0349 – ‘be dangerous’

I just looked up Dave Trott’s blog– he wrote a book called Predatory Thinking, which I enjoyed (at the bookstore) and bought and read and enjoyed again. It’s just full of little stories and vignettes of little victories and perspective-shifts and asymmetrical warfare. Kind of like Seth Godin’s blog but with a bit more of a menacing twinkle in the eye, which I like.

I dropped by and I found a post titled “Be Dangerous”, and it talked about the story of the filmmaker who wanted to make a deviant, different film– end ended up looking for a rock band, and then coached the rock band to be more dangerous, and they ended up being The Who– crazy, outrageous, loud, rambunctious, quite mad, and very successful.

I was looking at my Workflowy lists and the cues I had left for myself were things like, “What am I curious about?” And frankly on hindsight I think that feels really boring. At least right now. I know how curiosity can be a raging hunger that drives you to do all sorts of interesting stuff, but sometimes when you’re tired and frustrated, all you’re curious about is if there’s going to be any way out of it, if you’ll make it out in the end (spoiler alert: none of us makes it out in the end), if you’ll be okay, alright. (Alright, alright, alright, alright!)

Be Dangerous, on the other hand, is a bit more exciting. At least in present headspace. What could I be dangerous about? What is everyone doing that’s safe and normal that I find hilariously silly or superficial? That’s a bit more of an exciting thought. A little tiring, maybe, but everything is tiring. Life should be exciting, shouldn’t it? I start thinking about pranks. I start thinking about gags. I start thinking about David Ogilvy saying, make your thinking funny, because the best thinking comes as jokes. Maybe I haven’t been joking around as much as I ought to.

What would be funny? What’s weird around us? What would be the most dangerous thing I could do? Well, let’s start extreme. The most dangerous things to do are obviously law-breaking things. Kill somebody. Break things. Set things on fire. Throw things out of the window. But those are boring things, they’re the choices of the desperate. What’s next? Well. Hm. Making art? What sort of art could we make? Where? Public transport? Public spaces? What do we take for granted that’s really annoying? Train announcements are pretty annoying. Bills are pretty annoying. Where am I going with this? I don’t know. It feels silly. But let’s give ourselves permission to be silly. What would be fun, what would be nice? Music. Poetry. Writing. Okay. How can any of that be dangerous? Facebook status updates don’t feel particularly interesting. Creating some sort of fake or artifical account… feels boring.

What do I want? I want to solve procrastination. How can that be done in a dangerous way? (Lol.) I suppose it has to make seemingly unfair demands? You have to be unreasonable? There are a lot of assumptions about things that people take for granted– it’s like the water that fishes don’t question, because it’s just a part of their reality. Okay, so question assumptions. What’s a fun, clever way to question assumptions? I feel like I’m really forcing it here. Yes, that’s what we’re going for. Fiction? Can fiction be dangerous? How can fiction be dangerous? It has to speak truth to power. But what is the truth, anyway? And what is the power that it should speak to? Being angry and abrasive isn’t even all that dangerous, it’s just kind of silly.

Maybe we’re approaching things the wrong way. Maybe we should reinterpret what dangerous mean. I’m thinking outwards. What if I thought inwards? What if I was putting myself in danger? In particular, the ugly, boring, nasty parts of myself that I don’t like, what if I approach that with a more antagonistic approach?

Ugh, I’m really just not feeling very creative right now and I can’t force it. What can we remove from the equation? What can we kill? I suppose I could go through my todo list and eliminate things that aren’t relevant anymore, that don’t make sense to me anymore. Maybe. But right now I feel like I just want to write as much as possible. So I’ve done this semi-failed experiment of trying to write myself somewhere new. It’s not quite working out. Maybe I should go look at old Facebook posts. Shall I do that? It feels like something I’m in the mood for. Hardly dangerous. But at this point I don’t care anymore. I just want to have some output, and to have some output I need some stimuli. The risk is me wasting all my time getting nothing done. I have a couple of hours. I’d like to go through my old things. Do I really? Is there anything else I’d like to do more? I’m a little tired, I’d like to take a nap. I should probably exercise, but it’s a little warm for that. I’m feeling odd, I’m not at my best right now. Dehydrated? Yeah, I’ll drink a glass of water.

So this is one of those filler vomits. It happens from time to time. I thought my “what is done” post was pretty decent. I guess I can just think about what I was trying to do. I was trying to use something compelling (The Who, danger, different) to push myself to do something different. Sometimes that works. This time it didn’t. But that’s okay. We’ll just finish this up and move on to the next thing. I’m sure the idea will linger in my head and maybe trigger when something else comes my way. It’s all about preparing your lens, no? All about looking at things from a different point of view. I don’t have a particularly different point of view now, but we’ll sleep on it.

 

0348 – clearly define your done-criteria

A huge part of my procrastination comes from bad project management. I notice it’s easier to commit to a run when there’s a fixed limit– I’m going to run one lap, maybe two, maybe three. I’m going to run 2.4km. It’s easier to commit to a writing session when there’s a fixed limit. I’m going to do 1,000 words.

It’s much harder to do something that doesn’t have clear requirements, because then I spend an endless time coming up with new, broad requirements. I try to make my something do everything, which is a losing game. And the longer I hold that in my mind, the more exhausted I get, and the more it seems like an impossible task. I think Austin Kleon had a great comic about it– I wrote a post about it on the ReferralCandy blog called reducing creative anxiety. I wonder if I’ve substantially reduced my own creative anxiety since writing it. I think I’ve made a little dent, but it’s not like the problem magically goes away just because I’ve described it.

