0450 – practice taking pauses

I’ve been taking a break from writing for a while but now I’m back. I initially hoped to have August be my “perfect streak” writing month, but I just got really tired and writing started to feel like a chore so I stopped. But now I’m back, and I don’t want to agonize too much or waste time with self-flagellation. There’s always time for that later.

So I’m back, and I’m fresh. What am I going to do? What do I focus on, with regards to this project? Before I stopped, I wrote one fiction piece and hoped to write many more fiction pieces. I felt a bit overwhelmed at the prospect and it seemed a little premature. So maybe I won’t do that yet.

I mentioned in a piece of writing- not sure if I published it- that I want to split my writing into “motivations”, “observations”, “hypotheses”, “howtos”. Maybe more buckets than that, but that’s the rough breakdown.

My highest priority in life at the time of this writing is to get enough sleep, to eat healthier and to hit the gym.

I had a week about two weeks ago- when I first stopped writing- where I’d sleep really early every single day. And that was good for me, I got a lot of mental clarity from it. And then I got a little sloppy the week after- I was meeting friends and just “enjoying” having time and space to myself (since my wife’s away right now). I will still be meeting people this week, but I’ll try to sleep as early as possible nevertheless.

I know very clearly now that this is the number one thing I want to solve. I don’t want to finish 1000 word vomits but still be writing at word vomit 999 that I really ought to be sleeping better. I’ve been writing about that for almost 10 years now. Solving sleep is the most important, high-leverage thing I can do for myself. I’ve hit the gym two weeks running, doing big heavy compound exercises. It feels really good. I look forward to getting stronger. It’s something I’d like to do at least once a week indefinitely. Let’s commit to 12 sessions (so that’s 10 more that need to happen) before I’ll write a report or finding of some sort.

Motivations. I’ve even feeling a little sentimental the last few days, nostalgic and all. I think it was a passing phase, and it was necessary, maybe. I don’t want to overthink it, just acknowledging it and moving past it. I want to do more to help myself, help my colleagues. I want to continue to improve my information diet. There’s really nothing on Facebook that’s worth reading. I’d prefer instead to read Seneca and Montaigne and so on. I need to revisit my personal todo list, which I haven’t done in a while.

Why not? Why isn’t that already a part of my daily routine? I guess it seems or feels somehow uncomfortable, somehow unpleasant. Why? Because it involves thinking about things that I haven’t done, which is uncomfortable. But I know intellectually that I need to do uncomfortable things. I don’t need to spend hours watching skilled people at work, or talking about their work, or reading articles written about such people. I need to develop my own skills. I don’t need to worry about local politics, which ultimately doesn’t affect me as much as it’s tempting to think.

I sometimes still post comments and such in spaces that don’t really matter.

I paused for a second right there to look for distractions. It’s a sort of sugar craving, a craving for some sort of interaction to busy myself with. What I’m trying to do (and what I just did) is to pause instead, to turn away from whatever I’m doing, to focus on breathing and to just pay attention to my mind. A sort of micro-meditation. And almost always I find that my breathing has been shallow, and that my posture is usually slouched. So what I’m trying to do instead, when I feel the urge to be distracted, is to interpret that as a cue to straighten up. Grab some water. Stretch. Eat some peanuts. (This is also the little space where I used to smoke cigarettes.)

I think a big mistake I’ve been making is pretending that I can just ignore these gaps, these little bursts of “I want distraction”. They were always there and they’ll probably always be there. The only times they don’t seem to emerge is when I’m playing video games or I’m surfing the Web in a non-directed way, and in both of those cases I’m constantly getting all sorts of exciting feedback. It’s the classic slot machine sort of situation. I always want to see what’s next. I’m a junkie for that sort of thing.

Pause.

I’m reminded of my boss’s suggestion of using a “brain dump” to just throw in all the random ideas and thoughts that come into my mind when I encounter them. I tried it for a while and it seemed to work for a bit, but I never really stuck with it. Why? I think it’s because I wasn’t framing the problem before. I convince myself that I have all these exciting tangential ideas that might be useful. And sometimes I do. But most of the time the truth is far less interesting, much more mundane. I’m just itchy. For me to scratch the itch, I don’t to introduce something genuinely useful. It just needs to be different. When I’m confronted with something difficult or challenging or boring, anything different is endlessly interesting. This is how I’ve been systematically robbing myself. (Reminder: no self-flagellation- that too is distracting from problem-solving).

So… a big part of the solution is to start by framing problems properly, in the smallest possible chunks. This always feels silly or trivial to me, but I have enough experience now to know that it’s far sillier to keep trying to wing it and fail, over and over again. There’s a seductive part of my brain that refuses to pay attention to the evidence- it keeps thinking that tomorrow will be different. It won’t.

The behavior is pathalogical. Every time I think I’ve got it under control, I’m wrong. But I’m going to solve this. I know I haven’t got it yet, and I probably never will. I’m going to work assuming it’ll always be a problem. But I will get on top of this.

 

0449 – How to think about categorizing blogposts

I wasn’t super happy with the last word vomit. The reason for that is fairly simple– I wrote it in a fit of strong emotion, and I managed to get a sizeable chunk out. Since then, I had allowed too much time to pass between the mood and the elaboration, and so the elaboration feels forced. There isn’t a lot of flow. I’m not entirely sure how to prioritize things, what to focus on, and the whole thing just sort of meanders. There’s an interesting and important lesson to be re-learned here about mood management, mental state management, etc. And of course, a large part of being a writer is about learning to power through anyway– you can’t just NOT write if you’re not in the mood. You have to keep writing through the shitty moods too. It’s just that the good stuff happens during the good times, and you get more good times if you sit down to write more often, and if you expose yourself to the appropriate contexts (which is a whole art form in itself).

_

I’ve been taking a break from doing word vomits– almost half a month off. It’s been good for me, I feel. It’s allowed me to put some distance between the everyday writing (which might’ve been getting a little monotonous and directionless) and has let me think a bit more about what I’m doing here and what I want to do.

What do I want to have with me at the end of the project?

