0507 – what does love mean to you?

“Can I be totally honest with you?”

“Sure.”

“Huh. It’s funny– I didn’t actually rehearse what I was going to tell you. I have some short-hand thoughts in my mind, but blurting those out would be silly–”

“Hm? Silly why?”

“Because it’s not even what I actually think. The truth is something more…nuanced than what I am tempted to say, and if I say it – “it” being a really shitty shorthand that’s totally misleading and insufficient – then I’d be doing the exact opposite of what it is that I want to do.”

“Wait. Uh… so what is it that you want to do?”

“I want to… God, this is tough.”

“Seems like it!”

“Okay, okay, I got it. I should start with questions. What does love mean to you?”

“HAHAHA. What?!”

“Okay, that was a bit…”

“Out of the blue?”

“Yeah, I know… Was it, though? I mean, we’ve known each other for like, 2 years now.”

“Wow, yeah.”

“See! And I don’t even know what love means to you!”

“Hahahaha. You ask the strangest things…”

“There’s a reason, though. You see, I used to just blurt things at people. And then they’d misunderstand me, because their interpretation of what I said was entirely different from what I meant.”

“That kinda sucks.”

“Yeah. So for me to actually communicate what I want to communicate, I need to understand your context better. I need to know what you think, and how you think, and then I can explain myself to you in a way that makes sense to you.”

“Sounds like a lot of work.”

“Yeah, but isn’t it the most important thing, though? We all talk to people every day without ever knowing whether they actually hear what we mean. People get married and spend decades of their lives together thinking, ‘My husband never listens to me’. I mean, how tragic is that?”

“Very tragic.”

“Yeah. So, I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna be that way, not with anybody. Which is why I ask these strange questions.”

“Aww…”

“I know right, I’m a total charmer. But seriously though. What does love mean to you.”

“Well… what kind of love are we talking about?”

“You tell me. I wanna know what comes to your mind. What kind of love do you think we’re talking about?”

“Uh… I’m assuming you mean romantic love? Nobody really asks about family, or friendship, though I think those things are equally important if not more so. And love for a craft, or movies, or architecture…”

“Mmhm…”

“So, romantic love?”

“I wanna hear it all. Architecture too.”

“Well, I love how good art makes me feel. I rarely cry, but once in a while a good movie makes me cry. I… enjoy that.”

“Why?”

“Wow, I don’t know. It just feels good, I guess. Like a good shower.”

“You like showers?”

“Uh, who doesn’t? Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do. I guess everybody loves showers.”

“It’s one of the few times where you can be absolutely, blissfully alone. Might just be my favorite 10-20 minutes every day. I would shower several times a day if I could. I think we should have hot showers at work, and we should shower in the middle of the work day. It’ll be glorious.”

“Isn’t it interesting, though… what’s the difference between being blissfully alone and being painfully alone?”

“Jeez, you’re just full of big questions!”

“Yeah. I… that’s just who I am, really. Mr. Big Questions. Always have been, probably always will be. I can stop if you want me to stop, though. Do you have work to do or something?”

“No, I got a minute. What was the question again? You have so many.”

“What does love mean to you, and what’s the difference between being blissfully alone and painfully alone.”

“Oh, I know how to answer the second one. Blissfully alone is when you’re free from other people’s bullshit– away from demands and obligations and errands and all that shit. Like, oh my god, seriously…”

“Hahahaha.”

“I think that’s the main thing I didn’t expect about adulthood. All the obligations and responsibilities. Bills, bills, bills. And weddings to attend. And parents getting old. I mean, I sorta anticipated that stuff, but I didn’t realize how hard it would hit.”

“Yeah, that’s the reason why adults are so boring. When I was a kid, I used to think, why aren’t adults more exciting? They have money! Can’t they do more fun stuff? Why don’t they have cooler haircuts? And then I realized. Bills, motherfucker. Bills. Have you met my mortgage?”

“Hahaha! I can totally imagine you as a kid. You must have been so annoying.”

“That… was a painfully astute observation.”

“Heh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s what I like about you. It’s why I bother to talk to you, anyway.”

“Aww, thanks.”

“In a way, adults are morbidly exciting. It’s just that all the excitement is on the inside. Should I kill myself today? Or should I drink whiskey and drunk-dial my ex? So many possibilities!”

“That got dark real quick.”

“It’s true, man. I think the real dark thing about life isn’t the dark stuff, but that we whitewash it away. I was on reddit and there was a post about horrifying sporting accidents– there was one in the 80s or 90s– ice hockey accident, one guy’s blades slit another guy’s throat, and there was blood gushing all over the ice–”

“Jesus fucking christ–”

“Yeah, he was okay in the end though, and he was really lucky because his medic was an ex-combat medic who served in Vietnam, and the fella ran over instantly and saved him by PINCHING HIS GODDAM JUGULAR VEIN WITH HIS FINGERS–”

“What the fuck. What the fuck. What the-”

“Anyway, that’s not the dark part. The dark part is… when the announcers saw what happened, they freaked out and cut to an ad. So when you watch the video, there’s a Buick ad playing while a person is possibly dying on the rink, with tens of thousands of people watching.”

“That’s messed up.”

“That’s life, man. That’s the dark part. The smiles and the civility. Barbarians must be traumatized by civilization. We live and mate in captivity, we keep our animals in boxes and breed them to eat them… it’s dystopian as fuck when you think about it.”

“Damn.”

“Anyway, so you explained the blissfully alone bit, what about the painfully alone bit?”

“Uh… I’ll have to think about that one and get back to you. Also I got some work to finish up. We should totally chat about this later, though. Coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Please no more stories about blades and throats and the dystopian nature of reality, though.”

“Aw man, but that’s my favorite part!”

“Of course it would be. Laters!”