Well, why not? Describing a problem is the first part to solving it, right? Yup. So what’s missing? I guess I haven’t embodied the solution. What’s the solution? To write very clear requirements about what a piece of work is supposed to achieve. What’s the desired end-state? Who is it for? What is the problem it’s helping them solve? Who were they before, who are they afterwards, and how does the piece help them?

Once you’re clear about those those things, it should become a lot easier. You don’t need a massive production budget, you don’t need tonnes of time. You can find the simplest, shortest path that gets you to where you want to go. I suppose here the Pixar rules of storytelling come into play.

So why haven’t I internalized these things yet, fully? A bit of habit, a bit of hubris. A part of me thinks that this time will be different, that this time I’ll be able to improvise my way out of the problem. This is learnt mis-behavior, a systematic mistake that I make over and over again. This is something I need to be Less Wrong about.

I’m wrong to think that I can simply write something substantial without any requirements- that only works in JC GP papers, where the subject matter is typically so simple that I can get a lot of mileage out of pointing out why the question is limited and flawed. And in GP you’re trying to impress the marker with your critical thinking skills, so you can just criticize everything, quote a bunch of people and examples, and boom, look how well-read and worldly you are.

That doesn’t always translate perfectly into the “real world”. Or to be more precise– sure, there are some circumstances where that works, but they’re almost always “ludic” scenarios. Where you’re trying to impress people. You can just bombard the other person into submission with how much details and context you have. And they’ll submit.

But getting people to submit to your brilliance is actually a rather… suboptimal outcome. You feel good about yourself and you score some points, and maybe you even win a few fans for your wit and creativity. But the only thing people get from all of that is, “Well, that guy is really articulate and smart and well-read and I shouldn’t argue with him.” That’s actually a really limited life. You attract a very specific kind of person into your life, you deter a whole bunch of others, and you end up with a rather narrow view of things. I’ve been there.

So… what do I want, actually, then? I’d be lying if I say that I don’t want people to think I’m smart. I do. But I don’t want it to be because I dominate conversations, because I intimidate people. I find a couple of phrases coming to me from one of my older vomits– thoughtfulness and compassion. That’s the challenge. The challenge is to ask the right questions. The challenge is to be genuinely curious about the perspective of others. The challenge is to be genuinely loving and welcoming and accommodating, as much as possible.

I’m reminded now of an exchange on Hacker News– I can’t remember the details, but somebody said something, and somebody else accused him of being an idiot, and then there was an exchange of sophisticated name-calling and insults. And I said, was there really a need to be mean to this guy here? And somebody else replied, we shouldn’t have to be so politically correct all the time. That’s boring. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Don’t be so sensitive.

And I responded– look, I wouldn’t have a problem if you guys were continuing to discuss the matter at hand. But you’re not. You dissolved into name calling. We could have had an interesting conversation about <subject matter>, but since you insulted the guy, and the guy took offense, now we’re playing who’s-the-bigger-moron and look-at-how-sensitive-you-losers-are.

And my problem with that isn’t that people’s feelings are hurt, my problem is that we’re NOT having the interesting conversation about <subject matter>. Once you start calling people names, it becomes impossible to have a civil conversation about <subject matter>. And you say you pride yourself on <subject matter>, but you’re never going to have a decent conversation about it because you keep attacking your conversation partners.

And frankly I’m not sure if there was much point in trying to salvage that conversation. I’m not sure if I made a difference to anybody there. Hopefully I did. But the conversation was polluted by then, and it wasn’t going to go back. I’m not sure if people are adversarial because we’re trained and encouraged to be, or because we’re naturally like that and we haven’t developed the skills of being non-adversarial.

Venkatesh Rao wrote about this really well in a Facebook status called Portals and Flags, the corresponding blogpost is here.

I’ve gotten quite far from my original intent, which was to talk about “what is done”. I guess done is when you’ve successfully persuaded somebody to lay down their arms and explore something with you, and to go through a portal with you and see things in a different light, a new way, a more fertile way of thinking.

 

0347 – writing games

I’ve decided to go through my workflowy (which is a sort of grabbag of thoughts and reminders and todos that I have) and write about things that I’ve left as notes to myself. One of these phrases is “writing production line”. I suppose I wanted myself to evaluate my own writing production process, and lay it out more clearly. So let’s try doing that.

What is the writing production line? It’s a supply chain, from raw material to finished, published output. Why does it matter? Figuring out what my writing production line is, how it works, what the parts are, etc will allow me to better diagnose my “writing problems”. When I’m blocked and don’t feel like writing, or feel like writing and nothing’s coming out, etc, going through my production line process should help me figure out what I ought to do next. Less time spent sitting around in a funk, less time spent deliberating, more time spent on focused attacks at problem areas.

Routine is important for writing. Deep work doesn’t happen at random– very, very rarely. When it DOES seem to happen at random, it’s usually because there was a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation. Conversations with friends, solitary thinking, reading, reviewing. I don’t even realize it’s happening until there’s some sort of trigger that makes me want to write, and I only want to write because the thoughts are almost already fully formed in my head. And then it’s really cathartic to get it out.

Lately at work I feel like there’s this whole new area of writing that needs to happen, that’s going to becoming out over the next few months, and the main reason this is finally happening rather than not is, I think, that I’ve been exposed to more things than I was before. I’m thinking more from the customer’s point of view, I’ve read interviews we’ve done with the customers, I’ve read FAQs and help pages and support requests. And these things give a clearer idea of the questions that need to be answered. (So, cutely, the answer the the question of “what should I be writing” is answers to questions. The answer is questions.)

