0467 – past-induced glitchy limbo

I hold on to a lot of stuff from my past. I don’t think this is good for me.

Examples? I don’t particularly hold on to grudges, but I do recurringly think of people throughout the years who aren’t a significant part of my life any more- even people who were sort of tangential or just passing through. I think about people who I want to prove wrong. And then I think about how petty that is, and I feel a little bad. And I don’t feel all that strongly about doing the proving either, because ultimately nothing matters. So I’m sort of stuck in this glitchy limbo. [1]

Now listening to Paramore’s All We Know Is Falling, feels like an appropriate playlist for thinking about the past.

I guess a bunch of it is just tribal instincts? Intellectually I know that there are 7.25+ billion people in the world. 7,000,000,000. But in practice, I tend to think about and fixate on the same 10,000 or so people over and over again. That’s like, 1 in 700,000. Suppose only 1 in 7 people are English-speaking that’s still 1 in 100,000. An awfully limited life. Why?

I’m not so sure about the why. And I’m more interested in the “what do I do next” question. What DO I do next? It’s tough to stop fixating on the past by thinking “okay stop fixating on the past”. I need something new to focus on, a new way of being, a new way of doing things. I’m on the train on the way to work right now. Soon I’ll be in office. I need a new (relative to me-yesterday) way of doing things.

Okay, at work I’m going to start with lunch, then focus on picking the two most important things, schedule time for them, schedule time for breaks and then just blaze through them. With breaks, importantly.

But alright, what beyond that? Why the glitch? Why the limbo? Is there anything I can let go of? A part of me keeps feeling like I need to visit and talk to old teachers. I know it’s silly and that they’ve all surely got more problems and they’ve all surely moved on and so on. But if it gives me closure of some sort, why not do it? So yeah I think I should go back to my alma mater and just witness everything. And look for opportunities to meet up with old teachers. I think it’ll help.

What about other old friends? I’ve met quite a few. It’s never as earthshaking as I somehow imagined it to be. Most people are doing moderately well for themselves, and they’re also stressed and struggling with all sorts of things.

I guess I wonder where all the old fans are. You know? How is the Paramore band LiveJournal page doing today? I’ve always borne some sort of resentment at how flighty people can be, how easily people can move on.

I say that I don’t harbour grudges, and when I say that what I mean I’d that I’d like to wish everyone well. I don’t wish anybody harm or suffering, even the people who really annoyed and pissed me off one way or another. Life is surely hard for everyone. [2]

But at the same time I get very irritated with people saying things like “I’ll always be there” or “I’ll never let go” etc when it’s almost never true. I know, it’s not actually fair to hold anybody to that sort of standard. But it just seems really cruel and stupid that we bullshit each other. Sometimes we’re swimming in so much bullshit it’s all you can do not to gag and drop dead on a crowded train.

Okay, that was unnecessarily melodramatic. But you get the idea.

I wish there was someone else like me, at least for a little while maybe. Somebody I can really just sit and talk to for hours. [3] I suppose that’s why I write. The conversations I want to have are too exhausting to impose on any single individual. And it’s too much to insist on us having that conversation all at once, in the present moment. As far as current technologies permit, writing is my only way out.

But anyway. Even if there was someone “like me”, what would we actually talk about? What would be the intended outcome of that inhumanly long, elaborate, digressive conversation that goes on for years? I guess primarily it would be reassurance. I want someone really smart and worldly who I respect to comfort and reassure me that I’m alright. The thing is, am I actually alright or am I not? I don’t want a person like that to bullshit me- I wouldn’t be able to respect them if they bullshit me, so it’s a prerequisite that they’ll tell me the truth. And the truth is probably unpalatable. It’s probably going to be along the lines of, “Well, what does alright mean?”

Well, what does it? We’re all terminally ill, in a dying universe. That’s just how it goes. All of this is a sort of quirky-spontaneous celebration. [4]

I’m at work, I’ll have to think about this later.

_____

[1] Ah, there’s the title. I’ve been thinking lately about how if there’s one thing that I’m getting better at with these vomits, I’m getting better at picking titles. The main heuristic seems to be- pick something that’s evocative of the rest of the vomit. Words that do a lot of compression.

[2] I realize I am a nicer person while I’m writing, and there are surely moments where I’ve wished horrible things on people (like bedbugs). But I think we can all look at the refugee crisis pictures and stories on HONY and say that no, nobody deserves that sort of suffering.

[3] And I feel guilty for saying that, because I’m married to a woman I love and she’s my best friend and all that. And if I have hours to talk to somebody, it ought to be with her, or at least that’s what the popular consensus would probably be. And at this point I find myself thinking, well, screw the popular consensus, the popular consensus is full of shit and my marriage is my own business. Funny how all these outsider thoughts find their way into the garden of our minds.

[4] It suddenly hit me really hard that “why is there something instead of nothing” is a pretty crazy/epic question. Why did the big bang happen at all? Did time exist before it, outside of it? I should probably reread The User Illusion.

 

0466 – beware fuckarounditis

In September 2011, a guy named Martin Berkhan wrote a blogpost titled “Fuckarounditis”. He was using it to talk about ineffective fitness habits– people who work out without keeping track of what they’re doing, without being methodical in their approach, without plans, doing too many things, thinking more about minor adjustments than major exercises, aren’t pushing themselves very hard, obsessing about the specialization of minor body parts (biceps), and so on.

It’s about fitness, but it could be about anything. I searched YouTube for “fuckarounditis” and found an audio engineer talking about the same problem in audio engineering. It’s not too hard to imagine what that’s like. Obsessing with all the little details and ignoring the big picture. Trying too many different filters and tracks and all sorts of nuances, but getting the basic stuff wrong.

It’s quite obvious that the same applies to any field. Want to be a writer? A musician? A programmer? Start a business? Whatever it is, fuckarounditis is a real threat that will keep you from achieving anything substantial. Think about musicians who obssess over the nuance of the strings they use and the picks and the cables and the precise strap height and so on. Think about people who obsess about productivity systems and apps and such, and yet don’t have all that much to show in terms of output.

