of it too. It would be really cool if we could change this, and I’d like to contribute towards that if possible.

One of the problems is that calling out bullshit is a sort of bullshit of its own. The most you can do at any given time, it seems, is to be honest in that moment. Maybe I’ll change my mind about this later on, but what counts is that I wrote it while I felt it.

[2] Do what YOU want, motherfuckers. Look at yourself in the eye and ask yourself what makes you happy. What makes your heart sing. Ask yourself who you’re trying to impress, and why. What are the assumptions you’re making about the social reality that you live in? What is the water that you don’t realize that you’re swimming in? What are the things that you could change, without you even realizing it? Without you ever having considered? What are the things you do every day, every morning, etc that you don’t realize that you could be doing differently?

I can’t answer that question for you, but you need to jump onto the landmine called you and blow yourself the fuck up, motherfucker. And by you I mean me. See ya on the other end.

 

0176 – the state of my vomits represents my life quite well

End of the day, 0017hrs. Done with shower. Waiting for wife to shower.

The vomits are a tragicomic manifestation of my life at large

It’s a little amusing and a little disheartening for me to be mindful of the state I am in at word vomit number 0176. I have been doing this in a very haphazard, unsystematic way, which is pretty much how I live my life, too. The vomits aren’t entirely in chronological order- sometimes I do a vomit on Evernote and I forget about it, and then I find it later on and publish it. Sometimes I stitch together two half-vomits into a new vomit altogether. I don’t have a single fixed way of writing. I don’t know whether I should edit my older vomits or not. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s a real mess.

(If only I had realized that all the filing nonsense I had to deal with in school was actually a head-fake for me to learn how to file and manage things that actually matter to me!)

Initially I didn’t know how I wanted to deal with all of this, so I went with my number one coping mechanism- I just put it all off entirely. I repeated a number somewhere at one point in time, and I had to re-number a whole bunch of vomits. The whole thing seemed kind of counter to the intent of the vomits. I was doing more administrative work than actual vomiting. I had envisioned this beautiful alternate version of reality where all I needed to do was to keep writing, and everything else would take care of itself.

Original Intent

But what WAS the intent of the vomits? Perhaps I ought to return to that. The idea was that I would be a different writer by the end of 1000 vomits. That’s it. To do something 1000 times and to incorporate whatever I learn along the way. The objective wasn’t to have 1000 pristine, perfect vomits. I knew from the start that that wouldn’t be possible. The idea was just that I ought to complete 1,000,000 words by my own standards. I might even meet that target at word vomit 900 or 950, because I have a habit of exceeding my targets, but I’ll keep going till I have 1000 vomits.

Perhaps the first 200 vomits will reveal themselves to be the early, crappy works where everything is haphazard and ugly. Perhaps the last 200 vomits will be polished and refined in spite of the “stream-of-consciousness” idea, because I’d have gotten that much better at doing it. Who knows? Certainly not me, and I should stop pretending that I have any idea.

I feel like I need to dig deeper. Why did I want to do the vomits in the first place? Why did I want to write 1,000,000 words, why did I want to do 1,000 sets of 1,000 words? (I realize I can probably go back and read 0001, but before I do that I want to try and attempt to answer the question. Then I can go back and compare notes and see how much I’ve rewritten my own history.)

Here are some reasons for the million words:

I’ve noticed that great writers write in great quantities. Ray Bradury wrote at least a thousand words a day, supposedly. In more contemporary contexts, Seth Godin has been blogging for over a decade. patio11 of Hacker News has written over a million words in his comments alone. I get angry, annoyed and frustrated when I read sensationalist writing- smartass tweets that get a ton of retweets, etc- and I decided that if I want to compete with that, I want to compete asymmetrically. I want to go long. I want to write more than any of my would-be peers can match.

That’s the arrogant, angry egoistical sort of answer. The more reflective answer is that everything is a remix, and that all great artists started out copying other people, doing derivative work. You can’t get to the really interesting, ‘original’, cutting-edge stuff until you’ve been writing and rewriting over and over again. The best way to avoid copying others is to copy EVERYBODY, over and over again, until you’ve literally played everything there is to play. You’ve played every configuration, and your brain starts coming up with new and or different things just so you’re not bored.