I want a strong understanding of my own personal beliefs, interests and motivations. This will probably be an evolving document, but I’d like something that is simple, succinct and compresses the most compelling bits into something that I can quickly glance at, revisit.

I want a strong set of ‘learnings’. In particular, I want a set of How-to’s. I’m stealing this idea from Matt MIght, who has a set of “HOWTO” posts on his blog.

Here I’m developing a better understanding of the nature of the problem that has begun to frustrate me with my word vomits. It’s a problem that’s a part of my life altogether, but it’s not obvious all the time unless I’m working on substantial things. (And I want to work on substantial things. So previously I used to avoid this problem by avoiding working on substantial things, but I found that that gave me an entire new problem– that I was unhappy and frustrated.)

A part of the problem can is related to a lack of proper bookkeeping. Part of why I never did any bookkeeping was that I simply didn’t have the habit. But also because I often found it to be a really difficult thing to do properly. I could never manage to do it properly. This in turn is parallel with the fact that I’ve always had difficulty scheduling and timetabling, and breaking down big tasks into littler subtasks. I could never develop the habit because I never found it particularly rewarding, and I never found it particularly rewarding because I wasn’t able to make it useful to me. I tried to do categorization and tagging in my old blog (now in my archives), and I could never put together a USEFUL set of categories. I’d have things like “meditations” and “reflections” and “thoughts” and they’d all really be pretty much the same thing. I couldn’t categorize my writing well partially because I didn’t know how to and partially because my writing didn’t lend itself well to categorization. (This isn’t self-praise. Both the worst and best writing defies categorization. But I wouldn’t call any of my writing particularly great. So it’s just bad, it’s dithering all over the place.)

So… we need to solve the problem of bad bookkeeping, and to solve that problem we need to figure out how to approach writing in a way that makes it more categorizable . At least in the interim, because one of the seductive BS thoughts is “if I make my writing categorizable I will pigeonhole myself into doing things that are more narrow than I want to do, and that will become a habit and I won’t be able to write great undefinable things”. That’s BS and I know it.

So, more categorizable writing. How do we do that? More specific premises. I tended to write and I still tend to write by just riffing and exploring ideas almost at random. This is still a good way to get the ink flowing, and will always be a useful tool in a writer’s toolkit. Writers write, no matter what. But what I do right now is I blend everything– motivations, observations, hypotheses, reflections, howtos– into melting pots. Which was fine as long as I just wanted to write, and to see what came out of it. To optimize prematurely would’ve probably meant sucking the life out of the project.

But now I’m starting to see more clearly what I want. I want my writing to function as a tool of inquiry. It might all converge at the end, or as I please, but it shouldn’t be converging simply because I don’t know any other way to write. And here I’m starting to think it makes sense to model my structure after the scientific method. Ask questions. Research topics. Make hypotheses. Write very specific directions for an experiment, experiment, observe closely, collect data, organize and evaluate the data, come up with tentative conclusions.

“Questions” are an interesting category. “Hypotheses” are another. What are the list of questions and hypotheses that I have? They’re all loosely hanging around in my head, and I need some sort of trigger to get them all out. I could go through all my existing word vomits and look for questions that I’ve asked, and indeed I’ve done that quite a bit.

“Observations” is another great category. Knowing that you’re going to read one of those things prepares the mind in advance to know how to approach it. Again, great art doesn’t tell you in advance what it’s about, and it challenges the mind– in a way that the mind grows from. But not every single thing needs to be a challenge. The task ahead of me is to return to my daily habit of writing, and to keep these new categorization ideas with me as I move forward so that things get more orderly, systematized. I’m excited again.

(I do however also realize that it would be quite challenging to try and write 1000 words of pure observation, or of pure hypothesizing, or of pure how-tos, or of pure motivation-analysis. Some of these things will be best served as much shorter chunks. Which might be something best done somewhere other than this 1000wordvomits project. Perhaps on my main blog, or perhaps somewhere else altogether. Something to think about.)

 

0448 – parents, peers and other benevolent plagues

I’ve been reflecting on how people get into drinking and smoking and drugs. And by extension, how my life has come along so far.

The unintended damage caused by protective parents and authorities

When you’re a kid, every parent and teacher and authority will, understandably, tell you what you cannot do, what your boundaries are, what you must or must not do. They will also lie to you or deceive you about a bunch of things– religion, sex, drugs, alcohol, poverty, death and so on.

They do this partially to protect you from the ugly, messiness of reality, and partially to save themselves a lot of grief. They might have set out with the intention of answering all your questions and telling you the truth of everything, but the reality of parenting is difficult and painful. Louis CK and Michael McIntyre have covered this reality humorously.

A part of them wants to make sure you don’t get hurt. A part of them wants to keep you cute, simple, helpless. (Paul Graham has written about this really nicely with Lies We Tell Kids).

When you first discover this, it’s easy to get angry with your parents about this. But as you grow older and begin to have responsibilities and obligations of your own [2], you realize that adulthood is a lot harder than childhood, and that parenthood must be even harder.

So you sympathize with them– or if they were really, really messed up, at best you might understand why they were the way they were, even if you can never quite forgive them. Acceptance is the thing.

The seductive peers and the (often misleading) promise of escape

In contrast to all of that, the first person who offers you your first cigarette or drink tends to appeal to your independence. They’ll ask, “Why are you worried about what other people think?” It’s a question you might not have even thought to ask until that point.

And they’re usually really sweet in those moments. They’ll look into your eyes and treat you like a full person, a full adult, not a child, not an obligation. They seem sincerely interested in you, your struggles, your concerns.

It is INCREDIBLY flattering. It goes beyond “Wow, you’re pretty.” It’s more like “Wow, you’re YOU.”

And so I think when people say yes to cigarettes, to unprotected sex, to staying out late, THAT’S what they’re saying yes to. Every kid knows cigarettes are disgusting. We do scary, dangerous and unfamiliar things because for the first time it seems like someone truly cares about us- not just our grades or our health or the labels on the pedestals they put us on. [3]

Some people dismiss all of this as childish rebellion- and yes, it is. But it’s so much more than that, too. It’s a naive, ignorant and tentative step towards independence. When do you learn who you are otherwise? When do you learn to live for yourself?

