0585 – birthday reflections 2016

Started on 07 Jun 2016, revisited and finished on 1st Aug 2016

Had a quiet and uneventful birthday; spent it alone at home with the wife, doing a bit of work, tidying up my movie reviews (that’s done for now!) and talking to old friends.

There’s a bit in Ray Dalio’s principles where he talks about figuring out what you want and then separately figuring out how to get there, what’s stopping you, what you need to change and so on. And one of the important things is being very clear about what you want, independent of what it takes to get there. You don’t want your present capabilities to influence the goal you set for yourself, because your capabilities can change. And there’s a bit somewhere else- I think by Eric Schmidt, in How Google Works- that talks about how in some ways audacious goals are easier to reach than mediocre ones, because they inspire and challenge people, they invite suggestions and assistance. I’ve witnessed this in other people. I’m quick to try and help or assist people who are working on cool things.

So it follows then that I should work on cool things and assist myself.

I have been hesitant lately. The past 4 years or so of my life have been sobering. I’ve come to realize that I’m not as smart or effective as I thought I was. I’m not guaranteed anything, the universe doesn’t owe me a damn thing.

Anyway that’s a long winded preamble to what I want to say- which is that it’s clearer than ever to me that I want to be a writer. A man of letters. I want to make a living thinking and writing. I want to help people think and write better. I want to write essays, reviews, books, novels, stories, anything and everything that tickles my mind. I want to live like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell. That’s the company I seek. I want to carry on that tradition and I want to rearrange my life towards that goal. I know that it will be difficult and frustrating and lonely, but that’s the struggle I want to undertake.

Okay, so what are the next steps there? The first thing is that I need to ramp up my volume of writing. My current behavior is that of a semi-passionate hobbyist. I want to go pro. That means being a lot more intense and deliberate. It means doing little projects I’ve been meaning to do, like a modern translation of Orwell’s ‘politics and the English Language’. Why have I been putting that off? (UPDATE: I did this! Hurrah! Onwards.)

Partially because I feel that nobody would really care- but that’s not true because I care. It’s more that I don’t feel like I’m good enough. But I have to recognize that as the Resistance talking. I’m much better than I was 3 or 4 years ago when I was much more comfortable just writing my mouth off without thinking about whether the work was good, or deserved to be called work. I’ve swung to the other side entirely now; I hardly write anything for public consumption and have been doing introspective writing for 3 years. It’s time to swing back.

So next steps again- I need to make sure that I’m writing every day. I don’t necessarily need to get my word vomit project done ASAP- or rather, it’s okay for me to write the drafts of other things within the word vomits context- the mean girls essay was originally from here! There’s a lot more stuff from here I intend to repurpose, too. Where I used to not care about structure or planning, now I’m over thinking it. I have to start with what excites me the most, and let it all out, and trust that there’s more where that came from. I need to stop stockpiling ideas, worrying that I’ll have nothing once I use them up. That’s complete BS. I have unlimited ideas. I am vast and limitless beyond my own understanding.

^ I stopped writing there, and am continuing after a few months. All of the above is true and valid, I think. And yet for some reason I didn’t spend the next few days throwing myself into my writing. The tempting thing to say is that I was distracted by obligations, that I was too busy, and so on. But those are excuses, I feel. If something is important you make time for it. I made a lot of time to watch Game of Thrones with the wife. It was relatively easy to do, just sit and consume, turn it on and wait. Writing in comparison can be a little scarier, a little less gratifying.

I want to write millions and millions of words. The first million is just a tutorial zone of sorts, a dry run. After that it’s just going to be novel after novel, baby. Short stories. Pamphlets. Essays. About anything and everything. I’m going to publish with a furious anger. Along the way I’ll want to figure out how to do it for a full time living, if possible. But if not, no matter, I will write for myself at night, on the commutes. I just need to design the process a little better for myself so that I don’t have to try to come up with things on the spot. I should list out all my prompts in advance, as well as my curiosities and interests (have done some of that), so I can just chase whatever I find to be interesting. And I’ll have to block out some distractions that will have me spending time in ways I dislike. It’s all about prioritization. It’s all about focus. And I’m going to keep building that muscle. I’m going to break through barrier after barrier with my writing, I’m going to explore parts of my mind I haven’t explored my entire life. I’m going to ask questions that have never been asked before. I’m going to make comparisons that have never been made before.

But really all of that lofty shit is just #goals, the more important thing is that I put in the day-to-day hours. I remember for a period of time I was having alot of fun just ticking off boxes one by one. I’d try to do one every day, which let me tick off the calendar, and I’d try to do as many as I can thereafter, which let me fill out many X’s on a page with 1000 boxes. I should probably return to doing that. Or just incorporate it into my daily todo lists. We’ll see. The point is, I want to be a writer.