Fuckarounditis is real. It’s dangerous. It’s brutal. And I’m totally guilty of it.

From a certain perspective, even these word vomits are a sort of fuckarounditis. I’m trying to go through as much of it as possible to see just how far the rabbithole goes. I suppose with creative work it’s a little less straightforward than with a gym workout. With a gym workout, it’s very, very clear. Build strength. Do the specific things that will take you the farthest– squats, deadlifts, bench press, pullups. If you aren’t doing those things, and you aren’t doing them heavy and hard, then you’re probably fucking around.

When I look at my ordinary work day, I see myself fucking around. What’s my number one priority at any given time, and am I doing it? Sometimes I don’t even know what my top priority is. And oftentimes, even when I do know what that priority is, I tend to put it off in favor of littler things. It’s like wasting time choosing guitar strings. It’s fuckarounditis. And it keeps me from making and seeing the gains that I know that I am capable of.

So what’s the solution to fuckarounditis? The first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem. And I feel I’ve done this before, repeatedly. And there’s a whole new level of fuckarounditis where you sit around bitching about how you have fuckarounditis and how it sucks. Well… what do you do then? I suppose you just quickly acknowledge, “yes, I have fuckarounditis, and it’s acting on me right now.” That’s about as far as the analysis really needs to go.

The next question should be, “So what’s the most important thing I should be doing?” If it’s gymwork, either you need to lift heavy, or if you’re not in the right frame of mind or you’re physically exhausted, then you need to go home and rest. Sleep. And you need to eat some protein. That’s pretty much it, really. What state are you in? Lift! Eat! Rest! Repeat! THAT’S IT!

What’s the equivalent for work? “Lift” would be doing whatever is high-priority. And highest priority stuff is usually a little smarmy, a little painful and difficult and scary, like squats. It’s also pretty much always the thing that I actually need to be doing. Well, so either you roll up your sleeves and do it, or if you’re really incapacitated/tired etc, you rest. I think one thing I’ve been guilty of is not resting enough. That is, I spend a lot of time doing lots of little unimportant things, because those things make me feel like I’m being busy, like I’m “working”. But I’m just fucking around. I’m distracting myself from facing the top priority. And I’m losing all these potential gains.

So I think one important thing is to schedule my rest in advance. What to do during rest breaks? Meditate. Play a bit of guitar if I feel like it. Take a short walk if I feel like it. Move around. I don’t really enjoy wasting time involved in stupid silly little arguments or discussions online with no skin in the game– I’d much rather watch some quality TV (currently watching Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom with my wife– it’s pretty good. It’s funny, it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it’s all the good stuff. A great way to relax and unwind and yet stimulate the brain). Or otherwise I can really just zone out. Read some fiction. Maybe even go play some basketball. Whatever.

Is there an equivalent for eat? I guess it’s learning, studying, looking at feedback, analyzing stats and so on. Getting informed. And I don’t do that nearly as regularly as I ought to do, I think. I sort of save it for the last minute. Which is quite similar to how I actually eat food as well, or used to. I’d just put it off until absolutely necessary. I’ve been reading more about sugar and diet and so on, and it’s interesting to think about the symbolism of pastries and sugar and other rapidly digested carbs. They don’t just taste good, they give us immediate energy. (The two might be related.) And it’s perfect for junkies like me who don’t like to prepare for things in advance, who just want to wing it.

The problem with just winging it is… most of the time it’s just fucking around. It can sometimes be cool to be able to get out of sticky situation, but life shouldn’t be one great grand continuous sticky situation. It’s not a constant emergency. And we can prevent that insane cortisol overload by preparing for things in advance. I’m done with this vomit and I’m going to bed. Boom.

 

0465 – the world doesn’t need another personal development blog

I’ve been trying out this new voice-to-text app on my phone, and it’s pretty fun. It’s not 100% perfect, and it takes some practice to use properly, but I can already see myself using it in the shower to capture my shower thoughts– which will in turn make it into my vomits. So I’m pretty excited about that, that’s probably going to allow me to write a lot more than I’m currently writing.

I’ve also been thinking about how I want to keep better track of all my conversations. I suppose in a large, bulky sense that’s one of the functions that this 1000 word vomits project fulfills– I run out of things to say, and I go hunting for conversations that I’ve had so that I can pull them out of my head and onto pixels. Why do that? Ultimately it’s meaningless, but it feels like being able to do that effectively over and over again will allow me to shorten the gap between thoughts and ideas that accumulate in my head (largely courtesy of other people’s ideas and perspectives, other peopel’s work) and the output that I create. After all, you can’t write what you don’t know, can you? You can try and imagine things, but you’ll have to do your research, and you end up remixing everything that you take in. And everything is a remix.

I’ve been writing word vomits every day for about a week now, and it feels good again. It’s interesting to ruminate on this. I wrote almost every single day in the month of July, and I told myself that I wanted to make August a perfect-streak month of writing every day. But somehow I just didn’t feel like writing, and so I didn’t. And then September came, and I didn’t write very much for the first half of it either. But now I feel like I’m back in the game. And what I’m most proud of is the fact that I’m not beating myself up for my lack of progress in August. It feels like the break was somehow necessary for me to refresh my mind, to regroup.

I still don’t know what I’m going to be writing about over the next year. And similarly, I need to make my peace with that. I need to stop worrying that I need to have some sort of grand design, or grand plan. Moving forward will primarily be a function of me following my inner compass.

Oh yeah, this is what I was thinking about that I wanted to write about. At some point– around 2010 or so– I thought that I wanted to write a personal development blog for people who’re skeptical of personal development. Because I was always skeptical of all the feel-good platitudes and grand proclamations– I was sure that most of the people doing those things were either deluded or farcical, either naive or pretending. And yet I knew that I didn’t want to be depressed and cynical and taciturn. So I tried to come up with my version of self-improvement, but on hindsight that stuff was kind of formulaic. I was just regurgitating the work of others. And in a sense I know now that we will always be regurgitating the work of others– just that the repeated process of regurgitating begins to reveal patterns of choice, and it’s patterns of choice that reveal our unique perspectives and personalities.

