0195 – strive to globally-maximize your enjoyment of life

I lost my last word vomit- it felt like it was some of the best work that I’ve ever done, and I lost all of it before I even had the chance to read it again. I felt really hurt and angry for a couple of minutes. And then I decided that I wasn’t going to give up and be depressed just like that, just because of that. I’m in this for the long haul. I’m here to fix the problem, to make progress.

I’ll start over. Here’s where I was at. I was working from first principles.

1: Life is limited. We have limited time, limited resources, limited cognitive ability. Everything is incredibly limited.

We can choose to take charge or we can choose to let forces beyond our control push us around. This is a lot more nuanced than it sounds. When I was a kid, I hated school and rejected the idea of doing what other people told me I should do. But in the process of that rejection I didn’t learn how to follow my own direction. That’s changing now. I’m starting to do what I think and believe is important. I’m starting to refine and improve my idea about what it means for something to be important.

What is important?

2: Because life is precious, it should be enjoyed. It should be beautiful. It should be pleasurable in a full-bodied way. Things like cigarettes have diminishing returns. You stop enjoying it after a while and the health stuff ruins you. Life should be spent in good health, with clarity of mind, with great relationships with smart, thoughtful, kind people. We’re here to have the best fucking time we possibly can, in a kind, loving, creative, positive way.

3: There are 3 parts to happiness, says Martin Seligman. (Here’s the TEDtalk he gave, it’s worth a watch.)

  • There’s pleasure, which is the most straightforward and the one that people probably obsess the most about. The one that advertising sells. Creature comforts. Good food, nice possessions, status symbols, that sort of thing.
  • There’s flow, which is the feeling you get when you lose yourself in some sort of pursuit- something challenging yet not overwhelming. I felt a lot of flow when I was writing the blogpost that I lost. And I’m doing whatever I can to recreate that. What matters isn’t each individual post, what matters is that I get back up and go again.
  • There’s meaning, which comes from contributing beyond ourselves. We’re social creatures- we’re wired to live and grow in groups, and we’re not actually that great at being alone (yet). As long as we live in the current conditions of reality, if we haven’t yet hacked the human brain completely, if we still have limited lifespans, we’re still bound to the constraints of meaning.

These are things I’ve come to accept axiomatically. I’m not very much interested in discussing the nuances of pleasure, flow and meaning- we could, but I think it’s far more interesting to figure out how to actually get those things for yourselves and for others in a sustainable way.

You can choose to define happiness on your own terms, and you can evolve and change and modify and edit your definition of happiness over time. That’s fine. Start with something that works in the general sense, and get more precise about it over time as you keep going. Refine it, test it, compare it, reflect, think, improve. Again, the end goal is to be a happier, healthier person. To have a more beautiful experience of life, which is limited and precious.

4:  Rational decision-making is about making the best possible decisions to experience the most joy and pleasure in life. All decisions are about the allocation of limited resources. Where do you devote your time and energy? What do you do? What do you not do? What do you focus on? What do you get rid of? You either grow or you don’t, you either get better at thinking about things or you don’t, you either get better at making sense of reality or you don’t. You either do better things with your life or you do not. You’re either growing or you’re stagnating.

It occurs to me that people can fall off at each point. Some people might believe in reincarnation or an afterlife and so-on. I don’t know if there’s any such thing, so I’m choosing to believe that life is limited as far as we can tell.

Some people might think that life doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyed. You can just live a moderate, mediocre, miserable life and nobody deserves anything more than that. Take what you get and shut up. I can’t agree with that. I think life has to be pursued, danced with, laughed with. You have to have joy. If you don’t agree, I don’t think we can be friends, at least not in a deep, engaging sense. (That’s just a general statement, it might not always be true. Life is full of surprises.)

If you agree that life should be enjoyed in a full-bodied way, over the course of an entire lifetime (say 80-100 years, but also such that you can have it cut short at any time and you still find peace and happiness in that), then you’re going to have to decide to make good decisions. By good I mean decisions that have a lasting, postive impact on your happiness functions. Things that make you happier. Things that give you flow, and things that benefit other people- preferably people that you admire, people that you care about.

All of this feels like stuff I’ve said before. What’s surprising? What’s counter-intuitive? What’s unusual?

I’ve always thought that I want to be happy, but I didn’t quite fully accept or realize how much of a commitment that is. I didn’t quite realize how deep that has to transform you. It’s not something you can try on for fun, it’s not a place you can visit for holidays. (I mean- you could do something like that, but that’s not the same.) If you’re serious, you double down. If you’re serious, it goes deep into your identity, deep into your psyche, your belief system. You change who you are, at every scale of reality. From your actions, your behavior, your social groups.

Committing to happiness means choosing to do a lot of work, and it means walking away from things that aren’t productive, aren’t useful, aren’t important. And that can be traumatic to some degree. It can be scary. It involves cutting things and people out of your life, things and people that are toxic. It means prioritization. It’s a strange mix of ruthlessness and graciousness. You have to say no. You have to focus. You have to commit.

The most important thing is that you develop this central mechanism upon which everything else is built. This is what helps you identify what the 2nd-most important thing is, to get you from where you are to where you want to go. While you’re en route, you can ask yourself what your motivations are- why are you doing what you’re doing? Would you do it if it were the only thing you were ever going to do ever again? But it’s critically important that you don’t think about these things as an excuse to avoid doing the work. You have to develop a body of work. And that will help you think.

I guess what’s surprising for me is how much I have had to change. How much I have had to walk away from things. How much of my past self I have to destroy, in a sense. I can preserve that guy in writing, I can preserve him in memory, the way we use museums, but that’s all he can ever be- and that’s a bit scary, a bit painful, but that’s the way it is.

This ended up being less pretty / beautiful / directed than the original vomit was, and that’s a loss I’m going to have to accept as a part of the journey I’m on. Let it be. Learn. I have to preserve things better. But there’s a lesson here and I’m going to learn it. I’ve completed what I set out to do. I felt sorry for myself for a little while, and then I decided that it would be more therapeutic to go at it again, with drive. 100 vomits from now all of this will look silly. But there was, for a brief moment, intense meaning in this choice. That’s flow.

I’ll return with more.

 

0194 – mvp model of personal development

Ugh, I just wasted a bit of time before writing this by going on reddit. I got a couple of little links and stuff out of it, but I’d have been much happier to have just gotten the vomit out of the way ASAP. Still, it’s 1020 am. I woke at 7-ish, went for a run, showered, made breakfast for myself and my wife, and now I’m getting started on this vomit. Ain’t too shabby. Let’s just keep going.

Why did I take a bit longer than necessary to start the vomit? What was the source of the resistance? (Btw, The War Of Art has been catalyzing and refactoring my thinking about procrastination and inertia and stuff like that, I highly recommend it. Wish I read it much earlier.) What stopped me from writing earlier?

I think it was partially a lack of clarity. I have a bunch of different ideas in my head all at once, and I think that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to all of them in my present state. So I waffle and procrastinate, as though I’ll have a better state later on. I know by now of course that isn’t true. The athlete will never wake up not aching, not sore. He has to play hurt. So let’s play hurt.