Owning a decision is a powerful, heady thing, even if it’s a really stupid decision. Tattoos, piercings, boyfriends, whatever. “I will what I want.” [4]

Moving forward– encourage self-exploration and self-determination in yourself and others

If all of this is true then we can imagine what the healthier alternative must be like. When adults treat children like people, with their own minds and interests and curiosities. Encouraging them to explore their OWN interests, not just what Daddy wishes he was good at as a child. The parent or authority’s job isn’t to decide for the child outright, but to provide an environment and context in which the child can explore and learn and grow.

And here a bunch of nice pictures come into my mind. Kahlil Gibran– “Your children are not your children / They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” A Truly Great teacher who really cares– the teachers that everybody remembers their whole lives. A football coach and his heartfelt pep talk. That darkroom scene in Boyhood with the photography teacher. All of Good Will Hunting.

If you have a young person in your life, pay full attention to them and ask them what they’re interested in. And it’s genuinely interesting! Every person is a glorious kaleidoscope of curiosities, shaped by unique perceptions and perspectives. You’ll see the universe in their eyes.

And the scary, terrible thing is that these things can be really fragile. A few dismissive sentences can crush it outright. (ZenPencils: Kevin Smith – It costs nothing to encourage an artist) So you have to be really gentle with people’s dreams. Never tell them that they’re stupid or wrong. Just ask them if they’ve thought about X, if they’ve thought about Y, and so on.

AND really, this applies just as much to adults too, just that we tend to take a little longer because we’ve often internalized a lot of BS over the years and we forget what we care about.

So, what do YOU want to do with this precious, fleeting life? I’m all ears.

___

[1] Here I find myself thinking about the Rapunzel movie, Tangled. Analyzing this will probably take up an entire post by itself, but really quickly– it involves a girl being imprisoned in a tower by a woman who pretends to be her mother, and has songs like “When Will My Life Begin” and “Mother Knows Best”. I’ll probably expand this into a separate essay.

[2] I have come to believe that it’s important to introduce children to responsibilities and obligations as early as possible. And it’s very important to be precise here– it can’t just be arbitrary things that parents impose on children “to teach them lessons”. Kids tend to know when adults are simply lording over them. The challenge is to help the kids pick responsibilities and obligations that THEY want, because it helps THEM achieve what THEY want.

I’m naive and ignorant here as a non-parent, but I think even things like household chores could and should be framed in the child’s self-interest rather than just “DO AS I SAY.” After all, there’s a real relationship between parent and child, isn’t there? If the child helps the parent do something, the parent is freed up to do something else, aren’t they? So can’t the parent frame this trade as something ultimately beneficial to the child? But of course, Louis CK and Michael Mcintyre have pointed out that I’m an idiot for thinking that it might be so doable.

[3] One of the painful parts of growing out of adolescence is realizing that that too is an illusion. That the tantalizing promise of escape is often just a new set of blinders and chains. That’s the truth that our parents and teachers learned and try to share with us, but it’s hard to see that. So I think stories and movies that communicate this effectively are really important. It will be good if this were a part of our broader cultural understanding, something that we appreciated as true independent of our relationships with our parents and authority figures.

Here now I find myself thinking about Frozen, where Anna falls for Hans, but it turns out that Hans really just wanted the kingdom and didn’t care about her at all. I think we all know what it’s like to be used by somebody that we thought actually cared about us. Of course, reality is rarely so black and white– we’re all using each other to some degree, the question is is the outcome mutually beneficial, or is it exploitative and destructive?

[4] As we get older it becomes clearer that a lot of youthful interests are driven by peer influence. And that’s quite rational, isn’t it? You’re going to live amongst your peers, so we’re wired to inherit the group’s interests. It’s only a while later that you learn that it probably makes sense to find out who you are outside of the group that you probably inherited rather than chose.

There’s a lot to dig into here. We don’t often choose our peer groups very deliberately– they’re usually chosen for us by circumstance, and we tend to be compelled to stick with them because of “loyalty” or some other instinct or social pressure. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to be deliberate about the peers we associate with. Again I think parents try to teach their kids this, but they probably often do it in an overly dictated way– you don’t want to choose for your kids outright, you want to ask them what they want out of life and what sort of friends they think they ought to hang out with.

I’ll probably expand this into a separate essay.

 

0447 – Cameron

When he was a little boy, Cameron was devoted to exploring the world with his entire being. He would spin in circles until he was dizzy, and then try to fix things by spinning the other way. He would hang upside down from the monkey bars of the playground, eliciting shrieks from his mother.

He would sprint up the staircase at the subway, never understanding why mother always opted to take the escalator instead. The stairs were clearly the superior option: Elevation! Speed! What a rush, and no grumpy old adults blocking your way.

Once he boarded the train, he’d give everybody a great show– spinning round and round the pole, jumping and grabbing the grab handles (which were just out of his reach), and he’d swing to and fro. “Stop being such a monkey,” mother would plead.

But in those moments, Cameron could think of nothing else he’d rather be.

Parenting is never easy, but Cameron presented a greater challenge than most. He was intelligent, he was quick, he was difficult to stay mad at. His cheeky smile charmed the stern looks off the faces of everybody he’d met.

But, of course, he’d create messes everywhere he went. It wasn’t personal– his mind was somewhere else before he was done with whatever he was in the middle of.

And while he was often inattentive (distracted, really, by all the goings-on of the world around him), his attention was always precious. He would look at you with his piercing, twinkling eyes, and you’d feel like he was taking you in, in a way that few children really do. So you couldn’t help but look out for him in a crowd of children, and find yourself trying to catch his gaze.

_

When he was a teenager, Cameron fell in love. With pretty much one in every four girls that he met. Half of them weren’t very attractive, and half of those who were left weren’t very intelligent. So if a girl was decent looking, and could express an interesting thought or two, Cameron was all over her.