 

0506 – More Power

I’ve got a few minutes so I thought I’d run through the blog manifesto I’ve been putting together. I’ve been doing in on Workflowy, which is a great thinking tool. But I somehow also always enjoy writing my thoughts out in full sentences. [1]

Here we go. The first thought that came to my mind when trying to put together my blog manifesto [2] is “More Power.” I think I thought of this in contrast to Less Wrong. I’m not sure why I was thinking about Less Wrong in particular. I was also thinking about The Red Pill, which is a little too “ideological” for my taste. People get all macho and chest-beaty in there, and I’m not a big fan of that. (I think it’s good to be strong and fit, but I don’t think it’s necessary to lord it around. Not saying that all of TRP does that, but there’s just something in the air about the place that turns me off.)

Less Wrong has a bit more of what I like, but it also seems has its own weakness (in my opinion), in that it gets all pedantic and bean-county. People get very invested into their intellectual identities and get into all these protracted arguments. I’d prefer a more “Nassim Taleb” sort of LessWrong, if one existed. That said, while I enjoyed Taleb’s books (and I enjoyed meeting him in person– he’s actually really warm and friendly), I’m not such a big fan of the community on his Facebook page. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Something feels “pretentious”. [3] I don’t mean that as an attack on anybody’s character, I’m sure they’re good people. But something doesn’t quite sit well with me. I don’t feel like I can participate well in the community. That’s on me, not them.

I’ve always been on the lookout for a really great community that I can really feel a part of. I think Quora from 2011 to 2013 was like that for me, but it isn’t quite the same anymore. What happened? I’m not sure. It could be the evaporative cooling effect.

Anyway, I don’t want to attack any community. Communities are difficult to manage and run. I’ve tried before. It’s not easy. People are messy. Handling disagreements and conflicts is hard. I might give it another shot some day in the future. I guess the best way to start would be by writing blogposts that I personally believe are strongly representative of the kind of place that I’d like to be, and then I can invite people to it, invite guest posts, and slowly build something from there. That would be nice. [4]

But what is my top priority? My top priority is improving my own thinking. But the idea isn’t simply to get better at thinking for the sake of thinking (because that can lead to a sort of “thinking porn”, or “insight porn”), but to get better at thinking in order to take better actions and to become progressively more powerful.

Power became a dirty word at some point, but it’s really a neutral one. Power is the ability to effect change. The more power you have, the more change you can enact. I’m talking about personal power, dominion over self. I’m curious about an interplay of discipline, motivation, focus, habits, routines, beliefs, perspective, nutrition, exercise, conversations, creativity and so on.

I know there are thousands of blogs out there that talk about all sorts of similar things. There’s the whole “lifestyle design” blogosphere where people usually talk about travelling and living at beaches… I’m actually not very interested in that.

What am I interested in, then? There are startup blogs, talking about how to do startups, which tend to be tied in with the PR of the companies that are being run… and to be honest I’m not very interested in doing anything very much like that either. (I might do it if it suits my interests, but I don’t think it’s in my interests right now, and it feels like there are other things that I’m more interested in.)

I want to find some peace and calm within myself, but I’m not exactly interested in starting a Zen blog. Leo Babuta’s got that one covered. I recently observed that Zizek is like a mix of Alan Watts, Louis CK and Nassim Taleb all in one. Well, who am I? What am I? I am a mix of all my influences, obviously. But what do I need to talk about? I’m probably overthinking it a little.

I suppose I should go back to the core of my manifesto. More Power. I googled “Power Blog” and found a bunch of motivational drivel. Blah. That doesn’t work. I fantasize of getting into the “power neighborhood” of folks like Zuck, Gates, Musk and so on, but I realize that I’m not so sure if I’ll be able or willing to build large companies. And it definitely seems that if you want to achieve things at that scale, you have to involve other people, and that almost always involves building organizations. (Which, as Musk pointed out, is just a group of people coming together with a common purpose to achieve something.)

So maybe I’m getting ahead of myself and thinking too far ahead. For now the questions I need to answer are– what are the things I can do to increase my personal power in my own life to do the things that I want to do, without being sleazy and smarmy about it? This 1,000,000 word project is one of them. I suppose I’ll do similar things for other things that I care about. Experiments that aren’t meant to be shocking or crazy, just good, simple experiments. And I’ll write about them and accumulate data and see how it goes. For now, it’s time for bed.

_____

[1] I’m not sure why that is, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is, and that in itself is something worth exploring in a separate vomit. I think it might be as simple as this: full sentences forces me to use a “natural, organic” pacing. Bullet points and diagrams, on the other hand, can get really messy and technical. But organic writing can get messy too, so I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a “know it backwards and forwards” thing.

[2] Which in turn is shorthand for “thinking manifesto”, since my blog is where I want to do my public, precise thinking.

[3] Pretentious is a very pretentious word, which is almost as frustrating as “lisp” having an “s” in it.

[4] I suppose I could theoretically do that for my Singapore blog, too, and that would be particularly worth doing because then I would be able to build relationships with people in the city that I live in. Which would be nice.

 

0505 – troubleshooting stories, pt 2

A: Where were we?

B: We were troubleshooting your first story. It’s about growing up, and how that requires losing your solipsism and cluelessness in the crossfire of reality. And you said that the ending would be about not knowing, and learning that you have to live with that.

A: Yeah. I wonder if that’s a shitty ending. Another one of Emma Coats’ rules is that you should throw out the first thing that comes to mind, and the second and third, so that you eventually surprise yourself.

B: What are the other possible endings?

A: I guess one obvious one would be ending with a lot of pain and suffering, and just confronting the bleak meaninglessness of everything. I’m feeling a little guilty talking about this because I know that it’s a bad idea before I even floated it.

B: Whatever. Next idea?

A: Another one that would be interesting would be to end with literal euphoria– an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy at the possibilities of life. I intellectually can sort of see how that might be, and I find myself thinking that would be better than the “learn to live with not knowing” thing, because it does feel like that’s been sorta overdone in recent times. I find myself thinking of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and how it ends with the protagonist making a phone call “in the place that is no place” or something like that. Very zen and uncertain and flux.

B: You’re losing me.