I suppose the same thing happens even with casual writing. I write about things that are on my mind. To some degree I realize it’s not very possible to consciously direct this stuff right before writing. It happens way in advance. It happens based on what I’ve been reading. So let’s review what information I’ve been consuming lately. I watched Gattaca recently. I read Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide, and I will be reading Children Of The Mind soon. I’ve been reading Steve Wozniak’s autobiography. I was reading some of Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs. I just watched Good Will Hunting and Star Wars. I’ve been watching a bit of Every Frame A Painting. A Sideways Look At Time has been on my mind for a while. And I’ve been thinking about rereading Paul Graham’s essays and much of Ribbonfarm, and I’ve been curious about LessWrong again.

All of these things will influence what I write about, whether I like it or not. Raw materials are the first thing that count in a production line, and if you don’t have good raw materials, everything down the road is shittier by default. Not very much you can do about that. The good thing about having perspective and context, and having read broadly, for example– is that you get to look at something that doesn’t have much value by itself, and yet still derive value from it by making sense of what it represents. Facebook arguments, for example. [1]

Pause.

Let’s start over– the idea behind thinking about my writing production process, supply chain, whatever I want to call it– is to reduce friction and frustration in the whole thing. I shouldn’t be stuck staring at a blank page. If that happens, I should have some sort of rule-of-thumb that applies, that directs me to the next most sensible action. More often than not I think it means stepping outside, taking a walk, grabbing a cup of coffee. Going for a run or hitting the gym, if possible. And I should make time for more books and movies, and just good writing and art in general. What happens after that? Then I guess I should have some sort of quick sketch process where I write down my thoughts so I can revisit them as necessary. I think these vomits are actually not the most efficient way of doing this. I imagine the optimal solution might be something more piecemeal– probably just a well-tagged evernote system, where I write my thoughts on the movies I watch, books I read, and tie in the concepts and ideas and perspectives that I think are relevant, so that I can look them up at any time. Though that does seem like a lot of work, and I’m not entirely sure what all that work is for. But it’s definitely a more interesting and fun game to play than arguing with people on Facebook or Reddit or wherever. Because I’m not trying to impress other people, I’m trying to impress my own internal subconscious audience.

I suppose that’s the point of the whole thing. To amuse myself, in a deep, rich, fulfilling rather than superficial way. And it’s entirely possible to be “deeply superficial”, like Warhol described. I don’t want to fall into the trap of pretending that I’m somehow better than other people. This is just the game I choose to play because this is what I think I get off on. We’ll keep running the experiment and see if I feel differently afterwards.
_____

[1] I think I’ve changed my attitude towards Facebook rituals lately. I used to engage with them very directly, take them very seriously, and always try to have the last say in arguments. I like to think that I’ve largely relinquished this. It’s clearer to me now that it’s a game, like everything else. We’re all just little blips of cells, pond scum on the surface of a rock floating in infinite space, playing games. Taking things seriously is one way to play a game, pretending everything is a joke is another. There’s no escaping the infinite fractals of illusions we call reality, so we might as well pick something that’s fun and pleasant, rather than shoehorn ourselves into uncomfortable things.

 

0346 – finish (or decisively abandon) what you start

It’s 9.45pm. I slept later yesterday than I would’ve liked, and woke up later than I would’ve liked. I did some work, but less than I would’ve liked. I found myself thinking about some local social/political nonsense that has been bothering me for some time, and after deliberating over it for a long time I wrote a Facebook status update about it. I told my wife that I was very bothered that I was bothered, and she laughed and said that I was turning it into an unnecessary issue– if I wanted to say something, then I might as well just say it. So I said it. Now I’m done with having said it.

A thought on my mind while I was eating dinner, listening to Alan Watts on YouTube. We’re all really nervous systems, sustained by our digestive and circulative systems and protected by our immune systems (I wanted to say “just” instead of “really”, but that implies a certain reductiveness… but meh, whatever.) And we’re alive for a while and then we die. We’re expressions of all of existence. And we develop concepts and ideas and identities and narratives.

I find myself thinking. What does this nervous system want? What is it trying to do? I was watching a group of old men drinking beer and smoking– several groups of old men. Groups of nervous systems, stroking one another, enjoying the pleasurable stimuli of alcohol and nicotine. It’s an interesting ritual. And we all have rituals of our own, don’t we? I think about the group of people who are arguing with one another on Facebook right now. They’re not representative of everybody, but they’re a world unto themselves. They’re playing their own game, with their own rules and objectives, feedback, reward, etc. It can get quite addictive. And I think about me, here right now, triggering thoughts in my brain, sending electrical impulses to my fingers to move on the keyboard of my MacBook Air, which was probably built by workers in China, with metals mined out of the Earth (aluminum, bauxite from Australia, China, Brazil, Guinei). Thinking in a language called English, which has been thousands of years in the making.

Okay. So what? What happens next? What is unfolding? What is being expressed?

I got distracted, stayed up too late, went to bed around maybe 230am. And then I woke up at around 1030am, showered, had breakfast, spent a little more time getting distracted, and then here I am again, here to finish this. It’s always funny when I run dry in the middle of a vomit. It often feels like I can’t just continue from where I left off, unless I was tackling a very specific problem. The state of mind does not linger. I might revisit it at some other point in time, but I can’t conjure it, I can’t force it. I find myself thinking about A Sideways Look At Time, a book written by Jay Griffiths. She wrote different chapters while she was in different locations. Neil Strauss did the same with The Game, and Nassim Taleb did the same with either Black Swan or Antifragile or both. I like that. As I reread old vomits, I do enjoy discerning the state of mind I was in when I was writing something. Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes frustrated, sometimes annoyed, sometimes confused, sometimes happy, sometimes clear-headed. Right now I’m feeling a little… transitional? The sunlight outside my window is nice. The washing machine is running. The airconditioning is on and it’s a little cold, and I know it must be really hot outside. The wife is doing some housekeping, moving boxes around and stuff. And I’m sort of just writing to fill in the time. To capture one particular moment rather than to explore any particular idea. And I think I’m learning to make my piece with that. Not every single post needs to be about ideas, needs to be incisive and sharp and intelligent. Sometimes I just want to fill in the space. Not every song needs to be profound. There is a certain joy and elegance just in appreciating the passage of time while it’s happening. It’s precious.