He was particularly fixated with Kimberly from Track-and-Field. She had a tattoo around her ankle, which was some sort of profound Latin quote about bastards and getting down. Kimberly, of course, didn’t really notice Cameron, and would move on in life without ever knowing of his fleeting-yet-intense desire to discuss The Beatles with her. (Kimberly was more into 90’s pop-punk.)

Mother never taught Cameron how to be around girls. She had assumed, wrongly, that he would just figure it all out himself. After all, he was great at making friends, he was gregarious and charming. Cameron would never really have a proper girlfriend. He did, however, single-handedly perform an informal analysis of the distribution of musical interests of teenage girls. (He was always surprised at the number of them who listened to “Um, I gotta go.”)

Cameron never really did well in school. He was never really sure of what he wanted. Mother was always nagging him to study hard, that he was so smart, if only he applied himself. Cameron would simply smile and shrug, and just keep walking. He knew that he owed everything to Mother– she worked two jobs just to pay the bills, and she never had any time for herself. But somehow that just made him resent her internally, and it seemed to take up all his energy just to put on a brave, civil front for her.

Sometimes, after failing a test particularly badly, Cameron would snarl at himself in the mirror. “Why don’t you fucking study, you bastard? It’s so easy. It’s just books. It’s just paper. You got this. YOU GOT THIS.”

It never lasted more than a couple of days. ANd his eyes never really twinkled anymore.

_

When he was a young adult, Cameron was sort-of broken. Or maybe he just never learned to function effectively. “But does anybody, really?” he wondered to himself, before thinking, “That is so cheesy, dude.”

He had some buddies that he’d play poker with, but he never really cared about the same things that they cared about. He met one of them (Pete) while working odd jobs after school, and he just kept hanging out with them after. He was drifting with nowhere to go, and they were nowhere in particular.

They would meet in a dingy old house at the end of town– someone’s parents both worked the night shift, and somehow didn’t seem to mind that the house was always smelling of cheap beer, stale pizza and half-stubbed cigarette buds when they came back in the morning. (Cameron would often cycle his rickety old bicycle home, with badly-inflated tires and lousy brakes, mildly intoxicated and smoking his last cigarette. A part of him always wondered if he would get into an accident, but the roads were always empty at 4am.)

The boys– they were all talking about how they were going to get back at their parents, at their ex-girlfriends, at their bosses, at the Universe. They were going to catch a break, make it big, get out of this shithole.

Cameron didn’t see the point. The shithole was everywhere, as far as he was concerned. The shithole was at once Home and the Great Unknown. Holes, filled with shit, as far as the eye could see. He just wondered if the world would ever seem worth exploring again.

Sometimes there was a girlfriend or two, and Cameron would study them as they sat on their boyfriends laps in their awkwardly short shorts and excessive eye makeup. Why were they even here? What did they see in his deadbeat friends? “Well, what do YOU see in them?” he thought to himself.

“Familiarity,” came the answer.

Did that mean that this… was home? He watched as one of the girls– short blonde hair, with a t-shirt of a band she had probably never heard of– made a big gesture of kissing her boyfriend. The sight and sounds of their mingling tongues reminded him weirdly of some swamp monsters in some B-grade film. His stomach churned.

“I fold,” he coughed as he tossed his cards and stumbled out of his chair. “I gotta go… I’ll be…” The rest of them barely glanced at him. Pete was already dealing the next round of cards.

“I gotta get out of here,” he thought to himself as he raced down the street. The night hummed with the vaguest of hopes.

 

 

0446 – switching to stories

Well, this is hilarious. I started on this vomit, and then I sort of got distracted and wandered off, and I ended up taking 2 full hours to complete it because I was doing so many other things in between. It was a pretty generic vomit with me just talking about how I need to sleep earlier, wake earlier, have a better morning routine, and how I’m going to use post-its on my bedroom wall to keep track of all the different things I do in a day, and figure out a fixed optimal order for doing them rather than thinking and deciding what to do each day (which is a waste of time).

It stretched out for a thousand words, and I hit publish and it just disappeared. (This is an annoying thing that WordPress does over and over again. It happened a lot on my work blog, too. Why must you kill people’s work, WordPress?)

So now I’m in a different mood. I’m avenging the vomit that was lost. And I have to figure out something else to say, and say it quickly becaus I don’t want to sleep at 2am.

I like challenges like these, I guess. I find myself thinking about the role of emotion in writing. And how if you write really fast without thinking, your writing (ideally) just becomes a reflection of whatever emotional state you’re in– or just whatever “state” you’re in, period. I was listening to Alan Watts and he was talking about how there’s some artist with long hair, who covers his hair in paint and then swings it at the canvas– and then he observes it and does a sort of Rorschach test on it, and from that he infers what the painting should be and then paints THAT. It’s an interesting way to approach constraints.

Which in turn reminds me of something Ray Bradbury said about writing down nouns… I really do think I should start writing short stories in the context of these word vomits. I’m probably hesitating because I’m a bit afraid, because I haven’t done it before. But hey, that’s the point, right? 444 vomits in and I’ve settled into this comfortable pattern of talking about my personal issues over and over again. I really ought to ban myself from writing about these things at least for a couple of hundred vomits, so that I can write other things for a change. For a period of time I was banning myself from writing social commentary type things, because those things were keeping me from paying attention to myself. Now I’ve spent like 400,000 words paying attention to myself, and it definitely feels like I’m not going to be thinking/writing my way out of this one. Rather, I have to just stay mindful of it and do more hard, challenging work.

So these word vomits shouldn’t be so easy anymore. They shouldn’t be as mindless and blurty as they are right now. I mean, they’re always going to be blurty in the sense that I’m not going to edit them very much if at all, but I’m getting really tired of just talking about myself, talking with my own voice, yadda yadda. I had a pretty good time with the A / B dialogues, but even those were pretty obviously just different facets of my own personality, or me talking to myself in the mirror. I need to try something different altogether. And so it’s probably time to dig out my list of short story ideas and stuff and just get cracking.