A: Sorry. I guess all I need to know or say is that… the idea of ending with “learn to live with not knowing” doesn’t feel like a great ending. It doesn’t feel like I’d have “gotten” anywhere. I’m already sort of there, I already sort of grasp it. I suppose if I could drive myself into a wall with it really hard and have it blow up in my face, and find some sort of beauty in that, that would be great. But I’m not so confident in my abilities to achieve that in a single short story. Or at all, with my present writing skills.

B: Okay, let’s simplify. So you feel that ending with some sort of euphoria would be better than “being comfortable not knowing”.

A: Yeah. I imagine that the “not knowing” part would have to be baked into the euphoria anyway. Better to focus on the euphoria then.

B: Very well. But do you have any more ideas?

A: I suppose another one might end with, service to others is the answer. But that feels a little cheesy and I’m not feeling that very much right now.

B: Any others?

A: No, I think that’s it. I think going from blissful ignorance to uncertainty to joy is a nice, straightforward and yet challenging trajectory that I’d like to explore.

B: So can you start on the story now?

A: Uhh… I’m still missing some things, I think.

B: Such as?

A: Where should the story be set? I don’t want it to be overly specific. I suppose it should be in something that seems like present-day, or the near future. I’d probably like to incorporate present technology into it, because I think things like social media and the Internet are very important, powerful things and we ought to examine those things in fiction. Those are things that aren’t being adequately captured, I feel. Nobody’s really doing justice to them.

B: Okay, so your character has access to modern technology. It’s not fantasy, it’s not sci-fi.

A: Yeah.

B: What else? What’s left?

A: So now I need to know what the conflict is going to be. Is it just going to be one man alone in his room? I guess that could work. I don’t really want to introduce multiple characters, because that makes things more complicated. I should just do one person really, really well.

B: So get cracking?

A: I wonder though, what should I do about backstory? What are this character’s specifications? What is his family situation? What are his finances like, what were his childhood dreams, you know?

B: I think those are things that you can afford to figure out along the way. You’re not publishing a novel, you’re just writing short stories.

A: Yeah, good point.

B: So, what’s the story?

A: Well, I know the starting conditions and I know where I want the guy to go. But I haven’t thought about what the conflict is. I think that’s what’s missing. There needs to be some sort of stress, some sort of frustration, some sort of difficulty for the person to have to overcome in order for the story to be interesting.

B: So what do you think is an interesting conflict?

A: I don’t think I have the luxury of trying to pick a conflict like I’m choosing something to eat or wear. Instead I have to recognize the conflict that’s already on my mind, and find a way to express that.

B: What’s the conflict on your mind?

A: I don’t want to be cheesy, but I guess I should start cheesy and then try to make it less cheesy. But I’m thinking some sort of eternal conflict, the struggle to make something out of life against the bleakness of death. The attempt to find joy and beauty and meaning against the inexorable passage of time. Those are the real villains. Death. Time. Ignorance. Entropy. Indifference.

B: Those are big things.

A: Yeah, so I guess I need to make them smaller. I’ve really been thinking about the passage of time a lot. I was reading an earlier vomit and I enjoy this little point I made about how when a person is gone from your life, even for a little while, you’re sort of lobotomized a little bit. Because you develop an entire language together, made up not just of words but of shared experiences, shared motifs, inside jokes. And when that person is gone, you can’t exactly just share those things with other people instead. You have to find different things altogether.

B: That’s pretty nice. I mean, it’s bittersweet.

A: Yeah, maybe I’ll write about that.

 

0504 – the pebble in the shoe is worse than a rocky road

Woke up pretty late today after a long night shooting video game villains with my friends. Had a nice afternoon coffee with my wife and then spent the day together in the study. I was reading my old vomits, from 0051 to 0100. What have I learnt?

The first thing is that a lot of it was drivel. Which is totally understandable and to be expected. Not every word was going to be a gem, and it was going to be especially bad in the earlier vomits when I was still really self-conscious about what I was doing. I kept explaining myself, and I kept second-guessing myself. I do that less now, and I think that trend will continue as I keep moving.

The second thing is, thankfully, that there are definitely some gems in there for me to unearth, polish and revisit. There were moments in which I was honest with myself in ways that I probably wouldn’t be able to replicate on the spot, unless I experienced the same mental state that I was experiencing then. This excites me, because this means that I will be able to better prepare for the future. The better I understand how I am when I’m down, and the better I understand how I make mistakes, the better I’ll be able to take corrective and preventive measures moving forward. I’m talking about everything from the way I manage my time and energy to my own thought patterns.

What’s changed? There was definitely more of a focus on external events before. I was talking about things like going to space, and making a difference to Singapore, grand things like that. Those are still things that I care about, but I’ve stripped away a lot of the details and reduced it to “unlock these challenges when I have crossed the necessary thresholds”. I’ve come to realize that the external reality is a manifestation of our inner realities.

Let’s unpackage that and explore that a little more closely. Obviously it’s a lot more complex than it sounds. External reality is always a limiting factor. But internal realities (my own psychology, my own beliefs, my thought patterns, my decision-making system, my energy levels, my tactics and strategies and how I impliment them) are ALSO a limiting factor. And we have far more control over our internal realities and immediate circumstances than the bigger, broader external realities. [1]

We can and should modify our immediate environments to suit our desired end-states better. I’ve always been a little slow to do this– the biggest thing I’ve done recently is modify two of the rooms in my house to become a study and a gym respectively, which has in turn changed my behavior. I’m going to hit the gym again tomorrow morning.

But beyond that I think the main things to worry about are my internal thought patterns, my habits, my routines, my limiting beliefs, my priorities, my decision-making. It boils down to Covey’s Circle of Influence vs Circle of Control. Or as an SMBC comic put it recently, Power vs Responsibility. The higher your power-to-responsibility ratio, the more comfortable you are. And we’re talking about TRUE comfort, not a soft bed. A hard bed with no debt brings better sleep than a soft bed with debt and unfulfilled obligations.