Yesterday I wrote about refactoring my decision-making system, but I didn’t actually get into the details. Let’s try and get some of the details out in this vomit. A couple of things are coming to my mind:

  • One is the way I used to play SimCity 3000 and certain football management games. I used to obsess about the starting point. In Simcity, I’d spend all the starting money building an elaborate system of roads before anybody even moved in. I’d then get slaughtered by the road maintenance bills, and soon lose control of the city. It took me a long time to properly appreciate this, funnily enough. I guess I grew up reading a lot of books, and I never actually DID many things of my own.
    • That makes me think about my first websites. How did I do it? How did I get my first website? I bought a book- some guide to HTML 4.0. One of the first things you do is you open up notepad, type <HTML><HEAD><TITLE>title here</TITLE></HEAD><BODY><P>Hello world!</P></BODY> </HTML> and save that as index.html. Hey, you just made your first webpage! Does that sound silly? Because it isn’t. Where there once was nothing, now there’s something. You now can do something even cooler than your first webpage- you can do your second webpage. And your third, and your fourth. That’s really how you do it, it’s as simple as that.
  • Another is the cupcake model of startup development. In 0178 I talked about “focus on the cupcakes”. I’d like to dig a little deeper into that. What does it actually mean to focus on the cupcakes, when it comes to lifehacking and behavioral change and whatever you want to call it? When it comes to living your life well, getting more out of life?

It’s very interesting and useful I think to apply the MVP model of product development to personal development.

mvp

I spent maybe a decade, maybe more of my time trying to improve myself by accumulating information, which is kinda like the base of the pyramid. It’s tiring, endless and ungratifying. This applies to all sorts of habit building. I focused wrongly on the bottom layer. (On hindsight, this is a lot of what school is about too, isn’t it? Maybe we do things way because that’s how we were taught to do things. What you really want students and learners to do is to experience a-ha moments themselves.)

What you actually want is get to the peak as fast as possible. Energy/willpower is a VERY limited resource early on in any new endeavor. Your subconscious will resist your attempts, because it is very happy at its current equilibrium. Hit the peak, though, and you unlock more energy for your pursuit.

What is the peak? In writing, it’s shipping/publishing something and getting feedback from others, and  changing your identity / self-perception in the process. Changing your beliefs. Deciding/realizing that you’re a writer. In cooking, it’s making a dish, eating it, smiling and realizing that you liked it. You want to get to that point ASAFP. In fitness, it’s breaking a sweat, getting an elevated heart rate, going home and showering and feeling the endorphins. CRITICAL.

Counter-intuitively, this means you should do the minimum research possible. Knowledge is good to have, of course, but it’s not without cost. And the costs are what kill you. That’s what makes a couch potato stay on the couch… opening 20 tabs on his iPad about 20 tips on how to get more fitter better faster quicker. More research = inertia, time-cost, expectations. The more you read up about something without taking action, the more self-conscious you’re going to get. I don’t mean “go unprepared/uninformed”. I mean that going for a walk is 100x more helpful than researching nuances of biomechanics.

You want to optimize for safety and survivability, to make sure that you don’t die or hurt yourself. But once you’ve got that covered, you’re going to learn more from the walk than from the research. The cool thing is that the early experience gives you valuable context to figure out what you should be researching next. This is a compounding advantage you won’t experience if you do the research without the context.

The critical lever might be identity/belief. What’s the smallest/fastest thing you can do to change your identity? That’s real leverage. For me personally, “I’m a picky eater / have food issues / don’t know how to cook” was a big, significant part of my identity. It probably still is. But today I cooked eggs, and they were yummy.

I got my wife to sit next to me and instruct me (I had to remind her several times not to take over- it was critically important that I perform every single step, from getting the plates to taking the butter out of the fridge), which made me feel less intimidated and afraid about the process. (If the idea of cooking eggs being intimidating sounds hiliarious, I don’t blame you. But I grew up without ever preparing food, without even really witnessing food being prepared.)

I’d like to cook eggs again tomorrow. I’d like to get better at it. I’d like to be able to crack eggs smoothly and efficiently, and feed myself every morning.

But that’s just one part of it, really.

 

0193 – prioritize ruthlessly and follow through

It is now midnight, I wish I had gotten home by 11pm and I wish I had written this vomit 25 minutes earlier. All of that is anxiety, though. I’ll just move right through this. I haven’t yet thought about what I’m going to write about, so this is the most honest and ‘pure’ vomit I’ve done in a while- in the sense that it’s completely improvised on the spur of the moment. (But of course, “completely improvised” is a misnomer- I haven’t taken a single second to plan what I’m writing, but I’m writing about stuff that’s coming to mind- stuff that was on my mind earlier.)

So what’s on my mind? A bunch of things. A couple of things I don’t feel comfortable writing about yet- one is status symbols across different social groups, how they are different and varied and yet ultimately all a manifestation of the same sort of heirarchical systems. Another is how weird it is to me that marketers have to talk about how they increase their conversion rates and the on-page times by being more conversational. Shouldn’t the point be to be conversational to begin with? If you’re not having an actual conversation, why bother? But yeah, I gotta think about those a little longer before I feel ready to speak about them. Maybe I’ll explore them later.

In the mean time, the main thing I want to focus on is the thing that makes the most difference in  my life, which is my own decision-making system. To get meta a little earlier than I should- choosing to focus on my own decision-making system instead of external world things like status symbols and marketing trends is my first indicator that my decision-making system is getting better. Why? Because thinking more clearly about my decision-making system (let’s call it DMS for short) is going to help me make better decisions. And given that life is precious and limited, and we have limited resources (time, money, energy, opportunities, etc), it makes a lot of sense to dedicate oneself to making better decisions.

My main realization was- the most important thing is to identify the next most important thing as quickly as possible, and then break it down into the simplest actionable steps- and then do those things as efficiently and effectively as possible. How do you decide what’s most important? There are a bunch of heuristics you can use. Maslow’s heirarchy might not be completely accurate in describing the way human life is actually organized (meaning we do care about meaning even when we’re hungry), but it’s a useful guide. If you’re hungry and in need of shelter, you should sort that shit out. If you’re not sleeping properly, you should sort that shit out, unless you have to do something to pay a bill that would otherwise leave you homeless.

Blah blah. Fairly self-evident stuff. Where do I get to something interesting or useful? What have I learnt that’s surprising? I think the main thing is to awaken to the reality that you inhabit. That is, to take time off (unless you’re literally at war, and you’re not if you’re reading a blog) to quickly sketch out where your time and energy is going. I recently decided that time spent on Facebook and Twitter was a huge mindsink for me- the headspace that those things occupied were a much higher cost than the excessive time I was spending on them- sometimes even 3 or 4 hours a day. That was time I could’ve spent sleeping better, eating better, spent quality time with my wife, get my work done more effectively and more quickly, that sort of thing. I guess so the thing is to identify the time sink… and then take drastic action? In my case I had been deliberating about it for a long time. Maybe years. I deactivated my Facebook account in August last year- I’m sure I’ve written about it in some earlier vomits, and I’ll compare notes when I’m doing the 200-vomit thematic/narrativistic summaries… but what happened was, I knew that I’d get back to it eventually. I knew that I had friends who were “waiting” for me. (Waiting in the sense that they would post again if I returned, but they would still move on with life if I disappeared. C’est la vie.)