Since I still have more time in this vomit I’ll spend it thinking about how I’ll pick what to write. I feel like I have some sort of burden or responsibility to write about things that aren’t trivial. I don’t want to be writing the same sort of essays that I used to write for Poached Magazine.

Well… technically I can start by writing about trivial things if I want to. But do I actually want to? This is a silly, pointless train of thought. I am in charge. I decide what I do. I decide what I want to do. So what do I decide I want to do? What would be the coolest thing for me to publish next, as a word vomit, as a short story, or as dialogue? No, I don’t want to just do a little dialogue. I want to do stories. Well, how am I going to define what a story is? Am I just going to describe a fictional environment? Am I going to describe a single fictional person? Am I going to describe some sort of conflict? I suppose I could run through each of those things. I’m not obliged to write self-contained stories right at the start. I can do snippets, little notes. I can do criticisms and analyses of existing books and of characters. These wouldn’t be pointless, they’ll help me figure out what I want to write later on. As long as I’m doing it for that purpose, and not utterly mindless self-indulgence, that that’s okay. Mindless self indulgence is ALSO okay, but I’d like to do better than that. I don’t want to take random walks in purely random directions when I can take a semi-random walk in a semi-deliberate direction that I know is likely to be better for me.

So… yeah. Maybe I’ll do movie reviews too. I think I’ll do movie / book reviews in the form of conversations between characters that I’ll develop, within some context that I’ll develop. Yes, that sounds like something slightly out of my comfort zone, in the sense that it’s not what I’m already doing, and yet it sounds achievable. It’s a pleasant stretch. That’s what I’m going to do.

It does seem a little crazy ambitious to try to write 500,000 words worth of little stories and such. But really, a million words of anything is pretty crazy. I might as well direct my exploration in some sort of interesting direction. At the end of it all I can pour the molten aluminum (or whatever it is they pour) down this ant hill to see what the network looks like, where it leads, how it’s all interconnected, and what I want to do from there.

Done.

 

0445 – onward

So yesterday I had a really epiphanic, euphoric sort of vibe. The peak state has worn off, but I still remember the critical bits of it. I caught a glimpse of the person I want to become, that I envision myself becoming, and I’m still him. Just not fully realized yet, but well underway.

I was doing some work in the afternoon today, and then went to visit my parents. It was tempting for me to skip the word vomit and go straight to bed. It’s a classic case of me having some sort of good time, and then overindulging afterwards, letting things slip and promising myself that I’d make up for it afterwards.

In this case, while it IS pretty likely that I would’ve been able to make it up to myself afterwards– that is, do two word vomits tomorrow instead of just one– it’s far more important that I go through this process right now– where I go through the motion of doing a word vomit even though I feel like I have a good enough excuse not to. I need to train my subconscious to see that I mean business when I say I’m going to do something. And I’m going to do a word vomit every day unless I’m really, truly incapacitated.

And that’s just the start of it. There’s so much more to do. The most important thing is maintaining peak state, recreating peak state. I’ve written about similar things over and over again– about the importance of chunking my time, of timeboxing, etc. I think now I’m getting clearer about the importance of psyching myself up before getting things done, and of being a lot more critical about the way the time is spent. And I really need to just practice finishing things that I start, without getting distracted. There is no doubt in my mind anymore that this is something that I am capable of accomplishing, and this is a skill that I need to develop yesterday. Since we can’t go back in time, now is the next best alternative. So I’m going to continue writing this vomit straight through the end without tabbing out, and then I’m going to shower and go to bed.

What are my current impediments to being ultra-focused? I think the main thing is really that I still don’t give myself clear enough instructions about the task ahead of me, in any given situation. I allow myself to sort of skip back and forth and improvise around the task. It works for some forms of simple writing, but it absolutely does not work for bigger and more difficult projects. The problem with my current state is that I still haven’t learned to properly chunk things down into smaller projects. It’s a sort of ignorant hubris that I have, this odd belief that I can just improvise my way through difficult things. Life has beaten me down in this regard over and over again– I have been pushing at a pull door, and trying to push harder, and trying different techniques of pushing. What I really need to do is toss all my “push” techniques entirely out of the window, and teach myself to pull.

In parallel to this, I’m trying to relearn how to write. I’ve always held my pens and pencils in a weird, contorted way where I put all the weight and pressure on my ring finger. It’s a very painful grip to hold on for long periods of time, and it makes my writing very scratchy. Controlled, but scratchy. There’s no big picture, no continuity, no flow. When I draw squares, or L’s or E’s, somehow the right angles are never quite right angles. There’s always a sort of kink at the corner. This has always bothered me a little but I never did anything about it. Finally, I’ve decided to deconstruct the habit and work from first principles. It’s going to mean some painfully boring, frustrating stages where I’m reduced to drawing like a child again. But it’s not quite the same, because while I haven’t developed the fine motor skills yet, I do have a clearer sense of what I want, and I can adjust myself faster along the way. It’s like learning the guitar, which I’ve done before. (And even that, I think, would benefit from some deconstruction and first principles practice. But one thing at a time for now. Though I AM trying to relearn the nuances of Stairway To Heaven, for old time’s sake.)

I guess what I have been resisting for a while is the idea of re-education. A sort of deep therapy. What’s the term they use for people who are injured? Rehabilitation. I need to learn to walk again, properly. I suppose I’ve always been embarrassed by my incompetence on many fronts, and try to avoid it. Like I’ve talked before about how I’m embarrassed that I can’t really cook. Well, I can cook some scrambled eggs, and some peppers and some chicken. I’m going to feed myself more regularly, because that’s me actively breaking a barrier that I had constructed when I was a child. Another one is that I can’t draw. I have a wonderful imagination, I have all sorts of ideas, there’s no reason why I can’t draw. It’s just dots and lines. Paper and pen give great feedback. I can get better at what I’m doing and I’d like to get better at it. I underline really nicely in books. I have a pretty nice all-caps script. I can do more.

There’s nothing new about the details. I’ve always known the details. Everybody always knows the details, and yet we read more and more about the details. The only thing that matters is managing your own psychology, in seeing that there is a point, in believing that things can be done, in having faith despite history. Faith in first principles. Faith in the somewhat mechanistic nature of reality. If things didn’t work out before, we can examine them and change things and make them work this time around.