I abandoned the project eventually, and I guess I switched to writing about local politics. And then I abandoned that, and have been focused on writing for work– content marketing, problem solving, technical stuff for things that I wasn’t directly concerned about. (Part of a writer’s toolkit requires him learning to care about whatever he’s been tasked with writing. Everything is interesting if you examine it closely enough. At the same time, once you find something tremendously interesting, you still need to figure out what is interesting from the perspective of the reader– because they aren’t interested in you, they’re interested in themselves, and what you and your experiences can do for them. That’s just how life is, and we can’t really escape that fact as far as I can tell– drastic bioengineering type stuff notwithstanding.)

I find myself thinking about TED talks by Anthony Robbins and Brene Brown, and how masterfully they crafted their messages for the TED audience– high-achieving, skeptical people. They got them to empathize with their BS-detectors, helped them agree that they’re all highly-accomplished, and that life still sucks sometimes, and they talked about their own experiences of hardship and frustration, and how they personally overcame it. There’s a lot to be learned from those TED talks, from how those people had the audiences eating out of the palms of their hands.

So where do I go from here? Does the world need another personal development blog? I grappled with that question before, and back then I found myself thinking, well, as long as you’re contributing in some way, as long as you can accelerate the development of what you care about, that’s good enough. So I was thinking that even if I was going to be saying the same thing as everybody else, I was going to be saying it to a group of people who might not have heard it before. I’m not sure if I was completely satisfied with that answer then, but I think I have a better answer now.

The world doesn’t need “another personal development blog”. We can’t and we shouldn’t try to serve the entire world all at once. The only person I can truly, truly serve is me. And the cool thing is that nobody is totally, absolutely unique– I mean, we are, but we all also have at least a few things in common with a few people in the world around us. The magic of communication wouldn’t be possible otherwise. We have at least some things in common with others.

So all I can do is to write the blog that I wish I had encountered. A blog that is sensitive to my challenges, my needs, my frustrations. To light a better way for people like myself. And even then, I think the most important thing is still to serve myself– not to look backwards too much and get obsessed with helping people back there (sorry, JC retainees who keep emailing me), but with helping myself NOW. Writing what I need to read NOW in order to take myself to the next level. This is possible because I am forgetful, and I don’t always carry my most important insights with me. I need to evacuate the truth-in-boxes and internalize them. That’s the goal. That’s the plan.

 

0464 – toying with mediums

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into the “Writing For Medium” game. I know it’s a little late, but it still seems to be where the action is. Quora is hardly a thrill anymore. It would be nice to get Top Writer for the 4th year running, so I probably should take some time to hunker down and write a bunch of answers, but it’s not exactly a riveting challenge. The killer audience has left.

I’m now wondering if I can build more of an audience on Medium. I had a couple of pieces really take off. My Mean Girls piece had over 29,000 views and was shared by some pretty prominent people, which was cool. I’d like to recreate that if possible. Yeah, I think that’s what my motivation is. I managed to write myself into the top 5% of Quora (in terms of reads/votes/follows, not necessarily in terms of actual quality). I’ve been moderately successful as a content marketer selling referral marketing to online retailers. I want to get better at that too, but that’s what I do every day for a living already. And I’m doing these word vomits, which are nice in the sense that they give me “volume practice” and let me refine my voice.

So earlier I opened up Medium and started writing the first thing that came to mind. I want to do some content thought pieces on Medium, but I guess because it’s late at night I wanted to do something simple. And so I started with “Write For A Specific Person” – which I framed as “Open Letter To New Writers”. On hindsight, “write for a specific person” would be a better title, I should’ve gone with that.

I suppose I’m feeling a bit of performance anxiety, which is funny to acknowledge. I’ve been literally writing hundreds of thousands of words. I’ve gotten hundreds of thousands of Upvotes. I’ve even done well with some Hacker News comments and submissions, and we all know HN is one of the hardest to please groups in the world. (Actually, not really. Just be hyper logical, and use a bunch of citations and footnotes, and science language.)

I know I’m good. But somehow I’m hesitant and perfectionist, as I always am. I suppose there’s no getting around it. I should just write and ship, write and ship. I guess I’ll start with Write For A Specific Person. Or maybe not. But if I do want to play the Medium game, I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just start shipping things even if they don’t give me the stratospheric wins I subconsciously feel like I must deserve. I don’t deserve shit. It’s a whole new medium (hurt hur).

Anyway, I switched to writing this because I haven’t met my target for today yet, and I want to just get that out of my system. Maybe tomorrow I’ll publish something on Medium. I know I have literally hundreds of thousands of words of work to extract value from.

In other news, it’s now 2 am and I have 500 more words to blaze through before I can shower and go to bed.

I guess I’l talk about what I’ve been talking to people about. I was telling a friend recently that I don’t really understand friendship. I know that sounds weird, but that’s because the words “friend” and “friendship” are shorthand for much more complex ideas that I’m not sure if I can represent right now. This friend in particular is someone whom I’ve had a few interactions with over the years, have spent a little bit of time with, have had a few good conversations with, but mostly we live separate lives that don’t really intersect. I wouldn’t typically call or message him on a daily or weekly frequency– it’s more like once every few months, maybe.

It’s interesting how there are all these different timescales and variables and yet we don’t really seem to have a nuanced vocabulary for talking about the many different kinds of friends that we are all likely to have. Or are we all equally likely to have them? I have no idea. I can only make sense of my own experience, and my experience is sort of weird.