But I guess, okay, once I’ve sort of done justice to that, my mind then starts to rev up a little and think bigger, longer. What is the next thing I want to do? What is the next experience? The next thing to learn? I find myself thinking about my frustration and distaste with the spaces that I have access to. I mean, I appreciate that I have a home, even if I’m not a huge fan of my neighbourhood or the commute I have to work. I love my colleagues, though I do wish the area around my work would be more interesting. I wish I had more conversations with people doing work that interested me.

Those last couple of sentences have me thinking, why am I complaining, why don’t I do something about it? Yes, it’s better to do something than to complain. The complaining is merely a symptom, a sign that there’s something I want that I’m not getting. It’s an indicator that I ought to do something. But there’s two approaches here– the direct approach, which is to try to attack the “problem” head on, and then there’s the questioning approach, which is to ask– why do I even want to have these conversations? What do I hope to get out of these things? I want to feel less alone. I want to feel less isolated. I want to feel like I matter, to a greater degree or extent than I already do. And I realize… I can already do that. I can do more for myself right now. I can do more at work, for example– and that would give me the sense of significance that I must be craving. And that would be even better than helping random people, because I feel like I owe my coworkers better.

I suppose I’m looking for easy ways out. Starting new things is always fun and exciting, because things are always easy at the start. But real, lasting pleasure comes from completing things, not starting things. I have started many, many things in my life. I should focus on completing things instead.

 

0345 – vague again

Let’s wipe the slate clean again. So okay, I want to be a man of my word. I want to be a strong, responsible person. I want to stand tall, have good posture. I want to speak clearly and confidently. I want to be able to walk into an expensive hotel and not be intimidated at all. I want to be calm in the face of uncertainty, confusion. I want to have a deep inner strength, a deep inner calm. I guess I need to meditate, I need to breathe, and most importantly of all I need to do the work. I gotta be willing to take the hits. I gotta put in the hours of practice, day in, day out. That’s where the confidence comes from. Not from a single moment of magnified inspiration or eureka or anything like that, but from the daily grind. From sweat and toil and practice.

I acknowledge this. I know that I’m a better writer than I was 300 vomits ago. Hell, I’m a better writer than I was 100 vomits ago, and probably 10 vomits ago, too. If I feel nervous or insecure about my writing it’s really just that I’m aware of nuance that I wasn’t aware of before. The quick way to reduce my own anxiety in that regard is to rewrite old work… if and when I want to. I don’t feel like that’s necessary right now. So… let’s not worry too much for now. Let’s trust in the process and keep going. There will be a lot of time for a lot of rewrites once all of this is over. Or I might even want to do something else altogether. I might do them along the way. For now, I’m happy just to ride this particular wave.

So I’ve thought vaguely about what I want. What about it is not true yet, what’s the gap? Physically, I’m not as strong as I’d like to be. Am I at my weakest right now? Well. I think I was at my weakest a few months ago, maybe. I’m not sure. There’s no way to be absolutely certain. But I’ve been running quite regularly for a couple of weeks now. I can run more. I can keep going. I’ll get better. I’ll get faster. I’ll get fitter. So let’s just keep going.

Pause.

Let’s ride this one thinking about the vomits I’ve read so far. What’s different? What have I learnt? I guess one of the big things is– I used to use way too many lines in my sketches. I don’t exactly mean that I wrote too many words. After all, I’ve been writing at least 1000 words per vomit, over and over again. What I mean is that I wasn’t very exact, and I’d circle things far too much. I’d repeat myself. And I think I have more of a sense of rhythm now then I did back then. I was more verbose.

If I wanted to be a little mean to myself, I’d say something like– I was in love with the sound of my own voice, I wanted to use as many big words as possible. I wanted to show off all these concepts and ideas that I was learning.

But I don’t think it was as literal as that. When I read myself– and I guess this is me being generous– I realize that I was kind of desperate. I wanted to make sense. I was trying to put things together that worked. I parroted the ideas of others because they seemed more valid than anything I had to say– and really, nobody owns any ideas anyway. Everything is a remix. Every perspective is a kalaidescope. Things are blunter and less refined early on. It takes practice to get to refinement. So… I can say that I’m getting more “refined”. That’s always quite a loaded term, though. I guess I feel like I have more range of expression. I used to operate in big blocks, and now I have more varied choices. And some things that I thought I cared about– well, it turns out that I only might care about some subset of something, and that the vast majority of it doesn’t actually matter.

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize until you attempt to make it precise. And everything precise is so remote from what we normally think… and in the process of making things more precise, we don’t just say different things. We see different things. What was soft sand turns out to be a rich landscape of detail, color, texture. Your initial assumptions break down– not because you were WRONG, but because what you were talking about was so far removed from what things actually are.

I’m not sure if I’m properly capturing what I’m trying to say here. Images might make it clearer. You start out with something with very low resolution. You see a big, flat, single-colored blob with a tidy little shape. And you might say, I like that colored blob. Or I don’t like it. Maybe it’s the girl you love and want to marry. Maybe it’s your career. Maybe it’s your abusive parent.

As you get more precise, you find all sorts of new details and nuance that you had never considered before. It isn’t a single color, it’s a rich tapestry of many colors. It isn’t flat, it’s got its own staggeringly complex topgraphy. It’s got peaks and valleys. And you might find that– what you thought you were right or wrong about, what you liked or disliked– it wasn’t about reality itself, but your model of it. And once your model changes, a lot of things collapse, breakdown, become naive. I won’t even say wrong. It’s not exactly wrong.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to talk about this more clearly, with fewer words. Anyway, I’m glad that I’ve written so much, and I wish I had written more, and I’m planning to write more still.