This time, I went total scorched earth. I literally unfriended and unfollowed everybody in my life. And the amazing thing is- I was so scared to do it. Why? Probably some lizard brain instincts. You can’t get rid of your friends, you can’t betray your friends, you’re going to miss out on all the cool stuff, think of all the stuff you’re not reading, all the conversations you’re not having. But the thing is- I started to see how boring and vacuous those conversations were becoming to me. It’s simply not possible to have a super-high-level conversation with somebody without stakes. Or to refine that, if you’re really fucking serious about something, you need to supplement your conversation with action. And generally speaking, the power users on social media aren’t taking dramatic action. The celebrities and superstars might get a lot of attention for whenever they do post, but those people already paid their dues. They already put in the hours of work earlier. And… fuck it, even if it’s possible to make great leaps in a given direction while also being a social media user, for me personally, as a social media addict, I’m far better off if I focus on my work entirely without the distraction.

Fuck it. It’s all storytelling. It’s all narrativistic. All that matters is that I feel better and happier, and I’m doing more work, reading more books, sleeping better, exercising more. They might not necessarily be related. But it’s part of the new story I’m telling myself, and I’m making it stick.

What have I learned about decision-making systems? You have to prioritize ruthlessly. You have to really be super clear about what is absolutely the most important thing, at the expense of all others. And I still haven’t quite learned to do that. I’ve crossed my 1000 words, and the most important thing for me right now at 12:26am is to go to bed so that I can sleep early and go run tomorrow morning. And then we’ll continue this conversation immediately after. We can move this more quickly, it’s all up to me, and it’s all in my nervous system.fact.

Note to later self rereading this: I don’t really actually answer the question directly. I sort of just meander around the context of the question. Next vomit let’s lay down the first principles and follow the implications. Alright goodnight

 

0192 – “You’re only cheating yourself”

In an earlier word vomit- 0170 –  questioning assumptions; what got you here won’t get you there, I talked about a question that I’ve been struggling with all my life: Why reward yourself after doing work, when you can just reward yourself, period? Why not just cut to the good stuff?

Most of that post was about the importance of hard work, and how I had mistakenly assumed that smart people don’t do difficult things because they make everything look so easy. “It’s very important for your long term psychological, mental health to be a person of your word,” I wrote.

And later, “When someone says you’re cheating yourself, you should insist they clarify. Which self? What why should that particular facet of self get more respect than any other? I’m not saying that all facets of the self are equal, I’m just saying that you should get people to explain themselves.”

I sort of ran out of steam there. I’m picking up where I left off. What do personally mean if I say that I’m cheating myself? I’ve got it now. The self is infinitely multi-faceted, yes, but there’s a general consensus that there are two primary parts- the conscious and the subconscious. The Me and the I. The Ego and the Id, and so on.

When you’re cheating yourself, you’re allowing your animalistic, lizard-brain part of yourself cheat the more sublime, creative part of yourself. If you want to do what some artists do, like Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her TEDtalk Your Elusive Creative Genius, you could say that you’re cheating your Muse, your Genius.

There’s a part of you that has dreams, and there’s a part of you that has immediate desires. When you cheat yourself, you enable the immediate-gratification child at the expense of the dreamer.

Anyway, I hate the term “cheat yourself”- it’s very poisonous. I’d rather not use it.

Here’s the single most important thing I want to say- that you’re always performing to your subconscious whether you realize it or not. There are some claims that 95% of everything we do is driven by the subconscious. I’m not sure about the number, but I think it’s pretty clear that people who achieve great things do it with more cognitive force and power than most of us can typically imagine having. Athletes perform amazing computations in their heads in microseconds. Ask them what they were thinking when they scored that goal, and they might say “I wasn’t thinking”. Yet they had analyzed where the ball was going, where the other players were going, etc. It’s the subconscious mind that has been honed with hours and hours of practice. The same is true for the pianist or performer who feels embarrassed by the applause and standing ovation that he gets at the end. He feels like he doesn’t deserve it- it wasn’t really him who was performing. But what he has to take credit for isn’t the performance itself- is that he put himself through the hours and hours of practice.

You’re cheating yourself when you deny yourself the opportunity to achieve great things because the idea of practicing towards something feels tedious, difficult, painful. You’re cheating yourself when you give in to the Resistance. (read: The War of Art). The problem about the Resistance is that it’s not obvious that it’s even a thing. It’s incredibly subtle, insidious… argh, but as I’m writing this I’m thinking that I avoided my schoolwork for an ultimately good reason. I may not be able to reconcile that one. No- actually I think I will, but I’ll need to think about that one later.

In the meantime, all I really want to say is this. The subconscious is always watching. The subconscious- the muse, the genius- is actually a remarkably impartial audience. It doesn’t think you’re great just because you say you’re great. The subconscious has expectations about your behavior. It knows whether or not you can be trusted, and I think the damage that is done when you cheat yourself is that your subconscious doesn’t  trust you with its hopes and dreams anymore. And so it stops dreaming.

The subconscious is always watching. It pays attention when you goof off, and it makes a note- “I am a person who goofs off”. I am a person who cannot be trusted. I am a mean person. I am a lazy person. I am a nasty person. This I think is the real cost of doing things that are seemingly victimless crimes. You’re the victim. You’re the one poisoning your own mind with ideas about who you are, what sort of things you do. If you develop an exercise routine from a young age, your subconscious pays attention and thinks, “I’m the kind of person who exercises.” If you break from this routine, getting back into it might not be that hard.

I’m thinking now about how both Carl Sagan and Linus Pauling shared the conviction that if they didn’t understand something, it was because they hadn’t thought about it hard enough. Now that’s a great idea to give your subconscious. The thing is, you can’t just “give” something to your subconscious. Your subconscious is greater than you, smarter than you, thinks longer, harder and better than you. You really have to give it your absolute best, your absolute truth. You literally, actually, have to IMPRESS your subconsciousness with great work- great on some field.

I was watching Supernanny when I was at my parent’s place and it was quite eye-opening to watch how parents give in to their children’s tantrums. And the nanny goes, it’s not the kids’ fault, it’s you, the parents. You’re giving in. You’re training them. You’re conditioning them to get what they want. So naturally, they just keep getting whatever they want, and ulltimately that doesn’t work out in their favor because they haven’t yet figured out how to think about what they actually want out of their lives.

Fuck man, this whole vomit feels like it isn’t getting anywhere close to what I want to say. It’s so messy. I’ve crossed the word limit I’ve set for myself, so this vomit is technically over, but let me try to start over quickly.

Your subconscious is always watching you, always listening to you, always judging what you do, what you say, what you think about, everything.

Your subconscious notices when you slack off. When you don’t give it your all.

And your subconscious is way bigger than you. It’s like a roomful of people smarter than you, watching your every move. And you need to inspire them. You need them to invest in you. To trust you with their assets. With their power.

The mistake I’ve made in my life is this- I’ve disappointed my subconscious over and over again, to the point where she expects me to fuck up. She expects me to screw up. She expects me to get in trouble, because that’s what I’ve done, over and over again. I have trust issues with my subconscious. The only way to earn back that trust it seems is to start by doing really small things that I say I’ll do. And then do another.

How do you get around to doing THAT? Where do you start? How do you start the starting? I think we need to create rituals. (Well, before that even- make fewer promises. None at all, if possible.) Then I need to identify things that typically get me started. I need to have a quick ritual that runs me through the things that I identify as important triggers to get me riled up and working. I have a couple of motivational videos I like, I can just pick one. 3 mins. then I can get started immediately on the most painful, difficult, important task. If it’s a big task, I can complete a segment of it. I need to learn how to segment tasks better.

I’ve been completely cigarette free for almost half a year. I’ve not even slipped once. I think my subconscious is somewhat impressed- I think. Probably not, actually. I need to do my word vomits everyday. Every. Day.