Anyway I was telling the same guy today– or wanted to, at least, he hasn’t replied my message and is probably asleep- that I thought it’s quite funny how, while I don’t understand friendship, I simultaneously tend to fall deeply in love with some people. Here again love is a bit of a problematic word. But I can be really drawn into a person… I think especially if they have taste, if they care about something and it matters to them, that gets me all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s just nice to be in the presence of somebody who gives a shit about something. We all want to be given a shit about. We want to use tools that were given shits about, we want to eat meals that were prepared with the love of someone who gives a shit. Right?

Yeah. So I guess that’s why I’m drawn to people who care about things. It’s just beautiful to witness. It’s life-affirming. It’s hope-creating.

And I was telling another friend– one of the people that I’m falling in love with (I mean this phrase in a very different sense from the classic “I am experiencing attraction towards this person that I would like to see culminate in kissing and touching and tender nicknames” sense)– that it’s… so strange how we get caught up with things like Dreams And Ambitions, like some sort of prim and proper little stock statement we’re all supposed to have. It’s all posturing.

Uhh. I’m sleepy. 40 words to go. What can I say that I’d like to read later? What would I like to remind myself? Hey, Visa… go and bathe, then go and sleep. You’d like to read that you tried to be responsible.

 

0463 – when does a boy become a man?

When does a boy become a man? In some societies- tribal cultures in particular- there are very explicit initiation rituals and ceremony. You’re a boy, you go through the initiation, now you’re a man. And perhaps there’s a later initiation where a man becomes an elder.

Before there were widespread public schools, boys were apprentices- and you probably became a man when you finished your initation.

I get the sense that in some ways, masculinity and manhood, in the classical sense, is fundamentally economic. In tribes or nomadic bands, you become a man when you begin to hunt, begin to provide food, become able to provide for a family. A child is fragile (literally). It’s a dependent on its hosts, like a parasite (only I guess parasites are unwelcome, while we’re wired to love and want children to pass our genes on to or something.)

Modern civilization is interesting. It seems to have been so successful at providing for itself that it doesn’t need as many Men (in the economic sense) as before. And this can be a good thing- it allows for the care of the disabled, it allows for the development of art, poetry and so on. (Though that’s definitely reductive. Art predates agriculture and industrialization. And I believe in the earlier days artists were supported by wealthy patrons. It was also a way to make a living.)

Aside- it’s interesting to think about the role of art in difficult times. Lee Kuan Yew was a man who appreciated literature, but when he became Prime Minister of Singapore he insisted that poetry was a luxury that we couldn’t afford. I suppose what he meant was that we couldn’t afford to spend tax money on it when there were more life-and-death concerns like housing and healthcare. At the same time I think it’s quite well understood that art helps people cope with life. I’m thinking of how LKY read poetry to his wife when she was bedridden, and of that heart-rending rendition of Home by the visiting choir at LKY’s wake. And reports of how the first acts of healing following 9/11 were people singing in the streets. Karl Paulnack’s speech.

Pause.

I spent some time asking people about their thoughts, mostly along the lines of, when does a boy become a man? There were some joke answers, and some questioning-the-question (I’m well aware that masculinity and manhood are social constructs- I’m not looking for some absolute answer, I’m looking to understand what people think about manhood themselves, whether it be ideas they inherited, reacted against or outright rejected. I don’t want to delve too deep into the meta-analysis- the objective of this whole pursuit is to better understand and appreciate the relationship I have with myself and my own self-identified.

Pause.

What is the point of all of this? If I were honest with myself I’m still looking for some sort of validation. I’m still looking for some sort of proof or evidence that I’ve grown up. I was telling a couple of other friends– I still feel hurt and frustration from all the things I’ve been told about me since I was a kid– uncooporative, stubborn, disruptive, lazy, not hardworking enough, etc. I’m doing these vomits partially to show that, fuck it, if I want something, I’m going to work towards it, and I’m going to keep going, and keep going, and keep going, and nobody’s going to stop me. I think that’s part of how I grow up. ALthough I think a part of growing up will also mean being a little less petty, a little less obsessed with other people think about me. I have to grow out of that, I have to seek my own self-respect. Which is a bit of a paradox type thing– if you’re still a child, self-respect doesn’t really mean anything. Self-respect requires some sort of internal “higher self” to respect the whole.

It’s funny. After all of this thinking and shaking and spinning, I find that there isn’t really anything big, anything groundshattering, anything different. What I thought was interesting is that there’s a fundamentally economic thing about being a man and growing up– I don’t mean money, I mean in terms of resource and energy allocation in the most abstract, general sense. About being responsible, about taking responsibility, about consulting and engaging with reality, about navigating and negotiating reality. And when I spend time here, inside my head, away from my friends and peers, I find myself thinking… I really want to get better at all of that. What changes when I’m around people? I guess I become performative. I start thinking about how to look good, rather than how to actually be good. I think I’ve gotten a little better at knowing the difference over the years, and I’m becoming better and better at controlling myself, avoiding saying stupid things.

Should a person be in a rush to grow up? That’s always going to sound silly. But I’ve always felt like I’ve been trailing behind somehow. And I’m betting that that feeling is going to persist for a long time, I’m not sure if I’ll be satisfied somewhere in the middle. I mean, I can and should learn to appreciate wherever I am at any given moment, that’s part of appreciation and fulfillment and all that.

It’s weird, before I started writing this I felt like there was a lot that I needed to unpackage here. But now that I’m here, I guess maybe because I’ve talked about it so much with several different people, it feels like there isn’t really anything that needs to be said. I was once a child. I was once a silly, stupid boy who made mistakes, was brash, naive, rough around the edges, messy. I’m not quite the man I want to be yet, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be. But I have made progress, and I will continue to make progress. And eventually I will be at a point where I’m moving faster than my circumstances, at least, faster than the circumstances that I’m used to, the tempo that has been seered into my brain as the pace that my life was supposedly supposed to be.

All of this is an incredibly roundabout, convoluted way of saying that I’m doing a fuck ton of due dillegence before I say my piece, do what I wilt, become the person that I personally think I ought to be. These vomits are roundabout and convoluted by nature, and/but I’ll finish them because I said I would. That’s one of the things a man does.