I think this is working out for me as a tactic. I had a conversation about this with my boss, too. How many times can a person repeat themselves before they get bored? How many times can you talk about how badly you want to do something, until you get sick of the conversation and actually do it? For smoking, it took me years to quit. I think I wanted to quit since 2010, and I made about 5-10 attempts (not sure of the exact number). I failed again and again and again.

I want to be a good writer more than I want to be a non-smoker. I’d actually happily pick up smoking again if it made me a good writer, but I know better now. The only thing that makes you a good writer is more writing. And reading, of course. You need to read excessively and then write excessively. Then you need to rework your old stuff again and again and again, so that you identify what works and eliminate what doesn’t. I liked the idea of doing this in a very deliberate way rather than hoping it happens by chance, so I figured that doing a million words would be a good way to get my engine running. I don’t intend to be done at the end of 1000 vomits. That’s when I intend to get started. That’s when I expect my best work to just start coming to me. Or maybe it’ll happen a decade after that.

The ENTP/ADHD mind to me is kind of like a firehose. You just spurt out tonnes and tonnes of material, but a lot of it is initially sludgy, gross, hard to use. You need to get all the dirt and muck out (the stuff at the head of the nozzle, that got stuck there from a lifetime of non-use). Then once that initial stuff is blasted out (I think I’m already done with that), you need to to spray your stuff over a broad range of topics, use it in many different contexts, twist it turn it flip it remix it rewrite it. You don’t know in advance what will work.

The 1000 vomits is a way for me to give myself a shot at coming up with something new, interesting, something compelling, and the rather than actually try to achieve those things, I’m simply going through everything I have over and over again until I get absolutely sick and tired.

My Current Zietgeist

I feel like I’m heading down this path about identity, about behavioral change. I feel like I have contributions to make in the realm of procrastination. Almost everything I’ve read about procrastination has been absolute shit, in my humble, unqualified opinion. I think it’s because people treat it like something that can be solved with a bag of tricks, that some app or some helper or system will save you.

I think it goes deeper than that. I think it goes deep into a person’s psyche, a person’s identity, the lives they lead, the friends they surround themeselves with, their environment. The procrastination isn’t a problem nearly as much as it is a symptom, and trying to make the symptom go away without addressing the root causes is rather futile. And the root causes can be really… subtle? Amorphous? It could be literally an existential woe. Why bother doing your work when the universe is going to be extinguished in the end? Heh, maybe I should start a post with that premise. That’s what my next vomit shall be.

 

0175 – Behavioral change, Equilibrium states, Addiction, Ugly progress

This is to be my 2nd vomit of the day.  It’s been a while since I did two vomits in a day. If I can maintain 2/day, it’ll take me 410 or so days to hit my target. If I can do 3/day (both commutes + before bed), it’ll take about 270 days or so. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll do more than 1/day on average. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Immediate Gratification

I had some thoughts earlier about how the human impulse for immediate gratification is probably the source of a lot of what is annoying or suboptimal about the world. We want quick solutions to our problems, so we blunder ahead without taking the time or trouble to think about things. [1]

The simple fact that we live today environments that we haven’t evolved for yet suggests to me that we can “win” many conflicts, confrontations and complications just by being the most thoughtful, reserved and analytical player. [2]

While you want to be analytical, it’s important, I think, to be capable of using force if necessary, and to signal the ability to use that force, but generally speaking- modern life is characterised by opportunities to use thoughtfulness as means to achieve your ends. (I’m sure people have written about this even 3000 years ago. It becomes more relevant everyday.)

I’ve lapsed into abstractions and generalisations. Let’s bring it back to reality. What does this mean for me in my daily life?

There have been times where I’ve deeply regretted not being physically stronger. Yet so far this regret has not translated into a lifestyle change that makes me stronger. Exercise for me happens most frequently when I frame it as a tool for getting mental clarity. It helps me think better and make better decisions.

Behavioral change and equilibrum states

Earlier at lunch I was chatting with a couple of colleagues about behavioural change. When a group of people attempt a lifestyle change, some people persist while others fall off the wagon. What differentiates the successful instances from the unsuccessful ones? [3] Clearly there’s a whole system of things that need to come into play- it’s rarely ever one single adjustment.