My immediate goal in life right now is to get on the other side of obligations– to fulfill all my obligations and responsibilities so well that I get excess capacity to then TRULY take on things that I want to care about, and make a difference in those as well. Of course it’s not a perfectly impermeable membrane, and we can still volunteer and help others every step of the way. But I think there’s an underlying truth about self-sufficiency that I have been slow to embrace. That is, that we’re ultimately well and truly alone in the world. We are patterns in space-time that are just trying to persist, to feed ourselves, and doing that requires interacting with all sorts of other patterns and all sorts of contexts and environments.

So what are the next steps right now? Today I spent some time with my wife, and I spent some time on my personal writing project. Tomorrow I’m going to hit the gym, and then I’m going to do some work, and then I’m going to meet some old friends. And the day after that I’m going to go back to work and continue the battle.

What else? I should keep writing as much as I can and not let this slip, because regular progress on this makes me feel like I’m fulfilling my obligation to myself.

I’ve been thinking about the next steps for my writing. I’m going to restart my main blog, as well as my marketing blog. The first went into hibernation once the word vomits started going into overdrive, while the second never really got a chance to take off because I wasn’t managing my time effectively enough to carve out space for it. What’s changed? My blog used to be about local Singaporean issues (and I also have a SG blog, but I’m not too concerned about that– I’ll only use that if I really feel a need to), and then I got a little confused and didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I know better now. I want my blog to be a distillation of the lessons I’ve learned over the process of growing up, of things that I’ve figured out through these vomits and beyond. I want them to have useful, well-edited summaries and cleaned up essays of thought. Some research and citations will be necessary, but I can handle that. As for my marketing blog– I’ve been doing some writing on the side, on Reddit and Facebook and so on, and I feel like I’ve crossed some invisible threshold that was limiting me. I used to feel that I wasn’t quite qualified, wasn’t quite ready to blog about what I knew about marketing. But I think after attending a couple of events and talking to a bunch of people, I’ve come to think that I DO have something useful to say, and I’m going to say it.

These 3 projects– the main word vomit project, the “what I’ve learned” blog and the marketing blog– will be my main priorities after work, fitness and my relationships (marriage, quality friendships). It’s about as simple as that. I’ll play a bit of guitar once in a while to relax, and I’ll be learning more about nutrition and exercise. That pretty much covers everything.

The goal is to get all of these engines running simultaneously, and to require as little energy as possible, so that I can then focus on dealing with external realities. But until then, I’ve got to get this stuff sorted out.

Oh, I almost forgot the quote that I wanted to include in this post: I’ve put it in the title. Internal realities. Pebbles in shoes.

_____

[1] I’m lucky, first of all, to live in a place and context where I don’t need to worry too much about things. Security, shelter, food and such are all well-taken care of. I get to worry about more fragile, ephemeral things like “how do I improve my peer group”. But even then, the highest order bit there is to improve myself so that I naturally attract quality peers to me.

 

0503 – troubleshooting my first story

A: I’ve been thinking.

B: That’s usually a good idea.

A: I’m pretty happy that I’ve done over 500 word vomits. But I don’t want the next 500 vomits to be more of the same thing.

B: That’s probably less likely to happen than you think.

A: Because I’d get bored of doing the same thing over and over again?

B: Possibly.

A: Well… yeah. I’m bored. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I want to do something different. I want to start writing fiction, I want to start writing short stories.

B: Why?

A: I feel like I’ve gotten tired of my first-person voice, talking about my own life, over and over again. I also feel like fiction will allow me to communicate things that I can’t quite communicate by myself. Also I just like the idea of expanding my repertoire as a writer.

B: Fair enough. What’s stopping you?

A: Well, I guess first of all, I haven’t written any good stories. Ever. I haven’t done anything that’s worth talking about.

B: There’s a first time for everything.

A: Right. And the prospect of leaving my comfort zone– the space in which I’ve written the past 500 vomits– is scary.

B: It always is.

A: So I guess I’m wondering if there’s anything I need to do before I can get started.

B: Such as?

A: The silly things would be things like… start reading guides and suggestions from professional writers.

B: Why is that silly?

A: Because it can become a sort of time-sink, where you spend all your time reading about how to do something instead of actually doing something. Also I’ve already more or less internalized everything I need to know, and I can get quick refreshers in a few moments of Googling. I don’t need to do embark on some massive research project. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that these things have to happen along the way, en route, and that I’m going to have to stumble and slip up and write a few terrible stories before I get to good ones.

B: Sounds about right. So what are you going to do now?

A: Well, right now I’m writing this vomit. I don’t yet know what my first story is going to be. I don’t want to overthink it, but I don’t want to underthink it either.

B: Walk me through it. What’s an appropriate amount of thinking?

A: Well, Emma Coats from Pixar comes to mind. She talks about figuring out what the story is about, but she also says that you don’t really know what the story is about until you’re done with it. That’s when you rewrite it.

B: So if you had to start writing a story right now, what would you start with?

A: That’s a tough one. I suppose I’ll start with a cliche, because cliches exist for a reason. It’ll have to be about a hero that I relate to, since I don’t yet know how to project myself into the mind of somebody that I don’t relate to yet. My main problem is that I tend to write overly perfect characters (and this is me talking about me writing millions of words ago, when I was a young teenager). A character needs to struggle, needs to have difficulties, needs to encounter conflict. It’s conflict that makes a story interesting, and makes a character likeable.

B: Okay. So what’s the conflict that you’d want to write about?

A: Everything and nothing. I don’t know where to begin.

B: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Just keep going.

A: Well, I guess… I find myself thinking about the passage of time. About growing up. I guess I still feel like I haven’t fully addressed the problem of growing up, so if I’m going to write a story, it’s going to have to be about growing up.

B: There you go, that’s a start. What’s the next step?

A: Okay, so I have a theme. Growing up. What is growing up, anyway? Well, we’re born solipsistic and clueless, and growing up is about losing that cluelessness in the crossfire of reality.

B: Uhuh.