 

0462 – beware grandiose proclamations

I have a few more minutes, I might as well try to hammer another one out. Let’s check my Trello / Evernote / Workflowy for writing prompts.

Actually, it’s amusing how many of my old writing prompts don’t really feel very relevant anymore. I have prompts from 2010 that now feel like they’re just “stating the obvious”, things like asymmetrical warfare, resourcefulness, EQ, mutually beneficial outcomes. I used to want to write about those things as ideas– literally, to sit down and reflect on why EQ is good and important. Today it seems self-evident. I suppose it’s because I’ve been thinking and talking about them, by myself and with people, for a long time now. So I’ve probably internalized them to some degree. If I wanted to write about those things now, what would I write about? I guess I’d just ask myself– okay, if this is something that I’ve supposedly internalized as true and valid, what’s stopping me from embodying it at a Heroic level? Let’s focus on say, resourcefulness and mutually beneficial outcomes. Am I the most resourceful person I know? Nope. Do I consistently create mutually beneficial outcomes in my life? Not as much as I’d like.

Do I want to be? Yes, on both counts– at least to a degree that I personally find admirable and respectable. I’d like to be a person whom, if I met for coffee, I’d personally be impressed by. (You could say that we’d only be impressed by people who are superior to us, and since you can’t be superior to yourself, you’ll never be impressed by yourself. I think that’s fair… so it’s got to be a little more nuanced. Just… someone worthy, someone worth living up to, someone worth treating with respect as an equal. If I’m honest with myself, the more exalted, idealistic part of me considers the rest of me to be a bit of a wastrel-bum. I mentioned it hundreds of vomits ago, and I’m mentioning it again.)

Okay, so what’s stopping me from being more resourceful? Resourcefulness comes from within, it’s a skill that’s demonstrated precisely when we lack resources. It’s about being proactive, creative, seeing many different ways of doing something, trying alternate paths. Actually… is resourcefulness even a problem for me? I mean… I think my problem is that I don’t even properly utilize the resources that I DO have. That’s my problem. It’s not that I don’t have enough resources. I can’t imagine telling anybody with a straight face that I don’t have enough resources. I have reasonably good health, I earn a reasonable amount of money, I have access to intelligent people and the magic of the Internet… I have a lot of resources! So why do I misallocate my resources still? And I think that is related to the deficit of mutually beneficial outcomes. Or even just personally benefiical outcomes (I suppose “mutual” in the personal sense means “beneficial now and beneficial later”, where most of the time I tend to pick what is “beneficial now”, such as staying up too late, eating unhealthy, smoking cigarettes, procrastinating on work I know I should be doing, and so on.)

I have enough experience by now to know that grand proclamations are overrated and they don’t make that much of a difference. The actual challenge is more akin to trying to keep good posture. You can’t win a good posture award by standing really still for some amount of time and then keep the award despite slouching all your life. Posture comes from slow and steady practice, and you can never let down, never give up. So it is with being responsible, so it is with making full use of your resources, so it is with being a generally responsible, effective individual. And if I were being honest with myself, there’s STILL something about that prospect that’s a little scary. This is a demon I need to slay. It might be some sort of misconception, I might be ignorant about something, I might be framing the problem wrong, it might be an irrational “Ugh Field” that’s screwing with me. I was reading a bit of Prozac Nation, where the author talks about how the great worry is that there isn’t a way out of depression– everybody says that there is, but what if there isn’t, for you? What if you spend a lifetime trying to pretend to be happy, trying to embody happiness, and you take the drugs and follow the therapy only to find that you’re just as hollow as ever, just as empty as ever, and you were suffering needlessly?

It’s a sort of shitty poverty mindset that’s really hard to avoid, really hard to escape from, really hard to rewire. Part of the reason I do these word vomits is to try and rewire my brain, to try and remind myself to zoom out and see the big picture– not a grand idealistic “I want to go to Mars” fantasy pipe-dream that’s so far out, so vague and inaccessible that it’s really no different from buying a sniff of hope every time you go to buy a lottery ticket. That’s not what I need. I need to take lots of little specific actions that I know I can do.

I’m not depressed, but I suppose the hurdle for me is the limiting belief that I’ll never be able to be truly on top of my shit. That my whole life is going to be me just trying to explain and rationalize to myself and anybody who’s unfortunately subject to my BS that I’m trying my best, that I’m working hard, that I’m trying to make a difference… but then at the end of it all, I’m still the same old shitty me.

But I’m realizing from looking at my old statuses that this isn’t true. I HAVE grown and progressed. I AM accomplishing more. I AM stronger now. I AM able to commit to things and see them through. I AM more responsible, even if I still lapse occasionally the lapses are fewer and further in between.

So I don’t need to commit to something as epic and grand as turning my life around, whatever that means. That’s just setting myself up for failure. What I can do is to complete another word vomit. And another. And ship a blogpost for work. And another. And fulfill my next obligation. And another. And we’ll meet again, 6 months from now, 2-3 years from now, and we’ll find that we’re different people, and we’ll wonder why we were so anxious, silly, afraid.

 

0461 – we are all miseducated – accept it and deal with it

Gonna dash out a quick vomit before I go to bed. It’s a little late, but it’s just one of those days. Bought some new furniture with the wife and assembled it later on, making my house look a little different again. I guess the main thought on my mind is change, and how things progress, how attitudes change, how perspectives change, how constant-ness is really a sort of illusion, how fragile it is and how much things… well, change.

I look at myself in the mirror and I look at pictures of myself from 2-3 years ago and I find myself thinking, sometimes I really don’t know who I am anymore. And that’s a good thing. That’s exciting. It means that things are going to be different. It means that life is going to be interesting and challenging. At some point in my life I was starting to feel like I had learnt most of everything I was ever going to learn, and that everything else was just going to be really small little increments. The grand leaps were over. Or so it seemed.