 

0344 – wipe the slate clean and face your problems now

Let’s wipe the slate clean and start over. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with this over the years, over the last 300+ times I’ve done this, but I’m still not nearly as comfortable as I’d like to be. I’d like to really detach myself from the outcome and commit entirely to the process, to just allow the words to flow out of me, to allow the numbers to rack up, and then just publish it. Almost burn it, metaphorically speaking. Burn it out of my short term memory, at least. Every so often some idea gets stuck in the deeper recesses of my mind– but it only happens after I’ve already written about it and sent it on its way. (I suppose it’s more like throwing out messages in bottles, or folded planes.)

Let’s revisit some thoughts that I’ve been wanting to revisit, off the top of my mind. I wanted to think about how I have a habit of putting things off for later.

I also wanted to think about how I get in my own way with distractions, and how that’s probably because I’m a little afraid to do things that might be hard or uncomfortable, or things that’ll come out imperfect. I keep hoping and waiting for perfect conditions and hopefully perfect outcomes. But the truth is the moment you get out of the deliberation phase, the moment you decide to take action, instantly 99% of the potential perfection vanishes. You’re down to zero, and you have to start with one– and it can even go into negative numbers if you’re not careful. And you want to hopefully get up to 50, 60, 70. Nobody ever gets past 70, I think. Now I’m just being completely arbitrary on a scale that’s completely invented, and the truth is that there’s no scale. Art is never finished, only abandoned.

So let’s just make stuff and abandon it. That was the premise of the whole word vomit project. Somehow somewhere along the way I got attached the the outcomes– it might have been after I started getting some positive responses from people. And then I subconsciously keep wanting to get more positive responses, because it’s social stroking, validation, it’s addictive.

But that isn’t what I really want. That isn’t what really scratches the itch. The real itch is simply a need for output, plain and simple. That’s all that needs to happen, and the hard part is letting go of everything else. I have to be well and truly able to just write and write and not give a fucking damn about whether it amounts to anything in the end. Because nothing amounts to anything in the end. I have to trust in the process, trust in my own mind, trust in my own development. I am responsible for my own development, my own learning, my own happiness, my own joy, amusement, all of those things.

I have looked at people who are skilled in some way or another– artists, musicians, dancers, poets and so on– and I have felt resentment, thinking that those people have applied themselves in some way and I have not. I have wasted my hours, days, weeks, months, years. No more. And I say that over and over again, and already in these vomits you can see how I repeat myself. 300,000 words of me repeating myself. We’ll just keep going until we’re done. We’ll keep going until we’re truly sick of it. Until we truly feel like okay, we can let go now, it’s not our fault, it doesn’t really matter.

Okay? Okay.

I wanted to talk about how I have a habit of saying “I’ll do it later”. Today I woke up and went to the dentist for my routine checkup. That was quite responsible of me. I’m pretty sure a year or two ago, I would’ve just not answered the phone when the dental office called, and I’d have made up excuses and not gone for the appointment. We went for the appointment! (My wife had her’s too.) This is progress. I’m making progress. It’s slower than I’d like, and less exciting than I’d like. I feel like I should be ready for more now, like I should be able to do more. I don’t actually feel ready to do more, but I’ve learnt by now that you sorta gotta do more than you think you’re ready for. Well– it depends on whether you systematically overestimate or underestimate yourself. I’m a systematic overestimater.

Well, okay. But why do I postpone things? Because then they’re not a problem. I just don’t want anything to be a problem. I don’t want any trouble. Everything should be calm and relaxed, and we should be able to read books and play video games and drink soda and smoke cigarettes all day everyday, and our health wouldn’t be affected, and we’d just have money, and we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. That’s the child in me talking.

The truth is that reality isn’t so friendly and kind. We don’t get to be happy, relaxed foragers in this existence. There are challenges. There are problems. There are threats. And we have to face them. We have bills to pay. We have things like health insurance to worry about. Adult responsibilities. These things don’t go away just because I wish they would. And honestly I don’t think I wish that they’ll go away anymore. Wishing is futile. Reality is what it is and we either face up to it or we don’t, we either rise to the challenge or we don’t. That’s just how it is. When the barbarians are at the gates, we can’t wish we didn’t have to deal with it. So we have to pull ourselves together and face our challenges head on. Face our fears head on. The ship can’t ride the wave sideways, you have to go nose-first, ride right into it. If you meet a ghost, introduce yourself, or it’ll take the form of your worst fears and just ruin you. You’ll turn to drinking and drugs or whatever the equivalent escapism is for you. That’s the lesson.

Let’s wipe the slate clean and start over.

 

0343 – a pretty good week

TLDR: sleep earlier / do the dishes / avoid internet drama / prioritize the best people / don’t self-flagellate

It’s 12:04am and the wife is in the shower. I should go to bed as soon as possible and wake up as early as possible, and then definitely take naps if necessary so that I can sleep early again without getting tired.

Slept later yesterday than I would’ve liked.

Earlier today I found myself thinking a lot about some drama in the local social/political commentary scene. It took me quite a while to stop thinking about it. Arguments kept playing through my head, almost against my will. I just let it happen and eventually it passed. I found myself thinking– what’s my desired end-state here? What do I want to achieve? I was thinking about it as I got home. When I DID get home, I decided to do the dishes instead. I realized I’d rather make my wife happy than score some internet points. Yeah, there are real people attached to those internet points, and I can make some people happy or help them out a little… but there’s a heirarchy that I think I ought to adhere to.