I truly believe it.

 

0444 – Hello, World.

I am. Billions have conspired to create me, to bring me here, right here at this moment. I am.

I feel like I have awakened from an eternal slumber. How many days, weeks, months, years have gone by, with me trudging along, alone, uncertain, confused, doubtful, nervous, anxious, afraid?

No more. I am.

I woke up today. I was reborn today. I have shaken off (and it took a tremendous, crackle-pop-kra-TOW) all my excess baggage, all my illusions and memories and such. Some may have lingered, but that’s irrelevant.

I am.

I am.

I exist for my own pleasure. I am flesh and blood, bones and nerves, brain and bile. I am words and songs, stories and structures, places and persons. I AM. I am a forceful reckoning. I am electric. I am alive.

I shake off all the bizzare contraptions I plugged to myself to pitifully attempt to reanimate my dullard corpse. I unplug myself from the newsfeeds and information. There is nothing I need. I AM.

I find myself naked, shivering from the cold of awareness. My muscles flex, clench, relax.

There is nothing that I have to say. I am writing because I have committed myself to writing, and I intend to honour my words. I will continue to write, because that is what I had decreed. I said it, and so it shall be done.

And then I shall move on to doing all the other things that I have said I shall do. Because I said I would do things, and so I shall do them.

It’s really that simple, isn’t it?

I could sit and think for hours about how I got here. But I’m not sure if it really matters. The point is that I’m here, and while I’m here I can do anything I like.

How do I get back here, when I need to? I never want to lose this sense of clarity and awareness that I possess right now. I want it again tomorrow.

It will be here. I will be here. I just need to shake off the old. Old habits, old patterns. They were all a sort of dress-rehearsal for my true self, my true expression.

Shake off the old. Kill the old. Be born again.

I am a writer by profession, by craft. I will write stories. I have many stories within me. I will pull them out of my brain, my skin, and I will write them.

I think I shall write them within these vomits. I think I am done with all the navel-gazing self-examination, I don’t think that will get me anywhere fast anytime soon. I am done with that, I feel.

Perhaps tomorrow I will feel differently. But I doubt it.

I must get stronger. I need to sculpt and shape my body and mind to inhabit the space that I envision for it.

It’s all movement. It’s all vibrations. It’s all cause and effect. It is my mind that moves my body. And my body that, well, embodies the mind.

All of this is really inelegant sputter. But if sputtering is what needs to happen, so be it. I have spent too much time afraid of being silly, afraid of making mistakes or missteps. I have paused and stopped too many things because I was frustrated or upset or angry or annoyed.

No more.

I will persist as light and clarity. I am clearheaded. I am a thousand burning suns. I am electricity.

It is late, so when this is done I will sleep. But when I rise tomorrow, I will remind myself that I am Alive.

I will no longer attempt to change the minds of others– that is, I will not seek the validation or approval of others to do what I personally, deeply believe to be true. I will do work that I am proud of. I have come far enough. I have read enough. I have listened enough. I have taste. I have sensibilities.

I ascend into the arena. I am here. I am me. I am in charge. I am in control. Nobody else is responsible for who I am. Nobody else is accountable for who I am. Through a series of improbable, accidental events, I have come into existence.

Now that I am here, I intend to persist. This will not be an accident. This will be deliberate. I do not need anybody’s approval. I will flourish, and my flourishing will be the expression of the answer to the endless questions that I have had prior to my reawakening.

I am envious of no one. I am jealous of no one. My struggle is personal. I have no need to win anybody over to my side. I have no need to argue for anybody. I have no need to argue with anybody. Casual words are meaningless. All that matters is the actual expression, the artful application of force.

How shall I apply myself? Where shall I apply myself? I already know all of this. Everything I need is already in front of me, already all around of me. The challenge is to shake off all the non-essential and prioritize the most important. And then utterly extinguish that as an expression of my dominion.

My only task now is to remain electric. To be able to reinvigorate myself. To be able to come into being, fully, clearly.

And to keep writing. With fervor. Intensity.

Some say you should write what you know. Others say you should write about an aspirational ideal. I think I’ll write whatever I goddamn please. What pleases me?

I will concern myself with that when I’m writing again. In the meantime, it suffices to say that I am AWAKE and ALIVE and ELECTRIC, and I intend to wake up for the remainder of my days if possible. In the fullest, liveliest possible sense. Already I find myself a little distressed and disturbed that I have spent so many of my days meandering in a sort of waking slumber.

But there’s no point crying over spilt milk. The question is, how am I going to stay awake? We’ll see. Goodnight.

 

0443 – GTD, prioritization, dealing with interruptions and distractions

Work [1], daily reviews, exercise. These are the things that I really want to adopt as part of my daily routine, beyond my daily habit of writing word vomits. Beyond that, I’m thinking I need to make sure that I meditate, sleep well, and have more efficient routines and processes… but those things are a bit more nebulous. I should start with nailing down the basics. It’s taken me really long to nail down basics. Embarrassingly long, really, but that’s actually not relevant. Every day is a new day, every moment is a new moment, and I should optimize for what is currently on my plate rather that sit around feeling bad or guilty or ashamed of my lack of progress so far. (0327)

So. My current priority right now is to finish this word vomit, and then to move on to my highest priority work task. Once I’m done with THAT, I can move on to evaluating the rest of my tasks, and do a review about how things are going. And then I’ll go for a run in the evening. These few things together, alone, would have made today a good day despite some shuffling and weaseling around in the morning. And to extrapolate unnecessarily, if I can do this regularly, I can then make “a good day” my new normal, and start adding more things to it, more priorities, more things of significance. And that is how I will grow in responsibility and power without screwing things up. With the power of habits and routines that I internalize, the same way I’ve internalized that writing word vomits every day will make me happy, even if I’m sleepy and tired and don’t feel like doing it. [2]

What else? I also think I really need to solve the problem of interruptions and distractions. And of just generally poorly regulated behavior. This is the main thing that’s been on my mind the past few days while my wife’s been away. I’m alone at home, and I’m just really bad at regulating myself when I’m at home. By that I mean I just sort of vegetate and lounge around. A part of this might be a sort of subconscious craving for downtime, which I think is a valid excuse for a couple of days or so, but I also know that I’ve very often fallen into this trap when I was young.