I don’t know if I’ll have any real big grand leaps anymore– I suppose having kids would be the next epic life-changing thing, if I ever ended up having them or if I ever wanted that sort of change. But beyond that things are changing anyway. I’ve been talking about meatbag management quite a bit, and I’ve been doing more reading about the human meatbag– particularly, trying to fill in all the gaps of the standard childhood education. Hormones, lymph nodes, the nervous system, things like that. I realize there’s so much I still don’t know. And there’s more possibility than I can imagine. My vision for the future is, despite my best efforts, incredibly limited by my consciousness and my perspective, and I should really keep that fact in mind.

Got rid of a bunch of books that I was never going to read. That was an interesting change. From 2010 to 2012, I accumulated as many cheap books as I possibly could, thinking that I’d really enjoy having the options of being able to read anything from a wide range of subjects that loosely interested me. But as I filled my home with them, over time I started to feel a bit stifled. Like I had put some sort of pressure on myself to do reading that I wasn’t doing, and then I was feeling a little guilty about it. But I realized eventually that the real truth (I think!) was that my context had changed– I no longer have the sort of boundless freedom I did as a teenager where, in the absence of context or constraints, it made sense to read really widely about really obscure or abstract things. I had a book about essays about the politics of music and language and things like that, really dense stuff. And I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m never going to go that deep into that sort of thing, there’s too many other things that are competing for my attention.

My wife was telling me about how… one of the important things about decluttering, the fundamental philosophy of decluttering, is that you give up all the parallel fantasy-lives that you think you might want to live, in order to focus on the life that you’re actually living. And I think it’s important for me to do that. Writing these vomits is a part of my actual-life that I want to live, and so I’m choosing to write this instead of dicking around on the internet, even though I’m really sleepy and lazy. The wife is in the shower so hey why not.

I think an idea that has been on my mind is– just this realization (I feel like I alluded to this in the last vomit) that nobody really prepares you for life. School doesn’t really do it. Parents (in my case, at least) don’t really do it. It’s something that you sort of have to figure out for yourself. And I suppose in a sense that’s the best way to learn anything, right? Self-directed. And there ARE mentors and teachers out there who are incredibly generous, if you take the trouble to look. But I guess I still feel some resentment and some sort of sense of injustice for how miseducated I was… even though when I really zoom out I realize that the vast majority of all humans that have ever existed have had it worse than I, and me bitching and complaining about it doesn’t solve anything. It’s just a reaction to a situation or a realization, and it’s not a very thougthful reaction.

The thoughtful reaction would be to resolve to finally open my eyes, to truly wake up and focus on educating myself properly. And I’d like to think that I’ve been doing that, that these vomits have in some way been a way of me doing that, that the work I’ve been doing has been helping me do that, that marriage has been helping me do that. All of this is an education on how to live, how to make decisions, how to earn my own self-respect.

I know that the day will come where earning my own self-respect will be a lot harder than writing down 1000 words one after another. Even now, if I ask myself, “Do I really respect myself?” The answer is, “eh, you’re doing alright.” When I read statuses that I wrote on Facebook in 2008, 2010, I think, “Wow, I’ve come a long way. I’m so much more now. I would have been impressed, and proud.” I think. I might change my opinion on that. But the point is that earning my own self-respect is a constant challenge, and it’s a fun, interesting challenge. I still need to develop mastery when it comes to managing my own meatbag. Hopefully I won’t have to keep talking about it for another 100 vomits, hopefully by 600 I will be able to comfortably assume that my meatbag management is on track, on point, and I’ll be thinking about more complex, interesting problems. The dance goes on.

 

0460 – dance along to your internal compass

First a quick meatbag management review– I hit the gym about once a week for 3 weeks, and then took a break for a week (unintentional… was just busy with work and stuff). Then I went for a run today (in week 5) and did some pushups. And when I got home, I felt much more clearheaded than I normally do when I’m running. I think the main reason for that is improved diet– I haven’t even been sleeping super great, but my mind is clearer probably because my blood sugar levels are more stable, I’m eating healthier. So if I can just quickly correct my sleep too, that should give me a lot more mental energy to do all the things I want to do– prioritize my tasks better, work on harder tasks, so on.

So I’ve been just reflecting on all of that. I’m thinking, why does any of this matter? Why do I care about all of these things? Why do I think about them, why do I write about them, what do I want, what’s the point?

And I find myself thinking… the meatbag management stuff is just to be able to help me function effectively, so I can then be more optimal with regards to how I handle my life. I realize that I basically have never felt like “I’m on top of my life”. I’m always playing catch up. I know that to-do lists are always endless, but I still always feel like I’m behind on my obligations, like I’m not carrying my fair share in life. So all of this again is about me learning to provide myself with the structure and stability that I need in order to function effectively.

I found myself thinking about “goals, processes and values” – the three things (supposedly) that you can focus on in order to improve your life. And again, here I think “improve your life” isn’t about improving life itself, whatever that means, but about being better equipped to handle life’s challenges. I’ve never really been super clear about what sort of person I am. I have a bunch of goals but I’m not monomaniacal in pursuing them– it’s okay if I sorta screw up, because ultimately nothing matters anyway. I have a bunch of processes, and I’ve thought about them from time to time, and made some efforts to improve them here and there, but I’m not religiously obsessed about my processes, either. And values– sometimes I encounter individuals that I really admire and I think “I’d like to live a life that they’d admire / be proud of”, and that does feel quite sticky sometimes, but it always wears off (I guess the ‘answer’ there is that’s why we should revisit them every day– just like we shower and eat again and again every day.)

But again, I think it’s important to ask– if I’m going to be pursuing goals, why? If I’m going to be optimizing processes, why? If I’m going to be embodying values, why? I used to think in terms of things like “getting the most out of life”, and I’m sure I mentioned that just a couple of vomits ago, too. But even that can be a bit of a burdensome expectation. “Am I getting enough out of life?” is a question that, if you’re not careful with it, can make you feel incredibly unsatisfied, frustrated, unhappy– even though you’re probably having a better life than most humans who have ever lived.