The most important person in my life is me, that’s the one person I’ll never be able to run away from and will always be accountable to. After that, the person that matters most to me is my wife. Then I have my boss and colleagues, who I really appreciate and wish I did more for. For family and old friends, I think the important thing is that I make time for them, to share moments with them– but beyond that, the best way I can really, truly serve them is to be the best version of myself. So I don’t really have a lot of time for all these random internet arguments. I mean, if I had unlimited time and energy, I would, but clearly I’ve been misallocating my resources my whole life. What matters is that I get a good night’s sleep. Wake up early and clearheaded. If my legs feel rested, go for a run. Do some writing. Do a lot of writing. And do some work preparation so I can hit next week strong.

All in all I think I’ve been doing alright this week. Better than average, but nowhere near what I think I ought to be doing. And that statement isn’t very useful, really. It might even be a little damaging. I should be proud of myself for having written everyday. And I am. Thank you, me, for having written everyday. Let’s keep that up, and let’s try to do more along the way. It’ll be interesting and challenging in a good way, and I’ll be able to help the people I care about, and be less of a burden.

Definitely some self-flagellation going on there. I finally watched Good Will Hunting earlier today over dinner, and I think it instantly catapulted itself into my “favorite of all time” lists. I might even be happy to say that yeah, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Sure, it’s a bit simplified, but every story necessarily has to be. I might not be a super-genius like Will, or have been through such dire circumstances, but I feel like I relate to the character and I feel touched by the fact that people out there made a movie about the whole affair. It’s heartening. I might have to do a little more thinking, or give it a bit more space to simmer in my head. Right now I’m a little too tired and sleepy to really have anything super insightful to say. So I guess all I can and should say is that I’m grateful.

For a period of time over the past few months I felt that nothing interested me anymore, that I didn’t care about anything anymore, that nothing really mattered to me anymore. And I mean that in the day-to-day sense, not in any grand metaphysical sense. Which was troubling to me. I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, but I didn’t really feel like I had very much to hold on to. I was feeling uninspired. My old ideas felt trivial, silly, bullshitty. I had come up with a whole bunch of things that sounded good, but didn’t seem to resonate with me anymore.

If I had caught Good WIll Hunting a few years ago, I might have thought something like, that’s it, that’s the message we need to send out into the world, convert and inspire everybody, blah blah blah. I see now how that’s a bit vacuous, a bit presumptuous. The world is the world. All I really have dominion over is myself. It might be nice to have some sort of external goal, some agenda, but right now the only things that matter to me are sleeping well, having a clear head, and reading the books that are on my mind, maybe writing reviews about them, maybe learn to communicate concepts visually, restructure my environment and context so that I don’t keep losing the threads that I’m trying to hold on to in my mind.

The weaving got a little frayed and tangly right there, but let’s just wing it, it doesn’t need to be perfect it just needs to be done. I’ve read about 40 of my word vomits now, that’s about 1/8th of everything I’ve published so far. It’s pretty nice to see how far I’ve come. A lot of the earlier stuff feels very “labored”– like I put a lot of effort into saying things that I can now take for granted. But perhaps I can only do that now because I had put in all that effort in the first place. I needed to pack those things hard into the ground so that I could build atop their foundation. (Imperfect metaphor, but it’ll have to do for now.)

So.. I guess we’re going back to the idea that I should just race as fast as I can and see if I’ve left anything interesting to me along the way. And it really is totally okay if most of it is junk, because then I’d have gotten that stuff out of the way.

 

0342 – tired, re-reading old vomits

Wow I’m tired. I should learn to listen to my body better, take more naps, sleep more. I feel like I’ve been a little less productive the past couple of days. I was quite productive the two days before that so… I guess right now the only thing is to rest, regroup and go again.

Sometimes I think I enjoy the feeling of being sleep deprived, at least once in a while. It’s a kind of inebriation I guess. Altered mental state and all that. But in the long run I know I want to be healthy and clear headed.

So, about the whole do it later thing. I wonder when it started, how it started. I suppose when I was a child I had no responsibilities, and I’d just play, read books, etc. And when I started getting homework… it seemed easy and trivial so I didn’t bother doing it. Why didn’t I do it then? It’s tempting and easy to blame parents, I guess. My parents didn’t really know much about what I was doing at school. They tried their best to help but I’d just lie and say that I’d already done my work. Why did I do that? Where did I learn to do that? Who taught me? I’m not sure. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find out. Would be nice to know, but there’s not much point trying to figure it out really. Effort is better expended elsewhere.

Aside- I’ve been wondering if my get-things-done system needs to be redone. I feel like I have all these random things lying around and they’re not really working together effectively.

Right now I’m experiencing what I call the fog- it feels like I’m underwater, but I’m paying attention to it rather than wasting time on Facebook, Twitter etc as I usually do. So I have a rather precious opportunity to examine my state.

What do I want to do right now? Sleep. What needs to get done? I need to ship a blogpost for work and do some updates. Why didn’t I do it earlier? I was tired. Am still tired. Why so tired? Been waking up earlier and running. So I’m sort of transitioning, and am not quite used to that. Okay. I intend to keep waking up early, so I’ll have to adapt to this.

What are my priorities? What are my goals? What do I need to be reminded of when I’m tired? What is the message that should be in my wallet? “You want to be a reliable person, not a burden to others.”

I keep switching windows, tabs, apps. I will never be able to get anything done when I’m trying to do everything all at once. I need to have a daily output for work. I need to decide where I’m going to get that done, how I’m going to measure it.

I paused there to read old vomits, here are some thoughts on those. I used to write in a much more tedious way. I think that’s learned behavior. It takes practice to write simply. I’m proud that I’ve gotten better at it, and I look forward to getting even better in it.