Think about it. Things tend to end up in equilibrium states. If one random input is all it takes to transition you from one state to another- say, from a couch potato to an athlete, then chances are that you will make that transition on some arbitrary, random day. Chances are that you’ll already have done it. Because changing one single element is easy to do.

What actually happens is that we get highly invested in our positions, and we develop or inherit multi-faceted systems that keep us where we are. Let me say that again for emphasis- we get into highly-stable local maxima, and what got us there is designed to keep us from going anywhere else. It becomes a sort of ‘regulatory framework’.

So if you’re a smoker, chances are that you’ll develop habits and rituals that keep you tied to the root habit. You’ll smoke after meals, and meals feel incomplete without the smoke. You’ll smoke after sex. You’ll smoke whenever you drink. You’ll smoke when you hang out with your friends, who “coincidentally” all happen to be smokers too.

Before you became a smoker, smoking was your form of escape from reality. It was a getaway. It was thrilling, exciting. After a while, the getaway envelopes the totality of your reality. It seeps into your skin and into every fibre of your being, it becomes a weight around your ankle. The new lens became a new set of blinders.

Addiction aided, abetted and protected by lifestyle

The same happens for any kind of addiction or bad habit. It’s an entire lifestyle. A world view, even. This is one of the hardest parts of behavioral change. You effectively have to perform a religious conversion of sorts. You need to change the person’s fundamental identity.

I think that’s the single most important thing. If the person’s identity doesn’t change, any behavioral change you witness initially is likely to be a farce, a performance. (Obviously, they have to at least somewhat want the change. Otherwise you’ll need to first convince them, and it just gets an order of magnitude harder each step of the way.)

It’s not so black and white, of course. What happens is that you first need to consider the possibility of an alternate identity. You experiment with slightly different behaviour… you need to “try out” all the components separately and have a couple of full-dress rehearsals before you can finally make the leap and change altogether.

Early progress looks pathetic from the outside

From the outside, this looks really messy, ugly and unproductive. It’s the equivalent of emptying out your drawers onto the floor- your room just got even messier. But changes are happening. You’re growing a new self-concept, new behavior, new goals, new values. And for a period of time you will be carrying two sets of everything inside your head.

It’s very, very, very hard work. Failure will accost you every step of the way and it will be incredibly discouraging. You will keep wanting to go back to your old, familiar ways. And sometimes you will actually go back- and the challenge is to wake up the next morning and try again.

Do it for the kids

I do think it helps a lot to have goals and motivations that are outside of yourself, to do things for people who are not yourself. The Thai smoking ads come to mind. People treat kids better than they treat themselves, so do it for the kids (if you can do that without moralising and being an authoritarian dick about it). Do it for your own kids. Do it to fix all the problems you unfairly encountered when you were growing up.

The world is very badly designed. There are tonnes of things every single one of us can do to make it slightly better than it was before. But to do those things we often need to discipline ourselves. We need to change ourselves so that we get more out of ourselves, so that we have enough to give to others. It’s all ultimately energy from the Sun.

Power of 1-1s in daily life

One of the cool things that my company does is regular 1-1s. I hadn’t really heard of the concept before I started work- I think it should be something that every organization does rigorously. Ben Horowitz has written a couple of cool things about them here and here.

If I have grown and developed significantly as an individual in the past couple of years, I think a lot of it has to do with the work environment I have, and the 1-1s I have with my boss. It’s just this really refereshing opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done, who I’m being, what I ought to be doing, what I ought to focus on, what the weak points in my thinking are, things like that.

Since doing 1-1s I’ve started to find regular “filler” conversations to be almost excruciatingly pointless. Not immediately- I went through a lengthy transition period, I think- but I’m now quite clear about this. Every conversation is an opportunity for people to learn, grow, do better. Sometimes people want to do small talk, but I think even then conversation can be guided towards interesting directions. I’m still a beginner at this, but I think the important thing is to ask questions and then wait and listen. Let people explain themselves, while maintaining a frame of genuine curiosity and interest rather than judgement. And it’s genuinely interesting.

Insecurity

I think I have a deep-rooted insecurity when it comes to conversations and conversational space. I like to talk a lot, and I do have a genuine interest in people and ideas, but I don’t shut up and listen nearly as much as I ought to.