Alright, we’re done here.This has been messy and ugly but I will get back on this.

Recommended reading:

The User Illusion, by Tor Norretranders

The Top Idea In Your Mind, by Paul Graham

 

0191 – I Unfriended Everybody

I’ve been getting a lot of utility from meditating on Everything Is A Remix. It’s a simple yet incredibly powerful idea. Everything we learn, we first learn by copying, by imitating. All artists of all kinds begin by replicating (often poorly) existing work, then by doing derivative work. It’s only after a significant amount of remixing do we begin to be described as “original”. Nothing is completely different, everything is either some variation of something that came before it, or even something that subverts something that cames before.

Let’s put it this way- even if you come up with something that you think is totally original, it’s still a consequence of tapping into your knowledge and awareness of everything that exists, and everything that you think ought to exist. Your random inputs are still within a contained range, and your interpretations of those inputs fall into many patterns that preceded you. You work really hard to write a song that you’ve never heard before, and somebody else will point out to you how that progression has been done before, by some artist you’ve never heard of.

Put another way- anything “new” that comes into the world can be described in terms of things that already exist. Nothing is literally indescribable. Something might be a complete inversion of X, but we’d then describe it as “a complete inversion of X”. Whether or not the artist knew about X is irrelevant- his work is still, in a sense, derivative of X. It will be painfully obvious to anybody who has deep experience in the field.

I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of what exactly “derivative” means- I could try, but I feel like that’s irrelevant to what I want to describe. I want to talk about my own environment, my own creativity, my own brain, my own process. I’m not interested in being original- I think if you meditate long enough on the fact that Everything Is A Remix, you’ll likely cease to desire credit. If other people want to take credit for my work, fine, I’ll just remix that fact into my subsequent work. If you “steal” from me by plagiarizing, I’ll just make more art and draw attention to the plagiarization in a fun way. I think that’s how art ought to be, how ideas ought to be transmitted. Maybe I’m too naive and idealistic and all of this will be struck down one day. We shall see.

In the mean time, I’m just going to keep creating, and my response to anything negative is to create more. This is what I’ve done so far, broadly speaking. I had comments in 2010 or so telling me that I ought to quit writing, because I was apparently so bad at it. Now I’ve got some pretty nice comments from some pretty famous/popular/influential tastemaker types. And yet the art remains fundamentally the same. I’ve gotten better at it through sheer practice, revision, reflection, output. And I want to just keep doing that, do more of that. (There’s a ZenPencils comic about this that really hit me hard– Gavin is just getting better and better at HIS craft. He’s remixing quotes and visuals and tropes to produce some really wonderful work.)

So. If everything is a remix, what are the implications?

1- PROLIFIC OUTPUT. I should stop trying to be smart, clever, original, cool, all of that stuff. I should just produce as much output as I possibly can. I won’t know in advance what’s good and what’s not. I just need to be prolific. I got into writing because I have taste as a reader, and I can tell when I’m going through my own vomits which are the good ones and which aren’t. The cool thing is, I didn’t always know when I was writing them. Sometimes I wrote something in excitement that I’d later look at and go “Hm… I don’t really need that anymore, I’ve internalized that.” (Which means it was good to have written it, but I don’t need it anymore.)  Sometimes I wrote something that seemed messy and painful and difficult, and I’d slog through it and think that it was a total waste of time- and often I’d be right about that, but sometimes there will be something in there that’s worth unearthing- and sometimes that thing triggers a whole bunch of good stuff further down the road. I’ve written about this before in Letter To A Young Songwriter: Be Prolific. So nothing new here. I’m just revisiting this idea so it rolls off the tongue.

2: QUALITY INPUT. This is where things get more interesting. At the simplest level, it means consuming a lot of stuff. Reading as much as possible. There’s a certain “running lean vs running fat” thing that arises… I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing about input, like output, is that 1 is better than 0. It’s better to read something than to read nothing. It’s better to write something than to write nothing. If you can, you should aim for quantity. Read as much as you possibly can.

The problem is that ultimately there’s a limited number of hours in a day. And the problem I was personally running into was that I was reading a lot of junk and crap. I was reading about other people’s lives on social media- twitter, facebook, instagram. Now, I don’t think social media is worthless. I think it can be an incredibly useful utility, and I also think it has a lot of opportunity for art and all sorts of valuable creativity. My problem is that I started getting very caught up in the lives of others. My brain was getting filled up (I’m oversimplifying- I don’t actually know precisely how the brain works in scientific terms, but I can tell you what it feels like) with thoughts about social relations. This makes sense to me- we have big brains to begin with because we had large social groups, I believe? Dunbar’s number and all. So it makes sense that identity performance is a huge game.

Sorry, I’m writing about this in a roundabout way. Let me lay it out bare. What I’m saying is that I found myself spending a ridiculous amount of time and energy worrying about the identity that I was performing and projecting to friends and peers from a young age. I was concerning myself with the thoughts and opinions of guys I had met when I was 13 or 14 years old, when we were little children really. And it was taking up valuable headspace. A part of me sought their approval. A part of me wanted to make them jealous. And I’d just waste time thinking about this…

So lately I was thinking a lot about how I was carying this strange duality within me- this strange double-life where I was getting featured on popular publications and getting into real positions where I have some sort of credibility, some sort of influence, and this other part of me where I worry about the approval of people who became a part of my life almost completely arbitrarily.

I started to realize that if I want to get to the next level, I need to make some drastic, dramatic changes. I can’t devote 100% of my focus towards working on super-challenging, super-interesting problems if I’m also worrying about the local news cycle and other distractions like that. I can’t afford to start thinking about say, the social lives of some old friend’s ex-girlfriend. I’ve tried doing the stay-away-from-social-media thing- I went on a complete fast last year in August, but I found the solution to be a little… suboptimal. I might no longer have been interacting with Facebook, etc, but I was still thinking in terms of it. I was still thinking of the status updates I would write when I eventually re-activated. It was like “quitting smoking” but constantly looking forward to the next cigarette, yearning and craving. It’s a pretty shitty way to live.

So I realized that I needed and wanted to make a change. I have a bookshelf full of amazing books that I haven’t read yet, and I really, really want to read them. For me to read them I need to devote more time to them, carve out time for them. I also want to be more focused at work, and get more work done. And so far, “stay away” hasn’t been a good enough solution for me. I literally needed/wanted to do a scorched earth thing.

It’s been about 24 hours since I completely cut everything and everyone off. And it feels liberating. I don’t need to care anymore. I log into Facebook and there’s nothing to look at. I’m not 100% sure how this is going to play out.

But for some reason, I feel incredibly relieved. I feel free. I feel like I’ve put some distance between me and all sorts of petty concerns, trivial nonsense, like I’ve dived beneath the choppy surface and found this deeper calm underneath.

Excited to see how it goes. Excited to read more. Excited to care less. Excited to write more.

 

 

0190 – awakening to inner richness

I wonder if I could write a thousand words before I go to bed when I’m in a rather tired, sleepy state. I think I can. Let’s test this. It’s like a video game, really.

At several points in my life so far I found myself thinking that life wasn’t going to get very much more interesting ever again, that I had already gotten a pretty good idea of all the major schools of thought, all the major ways of interpreting and experiencing the world. I expected that things wouldn’t get very much more interesting, after that initial awakening.