0584 – Get more out of your hours

Started in 30th may, finished aug 1

The biggest tragedy of my life- and I know that I’m tremendously lucky to have such a first world problem- is that I feel like I waste my time.

So the question arises- is there an objective truth here? Is it true that I’m wasting my time? There is no absolute truth in the context of the universe; the universe doesn’t care how you spend your time. So the real constraints are biology, culture, beliefs.

Beliefs can be changed. An individual can modify how his social group influences him, either by moving outright to another group or mix of groups, or by changing the filters that he engages them with.

Biology is probably the biggest constraint but even that isn’t clear cut because it is shaped and influenced by social, cultural, psychological factors. Only the most fundamental constraints apply. Death is the most global biological constraint for humans- we wouldn’t feel like we were wasting our time if we knew we’d live forever.

That said, there are people who die who DON’T feel like they’re wasting their time. Some out of ignorance, which is no longer an option for me. Some by figuring out and enacting an optimal configuration of beliefs, actions, social contexts and so on.

I guess even if the condition is false (you can’t waste time because life is ultimately meaningless) the feeling is real and I have to address it one way or another. And I don’t really want to explore the “it doesn’t matter because life is meaningless” idea as a solution because I can always revert to that when the rest of my options are exhausted, but not the other way around.

Okay, so I feel like I waste my time. What is the source of that feeling? Where does it come from? Probably a big part of it comes from comparing myself to others, and that’s never healthy. But even when I’m on my own and focusing on myself, I still have that nagging feeling. There’s something in my subconscious trying to stir me to act, and I’ve been neglecting and avoiding it out of fear and laziness. Fear of discomfort, pain, shame, failure etc.

I’ve written about this probably a hundred times by now. I did some squats this morning and that really helped. I have fitness goals- I want to squat 100kg. My last PR was 90kg, so it’s definitely within reach. I know that squats make me feel better- they make me breathe a lot harder, and I get endorphins or some other good feels from it. I believe that I need to retrain myself to get good feels out of everything else that I know I want to do. I want to blaze through the remainder of these word vomits. Do at least 1 every day. I have two commutes every work day, I can write on those. I’m doing that right now, but I don’t always do this. I typically do it when I know what I want to write about, when I’ve slept well, when I’ve worked out. Writing is frustrating work except when you happen to know exactly what you want to say and how you’re going to say it.

Anyway, so those are the variables, aren’t they? If I want to write more, I’ll just need to plan ahead of time what I’m going to write, and then get started on each commute. I don’t need to feel obliged to finish every single one, I just need to commit to starting. That should make a dent.

Haven’t I tried this before? What happened the last time I tried this? I got bored of my own prompts, got frustrated and annoyed looking at them, and eventually felt stifled (I couldn’t write new things when I felt like I was obliged to write old things) and then I eventually deleted everything and felt a sense of relief. Okay so clearly these prompts have to have an expiry date). Another thing I’ve done is that I’ve asked people to give me prompts, so I feel like I’m writing letters to specific people rather than just writing into the ether, making up stuff to myself. Knowing in advance that somebody cares about something makes me doubly want to do it. [1]

I stopped writing this around 800 words and left it off there. I’m revisiting it about three months later. And I think if I’ve made any progress, it’s realizing/recognizing that there’s no magical answer to all of this. I’m always going to feel like I’m wasting my time so I have to make my peace with it. I just have to clarify and focus and do one thing at a time and get it out of the way. I waste too much time running in circles. And perhaps one day I will be able to exploit my running-in-circles tendency to create some great art, but in the meantime that isn’t exactly an option. Chasing every whim isn’t fulfilling, anyway. Every sustained success requires discipline and sacrifice. And so it is the case here. I have been repeating this to myself for years now, and will probably continue to repeat it to myself for decades to come. The hope and plan is that I’ll be able to summarize it in shorter sentences, be able to reference old material with a few lines rather than reinvent the wheel over and over.

I know that I am capable of more. I believe that I want more. I need to sit down and dig deep and get it. That requires facing my fears and leaning into discomfort. I already know that the alternative isn’t much better. Life is struggle. Lean into it.


[1] Here I have to start wondering- if knowing that somebody cares about an outcome makes me (supposedly) likelier to want to do something, why doesn’t this translate to me being super productive at work? I know that my colleagues care that I get my work done. So there have to be some extra variables here that I’m not thinking about. I’ve also procrastinated on delivering things for my own side project, surely frustrating my partner in the process. So maybe there’s some common element in both of those things. Is it perfectionism? It’s probably perfectionism. Fuck perfectionism, just ship things!