So I find myself drawn towards thoughts about meditation, moments of being. And I find myself thinking about dance. Not sure why. Dance is just a nice metaphor for flow, maybe. The point is that life is a celebration, it’s a dance, it’s play. And the point of everything is to enjoy the dance, to enjoy playing. The problem is, there are all these difficulties and challenges that get in the way. Bills to pay, work to do. Constraints. And I was thinking about how those things need to be worked out, and worked into the dance. Doing gruntwork can still be meditative, and it should be. But we shouldn’t kick ourselves over not feeling all profound and deep about everything all the time.

I guess I’m floating around thoughts about attachment. Goals are nice to have, but the goals themselves aren’t the point. They’re just guidelines meant to serve the dance. Processes are important, they provide structure and stability. But the processes themselves aren’t the point, they exist to facilitate the dance. Values… I don’t quite feel qualified to talk about values, I think values are a very personal thing. I’m not sure if I can say “values themselves aren’t the point”, that seems to create some wordplay/complications, but I think values are also meant to guide and embody the dance. [1]

So the point is to DANCE. Or to meditate, or to Be, or whatever you want to call it. That requires skillfulness, and nothing in my life so far has particularly prepared me for it. (If you want to be cheesy, you could say that EVERYTHING in life prepares you for it, but again that’s a parlor game. The point is that life is its own challenge, and its own reward.)

So I guess this is just my personal affirmation that I don’t have to get too attached to anything, I don’t have to get too obsessed with anything. I can and should rely more on my internal compass, which I access through meditation, reflection, exercise and so on. The only thing I really need to do is to earn my own self-respect. And that doesn’t actually come easily. I know deep down when I’ve tried my best. I used to ask questions like, “But how do I actually know if I’ve tried my best, or if I’m bullshitting myself?” The answer to that question is to go for a run, hit the gym, do some writing, and just keep going until you feel like you have to stop, and then stop. You may second-guess that stop, but then just do it again the next time, and go a little further, lift a little more, write a little more. My internal compass has been muddied from a lifetime of misuse, but it’s still fundamentally functional– and I can get better at reading it with practice.

_____

[1] Lately I’ve been enjoying how Facebook has been surfacing old status updates through its “On This Day” function. I enjoy reading updates from my 18, 20 and 22 year old selves. I feel a lot of sympathy and compassion for how ignorant and naive I was. There are times where I needed a good kick in the ass, and other times where I needed gentle encouragement. I’m really enjoying replying to those old comments– it feels like I’m the older friend I wish I had. And here I find myself thinking, what will I think about my current statuses, etc 10 years from now? When I’m 35, what will I be amused about my 25 year old self? What will I be proud of? What should I do, thinking about this? I really love how Facebook and journalling etc allow us to experience time in such a prismatic way.

 

0459 – just a little tired

Here’s something that’s really quite funny. I wrote 4 word vomits last night with a sense of vigor and energy and alertness. And then I decided that I was going to wake up early– and so I asked my wife to wake us both up early (since she’s better at getting up than I am, sometimes, for some reason, I’m not entirely sure how it all works.) Anyway, so we woke up early, and I was rather sleepy and tired all day. So the lesson to revisit is– while I have been eating better, I need to eat better WHILE simultaneously sleeping early and waking earlier. Will be doing that, I’ll be dashing this vomit off really quickly and then showering and going to bed and waking up tomorrow morning as refreshed as possible. That’s the hope. I might drink 2 cups of coffee rather than 1 (I don’t drink coffee every single day, and I just drank one today). But I don’t want to fall into the trap of having to drink many coffees… I think that was a struggle I was stuck in a while ago because I was not well-fed, I wasn’t eating a hearty breakfast. I should probably eat more for breakfast as it is.

Anyway, so let this be a sort of review, because today I experienced my mind as it is when I’m a little tired. And it’s just not as effective. It doesn’t cut as sharp. I remember writing a couple of days about having a sort of good-anxiety, a nervous energy shaking through me through my fingers to the screen. Right now my head is slightly aching in a dull way, it just feels a little heavy. The words are coming out because I’m just describing my present state, but I don’t think I could do work in this state. (That’s an interesting thing to pursue and examine– it’s probably a function of the precision of instructions that I give myself. The more precise the instructions, the less thinking required to follow them. The mistake I seem to be making with my life (I’ve definitely, definitely written about this before) is that I’m not sufficiently precise with the instructions I give myself. I keep saying things like, “oh, I’ll figure it out”. But the question is, how much have I figured out, really? There’s only so far I can go with improvisation.

I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time, and have definitely written about it before too– the precise question I remember asking is, how long on average does it take a 10-years-of-smoking smoker to quit smoking, from the moment he first decides that he’s going to quit? Obviously it’s going to fall on a bell curve of some kind, I think. What does that look like? And can we discern what the variables are that determine where a person falls along the curve? It’s unlikely to be purely random, I think. Some people are more able to do things than others, some people have better structures, genetics plays a role, so on and so forth.

So what is it that I need to do to solve my “I cannot improvise” problem? I’ve been talking about it a lot. I’ve written many many vomits about it; every time I sit down I know that I’ve written about it before. I feel like I’m only finally really getting started on my meatbag management problems– sleep, nutrition. And I’ve been keeping a relatively steady calendar of my activities, but I haven’t been able to stick to it as religiously as I would like to. But that’s completely understandable– if I were able to simply start using a calendar rigorously just by deciding to do it, I would have done it a long time ago. There’s always some set of interconnected, Gordian reasons that keep me from doing something that I think or say I want to do. I realize I had some sort of deep rooted psychological issues with food. I think I probably do with sleep, too, in some way. Have I explored those things properly? I think the food stuff I’ve written, I think sleep… I’ve tried, but it might be worth another shot. And beyond that… What’s beyond that? It’ll just be eating and sleeping well. To be fair to myself, I’m not HORRIBLY exhausted– I think I used to feel like this practically every single day, and some of these were “good days”. Problem solved just by having breakfast. So now it’s just about fixing the sleep part at the same time. I can se the next local maxima just within reach. I’m going to head there and grab it. And having grabbed it, I can then sit down and think about what the NEXT maxima outside my immediate radar might be.