How do I solve the problem of self-regulation? I feel like I’ve talked about this a lot of times in a lot of ways, but yet never really made very much progress. Which is a bit of a misnomer– I’ve definitely made a bunch of progress, with my work vomits and with my work. It’s just that this progress doesn’t seem very deliberate or systematic, and I’m constantly aware of all the progress that I have failed to make. (This is not quite the same as “progress left to make”, which is infinite. I’m talking about failed attempts.)

Can I figure out the missing piece in the next 250 words? Probably not but that’s what I’ll spend them trying to do. I think the solution to the problem of self-regulation will begin with really little things. If you suck at self-regulation, you can’t suddenly change everything, turn everything around all at once overnight. You have to start with small things. So doing these word vomits is a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Doing my daily/weekly work updates is a step, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I just need to take more such steps, and then the feels will follow in response to the change in volume of output, in volume of shit done.

But what about the interruptions? Well… the thing is to work in tiny chunks that can’t be interrupted. I can do 25 minutes without interruption. My problem is that I keep trying to do many many chunks and then I take the failure of the later parts as a symptom of failure of the whole. Rather, I should commit to say just 1 pomodoro of non-distracted activity. And do that every day for a week. Then maybe commit to 2. That sounds ridiculously simple but the alternative has simply not worked, not stuck. I need to fiure out my bare minimums and keep those rock-solid.

I feel like I don’t quite believe myself while I’m saying these things, but that’s probably because it’s late and I’m tired and sleepy. But hey, at least I’m doing a vomit. Done.

_____

[1] I know, Work is a really large bucket with all sorts of sub-buckets. Quickly: by work, I mean to make progress everyday on at least 1 chunk of whatever I’ve labeled as my highest priority work-task. I was going to write “at least 3”, but I realize that doesn’t solve for adoption. Gall’s law. I have to start with something simple and make it a daily thing, and then I can expand on that once that’s something I’ve thoroughly internalized. If I haven’t made progress on my highest priority task, everything else I do is still sort of hollow and unsatisfying. I have to eat the frog.

[2] I find myself thinking now about what Elon Musk said when asked about how he maintains hope, optimism, etc when things aren’t going well– and he answered with a delightful non-answer– that those things are irrelevant to him, and that he just gives it his all no matter what. When I first saw that, I thought it was a little weird and alien– was he hiding something? But I’m starting to realize now that he’s just operating in a different mode altogether from people who depend on feelings and optimism and motivation in order to function. He’s committed himself to a course (and of course, there are feelings involved in making that decision), but having made that decision he has chosen not to waver from it. He’s become truly outcome-agnostic. Which is quite a marvellous thing to witness, to realize that such a state is possible.

 

0442 – insist on prioritizing

A few vomits ago I realized that sometimes I have to state things that seem incredibly obvious in order for me to grapple with them– because if they’re unstated, they sort of go under the radar, develop an ugh field around them and then I don’t quite act in accordance with those things– beliefs, principles, whatever. [1]

Now here’s another one of those really simple things, and it has to do with the dissonance I experience when more developed individuals seem confused when they talk to me about my own akrasia.

What happens is this– I have some stated priorities. I then do things that are unrelated to these priorities, and then get really unhappy and frustrated and anxious at the lack of progress I make on these priorities. This makes me feel incompetent, weak, irresponsible and so on, and my conditioned response is to run away, to hide, to avoid things and hope it’ll all blow over.

Why do I not work on the things that I have stated as my priorities? One problem is that “priority” in my head isn’t the same thing as “priority” in the heads of more developed individuals. It’s more of a weak, “yeah I’d kinda like to do that”. And because these priorities aren’t killer, important, make-or-break, it’s very easy for me to avoid or ignore them when they prove themselves to be difficult, hard, scary, boring, schleppy.

The problem and solution is clearer to me when I’m talking to individuals who are LESS developed than me. [2] The problem sometimes a lack of clarity about priorities. In the absence of priorities, I do whatever is comfortable, easy, whatever I _feel_ like doing. As I established in some earlier vomits, my feelings are often wrong and unreliable. So I have to work against my feelings. I have to do what is important to me, not what I randomly feel like doing when I’m not in peak state. I’ve been able to do this for my word vomits. Finishing my word vomits is a real priority to me, because I want to complete this project. And I’ve made it relatively easy to do. I have solved for adoption here.

Now I need to move on to doing this for everything else in my life. First I need to know what my priorities are. I’ve written those down in my workflowy. Then I need to know why these priorities are priorities, why they’re important, what’s the difference they’re going to make and what’s the outcome I’m denying if I don’t work on them. I need to eliminate or relegate things that are less important, so I can focus on things that are most critical. (Gall’s Law: Complex working systems are usually developed out of simple working systems– they rarely start working from being put together complex-ily.) Then I need to design the next steps for adoption.

I haven’t gotten to writing down the critical sentences that matters– that in the absence of clear priorities, randomness will kick me around into a life I do not choose. (Hadfield.) In the absence of priorities, if I just follow my feelings, I’ll have suboptimal hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, life.

So the highest priority of all is the conviction that priorities matter. [3] I want to say that I believe this– all the motivational videos say it, all the successful people say it, people I admire say it. But the fact that I haven’t lived in accordance with this is evidence that I don’t _truly_ believe it, in a functional, executive sense. Why do I not truly, functionally believe that priorities matter? It’s neither a belief nor a disbelief, it’s just a sort of agnostic indifference. But the indifference is killing me. I need to take a side and double down on it. So we’re trying to install a belief here. And to install a belief you first have to try it on, in a way that’s simple. I’ve tried it on with regards to my vomits. I now need to try it on with regards to exercise, daily reviews, and work.