A: And that crossfire is really painful and uncomfortable and unfair. And the whole time you’re going through it, if you’re even slightly self-aware, you’re going to realize that your problems are minute and trivial compared to everything everybody else in the world is going through, and everything everybody in the history of humanity has gone through. And there’s probably been a lot of crappy stuff written about this already.

B: No, don’t tell me about that. Tell me about growing up.

A: I’m not sure if I’ve done it yet. I think it’s a never-ending process. I don’t think anybody is ever completely, fully grown up. I’m thinking about that CS Lewis quote about how, when he became a man, he put away childish things, such as the fear of appearing childish.

B: What’s the conflict about growing up?

A: I suppose it’s about wanting to hold on to the past, hold on to comfort, hold on to ignorance. Wanting to fix things that are broken, but realizing that they can never truly be “fixed”– you can only dance around them, build around them, incorporate them into your existence.

B: So what does a story about that look like?

A: Well, so there’s a guy. And he’s growing older. And he has to grow up, because of… something. Something is forcing him to grow up. I don’t know what that something ought to be. I don’t want to use something from my personal life, because then it would get tedious and I’d get overly invested in it. But I can’t exactly invent something from scratch, either.

B: What’s the ending?

A: That’s a good question. Endings are hard, you need to know your ending in advance before you can work out the middle. I guess maybe part of my anxiety is that I don’t know what the ending is, and that I need to learn to live with that. I suppose that’s what growing up is about, too. Learning to live with not knowing. But does that actually make for a good ending for a short story?

 

0502 – set aside time for scheduled personal software debugging

Just left a marketing event and I’m on the way home. What’s on my mind? There are a bunch of things that I could and should be doing to improve myself and to improve the quality of work I do. [1]

I realize that I haven’t updated my blog in a very long time. I’ve basically just been doing these vomits, which is a good thing. But my blog and my web assets in general are incoherent, messy and don’t adequately represent who I am or what I am capable of.

The first thing I want to do for myself is to go through my best Quora and Reddit answers and post them on the blog. That’s a no-brainer, it’s just introducing a bunch of relevant, useful links to the world.

The next thing would be to consolidate my own learnings as a content marketer. What have I learnt over the past couple of years?

And then I got to think about the rants that I want to rant. My first and biggest rant is probably that people trust statistics too much, generalize too much from a few data points– probably fewer than they think. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to obsess about post length and tweet length… is it the length that influences the outcome, or is there something else that influences both the length and the outcome?

Next I guess I’m thinking about what it would take for me to become truly useful and relevant to the people who are at the forefront. I can comfortably give marketing advice to beginners, and even to some intermediate folk. But what are the advanced people doing, and how do I get on their radar? How do I make a difference to them? How do I become one of them? I know that it is within my power.

Earlier, I witnessed a bunch of people on a panel being asked their thoughts about a range of things. A couple of the questions they were asked were, who do you most like to follow or read on social media, and what is your favorite interview question to ask people you’re hiring. And this is kinda narcissistic and ego-centric, but I kinda would like to be asked those questions some day. And maybe years from now, maybe decades from now if I’m still around, I’d find it silly that I even bothered to care about those things, and that panels are ultimately just time-passes, none if it matters, it’s all just superficial validation, yadda yadda. But somehow for the time being, it feels like a legitimate goal to me.

I was skimming through a Medium post by Alanis Morissette (isn’t it ironic?) [2] and there were a couple of things that resonated with me. One was… she said that she was looking forward to the day somebody would ask her, perhaps not with words but with presence, “Who ARE you, Alanis?”

And in a way, I still think that’s something I want. It’s something I want to earn. [3] I know that reality doesn’t owe me anQything, and that I’m not entitled to anything. But I also feel like I have a lot of value to offer the world, and I’m probably sitting on quite a bit of it right here in this word vomit project– I haven’t yet gotten around to slicing and dicing the stuff to extract the value.

So… what now? What then? What have I learned? I guess it’s just another reminder to keep revisiting peak consciousness as often as I can afford to, which is more often than I think. Now that’s a pretty interesting way of framing it. What are the costs and benefits of attaining peak consciousness? There’s a virtuous cycle there– while it’s a little costly to reach, the benefit typically outweighs the cost. I’m talking in terms of energy– it takes some energy to reach, but it bestows far more energy in return.

So if I’m serious about living a good life, and I’d like to think that I am, then I’m going to have to be more systematic and methodical with regards to how I manage my consciousness. How I debug and upgrade my cognitive software. And coupled with that is hardware. That’s a nice way of framing it. To have a good life, you need to have a good software, and to do that you’ll find that it helps to optimize your hardware, too.

So what’s the plan? Hardware improvement is going to come primarily from lifting weights, eating healthier, drinking more water and sleeping better. Software improvement can only come with constant reflection and evaluation. Weekly reviews. I keep putting them off, perhaps because I haven’t yet felt that each individual review makes much of a difference. I need to track them the same way I track my word vomitsk. I need to analyze carefully to see what I did right, what I did wrong, what the contexts and circumstances were, and how I might do things better the next time around. I’m too old now to keep dicking around and repeating the same old patterns over and over again. I am so bored of that stuff, I am so amped and ready to be more than I am now.

_____

[1] I’m a little jealous of people who get to constantly be in the presence of other focused, inspiring, driven people… but hey, if the world’s not going to do it for us, then we gotta do it for ourselves.

[2] It’s a joke.

[3] I was going to say that I look forward to a day where I get to have spontaneous Twitter conversations about absolutely anything I like– I think that will be my favorite thing about celebrity if I ever become more popular. It often seems to me that popularity is wasted on the popular, because there are so many interesting things you could do with that sort of audience and that sort of feedback. The constant science experiments and so on.