I think that has been both true and false, somewhat. True in the sense that nothing quite shocks or surprises or amazes me anymore. Everything fits within the broader idea that humans are silly and crazy, that we’re all clowns in a grand cosmic circus amusing ourselves while staring into the abyss. So people will do beautiful things, ugly things. Inexplicably bad, unfair and cruel things will happen. We’ll get caught up in all sorts of nasty bullshit. That hasn’t really changed very much.

What’s interesting for me is to pay attention to the the richness inside of myself. I’m no richer than anybody else- everybody’s essentially infinitely rich and complex, you just need to develop the habit of contemplating that, making sense of that, analyzing that, listening to yourself… that sounds a little mystical, but all I’m trying to say is that there is a lot of richness in our behaviors and our motivations that we aren’t always privvy to. Most things are subconscious. So we can spend a lot of time simply evaluating our subconscious. And that seems to me to be a more compelling frontier. You have inside your body, inside your brain, this system of thinking, this system of processing reality. This system of beliefs that you might not even realize you hold until you test them rigorously. Don’t you want to know they are?

Philip Larkin has a poem- ‘This be the verse’ that goes “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.” It’s written in a rather sombre, depressing tone. There’s an amount of despair in the poem. But I think if you meditate on that fact and you accept the truth encoded in it, you can learn to appreciate it. I don’t mean appreciate it like appreciating modern art in an art exhibition- that is, like a complete fucking idiot rubbing their chin thoughtfully. I mean appreciate it like you appreciate something that can kill you, and not in some beautiful elegant way but in the most unforgiving, unfair, stupid way. The original meaning of appreciate didn’t have a positive connotation to it- it meant simply to evaluate, to acknowledge or realize the value of something.

Once you appreciate the ugliness, you appreciate the flaws and the broken stuff, the horrible issues that plague your life, then you can (maybe, perhaps) start doing the incredibly difficult, challenging, HARD work of putting the pieces together. Sometimes this means closing yourself off permanently from environments that are toxic to you. Sometimes this means using prostheses. Sometimes this means developing habits and systems that you might have to stick with for years, maybe even decades. And all of that can seem really painful, really hard, really tedious. It can feel like giving in.

But I think there is truth to that cliche that only by acknowledging weakness can you truly begin to become strong. Only by acknowledging cowardice can you begin to become brave. You don’t have to tell everybody else about it, you just need to acknowledge it for yourself. You need to realize that whatever you do or say is an emission of who you are, what you believe in, and there’s a lot of reprogramming you can do (or I can do, at least, for myself) to make things better for yourself. In my case I realize I have all these issues- I’m not sure what exactly you’d call them. Neuroses might be a bit extreme. But they are basically facets of my mind that are incredibly persistent and can be rather tedious, annoying and disruptive in my life. What am I to do about them? [1]

Living with them is a worst case option of sorts- the reason I write and think about these things so much is because I don’t like the idea of dying without having at LEAST made some progress on these fronts. i’d like to witness myself getting better at these things. I’d like to witness myself discovering that I was right about how I felt about some things, and that others were wrong about me. That’s somehow important to me right now. I sense that it won’t always be, that someday this goal will feel silly. But I’m not sure if I can skip this one. We’ll see.

===

Notes:

[1] This might be a good aside moment to think about the way we think about mental health. We all know people who have ‘regular’ health issues- asthma, short-sightedness, high blood pressure, diabetes, low blood sugar, arthritis, so on and so forth. It’s pretty common. People have headaches and the flu and all sorts of ailments. Back pains. Now, the brain is more complex than any other part of the body. Shouldn’t it “go wrong” at the same frequency, if not worse? Shouldn’t people have just as many mental health issues as they do physical ones, if not more? And yet we pretend like this isn’t the case. This is ridiculously harmful and I hope we address it within my lifetime. That would be nice. Nobody really had a serious conversation with me about the possibility that I might have real mental health issues or a some sort of impairment or disorder of some kind until I was 22, married, a home owner, employed. I might have been saved a lot of misery.

The Vagina Monologues lady- Eve Ensler- was the first person, I think, who introduced to me the idea that you heal yourself by giving to other people what you wish was available for you. I remember the first time I watched her TED talk, I was incredibly moved and had some sort of euphoric epiphany or something. I watched it again recently, and I felt reminded of that conviction. I do think that a substantial amount of life should be spent giving to others, if only because it seems likely that we’re wired to experience lasting pleasure from such relations.

 

0188 + 0189 – the kind of person who insists that shit gets done

I’ve been smoke free for over 15 to 16 weeks now. I’m not sure of the exact date anymore. I no longer get cravings just by walking past smokers or looking at smokers. The past couple of days I’ve recognized it as “nice smoking weather”, but the part of me that doesn’t want to smoke is now stronger, I’d say, than the part of me that thinks “would be nice”.

I’m not actually sure how to think about this. The common narrative is “I finally wanted it badly enough”, or “I’m a better person now”, or “I am stronger now”, etc. But all of those things don’t quite seem right. The truth is I have no particular idea why this latest attempt at smoking cessation is more successful than the previous attempts. And this suggests that whatever happened, it happened subconsciously. Because consciously I’m doing the same things. It’s that my subconscious (it seems) has decided for some reason or another that it’s not worth fighting anymore.

I’m not sure where the statistic comes from- a quick Google suggests it might have been a Dr. Bruce Lipton from Stanford who said it– this idea that 95% of who we are, what we do, etc are driven by the subconscious mind. This was an idea I intellectually appreciated for a long time, but never fully got around to accepting or embracing in a visceral sense until I started discovering that my body and other parts of me (I refuse to get mystical- I’m just saying I don’t understand it) resisting against things I wanted to do.

I wanted to quit smoking and it was really hard. I wanted to wake up early, and it’s really hard. I wanted to be more productive, write more word vomits, and my body/brain just doesn’t listen to me. Previously I had modelled the saboteur as someone who is inside my head, who’s more intelligent than I am on average (meaning he’s at peak intelligence 24/7), more well-rehearsed, etc.

Now I realize that that model is kind of flawed. The saboteur- if I want to use such an villianistic narrative- isn’t just half of me, but most of me. Heath brothers got it right- I’m the mahout, and the ‘saboteur’ is the elephant. I’m trying to move this big, clumsy elephant that obstinately goes wherever it wants to go, almost entirely independent of my thoughts. For the most part, it feels like i’m in control, because I only choose to go where the elephant has already decided it wants to go. That’s the well worn path. If I pick options from the range of choices that the elephant is comfortable with, there is no cognitive dissonance. I feel like I have freedom and free will, and the elephant happily does what it likes. Do I want more cigarettes or less? Should I procrastinate on X or on Y? These are things that feel like choices to me, but the real choices that actually matter were already made for me in advance. [1]

Since I stopped smoking I’ve been noticing all other kinds of interesting things. I realize that I need to exercise regularly. I mean, I’ve written about this for years. Jesus. Nothing is new. Reading my old vomits make me realize that I “already know everything”- that is, my 5% conscious mind is capable of accessing and reaccessing truth over and over again. But what do I do with that? What happens after the meeting is over, after the commitments are made, etc? I weasel out, I sneak off, I waffle and shirk. Why? I’m not sure if I can provide a good answer just by thinking about it aloud, because my subconscious shit and filth will try to hide it.

I’m in essence trying to sandblast my brain of all the shit and filth that has accumulated over the years. And there is a lot of it. Every time I think I’ve made progress I realize there’s a lot more to do. I can actually probably set the next 2-3 years aside to purely just clear filth and nothing else. I no longer feel like there’s much point in me trying to contribute to civil society or broader discussions or anything like that. A lot of those things feel like escapism. Things that distract me from the much harder work of cleaning my own house.