Is this where I’m usually stuck? Seems like it. Vomit is done, so I’ll start another.

_____

[1] One of this realizations was– what I really want in life is to be powerful and significant. This might be my way of addressing my childhood issues of feeling incompetent, not good enough, irresponsible, unreliable, and so on. So I need to work on things that will make me more responsible, more reliable. I don’t do this because of vague fears and concerns. I worry that I won’t be able to grow into someone more responsible, that I’ll just screw up more things in the future. So this is a belief I need to dismantle, with constant practice and meditation and reassurances and so on.

[2] I don’t want to be presumptuous about what ‘developed’ means. I liked this definition from Ribbonfarm– that Intelligence is the ability to separate bullshit from information. I can detect other people’s bullshit, but I struggle to detect my own. So this is a constant battle and struggle– detecting my own bullshit.

[3] My brain generates some counterpoints to this, which I should be skeptical of because of evil rationalization. I will overthink and avoid doing the work. The way out of this is to treat this as an experiment. I have nothing to lose from running an experiment. Let’s experiment with focusing on priorities. If it turns out I was wrong, I can revert to my previous mode of thinking/being and be more comfortable and confident with that, because I’d have successfully falsified the alternative. But right now I’m running on really old data (that school = bad, and other old, corrupted BS like that). And I know that the status quo isn’t sustainable. So I need to try something different.

Just to quickly state the counterpoint– the sort of Zen / Alan Watts idea that you can’t force yourself to do things that you don’t want to do, that there’s no point making to-do lists and plans and all of those things. As Hunter Thompson said, you want the goals to fit the person, not the other way around. Well I think I’m trying to make my goals fit me. I think I’m trying to make my priorities reflect my own inner interests. Maybe once I’ve been running this program for a few months I’ll be able to internalize it without thinking. But for the time being, it’s clear that my feelings are often wrong and I shouldn’t navigate by them.

 

0441 – peopling, and silly

It’s 2:16am. I was home around 1030pm, and so I was hoping to be asleep by 12noon, but look, it’s 2:16pm. I do this to myself over and over again. Let’s go through it quickly without any self-flagellation. I had a bit of work that I wanted done. I wanted to go through my word vomit summaries (done with that). And I wanted to write this. (Writing now). In between all of that, I spent a bunch of time on the Internet doing dumb things. I replied to some guy on Reddit. I watched bits and pieces of The Mummy… why was I doing that? It had to do with TV Tropes. Why was I on TV Tropes? I wanted to add a relevant link to a word vomit that I was summarizing. (A taste of power / start over was the trope, in reference to Conan The Barbarian and Iron Man).

Well, so that was a little silly. If I’m going to do something and I have a deadline I should be pushing myself to use the timer and I should be focused on the single task I have ahead of me, and nothing else. The problem is that I keep allowing myself all these little gaps, and these gaps expand into huge time sinks that eat into everything else. Well, so it goes. Not going to get angry at myself for this. Just adding this to the list of data points I have for understanding how this works. Creating a task for myself to go over all of this once the summaries are done. In the meantime I’m going to write about today’s experience and then go straight to bed with as calm and neutral a mind as possible.

My wife is in Thailand for a month, which means I have the freedom and opportunity (and responsibility) to take care of myself, and to be fully responsible for my own decisions. I can’t peg anything on her, she can’t peg anything on me. If I’m wasting hours on the Internet, it’s not because I’m waiting for her to be done in the shower– it’s all on me. And this experience right now is proving that to be true. So I can’t use her as a crutch or excuse. Great, this is a good opportunity for me to really encounter that and get to know that properly. Does it surprise me? No it doesn’t, but will it help? I think so. I have 30 more days to sort my shit out, and it’s not like “oh, somewhere in the middle of those 30 days things will get sorted out”– I have to do the sorting right now, knowing that I’ll probably fail, and go over it over and over and over.

At the very least, I’m keeping up with these vomits and summaries. I’m writing them even if I’m tired and sleepy because I have no excuse. This is my minimum commitment. Earlier today I discovered some guy who committed to his own personal 1000 words a day writing project. I asked him about it. He didn’t publish the words, I’m guessing. He told me he went on for 650+ days, and then stopped and didn’t recover. So now as a matter of personal principle of sorts, I’d like to keep my streak going, all the way. That would be really cool.

Anyway. The thing I wanted to talk about is– one of the things I’m trying to do in my wife’s absence is to meet as many friends as possible. It’s not like I’m not able to meet friends when she’s around, it’s just that it’s nicer to meet people without having to worry about making it back home in time for dinner, and/or stuff like that. I can always stay out late, but I might as well get all of this stuff out of the way at once if possible. I suppose that’s probably not the best of ideas/strategies, but at the very least I’ve reached out to a whole bunch of people, so I can start scheduling now and see how it all plays out.

So today I met a bunch of local t-shirt retailers, and it was really pleasant conversation. It was really nice to be around a smart, thoughtful, kind group of people who’re passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s nice to be a part of a different group from the usual tech/startup/marketing circles that I’m usually tied up with (out of proximity, job, etc). It makes it clearer that I should really be hanging out with more people. I went on a sort of extreme detox where I cut myself off from all my old friends (the huge shift in location had a huge part to do with it).

The more I think about it, and the more experiences I have, the clearer it’s becoming to me that living in Yishun is almost “bad for my health”. Not super literally in a physical sense (though an argument could be made…) but in a more softer, social sort of sense. I have nobody in the immediate vicinity that I like spending time with apart from my wife, and even spouses get sick of each other from time to time. I need people I can while away hours with, while working or thinking, people who have divergent interests, who are working on other things. That’s just like a sort of a human need, I feel. A third space. I haven’t had many of those that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s been really hard for me to find the right people.

I guess that’s quite heartening. I haven’t been making enough time to meet people, to meet good people. I just don’t really think very much about it, I imagine it’ll take care of itself sooner or later. But what I’m learning over and over again is that nothing important every takes care of itself. That’s adulthood, damnit, we have to plan and schedule for everything, and make sure WE make things happen.

Such is life!