 

0501 – regularly revise your personal narrative and self-concept

There’s a lot of sciencing that I can still do to improve the quality of my life. One of the slightly frustrating things– which is just another way of saying “challenge that I haven’t quite been able to solve yet”– is that a lot of the things are interrelated. Sleep, work, diet, stress, fitness, health. I’m fairly lucky that I haven’t fallen too ill recently. But beyond that, I haven’t been sleeping as well as I’d like to, and I’ve been taking longer than I should on certain work tasks. Not going to beat myself up about that, that is simply what it is and I am going to change what it is by deconstructing it and then taking action.

It seems weird at first to think that… after over 2 years of work, almost 3, I still haven’t developed a fundamental routine that maximizes my output. And I don’t mean “maximize” in an absolute, crazy sort of way. I mean just past a reasonable threshold that I know within myself that I am capable of doing, day after day. Let’s call it the 10 pushup threshold. Any reasonably fit individual should be able to do 10 pushups. It doesn’t require some insane force of will, it doesn’t require anything magical. Or let’s say, a 5km walk. Any reasonably healthy person should be able to walk 5km and still go about their day without much fuss.

So those are some minimum thresholds that anybody should be able to cross. Similarly I think there are some minimum work thresholds that I still haven’t entirely internalized. I still approach my work in a sort of messy, piecemeal way, constantly reinventing everything all over again, over and over. Why do I do this? It doesn’t make much sense.

I’ve managed to solve this with my word vomits. Yeah, sometimes there are things that I want to write outside of my vomits, and sometimes I forget to do my vomits, or I feel too tired or whatever, but otherwise I generally get around to doing the vomits, and I’ve been making progress, slowly and steadily.

I suppose with reading, movies and fitness, and meeting friends… those are things that I want to do, but I do them in fits and starts. Sometimes I get a lot of that stuff done, sometimes I don’t really feel like doing it (often an indicator of something else– like falling back on work).

I still need to keep learning to listen to myself better. That’s one of the big lessons of the past couple of years. There’s a certain internal wisdom about the body and the subconscious mind that should be attended to. I have a bit of an ache in my shoulders that I almost seem to have “caught” from my wife. It’s a funny thought. I should rest, nap, meditate more. I’ll do that when I get home.

What of my books? What’s the plan for reading them? Well, there’s no point making grand plans. I was halfway through reading TechGnosis, and maybe I’ll continue on that. Or maybe I’ll set aside an hour with some coffee to just keep going through books at random, as per my curiosity.

I think the big thing is… I need to learn to see work as play. I need to learn to see it as fun. I remember having a conversation about it with my boss several months ago, and he said something along the lines of, “Dude, I would be disturbed if you found every single thing about work fun. There’s a reason why work is work– some significant proportion of it is difficult, tedious, uncomfortable, annoying, and you’re going to have to learn to deal with that.”

But… I don’t know. I think this is one of those things where it’s all about how you define it, how you frame it, what it means to you. Ultimately it doesn’t matter as long as the work gets done. Oh wow, we’re back to maybe a couple of hundred vomits ago… where I was thinking and talking about the role of narratives. Well, let’s start over. What do I know?

  1. I know that I have had a lifelong unhealthy narrative around obligations, responsibilities, work and so on. This has made it harder for me to do the work that I want to do.
  2. I sometimes doubt myself and my motivations and the sincerity of my intentions. This gets bad/worse when I’m tired, depressed, stressed, upset and so on. If I haven’t been sleeping well, haven’t been making much progress, I start questioning myself and wonder if I’m a bad person. At the time of this writing, it’s clear to me that this isn’t
  3. I believe strongly that it typically takes a narrative to displace another narrative. I suppose there might be exceptions to this rule, or maybe the thing that displaces a narrative is a very different sort of narrative… Framed another way, it takes a new self-concept to replace an old self-concept, and while it’s intellectually possible to appreciate that the self is ultimately an illusion and doesn’t exist, it doesn’t change the fact that we spend our days living in the illusion most of the time.

So– and I’ve acknowledged this before, and have made some small attempts in the past, but haven’t entirely resolved it– I need to revise my personal narrative and/or self-concept, especially when it comes to my attitude towards obligations, work, and so on. This will probably seem needlessly strange, byzantine, complex, overwrought, tedious to anybody who didn’t have over a decade of shitty experiences re: school. And actually I should probably read more about the successful people who struggled with school, and how exactly they ultimately overcame that. I feel like I’m more than halfway through, but it still weighs me down to some amount, and I’d like to resolve that stuff and cut it out.

I’ve spent an entire vomit basically restating the premise, which is fine. So in my next vomit I should explore what happens next.

 

0500 – I’m proud of you

It’s 1:31am and I really, really need to pee. And this is the thing that I will remember about the 500th word vomit that I’ve written. The moment that I’ve decisively crossed the middle point. Every vomit I publish after this one will be closer to the completion of the project than its inception. I should probably go and pee first so I can pay more careful attention to my feelings.

Alright, I’m back. Let’s see. I find myself thinking that… while it’s a cool milestone and a nice number, it’s also just another vomit. And that’s a good thought. When you go Pro, as Stephen Pressfield said in The War Of Art, you don’t want to get overly attached to things. You don’t want to get attached to awards or accolades or milestones or outcomes. You just want to commit to the process, and the process is its own reward. Of course, the milestone is nice. I’m starting to feel a smile forming on my face, a sort of “victory lap” feeling. But that’s dangerous too, because this isn’t a victory. Not yet. Not ever. It’s just another step.

I also find myself thinking that there are other milestones that I’m more proud of. I’m proud of the fact that this year I was able to get a better handle on my processes at work, such that I’ve been publishing blogposts regularly on schedule for months now. It’s still not as perfect as I’d like but it’s good. And when I say “not as perfect”, I don’t mean “it’ll never be perfect”– I mean, there is a particular threshold that I want to cross that I haven’t crossed yet, and that’s an exercise for me to undertake in a different setting.

I’m proud of the fact that me and my wife have had several really good conversations over lunch and dinner this year. I feel closer to her, and it feels like we’re getting better at this whole marriage thing.

I’m proud of the fact that I now manage a little stable of freelance writers, and that I’m systematic about the way I approach them, communicate with them, give them feedback and nudge them along. It makes me feel like I’ve grown.