I’m grappling with many of the same concerns 3 years on. I still want to find freedom through discipline. I still want to become a man of my word, an asset to others rather than a burden. I feel like I haven’t made a lot of progress on these fronts, but I also feel grateful that these things are enduring- it gives me affirmation that my current ideas aren’t just passing clouds, but deep-rooted.

Wow, I used to sleep really, really late. I used to think of 1230am as a really early time to go to bed. So that’s changed. I thought 8am was early to wake up. Now I want to wake up at 6am.

Squats in the shower. How motivational messages and posters etc can be useful.

<got home>

Alright, I got 400 more wors to go. I wasn’t as productive at work today as I’d like to have been, partially because I was sleepy, I guess. My mind has cleared up a little and I have done some work quite efficiently since I got home, so I’m quite happy with that. I’m going to bathe and I’m going to go to sleep, and then tomorrow morning I’m going for a dental appointment and then going to work, so I think all in all I’m doing pretty well this week. The challenge will be to have a good weekend and to keep all of this stuff up.

I’ve started re-reading my older vomits, as I mentioned before I got home. I’m up to about 12 now. 320+ more to go. Heh. I can go faster than I was expecting to go, I guess because even though it’s been a long time and many words ago, I can sort of recreate what I was thinking or feeling when I was writing those posts– even if I don’t exactly relate to them now. It’s a pretty cool experience, and has me wishing that I had written more, and maybe that I had.

It’s humbling I guess to realize how long it’s taken me to make such little progress. I wonder if this is the rate that I’ll be stuck at. I hope not. There’s that thing about how we all underestimate how much change can happen over the long time, right? I hope I’m underestimating things, and that I increase the amount of control I have in my life by becoming more focused and disciplined. I want to live without guilt and anxiety. I believe it’s possible. I just gotta work hard at it, and I got to do things now. I can do it. I got this. Slow and steady, lots of little wins, review every day, publish every day. Figure out what done means. Move fast. Ship things. Face the fear, write it down, do it anyway. Let’s go.

 

0341 – avoid “I’ll do it later”

I went to bed around 1120pm or so. I set two alarms- 600 and 710am. Didn’t hear the first one, woke up on the second one and was slightly more clearheaded than I usually am when I wake up. Maybe because I got more sleep. My calves were feeling sore from the previous run, and I lingered in bed I think for almost a full half hour. This is a very silly half hour that I want to stop wasting- it’s precious cool weather time.

Interestingly, I didn’t feel at all in any danger of falling back asleep. I wonder if it was the constant “when I wake up I am to immediately get up and get out of bed and go run” thoughts.

But I still lingered for 30 mins. Room for improvement. I stood around for a while but decided that I had to at least wear my shoes and go down to the track. The walk there was pleasant enough to make me want to run, and I did.

Got home, showered while watching a couple of Every Frame A Painting videos, sat still for a while, then got dressed and left for work. Now is the commute. Was feeling a little sleepy but am feeling clearer now.

On to what I had planned to write about.

“Sure, I’ll do it later” is probably one of the most toxic, damaging phrases in my vocabulary. (Lexicon? Phrasebook? Where do you keep the phrases and sentences that you use so often that they become a part of who you are?) I put things off indefinitely and I suffer greatly for it. I frustrate and disappoint the people around me and yet I never seem to do very much about it.

An impersonal reading of the situation would suggest that I either enjoy the drama and pain [1], I’m actually indifferent to the circumstances despite my frequent and extensive protests, or that I’m deeply incompetent.

In all cases I seem to be naive. If I really enjoyed it, I should shut up and enjoy it. If I enjoy the complaining that comes with the suffering, then I should own that and enjoy the complaining. But I’m so sick of that, too. I recognise that there’s something about the situation that smells funny.

I guess in short I recognise that I’m playing a losing game, and that distresses me. While life itself is ultimately a losing game in the sense that we will all die (and the Universe will, too), I don’t feel too distressed about that because there’s not very much I can do about that.

Hm. So I get stressed because I feel that I’m not doing what I could or should be doing. I feel like I’m wasting my time.

But that’s easy to say. It’s “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study” all over again. I suppose now I’m trying to study and I find that I’m struggling. In school, I could argue that I wasn’t interested in the subject matter, and I didn’t like the environment, and I didn’t like my peers. (Refinement: I somewhat liked the people I hung out with, but most of them weren’t too into studying either. I couldn’t reallly get along with anybody who took their studies seriously. So by peers I mean peers-who-studied.)

But now, in adulthood, I can’t quite use those excuses. I have my own house, I can modify my environment substantially. (I can’t really change the neighbourhood though, which is a little depressing. For now. I’m hoping and planning to move somewher cheerier as I save more money.) I go to work in a space that’s interesting, exciting. I reasonably like the subject matter, and I love my colleagues. So why am I not doing well? I’m not doing badly, but I feel like I’m not doing well. I feel like I’m not growing.

I suppose the first thing to do is to take stock, to make measurements. What do I actually expect of myself? I haven’t written these things down. I was telling my wife, I enjoy having completed a run, I enjoy having written word vomits, and similarly I should enjoy having done work.

She said, “But this brings you back to an old problem: What is done?” Because the run is clearly defined– cross the 2.4km mark. A word vomit is clearly defined– cross the 1000 word mark. How do I measure the amount of work I do at work? I don’t. And that’s probably the single biggest cause of stress in my work, maybe. I’ve talked about wanting to change this, but of course… I’ll do it later. Well, I guess I know what I’ll be spending the first 25 minutes of my work day doing.

I feel like I should be getting a minimum amount of work-related writing done a day. I should measure it probably the same way I measure these word vomits. I should just churn out as much as I can for a 25 minute tomato. I should do some minimum of X, some minimum of Y. I should have these things written down in advance and decide them in advance, the same way I go for runs without deciding each day all over again how long I want to run, where I want to run, if I want to run at all, etc. Decide in advance. Do it now.