I’ve been waking up before 8am for about a week now, I think. I try to sleep before 11pm every night. Last night was an anomaly, and I slept at 130am. I was worried, I thought I’d wake up 10am or later. But I woke up at 730, right before my alarm went off.

The following has happened hundreds of times in the past- I wake up early, and then I decide to give myself a few more minutes lying in bed. I fall back asleep, and I start the day disappointed, realizing that I can’t trust myself with anything. I say yes to all sorts of things, and then I fumble and flounder to try and keep track of all of them.

I never really devised a working system that worked well for me. I’m finally starting to sort of cobble one together. One is a bullet journal system, which is pen+paper. This works well because writing things down over and over again forces ME to pay attention to them, to keep track of them. I also use Evernote to keep track of stuff, and I use my blogs to pour my brain out so that I can look back on it later and reflect on it. I use Asana for work, but for the longest time I wasn’t actually using it properly. Most of my tasks didn’t have deadlines on them, and I would move the deadlines around, I’d assign too many tasks to myself in a single day, fail to do any of them, then shift all of them to the next day, wash rinse repeat. I set aside some time recently to go through all of it all at once- I took about 2 hours yesterday to give deadlines to everything. So now I can just focus on getting 4 things done per day. And I can split that up, and focus on doing one thing at a time. I think that will help.

The best thing about quitting smoking for me is that it made me start to believe that it’s possible for me to get out of all my funk, and to clean out the shit from my brain and to then rewire my brain so that the shit and filth is no longer a part of the system. It’s like… I had become a derelict hobo of sorts. Once in a while, I would take this hobo out for a haircut and a bath and a shower and stuff like that, and the hobo would look all nice and fresh and clean for a few days. But pretty soon the hobo would back into drugs and alcohol, he wouldn’t be able to hold down a job, he’d go back to his hobo ways. The haircut was nice to see, and feels good, but that isn’t what the hobo actually needed.

What does the hobo actually need? Fuck if I know, man. The most important thing is probably a context in which he can see himself differently. And work was probably the first thing in my life that enabled that. My colleagues and boss allowed me to see myself in a different light. That maybe I might be able to build and develop the habits and routines that would make me useful and productive.

I’m sure I’ve written many times before about how a part of me always blew off the idea of being useful and productive at all, because there was nobody worth being useful and productive for… but that was largely a product of my context + me rationalizing something I had become addicted to. It was my brain doing what brains do best- inventing an explanation that’s least painful. I smoke because life is fleeting and difficult and we’re all going to die anyway. Sure, but all of those things are still true, and I’m not smoking anymore. Why aren’t I smoking? Life is still fleeting and difficult and we’re all going to die, but now when I think of cigarettes I think of brief stimuli followed by coughing, a dulling of the brain (this really happens- everything starts getting greyer, like somebody turned the contrast down in the world), burnt and chapped lips, and a generally unpleasant experience. Life without cigarettes is brighter, fresher, happier.

I’ve always known this, c’mon. Why am I talking about it like it’s new, important or different or something that matters? The real question is- why do I care about a brighter / fresher / happier world when i didn’t before? Something changed, what? I think I began to believe in myself a little bit more, as a consequence of other people believing in me. I think it might have been as simple as that, and as disturbingly outside-of-myself as that.

I think that’s a huge part of what people don’t talk about when talking about procrastination. I last wrote about having a fire under your ass, but even that’s just one facet of it. You’re already having a good day when all you’re looking for is a fire under your ass. The hard question is what do you do when you’re not having a good day. When you’re not even looking. When you can’t even see. When you don’t believe in yourself, and you strongly suspect that you’re doomed to a life of always reaching, always failing, always falling behind, always missing commitments, always disappointing people (including yourself, even if you tell yourself that you aren’t disappointed- there’s a part of you that has hopes and dreams and that’s the part of you that grows quiet, grows soft and hides in the background, like a child that’s abused, or a child of parents who mean well but are just plain irresponsble… you start becoming small, you stop believing in yourself.

I don’t mean to turn this into some sort of big motivational shpiel, all I’m saying is to look to your cynicism or look to your devil-may-careism or however you wanna think about it (I’m assuming if you’re reading my vomits you must relate to me in some way… or whatever i don’t care) and ask yourself why you’re like that. What were the conditions that led you to carrying yourself that way, thinking of yourself that way. We’re almost all products of our environments to a greater degree than we realize. I definitely am.

The past couple of years I’ve been realizing all these things that plague me- how I am limited, set back, etc. And how important it is to realize that things don’t actually have to be this way. If I can stop smoking and stop feeling like I need a cigarette- that’s the part that smokers worry about, I think- that they’ll always want a cigarette (because I don’t think I do anymore, 95-99% of the time) then I have to believe that I can quit my guilt. I can build into my brain a system that takes care of business, that keeps to deadlines and appointments, that gets things done. I have to believe. And I have to let go of the old me. I have to let go of the apologies and the disappointments and all of that stuff. I just have to get shit done, a little bit at a time, over and over and over again. But first and foremost I have to believe.

I believe. I believe it is possible. I believe that I am the one who is here to save me from my bullshit. I believe that I will stand up and face the light. I believe that I will pull myself out of this. I believe that a year from now I will look back and smile sadly at how stuck I was, at how hard I struggled, how I floundered and struggled when everything I needed was right around me- and how all of that is okay, and how I’m fixing it. I’m coming back. I’m getting stronger. I’m getting more powerful. I’m expanding my circle of control.

I’m becoming the kind of person who insists that shit gets done.

Notes:

[1] Kinda like what would-be revolutionaries like to say about capitalists and the media and the bankers and people who supposedly run the world. The important choices are all already made for you, and it’s not in your favor. You’re given the illusion of choice over things that are relatively inconsequential, and you amuse yourself to death, while suffering. Bread and circuses. Bread and circuses.

 

0187 – Reading Dostoyevsky and repeating myself

I bought 10 books at a book fair a while ago days ago, one of them was Notes From Underground by Fydor Dostoyevsky, the Russian dude who wasn’t Tolstoy who wrote epic works. I bought it because it was a short, bite sized piece of work by an epic author. Like reading a naughty haiku by Shakespeare.

writers are humans not gods

I slightly resent the fact that writers like him- and Shakespeare, and David Foster Wallace- are made out to be these towering Atlas figures that are meant for hyper-intellectuals. That they’re put on pedestals. I wish we could appreciate and enjoy them as ‘regular’ writers- human beings who had something to say, rather than eccentric geniuses who had some sort of madness that the rest of us will likely never have. I don’t think that’s the case, and I think humanity is impoverished when we talk about humans like that.

A part of me has always wanted to read Crime and Punishment- I once read a passage from it cited elsewhere that I found riveting. But the book itself is just such an epic that I find myself thinking “I will read it when I am ready for such an epic quest.” But that’s bullshit, nobody is ever ready for an epic quest. Nobody ever was. You’re never ready to build a house, to climb a mountain, to eat an elephant. You start small and you start yesterday.

And so I read. And so I write. And so it goes.

Anyway, I’m really enjoying Notes From Underground. It’s barely 150 pages, a light and breezy read about this somewhat neurotic person writing to deal with the absurdity of existence. I find myself laughing out loud as I witness him describing silly things that I’ve done.