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve invested in a home gym for myself, and that I’ve been working out regularly (as far as the few data points that I have have shown.)

I’m proud that I’ve been eating healthier, at least about 40-60% of the time. It’s definitely made a difference. I’m a lot less tired these days than I used to be, and that’s totally a blood sugar / nutrition thing.

I’m proud that I’ve continued to keep learning. I’ve learned more about caffeine and nicotine and how the endocrine system works and I’ve been learning more about the fundamentals of psychology, and I’d like to keep learning more things and grow more and be able to do more.

I’m proud that I’ve made time for friends and family, though I’d like to make even more time for them. The past couple of years have been a lot about me figuring out how to be more productive as an individual, and there’s been a lot of failure and missteps in that process. While that has been frustrating, I also have to acknowledge that it was never going to be easy. If it were easy, after all, I’d have done it a long time ago.

And yeah, who am I kidding, I’m goddamn fucking proud of having written over 500,000 words when I said that I’m going to write 1,000,000. There ain’t no getting offa this train. I’m proud that I write much more clearly now. I’m proud that I know how to use footnotes more effectively. I’m proud that I have better titles for my writing.

I suppose I’ll dedicate the remainder of the vomit to my future self, who’ll definitely look back to read this to see what I had to say.

Dear Visa,

Thank you. You’ve carried a lot of guilt and shame for many years, and you really didn’t have to. You’ve experienced pain and loss and so. much. frustration. And while you’ve come close to giving up many times, you never did. You always came back. You fucked up over and over, but you always came back. You made all sorts of silly, stupid proclamations that you had no right to make. But you always came back. You always started over.

This thing that we’re doing together (and I know you’re going to finish what we’ve started here) has been really helpful to me. It’s given me hope and faith in us, that we can do what we set our minds to. That we can grow, that we can develop, that we can change. It gives me hope that we will be to shed the skin of the scared, insecure little boy that we were and really blossom into a man that we can both be proud of.

Keep going. I promise you, you already know everything you’ll ever need to know. If you’re feeling lost and confused, you really just need to sit and listen. Maybe you need to hit the weights, maybe you need to read a passage or watch a video or listen to some music or call a friend. Or come back to me. Whatever the case, you got this. I couldn’t have told you this with such clearheaded certainty 2-3 years ago. Back then it was just wishful thinking, hopefulness. And even then, I think we sort of knew, but we couldn’t be sure.

I’m more sure now that we ever were before. It’s still not a guarantee. Life doesn’t owe us shit. We might die in a car accident tomorrow, who knows. Life is crazy like that. But as long as you keep breathing, and you keep sleeping and waking up, you have a shot at having a fabulous life. I believe in you. I’ll see you at the finish line, and even then, my friend, it will be the start of something far more magical.

Your friend who has known you by heart,
Visa

 

0499 – what would Visa like to read?

A friend posted a status update asking people to tell him what they’d like him to write about. I thought about it for a while, and first I gave an answer that was in the spirit of my previous vomit– write about your reflections on your own experiences, your own wants, and so on. But then I realized that that was a little bit prescriptive, so I said, “What does [[your_name]] want? Write that.”

It’s not an original thought at all, lots and lots of artists and writers and so on have said that that’s how they keep going. They write to scratch their own itches, to solve their own problems, to explore their own curiosities, to fulfill their own desires. You get the drill.

To tie the two together, e very so often then it makes sense to sit down and revisit and review my life to ask myself, so what am I doing this for again? What do I want exactly? I know that I want to write because I want to get better at writing, because that is my craft, because I love words. That’s probably not going to change, so we’ve got that covered. What’s next? What do I want to get better at writing for, apart from the intrinsic pleasure of it? It’s possible that the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know” or “I write to find out”, and those are all answers that I’m comfortable with. But I can always fall back on those answers. I’m curious to try on other ideas in the meantime.

I’m thinking about the works of fiction that have been floating around my head. I’ve always had this idea of Gandalf and Aragorn having a long, late-night chat, perhaps while riding their horses, or perhaps while tending to a fire, or watching their friends sleep. I don’t know why, this idea has just really stuck with me. I guess it’s because I’ve always enjoyed late night conversations with friends, and I’ve always been curious to see that portrayed in art. In a movie or a short film. That’s part of why I really liked the Before Sunrise trilogy, although as always I wonder how I’d have done it differently. I would’ve thought that it focused too much on the relationship. I’d be more curious to see how the conversation goes on to change the individuals’ lives.

I suppose similar things could happen say, between Captain America and Iron Man. I’m never quite satisfied with the short conversations that you get in a movie. I want to witness a really good conversation that goes on for hours and hours. I suppose theater achieves that. So maybe I’m into theater and I should look more of that stuff up. Something to think about.

What else? I have a mental picture of a movie that’s filmed entirely at the void deck of a HDB flat, without the camera ever moving. And it tells a story about the people in the block, and the people in the neighbourhood, and maybe a bit about the country. There’s a void deck wedding at some point, and a funeral at another point, and there are a few different recurring people talking, of different ages, races, and so on. I like that.

What other stories do I want to tell? I like the idea of science fiction, but I’m not sure what exactly I’d write about. Maybe again I’d write fan-fiction about characters that I already know and love, say from the Mass Effect universe, because I’m somewhat familiar with the universe. Maybe I should do fan-fiction. What sort of fan-fiction would I do? Well, I’m curious about Shepard’s motivations. The game leaves it as an exercise to the player’s imagination, and I feel like it deserves to be every bit as good as the characters, if not greater. And again, I’m curious about the lengthy discussions, the debates about ethics and virtues and friendship and life and death. I know these conversations have probably been done to death already in all sorts of circumstances, and I’m also sure that people have been having them throughout history.