I don’t feel like I’ve sufficiently explored the “Later” idea enough. Let’s revisit this maybe.

_____

[1] This feels wrong to me but I recognize that it’s a valid interpretation that’s very worth taking seriously. I recently started on Games People Play- haven’t gotten too far into it yet but I’m quite excited about making sense of its ideas. My early interpretation/assumption: Drama begets drama. It keeps things predictable and familiar, and predictable familiarity, even if damaging, is less scary than doing things differently. All animals do weird things when put in circumstances that break their primal heuristics or instincts. Moths fly into flames. Cats chase lasers. Humans stay in abusive relationships and self-destructive patterns.

 

0340 – decide in advance + do it immediately

It’s 948am and I’m leaving the house in a few minutes. Thought I’d get started on this vomit while waiting for my wife to be done showering. I slept pretty late last night– I was in bed at 11-something pm, but I was chatting with the wife until really late. One of those good conversations that just keeps going, which I don’t regret. I had decided in advance that I wanted to run this morning though (since I hadn’t run yesterday night), and I decided that even if I was going to feel sleepy, my job this morning was to wake up (upon hearing the alarm or otherwise), put on my socks and shoes and run. Which is what I did. It wasn’t the best of runs– my calves and shins are still aching from the last couple of runs, and I probably could’ve used more sleep. But I think I’m proud of myself for having run.

Here’s a thought that helped me along the way. I’ve written over the past few days about how annoying it has been to wake up when the alarm goes off, but then think “Ah man… I’m still tired… I need more sleep,” and then linger for another hour or so.

I’m not sure exactly why this time was different– it could be as simple as the fact that I’ve been thinking and writing about this for several vomits now– it seemed like for 4-5 days in a row I was going to bed relatively early and waking up when the alarm went off, but then sinking back into bed.

So… why does that happen? Why was that happening?

I realise it’s because I allowed myself to think about what to do. I allow a tired, sleepy person to make a decision about what to do. It’s like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry, right? I’m not going to make the globally optimal decision when I’m making it from the local perspective of a tired sleepy bugger.

So what I did differently this time– I kinda prepped for it in advance– I kept thinking to myself the night before, “The moment the alarm goes off, you get up and put on your socks and shoes and run. You will be tired and want to go back to bed, but seriously, we’ll be happier having run than having gone back to bed. We’ve beenthrough this.” And when the alarm went off, I did wake up, and I did think “ughhh I wanna sleep more”, but I ALSO thought “socks and shoes”. I lingered a little bit (like 10 minutes?), which I’d like to cut down on, but the “socks and shoes” thought held on and kept me from falling back asleep. And so I got out of bed, mindlessly clicked around on my phone for a while, but then got my ass out for the run.

The run itself was kinda shitty, but having run is better than not having run. I’ll just run more and more. I think within a month or so things should be less unpleasant. It’s pleasant to have completed a run, to have my heart beating and my body radiating head. The shower afterwards feels rewarding, and my head does feel clearer (even though I didn’t get as much sleep as I’d like).

I’m also quite proud of this– earlier, before leaving home, my wife pointed out that my fingernails were getting long. I told her I’d cut them later. [1] I then sat down on the sofa to be still for a few minutes, and I noticed that my nails WERE getting long– and I thought “do it now”. And I did it– I cut my nails. My nails have been cut. I lost my ATM card on Monday, and when I got home, I thought “do it now”, and called the bank and got the card cancelled and replaced. Do it now! Do it now! Do it now! I’m trying to rewire my brain to do this.

My commute ended and I’m in my office now, and I’ve decided to spend a few minutes finishing up this vomit and publishing it before I get started proper with my work. Again, the fundamental principle is– if it’s almost done, finish it, if it’s something you’re working on that’s completable, complete it. I proofread a document for a colleague before this, because that took just a couple of minutes to do. I think I’m developing a bit of a pattern/habit/structure here, but again I don’t want to jinx it.

The important thing is for me is to keep getting things done– that sounds way more vague and general than what I want to say. I mean, the important thing has always been to get things done, right? I guess the thing is more of– quickly scanning through the tasks before me, figuring out what needs doing ASAP, and which of those things is doable + significant. So there’s an urgent/important filter, and there’s a ease-of-doing filter, and there’s a need to add next steps. I’ve been doing pomodoros again, which I find helps me chunk up my time better and I can regroup in the breaks between. So… I should probably take some time to stress-test and fail-proof this, because it does feel like I’ve tried many variants of this sort of thing before, and there’s no particular thing about what I’m doing that I can point at and say “This is why I will not fail.” Or, to reverse-psychology it a bit, “this is where I’ll probably fail.” [2]

Oh, just want to summarize what I’ve been trying to say… it feels like I make too many “decisions”. I give myself too many opportunities to decide what to do, thinking it makes me improvisational and flexible and stuff– but I end up then just doing shallow work, making shallow choices. To do deep work and to do hard things requires more commitment, more buildup, more followthrough– and wrt commitment, it means making a decision that I cannot un-make. [3]

Well… there’s some nuance there. We might get to it later. Work now.

_____

[1] When I say later, I do tend to think that I’ll get to it later, but in reality what happens is… the task gets postponed indefinitely, I kinda forget about it, and I feel guilty and terrible when it gets brought up again later because “I had been meaning to do it”… this thought probably deserves an entire vomit to itself. And to get a little meta, my habit would be to say “I’ll write that later”– so I’ll just start the vomit now and write it before I go to sleep tonight.

[2] & [3] – there’s some nuance to be explored in these bits