I wonder what I’d have thought of this book as a depressed existential teenager- it would probably have become my little anthem, psychological solidarity I had with this weird Russian author from the 1700s. I would’ve felt less lonely, but I might also have fallen into the trap of hero worship. Who knows.

When I’m reading it now though, I smile. I want to kiss him and give him a hug and tell him that I understand, and at the same time, be the friend that tells him that digging into the depths of the abyss is no different from scratching an itch until it bleeds. And this is what a lot of these psychoanalyzing authors seemed to have done- they dug deeper and deeper and then they became the dig. It is unsurprising that so many of them turned to drink, to drugs, to suicide.

Contemplation has to lead to action in real life, else the outer world that we live in becomes unbearable in comparison to the elaborate cathedrals and dungeons we construct in our minds.

mental health for creatives

Writers and artists etc really ought to take care of their mental health.  They ought to exercise, especially. A herculean demand on the mind requires a resilient physical ecosystem to accomodate the pressure, or else the odds of implosion are simply too high. (Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on this are great.) This is self-evident to me right now. I’m not sure if I’ll think differently about it.

Should artists suffer for their art? I think there’s enough suffering in the world to go around without us actively (or consciously-passively) creating our own. Our lives are our canvas, and we can and should seek to affirm and enrich the lives of others, if only so we get to see them flourish and create art of their own. It makes for a more interesting world. Life is brief, it should at least be fun and Interesting, and It doesn’t need to be damaging/toxic while we’re at it.

I can remember my old thoughts as a smoker- life itself is toxic, what does it matter if I choose to poison myself further? In fact, fuck existence for this cosmic joke. If we’re headed off the cliff anyway, then I want to be in the driver’s seat.

What has changed? I’m still aware that we’re headed off the cliff and that everything is pointless in the ultimate, absolute sense. So why bother building anything?

The idea is to have the most pleasurable time possible before we hurtle to our inevitable deaths.

And this pleasure should be as rich and glorious as possible. The thing about cigarettes and cynicism and self-flagellation of any kind is that it doesn’t actually increase your freedom over the duration of your Lifegame.

Cigarettes are a great case study. When you first start smoking when you’re still too young to buy your own cigarettes, cigarettes are naughty and exciting. They allow you to escape from crushing reality, to carve out your own little spaces on your own terms. All of this is a temporary illusion though. Eventually cigarettes become a crushing reality by itself. What started as pleasure becomes an obligation, a routine. It holds your mind hostage, and it abuses your health the whole time- you never quite notice it moment by moment, but your vision gets blurrier from the smoke and squinting, your skin and lips and mouth dry out, you just become this inorganic, deathly husk. All because you thought it was fun and exciting and not that big a deal.

Repeated re-evaluation

I guess it’s really important to reevaluate eveeything in your life every month. The first or last of every month ought to be reevaluate-your-life day. What are my assumptions? What can I change?

Heh, stopped writing at the above line, and am continuing now as a second write- and it occurs to me that I’ve said this whole “reevaluate your life” thing repeatedly. I suppose I repeat myself over and over when there’s something I really want to do that I haven’t gotten around to doing yet. The repetition is me keeping the idea top-of-mind, me knowing that if I don’t remind myself of something it’ll almost definitely fade out. So that’s interesting. I’m definitely going to do a re-read of my vomits and extract out the things that I said I should do, and follow my own advice.

There’s a good chance I’m going to say this again and again until I finally do it. Maybe there’s something important/valuable about the repetition. I think some songwriters have said- if you can’t remember the melody, it probably wasn’t very good. Maybe it’s the same with these things, and maybe that’s why oscillating between states is such a necessity. Just as how rebelliousness in the teenage years is good for people, so that they don’t get stuck in dogma (entirely), perhaps forgetfulness and a tendency to repeat oneself is healthy because it always you to focus on what’s important.

Maybe. We’ll see. All that matters to me right now is that I be proflic. Let’s go.

 

0186 – A list of “What I’ve Learnt”s, part 2

– creating \(n_n)/, or How To Build A Community

I’m amused at how poor all the “how to create a community” blogposts are. It’s probably because not many people have actually gotten around to actually creating communities of their own.

You start with yourself, with an agenda of sorts. I’m still not sure how precise that agenda should be. I always wanted to create a sort of mastermind group- I had this fantasy of a “legion of heroes”. It was always a bit premature. I had asked a couple of friends for their input on the ideas. I had some grand visions about the whole thing. But it was like fantasizing about baking wedding cakes when you had never even baked a cupcake in your life.

So n_n was my cupcake, maybe. I decided to keep it simple. I used that as the name because I didn’t want it to be pretentious. I had previously been invited to a group called “Rise Above The Bourgeoisie” and I was so frustrated with the way that group was managed that I wanted to start my own group to see how it ought to be done.

I made a few mistakes. My house rules very very simple- just be nice, respect each other, listen to each other, etc. On hindsight there are more things you should add, like insisting that people share their own opinions, perspectives and interpretations before they post a link. Because otherwise people just post a whole bunch of links and expect engagement to be handed to them. Newsflash: Engagement is fucking hard, and you need to earn it through reciprocity.

You need to start the group really small and grow it slowly and organically. You should talk to a whole bunch of people about the idea of the group before you even start the group, and then you should pick maybe 1-2 people who really share your vision and start the group with just the few of you. Then you need to have real, honest conversations in the group. You need to eat your own dogfood- meaning you need to use the medium of the group to have real, honest and serious conversations. People are better at sniffing out ‘authenticity’ that we realise, as performers and creators. We recognise it when we’re in the audience, but not so much when we’re on stage. If you spill your actual guts, people will come and watch.

So yes, have real conversations in your group. Don’t hold things back. If your group is a place that you need to hold things back from, people will sense that it’s a little fake. Don’t do the overbearing overwhelming oversharing stuff either. That can be intimidating. Don’t write epic walls of text. Instead just describe your reality in the simplest and most straightforward terms you can, and ask genuine questions. Ask people for input. Ask people for their thoughts. Then genuinely listen, genuinely read and give real feedback. Keep this going and eventually you have this nice virtuous cycle that other people will be happy to plug into. This is what Quora must have been like in the early days when it was relatively small- when it was, in fact, just the Quora employees.

Over time you may notice things like people getting into intense, emotional arguments. I’m still not 100% sure how to deal with that, but I think one of the best ways to do it is to “take it outside”. By that I mean to take it into PMs, or to meet in person to talk it out. There’s this really unhealthy thing that happens on Facebook walls that’s very performative. People become less concerned with understanding each other and more interested in winning over the audience. Once this happens, things get polarised, people grow to hate each other, things start falling apart and get ugly. The earliest first principle should be that we’re all here to learn from each other, and nobody should reward anybody else for trying to “win”.

Working with kids

I love kids, because they’re so fresh, young, full of potential. Relatively, at least. They haven’t been ruined by failure and the bullshit negative self-talk that we spread throughout our culture. Look at kids happily revealing their ages and talking about what it means to run or fight like a girl, for instance. Kids give you hope because they don’t immediately inherit the bullshit that we’re already swimming in.

I’m more passionate about empowering children-educators than I am about educating children directly myself. I’m sure there are people better with kids than I am, more passionate about kids than I am.