Now there’s another idea. Two humans having a conversation, from the dawn of the African Savannah all the way to present day, until the distant future. That’s of course not an original idea either, but I’d be curious to see what I’d have to say about it. I don’t yet know what I want to say. There’s some amount of research that would need to be done. And I don’t want to end up procrastinating and just doing a ton of reading without doing any writing, I want to write things that go out into the world and make a difference to people. I want to write something that really captures the “arbitrary configuration of reality” idea, the same way I think Limitless did a great job with conveying that there are “peak” states and “trough” states (or whatever you’d want to call them). How the Matrix did the contrast between the real world and, well, the Matrix.

What do I want to read? I want to read about friendship and sacrifice and teamwork, I want to read about difficulties and obstacles being overcome. I want to read about personal epiphanies and perceptual breakthroughs. How people see things differently, do things differently. There need to be stakes, which is something I’ve always seemed to have a bit of trouble with as a writer. I’m too kind to my characters before I even begin to write them– they know too much, and they’re just generally too good at everything. So my stories don’t take off. There needs to be more conflict. I suppose I should list out all the conflicts I’ve experienced in my life, and imagine different ways that they could have played out, imagine different, adjacent realities. That would be cool. I should create a to-do item for that.

That’s a pretty useful insight. I don’t have time to explore it right now, I want to write another vomit and go to bed. And I don’t want to make that list public, because I think it’s more interesting when it’s kept private (at least until long after people have read the work.)

 

0498 – commit to perpetually upgrading your software (Push The Big Red Button)

Many vomits ago I wrote about the concept of a “The Big Red Button”. It’s a fun thought experiment– if you could have a Big Red Button, and you could write down what it would do (assuming it fits within the realm of plausibility), and pressing it would make it happen, what would you put on it?

Somehow, this yields slightly different thoughts from “If you could have a wish granted” (perhaps because it inspires wishful thinking…?). I suppose a more rigorous way to do it would be– if you could have a sort of “personal trainer genie” that would physically force into following some routine, some set of behaviors, some set of actions, what would you set?

For a mundane, simple example, it could be “do 10 pushups every day.” That’s a slightly underwhelming thing to waste such an epic button on, but you see how it plays out. From now until the day you die, you do 10 pushups everyday. It’s not inconceivable. Suppose you then modify that to be, “do pushups to failure every day”. Maybe modify it further to be, “do the optimal set of sets of pushups, with good form, to maximize upper body strength gains.” Some people actually do that. And some people would benefit from just 10 simple pushups.

What else? Suppose we could have an unlimited set of buttons. What would we use them for? I think it’s important to meditate and reflect every single day. What’s stopping me from doing it? I suppose sometimes it feels like I’m not in the right mood. But there’s never going to be such a thing as “a right mood”. And one of the cool things I’ve learned from this writing experiment so far is– if you commit to a process regardless of circumstances (except maybe morbidly critical ones), you start encountering all sorts of different versions of yourself. You find that the way you write when you’re optimistic is different from the way you write when you’re depressed (I tend to question my own motivations, interests, purpose when that happens). You’ll discover that you’re much broader than the person you think you are, and the person you’ll get to know if the data points you collect about yourself are all collected in the same context, same mood, “when you feel like it”. Doing things when you don’t really feel like it is incredibly powerful.

I’m starting to learn that with the gym, too. I hated travelling to the gym to share the equipment with a whole bunch of people who often aren’t very focused on their training, and it’s a long ass commute and just generally unpleasant. So I bought myself a mat and a squat rack and a bench and a set of weights, and in 7 days I worked out hard about 4 times. I’ve taken a couple of days to rest my sore muscles, but I’ll definitely be hitting the weights again tomorrow morning. I really look forward to it and it’ll take zero effort. I hope I can maintain this habit indefinitely, but that’s always scary so what I think I’ll do is– I’ll count down to 100 sessions completed, and then 1,000 sessions completed. What can I say, I like big-ish numbers.

I was reading Wait But Why’s great post on cooks and chefs, and one of the points Tim made was that we live very limited lives. We color within the lines, and we fear and worry for our “safety” even when we aren’t actually in danger. (Starting a company, for example, can seem scary, but it doesn’t actually risk your life and you can afford to fail as long as you don’t set yourself up for horrific financial debt.)

What would I do, if I inherited my life right now, and had all the freedom and opportunity to do whatever I wanted (which I actually do)? As I said earlier, one thing would be to get my fitness sorted out. The body and the mind are part of the same thing and it’s important to discpline and train them both. It helps us learn to work hard, to persist in order to get what we want. It helps us learn that we’ll have to fight through the not-so-good days, that we can’t just wait for some good day to show up. And endorphins are a hell of a drug.

But what else would I do? I would better study and examine the tools of my trade. I run a blog that works on wordpress, but I don’t actually understand precisely how wordpress works. That’s not very good, it would be a good idea to get a better sense of how wordpress works. There are all these black boxes on the periphery of the stuff that I work with, and I ought to sit down and dissect them. I also ought to plan my day every morning. I’ve started doing this a little bit better, but I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement and I’ve got to keep doing it. Internalize the fact that things need to be broken down into quantifiable next steps with specific time expectations and so on.

What else would I do? I have a ton of books in my study that I’d like to dissect. It’s all this information and knowledge just sitting there, waiting for me to assimilate them into my brain. What do I really hope to achieve with all of that, anyway? A part of me just feels like it would be kinda cool. But I suppose what I really want is to get a sense that I have a reasonable big picture model of everything, with a sense of what I ought to fill in the gaps about. I was going to say “there are a lot of things I still feel like I need to know more about” or something to that effect, but as I wrote that I realized that that isn’t true. There’s only one thing that I need to get better at, and that’s improving my own software, my own system of operations. And everything else will take care of itself.

So I suppose if I could have the red button do one thing, and I had only one button, it would be this– commit to a daily process of refining my own software, from first principles. Meditate and reflect and act and review. I’ve written this before, I’ve known this all along, and it’s nice to have more data that backs it up, but the data I actually need isn’t “out there”, something that I need to read (though that’s always nice). What I need is to do the work, and use those results as evidence that I can do so much more than what I’m doing.