The main reason I do this, I think, is because I was used to growing up in environments where nobody cared what you thought, and if you wanted to be heard you had to reach out and grab it for yourself. [4]

I also really enjoyed getting people to agree with me, and you can do that by quickly repeating something that is parallel to whatever a person is saying. So a person might be saying, “Oh, today at work I had a rough day because of this conflict I had with X about Y”, and I might go “Oh, yikes, that sucks. It’s just like the conflict in that movie/book/story…”. And they agree, and the conversation then changes to some degree because of it.

I’m starting to realize that it’s far more interesting to just sit back, nod, and ask questions. Let other people tell their stories. It’s a lot more interesting, and it actually feels really fulfilling when you make people feel comfortable enough that they start opening up to you more than they open up regularly, even when they’re by themselves. It’s an incredible privilege, and an incredible gift, really.

So yeah. Less impulsiveness. More listening.


Notes:

[1] This was probably evolutionarily advantageous on the savannah 100,000 years years ago. Whoever moved quickly and urgently survived, those who paused to contemplate all possibilities were killed by predators. False positives were harmless then (harmless rustle in the grass misinterpreted as predator), while false negatives were potentially fatal (predators written off as harmless rustles in the grass). As a result, we evolved to be a flighty, edgy species.

[2] Of course, there are exceptions to this. And not being aware of these exceptions (or assuming that they don’t exist) could literally kill you. Life is hard, brutish and complicated. I recommend reading The Black Swan and Antifragile to get a better sense about this. Ribbonfarm has some cool things too. But the fundamental idea is basically always cover your arse and don’t let yourself get killed by some random fluke. A small probability of a catastrophic event is worth defending against, because you only have one life and once you die, game over- even if you played your hand ‘right’.

[3] I just realized that I didn’t actually answer this directly, because I got carried away talking about the complexity of behavioral change. I don’t know the precise answer to this question- if I did I would be a best-selling author, coach, etc. But I think initial conditions have a lot to do with it.

If we go back to the Heath Brothers’ analogy of the elephant rider (mahout) and the elephant, a lot of change is dependent on the fundamental inclinations of the elephant. A skilled rider can’t get the elephant to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go. So you need a really important, quality Why. And you need to stress-test the fuck out of that Why. Once you have a reasonably good Why for something that’s an achievable distance away (I want to go to Mars to expand the consciousness of the species is a great Why, but it’s not very actionable- you need to pick smaller things that get you closer to the big thing.)

[4] This also really reminds me of my time as a musician. I used to end up playing too loud, too fast, with too many notes. I was too edgy and anxious to learn to chill out and just sit in the pocket, be in the music rather than ahead of it. A lot of my life is about me learning to let go, to loosen up, to get synchronized with the rhythm and tempo of things rather than rushing ahead and then feeling overwhelmed.

 

0174 – Impulse, Motivation, Dreams, Discipline

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.

Earth Unaware

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.

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.

Paying Attention

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.

Motivational Videos

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.

 

0173 – New Lens Become New Blinders

It looks like I began writing this in 2013.

Blinders

New ways of seeing can become new sets of blinders. MBTI was like this for me. It opened my eyes to realizing that people are more varied than I had previously imagined. It helped me understand and explain people better than I was ever able to before. It almost felt like a superpower: I felt like I was better able to predict (to a minor but noticeable degree) how interactions between people would play out. The blinders had come off.

Eventually I would nurture a deep understanding of the system. Rather than memorize the 16 types, I studied the 8 functions that determine them. Once you understand the functions and how they play off of each other, you can recreate the mbti profile.

For example, ENTPs have extraverted intuition as their dominant function. They’re good at seeing connections and linkages between disparate ideas. So they tend to be witty, clever, quick on their feet. The opposite of extraverted intuition is introverted sensing.

People tend to not develop the inverse of their dominant function. If you love introverted thinking you’re probably not a big fan of extroverted feeling. These are assumptions, and they’re about preference, not aptitude. People’s weak suit tend to be the inverse of their strong suit. This is a blatant, blunt assumption. I estimate that it’s correct about maybe 65% of the time. The more developed the person, the harder it is to make any predictions. Barack Obama for example is difficult to type, and I’m not sure if there’s any point in trying.