What will it be? It’ll probably be using my newfound mental clarity to plan my time much more rigorously. To give myself much more precise instructions, to take all the guesswork and “i’ll figure it outs” and “i’ll improvise” out of it. The language is problematic. I say “I’ll improvise”, and I THINK I mean that “I’ll improvise”, but it’s really… I don’t want to worry about this now, let’s not worry about this now, let’s ignore it until it becomes a serious problem. I only deal with serious problems. There’s a voice in my head that thinks that, for sure. “I only deal with serious problems”. I know how ridiculous this is when I’m observing it in reality. How silly it is that we try to deal with problems downstream once they become huge issues. But why not just address them upstream? Because it doesn’t seem like a big deal upstream, maybe. Or because we’re so caught up firefighting downstream that we’re tired, we don’t have the energy to go up.

It’s all energy management. And I’m getting better at managing mine. I’m going to get even better still. I’m going to bed. G’night

 

0458 – oceanic moments of being

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time exploring this more wet, dark, feminine, touchy-feely spiritual side of myself. I am not ashamed of it. I like to think that I’m a fundamentally logical and scientific person, but I also think that there are limitations when we force ourselves to be perfectly scientific and logical. I believe that it’s necessary from time to time to suspend disbelief and to just explore curiosity and craziness with a certain madness. The challenge of course is to remain sane at the end of it, and to then pick everything up and go on with life.

Moments Of Being – I was introduced to this idea in a book by Gabrielle Roth titled Connections, and she in turn talked about Virginia Woolf’s idea about Moments of Being (which happens to be the title of her memoirs).

A moment of being, as I interpret it, is one of those “oceanic feeling” moments, when life seems startlingly clear, lucid, and you just feel this deep sense of being present. There’s more to it but that will do for now.

I find myself thinking about the moments like that I’ve had- and I find myself wondering if I’ve already written about them. I wrote one in word vomit 0035, when I had just gotten married. I’m very glad I have that piece of writing- it’s a snapshot of my life that I wouldn’t be able to recreate from memory, at least not very well. On hindsight, I regret that I haven’t captured more of such moments.

I would really like, at the end of my life, or halfway through it, to have a collection of my own Moments of Being. But what do I really mean when I say that? I definitely don’t want to spend my life cataloging my life instead of living it. Living is important. But I’d like to know that I have lived. I think in this case a record is a sort of transformational… perspective? You travel the world differently when you travel a camera versus travelling without. And I do think there is a lot of value in “travelling without cameras”. Once upon a time, when people travelled, there was no internet, and they couldn’t stay constantly in contact with their loved ones. A person going on a road trip or something might be virtually uncontactable for years before they showed up again. That had its pros and cons, and the cons were probably far worse than we remember. Rose tinted glasses and all.

The unexamined life is not worth living. The unlived life is not worth examining. What I seek is the balance between the two. I’d like to live my life enough that it’s worth examining, and I’d like to examine enough of my life to know that it’s worth living. I think the best way I do this is by writing. When I revisit my “HDB” piece, I feel love. I feel compassion. I relate to my younger self. I feel joy for him, at what has happened of his life. And I feel a little bit disappointed, feeling like I didn’t completely do him justice. And I thik both of those things are useful emotions and feelings to have. I’d like to look back 5 years from now on THESE pieces of writing and think, “Goddamn, Visa, I wish you could’ve known then how awesome you were going to become. How beautifully you’d be doing. How much you’d serve others. How much others would be proud of you. How proud you would be of YOURSELF. How much self-respect you’d earn.”

Is it possible to achieve that without writing? Quite possibly. But memories are fallible, and mine are worse than most. We reconstruct our memories each time we remember them, and put them in a narrative that makes sense to us at the present time. It makes sense to capture snapshots of the past because they provide us with real and useful things to compare our present against. I’m rationalizing, of course. I’m a writer, and I’m going to be writing. But I might as well write things that will be useful to me, rather than things that I’m going to be skipping over. I can’t be 100% sure what I’m going to be skipping over, and it’s not going to be possible for every single moment to be an oceanic moment of being. But I’d like more of them.

Time may prove that I’m being silly, that you can’t collect oceanic moments, and that trying to do it is sort of futile. But I disagree. I’m young and arrogant and stubborn, and I disagree. I’m reminded of a TED talk of a guy talking about his motorcycle– Stefan Sagmiester, talking about Happiness By Design. I’m looking at the transcript now– he talked about how he experienced a moment of happiness when he borrowed his brother’s motorcycle, and rode mountains while listening to The Police on his new Sony Walkman. Now that’s an oceanic moment of being if I’ve ever heard of one. It’s just so… inferrable? There’s something about the choice of details. You know how he must have felt. Young and alive and free and full of life and possibility.

I think that’s something to strive for in life, it’s worth a shot. I mean, we’re going to be here on this rock for some period of time, some long lazy afternoon. We might as well talk to some people. Play in the sand a little. Swim a little. Feel the sun on our backs. Eat some good food. Laugh. Play. That’s what we’re here for. To have a good time. I mean, we might as well. Part of that means living with joyful abandon, part of it means writing with great discipline. And vice versa and blah blah.

There’s a whole meta thing to be considered about whether we’re ultimately fooling or cheating ourselves in some way, but I’m guessing reality doesn’t give a shit. We figure out some sustainable story to tell ourselves, and if it corresponds with our map of reality, it’s good enough for us. Most people don’t even manage that. I don’t know, I don’t have to solve everything in one night. But I feel like I got a good shake out of this, so good night!