– Impossibility of Replacing A Person

I used to think that there wasn’t much point in me doing anything at all because other people will do it better. But your life has meaning. Nobody else has your utterly unique set of perspectives and experiences. Yes, you’ll tend to fall into certain broad categories, there will be others like you. There are 7 billion people. Is it possible for every single person to be unique? I think yes, actually, but few people develop to that stage. So we have teeming seas of similar people. But while they might be moved by the same things, I do truly believe that if all of them were artists (and we’re all artists in our own ways- some art is expressed in a very physical, visible space while some is less tangible).

– Dead Poets vs. Dangerous minds

Interesting that I sat down to note the comparison. They’re both about teachers who inspire students. In both cases, the teachers fail to some degree before succeeding. The teachers are slightly rebellious, and they feed these narratives we want to believe in- that a single solitary individual can kick off broader system change just by exuding, exemplifying freedom.

The difference is, of course, socioeconomic status. Dead poets was about upper-class or upper-middle-class white boys, while dangerous minds was about black and brown inner-city kids. I’m sure there are more interesting similarities and nuances to dig up, but I’m writing this from memory.

Hustle, create value. Tina Sellig’s view of Entrepreneurship

Paul Graham recently wrote something that captures my thoughts about this. You need to make something people want. Identify what people want and provide it. Everything else is secondary. If nothing else, make stuff that YOU want, because chances are that if you want something, somebody else would too.

I’d like to create more value, faster. I find myself quickly falling into the trap of living paycheck to paycheck, allowing busywork to pile up so that I don’t have much free time. If I don’t have free time, I don’t need to be doing the important work that might fail, that might not work out. So there’s a certain escapism that I live under. What I really ought to be doing is applying entrepreneurial thinking (which I idolised so much when I was a student/NSF!) to my real life. I need to apply it to my work, which is so fertile and rich for Kaizen/systemic improvement.

Philosophical Dilemmas

I have a book called Philosophical Dilemmas and I once wanted to write essays, thoughts and commentaries about all of those things. I have since sort of lost interest in that sort of thing. I trust in myself to reasonably be able to have thoughtful, consistent positions on those things with a little bit of effort. What is far more interesting and challenging is for me to get stuff done. I suppose in this case we have a bit of a self-reference loop. I said I wanted to write these essays. I suppose I should quickly write them anyway. Just to get them out. And then I can check the box and eliminate it.

Smoking corners

I stopped smoking about 11 weeks ago at the time of this writing, but this is still something that is interesting and important to me. I think that we need more designated smoking areas. I think that designated smoking areas will help to reduce the problem of second-hand smoke by containing cigarette smoke to specific regions.

 

0185 – A list of “What I’ve Learnt”s

I had a list of old prompts lying around in my Evernote since forever. Finally, on a day where I felt full of writerly energy, I wrote out medium-length answers and elaborations to most of therm. This happened a few weeks ago. I’m tidying them up and assembling them here.

What I’ve learnt from being in a long term relationship

I’ve only seriously dated one woman my whole life, since we were young and stupid. We’re still young and stupid, but now we have a house and two cats, and we’re building our lives together. We met when we were 10, got together when we were about 13, separated for a couple of years when we were 17, got back together and got married when we were 22. We’re 24 at the time of this writing.

What have I learnt?

  1. I’m really bad at relationships. I like to think that I’ve gotten better, but I haven’t gotten better nearly as much as I ought to, in a way that matters.
  2. The main reason me and my wife have been together for as long as we have is that we’re both really stubborn and we refuse to let our relationship fail- there are some people who would be very happy to go “I told you so” if our relationship fails, and we’re not having any of that.
  3. Hate the same things. It’s okay to not like the same things. What actually matters is that you hate the same things. There is a certain lasting comfort and solace in the arms of a person who hates the same things that you do.
  4. It’s about cooperation more than anything else. Can’t remember who said that- it might have been some actress in a movie- but it rings true for me. A marriage is a partnership. The whole ‘love’ thing is nice to have, and something that you can re-create over and over again. Couples that last know how to do this. I highly recommend Esther Perel’s “Desire in long-term relationships” talk. That’s some real shit.

What I’ve learnt from playing in a band

Playing in bands is actually really fun, really pleasurable. It can be a bit messy and challenging, but when you get it right it’s really lovely. I haven’t done it in too long. I should do it again soon. Maybe I should really bring my guitars to work. I should probably do that. Yes.

Sleep experiments

Sometimes I like it when I’m awake really, really late at night. I remember enjoying those late night cigarettes. The world would seem quiet and wistful and silent, and it was all mine. Those are things I will remember on my deathbed. I will also remember what it was like to be in an office playing music, I will remember what it was like to be in a security room for the Singapore Air Show, I will remember my route march in NS, I will remember my first kiss when I was in a library in Tampines, how excited and edgy I felt- I remember thinking wow, this is what adults know that kids don’t, this is what growing up is about.

I love waking up really early in the morning. It feels like you start before the world does. I managed to pull this off for a couple of days, and it felt really good. Wake early, sleep early. I think a part of my brain almost feels like I don’t deserve to do that.

Learning to draw

I’m so jealous and impressed by people who are amazing at drawing. And I suppose by people who are amazing at music, too. But I used to think about it in this really… (I want to say “American”, or “Asian”) competitive, possessive way. I want to have those skills. I want to impress people. I want to be powerful and amazing and rich and all of that.

It makes a lot more sense to focus on expressing yourself. Mastering yourself. Drawing and playing music aren’t ways to impress people (though they can be impressive), they’re ways of exploring reality. Ways of making sense of reality. Ways of mapping and modelling reality. And you get good at it to paint a richer picture of reality so that you can understand and appreciate it better.

Maybe not everybody else feels the same way. There are some more straightforward utilities to art- like playing music to club to, to lose yourself to. But even that I’d say is a kind of mapping of the reality of our own primal, tribal desires.

I used to want to draw to impress people. Now I want to draw because I think sometimes it might be the most succinct way of communicating a concept, and I want to communicate useful, effective concepts in the most effective way possible. Because we need to do that if we’re going to expand the consciousness of the species, and if we’re going to go to space, become multi planetary, etc.

Facebook shenenigans

Facebook is an amazing utility that adds a lot of value to my life, and to everybody else’s too. We tend to take the good stuff for granted and focus on the bad. I think it’s okay to focus on the bad so we can mitigate it, but it’s healthy to also think about the benefits. The optimal outcome is to get as much good and as little bad as possible.

The scariest thing about Facebook is that your profile co-creates you just as much as you create your profile. You start taking photos and going to places etc just so you can have specific profile pictures and cover photos. It’s all one big game of identity performance and it can be rather exhausting.

I think it’s pretty sad that people spend so much time arguing on Facebook. I think worrying about what happens on Facebook is a horrible way to live. I think we should all sit our friends down and agree once and for all that anything that happens on Facebook isn’t particularly serious, that we’re all prone to missteps and misunderstanding, and that nobody really changes their mind about anything on Facebook. We should instead use Facebook as a utility for private conversations via PM. The best things that have happened to me on Facebook all happened via PM.

Being in debt

I was in debt for a while. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. This was despite the fact that the person I owed money to was an understanding friend who could afford to lose the money.

Starting a business

I already wrote an entrepreneurship rant that covers most of what I’d like to say about it. In a nutshell, don’t take stupid risks. Take the tiniest little risks you can, things with little to no downside but some unknown upside. Spend as little money as possible, as little time as possible, and expose your work to as many people as possible. Iterate as much as possible. Have a common understanding about what you want out of it, and discuss it together.