So if these assumptions hold- ENTPs are witty and quick to connect the dots, but they’re perhaps less disciplined, less consistent, less self-aware. Vague stuff like that. If you have great introverted feeling- powerful sense of ideals, values, virtues, etc- you’re probably not a big fan of extraverted thinking: execution, decision-making, making deals and tradeoffs.

The map is not the territory

Does that sound about right? It’s fun and interesting to explore as a model, but it’s ultimately just that: a model. People are more complex than these models predict, and we don’t really fall into these neat tidy categories. Also, aptitude tends to matter more than attitude when predicting an outcome- just because you like logic doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

Finally, worst of all- such models are unintentionally prescriptive. People aren’t well equipped to accept that they could be wildly different- remember, you’re always just one traumatic head injury from becoming a completely different person! So we tend to pick narratives- usually whatever’s been chosen for us- and reinforce them.

I’m not saying that people are blank slates- I think spending time with young children, even infants, makes it very clear that different people have different mannerisms and personalities from the start.

The problem I think is oversimplification: mistaking the map for the territory. This is where a new way of seeing becomes a new set of blinders. We start living in the map. It’s okay to make plans, projections and predictions but it’s more important not to be a sucker- to realize that you’ll never know when your neat, tidy model will fail you… until it does. And sometimes this sort of failure can be devastating. So it’s very important to protect against downside. What’s the worst that happens when your model fails, and how do you protect against it? These are important questions!

That which liberates you can also shackle you.

What is something that you’ve cut out of your life?

===

I used to be a huge mbti nerd, I can still talk about it for hours if necessary. But I feel like there’s something that isn’t captured in that dichotomy that ruins the picture for me. I don’t really think it’s even adequately captured by any of the type differences.

I’m talking about pushiness, a propensity or willingness to interrupt others. To impose one’s will on another and not take no for an answer. Different people are forceful in this manner to different degrees. They have different ideas about what is acceptable.

I know self-identified introverts who are pushy and self-identified extroverts who are not. I think I fall into that last category. I talk a lot. I’m very noisy. I have a low signal-to-noise ratio. I used to be a Facebook power user. I know, I was really annoying by posting too much stuff that most people weren’t interested in, but might’ve felt socially obligated to put up with.

But I believed (or I think I believe) in the relative sanctity of personal space. I believe that sparing people shame is the greatest good.

I don’t like obligations. I don’t like making promises. As a consequence I can be really irresponsible- it’s a problem. I walk away from things. I miss deadlines.

But I don’t impose my will on people. If you don’t wanna hang out, its cool with me. It’s strange for me to realize on hindsight that two of the guys who gave me the most shit for being unavailable were self-identified introverts. I know extroverts who do the same thing of course, but with them it kinda comes with the territory.

===

Butthurt alone doesn’t  change reality

I guess the important takeaway for me is to realise that I live in a world that doesn’t necessarily see things the way I do, like things the way I do. I think it was my boss who pointed out that I have a different perspective on broken promises, etc compared to other people. And the thing about reality is that it doesn’t give a shit- things don’t conform to my perspective just because I wish it were so.

Perhaps I could make it so by building an empire under me, where people conform to my expectations or GTFO- but that is a whole other challenge altogether. In the meantime, if I want to get what I want in a world that doesn’t care, I’m going to have to learn the ways of others. It’s only polite, really. Less butthurt, more acknowledgement of reality.

 

0172 – Books, addiction, magic

Reminiscing about past. I was going to write about my secondary school and JC days but I guess I’ll get back to that another time.

Books, the first addiction

I’ve been reading more than I have been reading lately. I don’t think I’m anywhere near my absolute peak, which may actually have been in primary school, when I used to read all day and all night. Before I was interested in women, or in social status, or had any disposable income, or had any idea that masturbation or cigarettes or alcohol were quick ways to douse the brain in fun, pleasing chemicals, books were my primary source of pleasure. Before the Internet, they were my primary means of exploring the world.

Books as magic; crystallised human thought

So lately I’ve sort of come full circle and I’ve been trying to read more. Bill Gates still reads books. I think the reason for that is- books are magic, they upgrade your brain. Books are essentially crystallised human thought, tidied up so they’re easier to absorb. By reading the cleaned-up thoughts of ideaspace explorers, you get to go where they went, without the perilous amounts of effort and groping in the dark required. It’s the closest thing we have right now to Neo learning Kung Fu by having it directly streamed into his brain. Reading is a little slower (although even that can be hacked a little bit).

So I want to read more. Every so often, I look up after finishing a book and think “wow, I should have read this sooner”. I don’t feel that after every single book, and I can’t actually entirely predict which books will and won’t do it- I can have a rough idea, but books can surprise you, both ways.

Quality Writing

I’m currently reading Obama’s Dreams From My Father.  It’s been on my mental reading list since, I don’t know, since Obama got elected in 2008. [1]

I’ve been enjoying his descriptions of his struggles as a community manager. He wrote it in 1995, probably before he seriously thought of becoming President, so it feels relatively “real”- meaning it doesn’t feel too much like it’s polished PR (which, of course, is the best kind of hyperreal PR). I enjoyed his descriptions of the racism he encountered, his description of his relationship with his ex girlfriend(s), his description of the realpolitik challenges he faced even at the level of local community organising. I feel like I’m a little wiser for it. I feel like he’s spoken to me (as all writers do to readers- we write partially because we can’t find anybody to talk to in the particular way we want to, or because we want to reach others like ourselves). I flatter myself,  of course. But reading Obama’s memoirs beats reading stuff from bloggers no more experienced or qualified than I am (for the purpose of learning about how the world works and how to make decisions). Nothing is completely free from agenda, of course; Obama could be wrong about some things, he could be lying about some things, he could be making stuff up… etc. Etc. But at the very least, it’s a more compelling read.

Fiction & Reality

I think the lines between fiction and reality are overstated. Fiction can communicate truths that non-fiction might not be able to. What I’m enjoying about Obama’s memoir is how it’s possible to sort of get inside his headspace (granted, it’s the side he chooses to show us, and it could be artificially constructed), and the space seems/feels valid. It seems to correspond with my experience of people, as a person.

No good reviews?

And I think the main point I want to get to is this: I’ve never really encountered a review of the book in a public/popular space, and I’ve never really seen a compelling description of the scenarios described in it. Maybe they exist, and I simply haven’t noticed them because I never thought to look for them. But it’s ridiculous that intelligent people attempt to have thoughtful conversations about Obama without reading him first. Why do we do that?

I guess it’s partially a stakes thing. Most daily conversations are incredibly low-stakes- we’re essentially playing with pocket change, peanuts, dummy money. If our livelihoods depended on it, we’d probably do the reading.

Most conversations are pointless

Which leads to an interesting realization- most conversations, unless you’re particularly deliberate about it, are kinda pointless. Most opinions are uninformed. It’s a consequence of the way incentives are “structured”- if you don’t have skin in the game, you don’t really have an incentive to be accurate about any given issue. You may personally decide that you want to be accurate and precise in your thinking, but that’s probably in service of something greater- your personal mission or vision for yourself. But people around you aren’t obliged to do the same.

Warning labels

This is where I think there’s a bit of a revelation to be had. Cigarettes aren’t the only things that should have warning labels. Almost everything does. Family. School. Banks. Loans. Insurance. The media. The media itself doesn’t have a singular, grand agenda- it’s made up of millions of people pursuing their personal agendas. Same for governments and large organizations. We tend to reduce them into simple villains because it’s convenient and easy, and it makes the ‘moral’ landscape less complex. Clearly defined villains can make life easier to parse in the short run. But they hide the messier, uglier truth- that we’re all guilty, that we’re all complicit in villainy.

We have to acknowledge that, I think, if we want to truly make a difference.

Notes:

[1] I just watched the HBO documentary of the 2008 election, by the way, and it’s amazing to see how everybody’s using flip phones. It was before smartphones became ubiquitous. It looks almost like ancient history now. But I was in junior college then, it wasn’t that long ago! Time is moving faster than it did before, that’s for sure.  I remember when the Motorola v3 was an exciting, new piece of technology. I remember when I first used my Samsung and Sony Ericsson semi-smartphones; they seemed so powerful! Now I’m writing essays on my phone on the way to work… soon will I be doing this entirely inside my head? I was flabbergasted at the voice recognition power that Google has now (just say Okay Google to your phone when the screen is at the search bar).